Not to long ago I was interviewed for the Art of Storytelling podcast. Below is the written portion of the interview with Eric Wolf. The recorded interview was entitled, "Reaching Troubled Youth Through Storytelling". If you'd like to listen, here is a link
By Kim Weitkamp:
For 15 years I saw first hand the amazing power of story. The right story deposited at the right time is like a time release capsule. I cannot count how many times one of the teens that I was working with would come back to me, after I told them a story, and they’d say, “Hey, you know that story you told me the other day? Well, I’ve been thinking about it…”
When I would hold group discussions, a story would bring together opposing sides. When I was digging into a person’s heart, trying gently to unearth the pain that was causing them to act out in anger, a story would be the trowel. When I looked into the angry hurting eyes of teen, a story would prove to them that I understood and that I had been there too.
I loved working with at risk youth and found great satisfaction in using story to bring healing. It was a worthy calling. But, after 15 years, it wore me out physically and emotionally, so I retired. From youth work, not storytelling. You cannot retire from what you are, you can only retire from what you do. So what I was had to release itself in another form.
I pulled out journals that I had kept over the years and started going over stories that I had written for no other purpose than to make me smile. I started sharing those stories with people outside my family and friends circle. After a few years of puttering around state festivals, schools and libraries, I branched out and before I knew it I was telling full time. But inside of me there was a struggle going on.
For years, I had used my stories to help teens who were suicidal, self-mutilators, violent offenders, lost, lonely and at their breaking point. I had used my stories for a worthy cause, but now I was telling for the sheer pleasure of it. I was using my stories to entertain and to make people laugh. I was at odds with myself. How could I go from one extreme to another? Was I selling out? Was there a purpose to what I was doing? I was constantly asking myself these questions.
One evening I was telling in a tent that was draped in white lights. The night was cool and still and the audience was perfect. I was in the middle of one of my favorite stories, right at a part where I pause for effect, when I had the most beautiful experience. As my gaze swept across the crowd I could see each face individually, expectant and ready. It was like slow motion, a hard thing to explain really, but they were there…with me… in the story, not in the tent. They were waiting to turn the corner with me and see what I saw and laugh at what I laughed at and smell what I smelled and taste what I tasted. They were there with me, in my story, walking with me.
It was at that moment I knew that what I was doing was just as worthy as my previous work. No matter how long I have them, no matter how large or small the group, no matter how funny, sad, silly, or heartbreaking my story is…it’s a miracle.
Each time I tell I have the privilege of taking my listener away from this world. For a few minutes I provide a much needed break from the rent payment, from the knee pain, from unemployment, from the wayward child, from the death of a loved one. It is a form of medicine, therapy, whatever you want to call it I don’t care. I only know that it is good. And to be a storyteller is a worthy calling.
After that experience I went to Jonesborough for the first time and in the glass shop on Main Street I found an art print that brought tears to my eyes. The artist had drawn a picture of a woman and beside it had written: “In the midst of the song she heard every heartbeat and knew she was a part of something bigger.” Nough said.