In my three decades as editor of the local paper, I thought of myself more as a storyteller than a journalist. A newspaper should record community events and reflect both popular and prophetic views. However, as a newspaper reader and then writer, it was always the “human interest” stories that appealed to me more than the so-called “hard news”. Throughout my life, I have enjoyed telling my stories and those of others.
My earliest memories of storytelling were of entertaining and distracting my siblings on car journeys. My sister was often car sick, even on short car trips, so I made up stories for her so she could focus less on her stomach ailments.
In 7th grade, I wrote a few chapters of a “novel” that I called Storm Warning. The teacher encouraged me to write more chapters and allowed me to read them to my classmates. Surprisingly, they listened with rapt attention.
I don’t remember any particular episodes of storytelling in high school or college, but I picked up storytelling when my kids were little. To help them fall asleep at night, I read their favorite book…over and over. To entertain them, as well as to save myself from having to read about Berenstain’s bears again, I made up stories in which they were the main characters.
When my youngest was old enough to go to daycare, I started working at the Herald. I enjoyed the adrenaline and the challenge of meeting daily deadlines, but my favorite activity was interviewing people and turning their thoughts into inspiring stories.
I particularly enjoyed interviewing people who were celebrating their 100th birthday. Often, I asked the hackneyed question “what’s your secret to living to 100?” Most often the answer was something like “live one day at a time”. But sometimes those I interviewed shared their personal longevity formula.
I had often seen one of the centenarians, who lived in my neighborhood, walking with his daughter-in-law. But he attributed his longevity not to exercise but to daily Bible reading and eating oatmeal for breakfast. I titled his story Porridge and Prayer.
Another man in our community had an altogether different recipe for long life. He said he smoked a cigar every day and drank whiskey. I remember thinking he really beat the odds!
A book by the late Harold R. Johnson, The Power of Story, was published this year. Editor, McNally Robinson, says, “In The Power of Story, Johnson explains the role of storytelling in all aspects of human life, from personal identity to history and the social contracts that structure our societies, and illustrates how we can direct its potential. to recreate and reform not only our own lives, but the life we share.
Johnson shows how we can take back the power of our own life story, claim the story and tell it again in a more positive and optimistic setting.
What are the negative stories you tell yourself over and over again? Maybe you need to invent a new story for your life. Just as I imagined new bedtime stories for my children, maybe I can come up with new versions of my life story.