The power of storytelling

Last weekend I attended the 6th edition of The Power of Storytelling, an yearly international conference about stories and how they make us and the world around us better. Before all my notes and my memories get too foggy and distant, I want to jot them down here, in no particular order and preference, and with the only intention to etch them deeper in my mind and, maybe, gather my courage and dare to start writing (again).


The lineup of speakers was impressive, not that I’ve heard of many of them before, but because they looked so regular, so warm, so unpretentious. And they had real stories, with hurt, and anguish, and success, that everyone can relate to. And they were open and vulnerable on stage, and their voices trembled and their eyes were full of emotions.

The theme of the conference was Dare to Wander and the stories presented on stage were about all kinds of wandering – inward, outward, with friends or by oneself, with fear or longing or despair, professionally or personally.

For Cheryl Strayed, daring to wander feels like an essential endeavor to our humanity, since we are born whole and we have to wander us back to that state. Wandering is a rite of passage, so much needed for us to reach our full potential. When the soul hurts, wandering outward, pushing our bodies to the limit of their perceived capabilities can make us stronger, bolder, more at peace. Wandering might mean escape, but might also mean going back to our roots, to our essence.

Jon Mooallem talked about one of his stories about pigeons. And about people. And about how things are always far more complicated and beautiful than we can or care to believe. Going all in into a story gives the storyteller the possibility to discover, both inside and out, meaning and purpose.

The solo concert/talk by Colin Meloy, singer and songwriter of The Decemberists, was a great reminder of how songs can tell stories and how beautifully words and notes go together. He talked about how he found his voice and how he turns the world around him in songs. This got scribbled quickly in my notebook: When the arrow is pointless, how do you know which way to go?

Talking about the process of storytelling behind the podcast Reply All, Tim Howard had a very important lesson he wanted to share. Trying to understand and tell a story takes courage, curiosity, perseverance and questioning. He said: What motors us is a sense of discovery and absolute fear that we have no idea where a story is going. But if we keep going, the reason will appear.

The same message was at the center of director Brian Lindstrom’s story. He, too, believes that a story will eventually emerge, if you stay humble, open and patient. It may not be the story you thought it was when you started, but it may better and more surprising than that. We would all want only beautiful stories, of sunshine and happy, but sometimes we need to fully understand the pain to fully grasp the strength.

Illustrator Carson Ellis, a quirky and emotional wanderer, believes wandering means straying off a path that feels comfortable in order get to know oneself better. It might happen even if you stay put, if you dare to wander in your mind’s world, from creative endeavor to creative endeavor, from what you know to something new and exciting. It might feel confusing, but this confusion is something we can all relate to and is a catalyst for growth.

Caroline Paul, firefighter and gutsy girl extraordinaire, talked about adventures as stories in action. On writing, she believes that everyone should find their niche, their own comfortable story space and advises adventurers to find good adventure buddies for their wandering. Resilience is what she advocates for the most and believes a strong community can help everybody grow.

Do you like poetry? Do you feel intimidated by rhymes and rhythm and all sorts of other poetry contraptions? Me too. But Tara Skurtu makes a great case for poetry as language used to describe what can’t be said in words. She says everyone is a poetry person, because poetry is about feelings. Every poem creates its own logic and has it own magic, which can be, you know, magic. She even gave us homework, which I still have to get around to doing, but if that turns into a poem, you’ll be the first to know.

Jonah Sachs talked about unsafe thinking, which means letting go of the beaten path and daring to wander into the unknown. He believes we can all be great wanderers if we greet anxiety as a good sign, that change is coming, if we resist distraction with love for our work and if we strive to be explorers, not experts.

Jacqui Banaszynski is the story teller by excellence. Daring to wander in a world where women didn’t feel welcome for quite some time, she has plenty of wisdom and stories to share. Some stood out from her emotional talk: You can have it all, but maybe not all at once. Life shouldn’t be a constant pain in the butt. Don’t get killed, don’t fuck up and remember to have fun.

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