Reaching for the Immortality of Storytelling

October 13, 2016

 

Stories are not something to be read. They are told. They are lived. Appreciated. Experienced. The storyteller connects to the audience through their evocative words. These words touch the lives of the experienced and fledgling human alike. People listen and relate to stories across generations and generations, approaching something like immortality. There are stories that were written over a millennia ago, yet are still taught to students because there is something for them to learn. These stories are teachers, leaving their audiences with knowledge from anyone brave or stupid enough to put words to their thoughts: the long dead, the recent dead, the unspoken, the unheard … anyone. Anywhere. The gatekeepers of storytelling have only overtly sprung up recently. Prior to the obvious walls of the publishing world, people were kept from telling their stories because they had no means of telling it. The lives and experiences of people who we may never have known are preserved for others to enjoy or mourn. That’s the kicker. Stories are how people become immortal. 

 

The luxury we have now is that stories do not need to be written down to spread. Just having words on a paper does not make a story because stories are everywhere; we take them in without meaning to. They're half-overheard conversations between strangers. They’re whispers from television sets at two in the morning. They’re the exuberant gestures and exclaimed half-sentences between close friends. They flutter from pages at the local library or the closest bookshelf. They come streaming across phones or laptop screens. They gush from the mouths of just about anybody on the street. Stories can be lively and humorous or soft and emotional or any possible combination. Flowing from one person to another, these stories make their home any way they can. 

 

At their origins, though, stories were spoken. They were told, sung, and expressed in any way a person could communicate. That wasn’t enough. Stories were meant to reach the widest possible audience over the longest possible time frame, which is why people began to write them down. Whether it is engraved in stone or preserved on paper or emblazoned on the Internet does not matter; these stories are all nearly eternal. 

 

Generations from now, people may stumble across something written today and realize how ultimately human we all are. These connections span centuries, if the point can be properly communicated. Shakespeare wrote dick jokes, yet most people believe his work is something incredibly highbrow. I wonder how many stories written now as jokes or complete nonsense will be over-analyzed by the scholars of the future looking for meaning where there is none. But sometimes the lack of meaning is meaningful in itself. In a world where there are gatekeepers limiting what can be considered “proper” stories, sometimes the nonsensical begins to make sense. Who cares how proper a story is so long as people are enjoying it? So long as someone can harness meaning from a story, it will live on. 

 

However, there are some who try to limit that. There are some who believe having fun with one’s story and taking pride in it squanders the talent of everyone and belittles those who agonize over every word. The people who believe this are the same ones who believe anything other than the literary canon is something lesser, almost something to be ashamed of. How is television any less entertaining and enlightening than eighteenth century literature that few people bother to decipher? Those people who do not bother or are unable to appreciate older literature as it is are not lesser. They simply have other interests.  

 

Luckily, there those brave few who buck off the traditions of the literary elite and call all stories equal. They recognize that everyone deserves a good story, so they write stories that they hope can reach anyone. In the process, they taste the fame, the fulfillment, so they can’t help but keep reaching. Who doesn’t want to go down in history? So we reach. With whatever method of communication available to us—speech, sign, written language, pictograms, vague gesturing, exorbitant song, whatever method possible—we reach for recognition. We want someone to remember us when we’re gone.

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