The Power Of The Storyteller

By: Stephanie Reynolds

Someone come, tell me a story

About the past all filled with glory

Bold young bucks and bolder lasses

Inspiring the timid masses

Spin for me a clever yarn

In colored threads to keep me warm –

In heart and mind, when I remember,

Every word a glowing ember.

Build for us somewhere to rest

In a feather-worded nest.

With tranquil tidings tuck us in

‘Til we can face the world again.

Carry me along your path;

Make me cry, then make me laugh.

Then make me do them both again

With merry eyes and quiv’ring chin.

We forget our history,

So bind to us the mystery

Of cruel humanity, and love,

The worm below, the Lord above

Let’s not foolishly dismiss

Such a vital role as this –

Evincing in the fable dweller

The power of the storyteller.

“Third-graders are an ALIEN ARMY!” Bil Lepp’s awed voice rang over the tent of fascinated school children. I, having just slipped in the back late in the story, wonder what I missed. I mean, as a mom of two grown children, 3rd graders being aliens isn’t exactly news to me, so I felt he must have been making another point.

He was: How to best the teacher’s pet by throwing rocks into the woods to prove that your teacher is really Wonder Woman in disguise. You’ll need helium, purple chalk, lungs, and the horror flick The Blob.

Ah, got it. Check.

I am on special assignment. A special, OFFICIAL assignment given to me by a REAL LIVE editor to cover a BREAKING EVENT like an actual SEASONED JOURNALIST (not like a newbie tourism assistant who needs to submit an article by Friday).

I think I played it pretty cool, though, as I walked up to the tent and introduced myself with a purposefully level gaze to the security guard. “I’m Stephanie Reynolds. I was asked to cover this by my editor Ali Turner for the Athens Now newspaper. I’ll only be a few minutes.” Brisk. Professional. Nailed it. I wished I had a badge to oh-so-casually flash, but I think pushing my sleeves up to my elbows made me look journalist-y enough. In any case, he laughed and waved me in.

It had been a minute since I had spent an afternoon with grade-schoolers. To be honest, I thought it would be more chaotic and jaded. We get the impression that kids nowadays are even more disaffected than GenX, and as someone who was dark and brooding at 17; wearing black, stonewashed jeans; and listening to The Cure, that’s saying something.

But let me tell you what made my heart grow two sizes this afternoon. The second storyteller, Josh Goforth, regaled us with a tale about the Irish potato famine, a stag who grants wishes, and a poor farmer. The farmer asked his father what he should ask the stag for, and the father said, “GOLD! You must ask for piles of gold!” Then the farmer went to his blind mother who said, “My sight! If I could see the green hills of Ireland again, the blue sky, and your smiling face, that’s all I could wish for!”

Then the storyteller asks (rhetorically, in the voice of the farmer), “Should I do what my father wants and ask for gold or what my mother wants and ask for her sight?”

Y’all, I didn’t hear one child say the gold. I heard many insistently holler that he should ask for sight for his mother.

<Insert jaw drop here>

It occurs to me that, being half-blind myself, I might be just a leeeetle close to this. But as the OFFICIALLY ASSIGNED JOURNALIST that I am (…pretending to be today), I can keep my objectivity, as is fitting for one with newly-discovered Pulitzer aspirations. Plus, I often forget I can’t see till I run into something on my left.

So, much like the obvious aim of the Fiddler’s Convention was “excellent music” but the heart of it was how jam sessions made pockets of safe spaces for people to try regardless of skill level, the Storytelling Festival also has its own much deeper subtext: getting people to think and feel. Gently and disarmingly ducking around preconceived notions and stony walls to help the listener be inherently more than they were that morning.

I mean, think about it—there probably were children who said “GOLD!” when the farmer was deciding his wish. But they heard other children mention the mother’s sight. That had to make them pause, putting themselves in the position of a child of blind mother, or perhaps the mother herself.

And even better, the wish the farmer eventually told the stag was clever and crafted. The story not only reminded the children they have a heart, but it also helped for an actual new thinking pattern in the brain.

To hear the children literally gasp in an “OH! RIGHT!” moment when Bil Lepp mentioned that Wonder Woman would park her invisible jet on the roof, not the woods or parking lot, was delightful. At that moment, they GOT IT. They now know to “Think up,” to look around, to deduce. That little moment is a synapse-seed that will bloom into new intelligence.

On a mild fall afternoon, between aliens and a round of “Turkey In The Straw,” children were strengthened in both heart and mind.

That is the power of a storyteller.

By: Stephanie Reynolds

Athens-Limestone Tourism Association