Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why We Tell Stories

Back when I lived in Texas, I hung around with a wonderful community of people who made leaving for New York City really hard. Here are just a few of them, but there are several others:


Over the years with these guys, I have shared many laughs, meals, and snot-filled cry sessions (with the women, at least). In several ways, this is one of those groups that seems to function a lot like a tribe. We have our own culture, our own songs, our own traditions.

Among our many traditions is that of storytelling. Group gatherings always include a hefty amount of reminiscing. Catching up on daily life is a thing that happens, sure, but what we really love is bringing to life the moments from our pasts that we've shared together. We'll tell these stories again and again, unafraid to create new ones, but always cherishing the ones which celebrate our history. When couples from within this group decide to get married, we all sit around them at an engagement party to listen to the tale of how they met and how they got engaged. Sure, we already know all of the details -- the way she didn't think much of him when they were first introduced or the part where he almost dropped the ring into a river -- but there is something about retelling the story that reminds us all of what an adventure love is. 

Daniel and I trying to keep our facts straight while telling our story at our engagement party

There was a time when storytelling was a cultural necessity. It was how traditions were passed along to future generations. It was how norms were set. It is the reason why some of the greatest works of literature were actually able to be written down. I mean, without a dedication to oral tradition, the world might have missed out on Homer's The Iliad or The Odyssey. These are stories that are said to have been sung throughout the generations until one day they were written down, elevating these epic poems to legend.

Today, I don't believe we feel that same pressure to pass things on, and why would we? We have the ability to capture moments digitally and we're in constant, immediate contact with each other through a whole host of media. The device of storytelling is no longer a survival need, and in many ways, it seems impractical, archaic even.

While stories are no longer told to categorize our history, they do serve a profound purpose in relationships. By bringing our pasts to life, storytelling promotes trust, honesty, and the desire to move forward. 

I experienced this recently when I went to an event to honor a friend who was celebrating years of sobriety and recovery. In the midst of this celebration, multiple people came forth to share their struggles with addiction, recounting days where they were at their lowest, pouring out thanks to the people who lifted them up. I realized in the midst of this beautiful scene that these are a people dedicated to the practice of storytelling. They shed light on undignified parts of their lives in order to take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. It's the greatest gift any story can give, really.

Our stories are what connect us. They remind us how ridiculous human existence is. Last night I went to dinner with a group of women, and we all ended up sharing the stories of our engagements, none of which were romcom-level perfect, but all of which were hilarious and sweet. It brought us together in a mutual understanding that life can be so beautiful while also being so completely unpolished.

A scene from my engagement. It's a great story. I'll have to tell it sometime.

"Anything is a story; you just have to tell it"

These are the semi-profound words of one of my best friends on the planet, Patrick. I say "semi-profound" because if I gave him the satisfaction of just saying "profound", he'd probably be pretty smug about it. Patrick is one of those people who is unknowingly popular. He gathers crowds at parties and people just seem to celebrate his existence. One of the things he does best in the world is tell stories. He's got one about getting a really crappy Transformer action figure for Christmas that has legitimately changed my life. 

Me and Patrick. This is a good story too.
His stories are usually self-deprecating -- moments from his life where he is not the hero, yet in recounting these tales he somehow becomes the hero. That being said, it's very fitting to conclude with his advice:

Tell your stories. Anything can be a story -- that crappy breakup, that day you left your keys in your other pants, that moment you realized you wanted to marry her -- anything. You just have to tell it. And when you do, do so genuinely. Don't make yourself the hero if you were kind of the villain. Don't give yourself a sword if all you had was a butter knife. Keep in all of the messy, awkward, true things because those are the things that really connect us all. 

At least, that's what I think.

Before I go, and while we're on the subject of stories, I wanted to shamelessly plug something that I'm going to be a part of that I think might genuinely interest you. It's an artists' showcase happening this Sunday at 7:00 PM here in NYC (Hell's Kitchen, to be precise) called Spring Forth.

Artwork by Tim Bauer

It will be a combo of music & storytelling celebrating the end of this horrific winter. I'll be telling a story along with other comedians on the theme of "a change of seasons". All proceeds for the event (suggested $5 donation) are going to City Harvest. I should also mention that there will be beer from Brooklyn Brewery (one free with your donation!) and fantastic musical acts, so it's kind of a perfect blend of all things awesome. Find more details on the Facebook event page, and if you're not in NYC right now, that's okay. Tell your cousin who lives in Queens to come on out, or if you know Jay Z, maybe drop him a line. 

Okay, that's a wrap. I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this -- storytelling/friendship/honesty/whatever. Hit me up in the comments section!


  1. I love hearing engagement stories! At a party recently, one friend had gotten engaged the week before. Since his fiance wasn't at the party, he shared the engagement story. This prompted us to go around the room and have all the men tell their engagement stories. It was super fun, since it seems like it's normally the women who share the story (and perhaps romantacize it a bit?). The guys all shared little secrets like how nervous they were, and my own husband admitted he thought it was going terribly--since he proposed to me in my bathroom. It was a fun time.

  2. Christy, I will be way more smug about being called one of your best friends, then about any semi-profound words I may have uttered. I wish desperately that we could be at your storytelling event to hear your very profound words. its a shame that hundreds of miles separate us, but I am so thankful that our stories unite us, like pit bulls, the fun circle, and take your daughter to work day. I miss my fwends. lets catch up and tell each other the same stories again soon.

  3. I loved this post. So profound, and so true about how stories connect us.

    Miss you, friend.

  4. I love love love this post. So fantastic. I wish storytelling was still more of a tradition these days. But I guess in a way, as bloggers we are still telling our stories.

  5. Sorry, I'm way late on this! But, yes, THIS. And not just tell the stories, but live out great stories, too! Have something to tell! Not in a braggy way, but in a full, striving way. You know?

  6. Love this post. So well written and so much food for thought!


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