Monday, May 14, 2012

Tell Me A Story

As anyone who has been a parent to a small child—or a friend to a small child—knows, one request you will no doubt hear from said child is:  tell me a story.
We humans are hard-wired to want to hear story telling.  I used that human need when I was teaching—nothing got the attention of students quite so fast as telling a story.  One of the first writing assignments I would give was to write a narrative.  The simple task of the assignment:  tell me a story.

No doubt, our human love of stories originated around cave campfires.  The nights can stretch long and cold in northern winters.  It is easy to picture a small group of cave people—men, women, old and young, huddled together and then someone begins to tell a story.

We know, for example, that some of the earliest literature we have began out of an oral tradition.  Stories that would be told, perhaps even sung, by professional story-tellers who would travel around, weaving their magic in words.

Sometimes it seems that when we grow older, and more sophisticated in our modern way, that we think we don’t need stories anymore.  But, the recent news of Maurice Sendak’s death struck a deep sad chord within the hearts of those of us who grew up either reading or hearing “Where the Wild Things Are.”  Sendak grasped the power of the story.  Not for him the faux emotion of a happily-ever-after-sugar-coated Disney tale.  He told stories that placed a firm finger on children’s deep inner fears—and made them seem … normal.  It was OK to have wild things romping around in your kingdom room.  It was OK to be afraid.  It was OK to peer into the darkness.

And just today, I heard of another use of storytelling.  An NPR story (there’s that word again) talked about Alzheimer’s patients or even anyone with dementia.  One of the sad losses they experience is the ability to communicate.  And it begins when their memories grow spotty so they can’t recall things.  Loved ones who long to communicate try to prompt them to talk about something they remember.  But, it’s the failure of memory that frustrates them and sometimes renders them mute.

So some bright person thought—why not get them to tell a story about a picture they look at.  The picture can be anything: an ad from a magazine, an illustration, a painting—whatever.  The prompt is simple—tell me a story about what you see in this picture.  And since there’s no wrong answer, no challenge to recall details, they can talk.  They construct stories about the scene in the picture, adding details and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  No doubt, their loved ones are also gratified to hear them communicating again.

So, tell me a story.  It’s the human thing to do.


Ruth said...

Where the Wild Things Are is a family favourite. I was surprised to read that it was banned in some areas when first published due to its "dark" theme.
Communication difficulties with Alzheimer's disease are so frustrating for everyone. I may speak to our psychologist about putting up some thoughtful art (besides calendar photos and hand hygiene posters!) on our unit.

KGMom said...

Ruth--I update my post to include a hyperlink on the NPR story. It describes in a bit more detail how therapists use the story telling technique with dementia patients. It would be wonderful if the technique could help more people.

Ginnie said...

As you know, I posted about the loss of Maurice Sendak too. His books were such a big part of my kids childhood.
The last year of my mother's life she lost all of her memories, including recognizing us (her family members) but her mind was active and she would have been very good at this exercise. Very interesting.

NCmountainwoman said...

I heard the NPR segment. What a great and simple idea! Did you read "Still Alice," a fictional story written in the first person by a woman with early onset dementia? I enjoyed it very much.

On many occasions our children were so lucky (as was I) to hear Jackie Torrence, one of the best storytellers I have ever heard. As you no doubt know, storytelling is legend here in the mountains.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Everyone has a story to tell. It often does not take much to get them to tell it.

When I became a minister, one of the things that surprised me the most was how willing people were to tell me their story, which were often person and even painful. I came to see this was because of my office (the minister) and my person, (I am very open and willing to listen). I came to feel so privileged to have people share their stories with me.

Anonymous said...

I must move Still Alice to the top of my stack.

My husband can weave a grand story at the drop of a hat, but he can't tell one that he's already heard without screwing it up. His imagination gets in the way, I think. I, on the other hand, am terrible at making up stories, but can tell ones that are truth-based.

I suppose that makes him a from scratch teller and me a mix teller.

Anvilcloud said...

Seems like a good idea, except that I can't recount an old story or tell a new one to save my life.