Monday, December 17, 2012

The Oldest Form of Art

I say on a regular basis that I'm not an artist. I don't really draw or paint well. I don't sculpt or do mosaics. But, I do spin and weave.

Not textile art, but word art. I am an amateur story teller.

My name won't ever be in the same category as Garrison Keillor. I'm not in the league of JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling. Or anybody else famous for that matter.

But I do tell stories that my kids love. Maybe that could classify me as a borderline artist?

Storytelling is the art of painting a picture with your words. It may, in fact, be one of the oldest art forms. Oral tradition trumped writing by quite a few years.

Storytellers kept historical accounts alive. They reminded people of their roots and past. Storytelling definitely is steeped in rich tradition. Storytelling weaves facts with surmises. It pairs people with feelings.

A picture is worth a thousand words. But a storyteller? They don't need a picture to produce a scene with all its nuances.

Storytelling is an art. It is a skill.

And I am firmly convinced that anyone can become a great storyteller. Anyone.

Even me. It just takes practice.

I remember the moment I thought, "I can do that." I had taught children for years and years, but my format was always more lecture-esque. I love facts, and connecting the dots. But I always figured I was too black and white to be able to tell a story.

I heard a woman share the story of blind Bartemaeus with a group of over 300 women. She didn't tell the story at an adult level, but at a child's. Every woman was on the edge of their seat as they listened to a story they had read before. The story they had just studied.

As I thought over what she had done, I realized it was rather simple. She placed herself in the story. She took the black and white outline and filled it in with color.

When you tell a story there are a couple things that are your friends...your grade school grammar lessons, for one. Which is not to say that your story must be grammatically correct...

A little jingle my dad taught me was

I had 6 faithful friends, they taught me all I knew.
Their names are
What? Where? How? Why? When? and Who?

If you can answer these questions, you have a good foundation for a great story.

Who are the Characters? 
When did the story take place? Last year, yesterday, 4000 years ago?
Where? At home? In what country? A desert or on a hill? By the ocean?
What happened? 
Why is this happening? Why are they doing what they are doing?
How does it start? End? How did this happen?

Then think parts of speech
Verbs-action words.
Adjectives and Adverbs-colorful, describing words.

Add in the five senses
Smell, sight, hearing, taste, feel.

Mix in a healthy dose of repetition. Key words and phrases. Key facts.

Google is your best friend. Look up facts about places, and people.

And put yourself in the situation.

And, lo and behold, you have yourself a story.

This Wednesday, I have the opportunity and privilege to share the real Christmas story, with some kids who have never heard the real Christmas story. Kind of shocking actually, that kids can live in the great US of A, and never have heard the real Christmas story.

And, I am excited. Excited to tell this very familiar (to me) story. If you read the Christmas story from the Bible, it could take all of 5-10 minutes, depending how fast you read.

But, telling the story, now that can take much longer.

-Moms, put yourself in Mary's shoes. Think how huge you were at 9 months pregnant. Swollen feet, distended belly, heart burn, exhausted.

-How would you feel if you had to walk 80 miles, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. How long would it take you to waddle that far? Best case scenario-4 days. Worst-8 days, 10 days.

-Maybe she bumped along on a donkey. Now that'd be fun. Not! No wonder she went in to labor.

-Can you feel her pain? Giving birth in what was likely a cave. They don't have barns like we do. Alone. No mother, sisters, or doctor to help you out. No meds, no hot, running water. Just the sights, smells, and sounds of a stable.

-Or how about those shepherds? Sitting sleepily in a field in the winter. Cold. Clear, starry sky. Crispy air. Sheep bleating. Blowing on your hands trying to keep warm. And then-SUDDENLY-don't you just jump with them?

-Taxes and censuses. We do both here in the U.S.. Census every 10 years, but it comes to our door. We don't have to travel to be tallied. And then it is still kind of a bother. And, most people could write an epistle on their dislike of taxes.

-Caesar may have heard of him before in the form of the months August and October. He named them both after himself. Yes, his other name is Octavian. He was almost the first official Caesar. His uncle, Julias Caesar reigned for a very short time before him. But that didn't turn out too well.  Octavian started his rule by defeating the two other men who were supposed to reign as a triumvirate with him. By Jesus' birth, Octavian had been ruling for a while.

All the sudden you have the frame work for this magnificent story...chapter one of the greatest story ever told.

My challenge to you is to take this story you know so well, and tell it to someone else. Tell a good story.

Practice the story in your head. How will you start? How will you end? Practice in front of the mirror. Practice it out loud.

Until you have a story that will grip your listeners. That will pin them to the edge of their seats. That they will remember forever.

You can do it. I know you can!