[prose] living a better story seminar contest entry.

Living a Better Story Seminar

I have always loved stories better than anything else. When I was a little girl, lying on a hospital bed with a cancerous tumor in my belly, I watched Sesame Street, my mom curled up next to me. I sensed her fear and desperation, but as Maria went to the hospital and returned with a baby, everything was fine on that fair street, and we believed everything would be fine on our street too. In sixth grade, my teacher read the final pages of Where the Red Fern Grows aloud, and her fierce teacher shell cracked in the middle of the classroom, tears clouding her voice as she let the image of the noble dogs’ death scene paint the air and move a classroom of twelve-year-olds to sniffling. And in high school, I spent months in different worlds of theatre productions, watching a stage grow from nothing to buildings and street corners and children grow into men and women, even if only for a moment. All of these experiences were supplemented by my own voracious appetite for books, especially true stories written by the people who lived them.

At George Fox University, I worked at the writing center. One woman, much older than the usual clientele, made an appointment because it was required by the professor of her memoir-writing class. She entered the appointment with annoyance, believing she didn’t need any help with her writing. But as we worked through her stories, we clarified the themes, made the images crisper, and finally we solidified the point – that she survived the abuse and pain to love. When we finished, her face reflected gratefulness and relief, understanding that we didn’t kill her story but rather enhanced it so that others could feel through it. At the end of the appointment, she shared with me that she was taking this class in order to write down her painful past so her children and grandchildren could know how she became herself. She thanked me for my help, and I knew I wanted to work with people’s stories forever.

My dream is to continue helping people express themselves. I want to do that by going to graduate school and learning more about stories – how they’re created, how they work, how they impact the lives of others. Then I can use what I’ve learned to teach students at the college level how to tell their stories, whether they want to or pretend they don’t. No wonder Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, are so popular, especially for young people. We all want others to hear and affirm our lives.

What about those who don’t communicate best through words on a page? Some communicate better through music. Visual art. Theatre. And what about those who are not in college? Many people who need to learn the value of their stories are middle-aged, ensconced in the lives of others. There is a desire for expression, as evidenced by the reaction to Don’s book. We has humans are always trying to change our lives, but we neglect something important. In order to create a new story, we need to understand our old stories. We need to find the beauty inside the horror, the pain inside the greatness, the truth inside the mundane. We need to understand ourselves as characters. Characters living stories.

I want to help people do this by creating a workshop for the nonprofessional artist – the businessman, the mother, the insurance salesperson – anyone who wants to tell his or her story. As part of the workshop, individuals would decide how they wanted to create their story into art – through song, speech/monologue, painting, or essay. Maybe people would choose the art form they love, or maybe they would try something new. It would be up to them, but whatever they create would be purposeful and representative. The point is not to simply plop something down on a page or a canvas and say “this is my life,” but instead, through revision and process, make pieces of our lives into something of complete and beautiful. Also, I believe individuals should avoid trying to encompass their entire life. When we think of testimonies, we think of beginning, middle, end – birth, growth, death. Autobiography. But truly, the power is found in the smaller chunks, seemingly mundane events or emotions that contain a beginning, a middle, an end, and the effects of that “end.”

The vision for this workshop is a four session workshop, over the course of two weekends, giving time for the process of creation. Professionals in each of the artistic fields would be available to help guide the artistic process. With my connections at George Fox University, I would use students and professors to help moderate these sessions. The early sessions within the first weekend would contain an overview of the basic tenets of each art form, as well as a discussion about stories and what they mean to ourselves and others. Following that would be exercises to help spur ideas on what stories would be created and how.

The second weekend would be more revision after – hopefully – a week of creating and practicing on the individual’s own time. The third session would be a workshop, getting back together to share what has happened with the stories so far. The final session would be a public performance. There needs to be a performance, because it’s one thing to tell yourself who you are, but it’s fully another to share your story with others. The performance is another step of ownership, both of who you are as an artist and how others see you as a human. I foresee this being especially powerful in churches, where we struggle with transparency and yet long for true connection. The community – meaning family and friends – would be invited to support and affirm the work these individuals have done in sharing their stories. Hopefully, out of this workshop would come artistic communities, where the people in the different medium groups could continue meeting together to share new stories.

What I need is help getting started. I need to talk to others who have created workshops, find out what works and what doesn’t. I need to gather my professionals. I need to buy much-needed supplies. I need help marketing, finding communities in which this is important, and getting people excited. I need someone saying, “Go and do.”

I too want to keep figuring out my own stories and putting them into words. My stories have power and I want the world to know them. I want someone – a stranger – to feel my words and have them resonate within her ribcage. I want her to hold my words next to her stomach and say, “these were not mine, but now they are because they have become part of me.”

When we humans think about dreams, we usually think about huge ideas that we’re not sure if we can attain. Most of the time, dreams scare me because they seem so out of reach. But I’m learning that dreams are beautiful, because they enhance stories. They enhance characters. They make characters more than they ever were.

I want to go to the conference, because in order for me to help others tell their stories, I need to understand what a story is. I need to understand how to trust myself and become a character whom I care about and want to succeed, even if her dreams seem too big and her abilities seem too small. I am a character in this divine book, and while my chapter may be short compared to the grand narrative, I want it to be memorable and meaningful. Isn’t that what we all want? For our stories to mean something?



Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.


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