You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I am a warrior and all my life I’ve been waging a war with story.
Don’t be afraid. I’m a normal person. I live in an apartment and sleep in a bed. The most unusual thing about me is that I don’t have any tattoos. But when it comes to stories, I’ve been fighting the good fight as long as I can remember.
I’ve studied literature, drama, film and creative writing. I’ve watched tons of documentaries and read autobiographical stories of all types. I’ve helped people to find stories of personal identity in historical documents and I’ve narrated public exhibitions. I’ve blogged, kept journals and made art out of words. I’m as compelled to get stories into me as the next storytelling animal but it goes deeper than that. I didn’t know it at the time but stories are a battleground and I was fighting an important fight.
Here’s what I mean.
When I studied language and literature, stories were an argument about what humans are actually like. When I wrote about horror films and feminism, I was battling lies that popular culture tells about women. When I became an archivist with a head full of literature and cultural theory instead of historical facts and a period specialism, I was all about challenging the story that heritage is a neutral thing. When I refused lose “the construction of gender” from a history report, I was kicking against a supervisor’s view that if something doesn’t mean anything to him… then it doesn’t mean anything. When I argued that everybody should be humanities trained regardless of the jobs they go on to do, I was resisting the story that education only exists to serve the economy. When I curated oral histories into an exhibition of official documents, I was battling the story that lived experience doesn’t count. When I blogged about human connection, I was refuting the story that human beings are selfish, competitive and individualistic. When I promote Sunday Assembly, I am fighting the story that you can’t have good without god.
I could probably go on and on with these examples. But you’re beginning to see how stories ain’t just stories? It’s meta as all heck.
It turns out that I haven’t just been analysing stories and writing stories and curating stories and singing-the-feem-tune-stories (sorry) but battling against a whole pile of story badness. Like bloomin’ She-Ra. I’m sure you have too.
There’s a heap of really bad, really inaccurate and really oppressive cultural stories out there and I’m not even talking about fake news. So you know it’s not tin-foil-hat-conspiracy time, I’ve explained more about it here, here and here.
So, joining the dots backwards, like the puzzle-book vet I am, I figured it out. I’m only a freakin’ story warrior! And you didn’t even know it was a thing.
So, this is all well and good – we need our resistance – but I’ve realised how we can win this thing. We have a really powerful tool at our fingertips: true life storytelling.
Instead of resisting what has gone before and allowing the agenda to be set by the old stories and storytellers, we can replace them with better, more compelling, more convincing and more human-friendly stories of our own. We can find our voices, share our own stories and tell it like it is. Instead of fighting over stories at one remove, I can put my cultural capital and story expertise to good use by inspiring storytellers to release their stories into the world. Let’s seed better stories all over the place, Lorax-style!
If all this fighting talk hasn’t convinced you, delve a little deeper here, here and here. Learn about the beyond-catnip power of story over human beings and let me show you that yes, you do have stories worth sharing and how to get them into the history books. Apart from anything else, we all need the connection, community and personal wellbeing that storytelling brings.