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Stories Matter

I have just emerged from the virtual library of Storycorps – [where] every voice matters. It’s been a morning spent on the computer, not something I imagined doing while on holiday in Hawaii but when it comes to projects like this, I say thank goodness for the Internet and what it makes possible. I’m here with my dad who lives on The Big Island.  We are several islands away from the shimmering skyscrapers and touristy beachfronts of Waikiki.  I’m enjoying the summer warmth and sense of community into which I am welcomed whenever I spend time in this more laid-back volcanic paradise.  Without fail, Dad meets me at the airport and places a lei made up of Pua-kenikeni flowers around my neck. We hug, accidentally squishing the yellow blooms and their scent grows sweeter. I don’t need a watch to adjust to the new time zone; I simply look at the colour of the petals.  Pua-kenikenis give off three different colours in a day.  In the early morning when they first bloom, they are cream.   By the middle of the day they are a rich yellow and by nightfall they turn deep gold.   Dad helps me with my luggage as I readjust my rich yellow lei and when I ‘come home’ I find orchids on my bedside table; this time a Doritis plant with delicate purple clusters in full bloom.

Our father-daughter rituals are a story unto themselves; perhaps we will do a Storycorps recording one day.  Dad introduced me to Storycorps a few years ago.  Stories lie at the very heart of what they do and their motto, “listening is an act of love”, is tangible even via the web. He often listens in to the stories that are broadcast on America’s National Public Radio. When I’m here, I join him. But I can visit their website from anywhere in the world and every time I step out of this story space, I am different to who I was before I went in.

There are storytelling platforms all over the globe that believe in the power of stories to transform. I’m writing about Storycorps today because of the special connection it represents between my dad and me.  If you hop over to their website, you will read that they have recorded and archived many thousands of conversations with people across America.  Participants keep their recorded story and a copy is preserved at The American Folklife Centre at the Library of Congress.

Storycorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind…

‘We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.’

What I appreciate about the stories in this library is that they are not simply told, documented and archived somewhere.  The sharing of these stories is an interactional experience, the telling of which is supported in ways that have resonance for others.  Whether in films, books, around a campfire, the family dinner table or in a doctor’s room, I have long been interested in the influential ability of storytelling to transform, or equally, to dispossess and malign.  Arlene Goldbard writes about these themes spanning the arts, culture, politics and spirituality, and I read as many of her essays as I can get my hands on.  Check out this link to read her article – The Story Revolution: How Telling Our Stories Transforms the World.

 My professional and personal experiences in the health sector have me particularly interested in the impact of illness narratives on individuals and more collectively on us as a people. This is a big topic, explored by many, and I am aware I do not do justice to the full complexity of issues here.  Thing is, we are all multi-storied beings and our stories do not unfold in isolation. Our interactional lives are rich with tales of love, struggle, courage, family, play, work…the list is endless.   When we get sick, it is easy for our personal stories to be lost amongst illness and disability stories that profile deficits.  These singular and more dispossessing storylines are not neutral in their impact. When deficit stories become the definitive story about us – in that this is how others come to know us and how we begin to know ourselves – it leaves very little room for the rest of us to be seen.

 Storycorps has a broad range of stories and animated short films including specific initiatives around illness and loss.  Their co-creative mediums make room for themes of hope, dignity and illness or disability to sit side by side. What wonderful platforms for meaning making and privileging preferred expressions of identity! They make room for the stories we hold dear to be heard, they invite us to listen and, in health worlds where personal accounts of life can be overlaid with technical expertise and the predominant discourse is medical, they make room for more of us to be seen.

 ‘Mahalo’ to my dad for introducing me to this story space!

 Marie Williams

First posted 1 July 2013

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