I am writing from my basement. I live in a house that is about 60 years old. There is asbestos under the tiles in the basement, so we don't move them. There is a thick carpet the color of dark chocolate in the room where I sit, and a mantelpiece and false fireplace made of granite chips. I think they are offcuts from the moument works, like the stone wall around my back yard. There are a couple of places in that wall where you can see ivy leaves etched into the stone. I am surrounded by failed tombstones; life is edged with death. Death defines it.
It is cold where I sit. There is snow on the ground outside under the tall, windblown pines. My backyard is 60 years old, as well. The earth is older, of course, but the trees are not so old. The lilacs are leggy and the flowers are too high to cut when they bloom. The beds are overrun with wild raspberries and creeping bellflower. Next spring, I will prune and plant. For now, the yard is sleeping.
There is a candle lit near me, and it flickers with the rhythm of my typing as the desk shakes just a bit. I can hear the ticking of the Totoro clock on the wall and the gurgling of water through the filter on the turtle tank. This is a house full of beasts. Tiny armored dragons and water beasts, a red-eared hound, three cats with stripes and one black one, and a fierce little fish live among us.
On the nights when I am home and not tutoring and or sharing stories with others, my son eats his bedtime snack and brushes his teeth, says goodnight to my partner, and goes with me into his room. We light a candle, and he bounces onto his bed in the dim, cool room. Every time, the story starts the same way: Once, there was a boy and a cat, who lived in a cottage in the woods with the boy's mama. One day, the boy woke up, and he got out of bed and got dressed. He went downstairs, and there was his mama, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking her coffee.
Every story starts this way, and it is a rare occasion that I have any clue at all what comes next. Oh, there will be breakfast, and the boy will put on his outdoor things, and at some point he will talk with the cat. He may spend the day helping the Queen of the Tinies, a fairy, to find a lost squirrel or to care for the little creatures of the forest. He may play all day with his friends, the little girl (who has no name) and Philip, who lives next door, or with Toby and Jacob across the field. Every story ends with the boy and cat snuggling into bed and falling fast asleep.
As my son listens to my words, I listen to the story itself, singing just under the surface of my thoughts. The stories are not high art. Sometimes there is a moment of pure gold, but often, there is simply a quiet, prosy account of the boy's doings – homey, comforting activities, mild adventures, security and joy. I rarely try to weave in a moral or a lesson, though some days he needs that, and it comes into the story somewhere.
These stories are gone from my memory by the time I leave the room. I try to hold onto some details to provide a little continuity, but I cannot tell you how many babysitters and other adults I have brought into the story, and then, like someone I meet at a party and cannot recall later on, I forget their names and how they were related to the story. It doesn't matter. It's not a novel or an epic poem. These folk along the way don't mean much beyond what they can teach the boy in that moment.
I have been telling stories my whole life. I remember the day I came in from the backyard and told my mother I had been sitting on my swingset, telling myself a story about a little girl named Annika. I was seven. Annika had hundreds of dresses the colors of the sunset, and she lived in a huge mansion. Much of the tale was an account of her wardrobe and her toys.
I told stories to my friends on the playground and on playdates at our homes. I told stories as my audition for the Renaissance Festival at 13, and in college to an audience of magic-hungry students. I told stories every day to the children in the nursery/kindergarten class I assisted, and to the children in my Russian lessons. I told stories every day as the lesson content for eleven years of Waldorf elementary classes. Stories are my language. Stories are my heartbeat, my breath, my bone.
Let me tell you a tale, and then, tell me your stories. Don't tell me you can't, that you don't know any. Everyone knows a story. I want to hear yours. Welcome. Welcome to the story, to our work together. Welcome to breathing, to letting the story come from you and through you to your listeners. Welcome to flow, to the moment of being in the moment, of being in the story itself, relating the actions, the experiences, the sights and sounds and tastes and textures of your story. Welcome home, and welcome to the journey. Welcome to the forest and the mountain and the depths of the cold ocean. Welcome.
We are here to bring story alive for children, and for adults. We are here to bring story to those who are hungering and thirsting for what it is true. If you cannot believe in fairy tales, if the world is a land of hard truths and darkness, and if you never want to see what is vehind the locked door, then perhaps this land is not for you. For me, the hard truths are softened by a hand in mine, the darkness is dispelled by a single candle, and the fairies walk beside me and tunnel below the earth at my feet and float between me and the light of the stars. This is the truth, and this is where I speak to you. Come in. Please come in.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.