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An argument for democratizing storytelling

| Tuesday, February 25, 2020

“How do we not know each other better? We’ve known each other for two years!”

I heard these words from two of my friends a couple of weeks ago as they talked about various relationships they had over college. They both interacted with each other, but never actually got around to begin to know each other’s story. Forgive me, I’m not a good storyteller. I’m not like my roommate, who wraps people in with his interesting hook, wraps the story up with a neat little bow. His stories have a beginning, a conclusion, a thesis sentence, structure, coordination, humor. His stories have been illustrated and eloquently performed for more than a decade among his family, getting to the heart of the matter within a couple of sentences.

I never grew up storytelling to friends or family. I don’t have my own stories with a grasping hook or the beautiful structure. I consider my stories rants, or complaints, or unnecessary or unimportant. I hear Show Some Skin wants to ask for stories this year. A story, you say? Well, let me check my journals, my archives into myself. Oh, don’t bother showing anyone about what you’ve written, it’s too dry, too boring, much too sinuous and rambling and ultimately unimportant. If I can’t even get myself to read and be interested in my own story, why should I ask anybody else to? So I push my journals away from sight, away from my mind, of course away from others, away from anyone even willing and begging to listen.

You don’t know about me too well. I hold onto my mask, hide my own story. I’ll leave the telling of the stories to the storytellers. I know the importance of story, how it can change and affect and move people and strip them down to raw elements, but that isn’t my type of story. My stories are mundane, obvious, unclear.

I feel like a part of the campus community. We look for stories to hear and to pass on, but what do we do with our entire selves? Like my two friends that day at lunch, am I willing to talk about my own menial, humdrum story even when it fails to include a punchline? Why do I feel so ashamed that I try to stop myself from sharing my own story even when people are kind enough to want to hear it? Why can’t I feel comfortable enough to talk about my own stories even to my close friends or my significant other? I want to push for the telling of unheard stories. Not only those powerful or illustrious or rich imagery stories, the ones deserving to be broadcasted over Observer columns or even worthy of being repeated, for these ones have a special place in my heart. But also for the stories that are under-rehearsed or obsolete, for the stories which seem unimportant enough to mention, for the stories that comprise your life.

So what is your family like? What are two things you thought about this week? What does your name mean? What do you like to eat at the dining hall? What did you like best about this past summer? Or better yet, you decide what story to tell. It doesn’t have to be important or funny or coherent or interesting or even a story. I’m just grateful to be listening.

Patrick West is a senior and can be contacted at [email protected]

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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