Who invented story telling? It is somehow inspiring and comforting to think of it as an ancient, collective, collaborative effort. I love to write, which is a good thing because, as I see it just now, stories are all we really have. One of my collaborative writing projects inspired this contemplative, even philosophical, attitude towards writing and story telling this week. In the English department at the University of London International Programmes we discuss the definition of literature, what kind of texts might be described as literature, and the liberal humanist versus theoretical debate. This week my definition of literature became a bit more flexible, and my commitment to the critical, theoretical approach became a bit more defined. The idea of story telling seems fundamental to our social fabric and sense of self. Stories, the narratives we construct around just about everything, are very powerful. After all, what is social media all about if not story telling on the most personal level.
Many years ago, long before social media, my husband and friends encouraged me to write creatively. That puzzled me because I had never written a piece of creative fiction. They heard me tell stories about our daily adventures or attended various presentations I made, but to me that did not ‘count’ as story telling. I had absolutely no idea how to organize and write a work of fiction. Nevertheless I kept on writing in my work and various other interests. With their encouragement, creative writing became a goal of mine, albeit a long-term one. Learning how to write, particularly creative writing, was a big reason for enrolling in English and Comparative Literature course with the University of London International Programmes with academic direction provided by Goldsmiths’ College.
Writing has been a thread of continuity in my life, personally and professionally. Yet, despite my studies, the deep relationship between fiction and the various materials I write daily were not particularly clear until this week. I write all day, every day, for my academic requirements, my business, and my ‘day-job,’ and all three are equally important to me although for different reasons. In my business I write, illustrate and produce small, whimsical, mixed media books. That’s my idea of fun. So is my ‘day’ job developing communication materials for an international conservation organization. It is a wonderful job, articulating a complex mission to multiple audiences. The writing projects are frequently collaborative, team writing efforts. My team members are scientists. I help them articulate their rich experience for a lay audience. Their commitment to the process of story telling while retaining the core scientific message is impressive. Working with them helped me expand my ideas about what literature is, and clarify how different kinds of text fit into that definition. It made me think about how much people enjoy a good yarn, respond to narrative as readers, and embrace the opportunity to tell stories.
For me, all writing is story telling of one kind or another. It is at once a powerful, fragile, and incredibly compelling activity. While contemplating this idea it occurred to me that story telling is all we really have; it is our chance to place points on a line, connect them, and share them. The question, ‘Who invented story telling?’ really cannot be answered. The oldest stories we have, where authorship is ambiguous, are among the most powerfully effecting and important aspects of our identity. I am incredibly impressed with this idea, and hope you enjoy thinking about story telling in your community. Now, I am on to thinking about story telling as a collaborative effort, and a social function…