Our First Stories

Years ago I read Julia Cameron’s popular book, The Artist’s Way. So many people I respected recommended it that I thought, what do I have to lose? Among the exercises and insights that I loved in that book was something like this (I no longer have my copies, since I gave so many of them away): Ask yourself, what are the movies and books that most appeal to you? Once you have a list, what are the common themes among those works of art? The idea being, when you discovered the themes that most spoke to you, you knew what direction your own creations should take. 

As a storyteller, I have a slightly different take on that wonderful exercise. I like to ask: What are the stories you liked best or remember best from your childhood and young adulthood? When you list them, you will learn a lot about the kind of person you are. That’s because as storytellers, we find that stories choose us. I could no more assign a student a story to learn than assign a person to marry. The relationship between storyteller and story is an intimate one. If you can’t relate to the story, you can’t inhabit it.

Conversely, when we do relate to a story, we have to wonder, why? One of the earliest stories that made an impression on me was from a record that my parents played for me when I took a nap as a very young child. It was the Brothers Grimm version of  “The Goose Girl.” I didn’t remember the name, or much about the story. But I did recall that there was a horse named Falada who spoke even when its head was cut off. And there was a case of stolen identity. 

My love for the story is no great mystery to me. I was a huge fan of horses, for one thing. As for the stolen identity, The Prince and the Pauper always haunted me. The idea that someone could take someone’s rightful place in his family was terrifying. 

I’m not going to take too much time here figuring out what that says about me—other than that I had a strong sense of justice, and that personal identity is an important value of mine. My point is just that our favorite stories indicate overwhelming needs and desires, dreams and beliefs that we may not even recognize as being important to our sense of ourselves. So please, try this, and let me know what you discover.



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  • Irene Savarese  On December 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Karen, The first stories that comes to mind are Mary Poppins, Oliver Twist(saw on TV) and The emperor’s new clothes (I think the tittle is in English. I read the Danish version by H.C. Andersen) If you don’t know it, it’s about an emperor showing of his new clothes, but he is really naked, and nobody says anything but smiles and admire his new clothes, except a boy crying out loud to everyone’s embarrassment: “But he has no clothes on”.
    It does not surprise me that I am a therapist!

    • publicstoryteller  On December 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      The Emperor’s New Clothes is very popular here, as are the others. Yes, I can tell a lot about you already! By the way, I collect editions of Andersen’s tales. I have a few nice ones I’ll show you next time you are here. Thanks so much for your comments!

  • Irene Savarese  On December 9, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    I love to see them. I also have a book with a collection of fairy tales where H.C. Andersen is translated to English.
    I truly enjoy your blog and admire the work you do!

    • publicstoryteller  On December 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      The feeling is mutual! I just posted again; I try to do it every Thursday night at least. Tomorrow I am telling Greek myths to 90 middle-schoolers and I am doing everything but preparing!

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