Story is an integral part of my life. Not only do I write them, not only do I work towards a life fueled mostly by Story, I am passionate about the written word. I am also passionate about the tradition of storytelling, something our modern culture needs desperately.
Madeleine L'Engle lamented once that the word "story" has come to mean something that is false. You're accused of "telling a story" when you lie. "Oh that's just a story," someone scoffs when they hear a parable, a fable, a myth. It's said in such a way to cause derision. A shrugging of the shoulders, a turning away.
"We want facts!" Modern American's scream. What we really need is truth. And truth, my friends, is rarely found in facts. It is usually, mostly, found in Story.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes may be familiar to you from her bestselling book The Women who Run With the Wolves in which she discusses the wild woman archetype. I am in the process of reading Wolves for the first time even though I used to shelve it at a bookshop when it first came out in paperback. I knew then I'd stumbled upon something weighty, something important. It was not until now, some 20 + years later, that I find I am ready for it. I knew I'd found a voice I needed to hear. What I didn't know was how beautiful that voice resonates.
Dr. Estes is a lyricist. I discovered her poetry, quite by accident, in her book The Faithful Gardener. It is a lovely, rabbit hole moment: researching a novel I found a quote from Wolves. I went to order the book online (from Barnes and Noble, if you must know) and discovered this lovely little tome. So I ordered it too, on a lark, and was so captivated by the cover and the excerpt printed on the back that I dove right in.
My, my. What a plunging.
The book is told in classic fairy tale language. Estes talks to us from her memories as a young girl sitting with her "giant" of an uncle and learning the subtle and profound art of storytelling. Estes comes from both Hispanic and Hungarian bloodlines. Both have infused her veins with the fire of Story. Her uncle, whom she called Zovar, was a refugee from WWII. He'd seen unimaginable horrors. He'd fled Hungary as soon as he could to put as much distance between himself and those memories and to start afresh in a free world. It was Story that helped him through the nightmares; it was Story that gave him hope and new life. He clung to the old stories, the old ways of sorting out life. He also retained the wisdom from those ancestral stories that applied to mankind's relationship to the land. Or, at least, the relationship we SHOULD have to the land.
This book is a real find. Estes and Zovar captivated me from page one. It's short; I could have read it in one sitting had I not started it close to midnight. But don't let that fool you. It's not a light read. It carries a weight with it and one that is not lightly tossed aside. I can't wait to read it again, underline the wisdoms, take notes and let them trickle inside me until I feel I, too, can in some microscopic way, understand the start of what Zovar was trying to say. I long for Story and for those who harbor that exquisite gift of creating it. Word weavers are rare, a blip on the radar of authors and artists. They are the poets and the madmen; they are the refugees from physical terror and horror as well as the misunderstanding of modern society. They hunger for community; they thirst for the telling.
"Now surely," Estes writes, " amongst the most soulful humans ever created, especially those mad for stories, hard work, and the living of life, were the dancing fools, wise old rosws, grumpy sages, and 'almost saints' who made up the old people in our family."
I can only hope, in some small way through Story, I can become one of them too.