A number of years ago (over 15 most likely) I read an article on storytelling in the USA (I was in the UK back then) and the growing - then- desire to hear personal stories and how the British writer was disapponinted in not hearing any traditional tales. I never understood the popularity of personal stories. Why would I want to hear about some stranger and their life? What is the point? I do not care about them; I do not know about them - I want to hear good 'old fashioned' stories.
Three years ago a friend of mine let me borrow a Donald Davis CD recording - "The Crack of Dawn". I had it for a long time before I listened to it and my friend kept asking if I had listened to it, and what did I think. This coincided with hearing Jo Radner tell a brilliant story that made me sit up and think. It was not a tradition tale at all. I am not really sure why I was there. But something went off inside me, so when I got home I sat down and listened to the Donald Davis CD. I was amazed. Bowled over. Enthralled. I ordered a bunch of his stuff for the library. A couple of years ago I heard Elizabeth Ellis and was knocked out, reduced to tears. I heard Jay telling his "Pill Hill" stories and was inspired by his telling and by the tales he told. I heard Meg Gilman last year at STF and loved her personal story, for it's strength and passion.
I left a job working for Valley Quest in White river Junction to put more of my time into storytelling. At Valley Quest we would create treasure hunts for communities in communities and would collect personal tales from the elders. These stories were so important as they captured personal experiences in a time in history. If it were not for this program, many histories of local areas and the 'customs' held there would have been lost. Over the years I have come to realize the importance of some of these
stories. They teach us about ourselves, about our community, about the
society we live in, or have lived in. Maybe, in some way, we can look at these personal stories as, in a certain light, contemporary folktales. These stories that are being recorded are capturing the now. In a few hundred years time, who is to say that these tales will still be being told, but not as personal stories, but as folktales.
Me, myself, I enjoy, once in while, hearing a really good personal tale. I find them - sometimes - enlightening, teaching me something about myself in much the same way some folk and faerie stories do. But I personally love to tell the 'tradition' folk and faerie tales. I do not think I have the talent - right now - to tell a personal tale. Maybe the second wave in the rise in popularity in hearing personal tales comes from a growing interest in storytelling and this new audience is finding it easier to relate to personal stories - they can see something of themselves in these tales which they cannot (I blame tv for everything) in the 'tradition' stories.
I would love to see a balance at festivals of both. Not for me, I would prefer the majority to be traditional tales, but maybe if people 'learn to listen and grow' through personal stories, they will find the magic and power of the older stories.
April 18, 2008
Why Memoir? Part 3.3
Simon Brooks had this to add to the discussion: