Last month, I had the supreme joy of participating in the Raven Narratives, the new storytelling project developed by my community heros, Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder.
We, a group of seven storytellers along with Syverson and Yoder (who told a story and co-produced the event), performed to sold-out shows at the Sunflower Theater in Cortez and the Durango Arts Center theater in Durango.
We told eight-minute stories of losing loved ones, of epiphanies, of mysterious knives, and, in my case, of rescuing lambs on a cross-country road trip. The theme was Baggage.
All our Raven Narratives will soon be available as podcasts. The inaugural Raven Narratives, with a theme of Wild Places, took place earlier this year and those podcasts are available here.
As you might imagine, public speaking is not my forte. I was more anxious about stepping on stage than I’ve ever been for, say, competing in a running race or horse competition. As fellow writer, Kevin Fedarko said, “This isn’t an environment in which I feel comfortable. What I’m most comfortable doing is putting words on the page.” (Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile, spoke at the Cortez Public Library recently. We’ll post a three-part interview with him soon.)
But peer support and positivity make for great worry balms. Along with Sarah’s pre-performance tips (“stay hydrated,” “do something you love to do”), my colleagues were rock stars. Theirs was a laughing, ‘hey-I’m-nervous-too,’ spirit.
Storytelling is enjoying resurgence, led by national projects like the Moth Radio Hour and Story Corps. Even the Department of the Interior is getting into the game. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said recently: “The National Park Service is America’s storyteller, and we know that there are very, very important parts of our story that have yet to be told.” Jewell was speaking in support of the Park initiative to recognize the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the country’s first national monument to honor the LGBT rights movement.
Here in southwest Colorado, the Raven Narratives are succeeding because of the inclusive, open-minded mission, crafted by Yoder and Syverson: to connect us with each other and the places where we live and play through the ancient art of storytelling.
The productions, the pair explained from the stage, are just as much about the audience as they are about the performers. When we lean in and listen, we open up as a community. We avail ourselves to differing points of view. We grow.
When my kids were younger, I stuck a handwritten note on the fridge. It said: “Listening is the most powerful thing you can do.” It stayed there for years (Teenage boys especially need reminding that it’s not all about them.)
Syverson introduced the evenings’ program by citing Story Corps, which promotes listening as an act of love. Watch fantastic video here.
With this kind of cradling support, how could a public-speaking crawler not stand up and walk?