I will sing a new song

005I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just for entertainment.
Don’t be fooled
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.

~Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

I will sing a new song.

~Psalm 40 (and U2’s version)

We tell stories to learn and to remember. We tell stories to topple tyrants and to heal the wounded. We tell stories to bring comfort, to instigate joy, to challenge the status quo, to exorcise demons. Sometimes we tell stories in celebration. Sometimes we tell them through tears as we cast the nets of our words to gather in the bodies of our dead. But always, always, we tell our stories to shape our worlds–for ourselves, for each other, for those who went before and those who will come after.

Sometimes we itch at the telling of a story, uncomfortable and longing for escape. Sometimes the story is too much and we want to turn away. But always, always, a story is a gift.

My mother is the kind of person Wal-Mart cashiers tell their life stories to, my father says. She can duck into a store for a bag of groceries and emerge balancing a second bag, invisible, stuffed with heartache. Perhaps it’s something about her face. Maybe they can read in it something of the way she has always resisted insisting on her own truth at the expense of anyone else’s. She’s passionate about what she believes, my mama, but never at the price of diminishing another.

We are all storytellers, creating our worlds, and we are also all the audience, perhaps hundreds of times each day. It is so easy to forget this.

One of the great paradoxes of being human, I think, is that it’s easy to simultaneously aggrandize and diminish our own stories as well as those of others. We inflate what doesn’t matter and ignore what does. We tell the parts that get the easy laugh without the pangs behind them. Or we fixate on the pain too long, allowing it to rule us and forgetting that it is not our stories that tell us, but we who tell them, who speak them into existence every day through word and action.

I spend a lot of time thinking about stories and their power, both to create and to destroy, so this week’s #LiveTheQuest prompt from Jeffrey Davis speaks my language:

#LiveTheQuest – 12:
What is the #NewStory you are living and creating into in 2015?
Stand up and own your new Story. It’s unfolding. There’s a lot of uncertainty in own a new Story. But what is the one you are standing up for and sharing? Yes, part of the Story is deeply personal. How are you being called to think, feel, imagine, create, and act in different ways this year?  How are you engaging and relating if not elevating people differently this year? And what is the greater-than-you Story? Maybe there’s a word or phrase that helps you start to shape and define what that Story is that you are only a part of but starting to shape and lead. 

Don’t shy away from that Story’s magnitude and magnificence. When you lead, you cannot hide behind anyone else. Rise and go toward it. As far as I know, this is it, baby – this one brief creative life. Let’s make the most of it. Together.

This question is huge–so, so huge–that it both delights and terrifies me. Right now I’m riding a wave of feeling that I’m so deeply enmeshed in my story that it’s difficult to see the whole thing, to get a sense of the shape of it. It is like the bulk of a white whale glimpsed through the darkness of water, its full form suggestive but elusive.

As any respectable Quest should, this one has sent me through dark forests and across windswept peaks. I have been afraid, exultant, anxious, hopeful. I am working on figuring out exactly what my story is this year. On a practical level, I hope that this will be the year I find an agent and begin the process of sending my stories out into the world. But I’ve been asking myself a lot of bigger questions, too. Who am I writing for? Who needs the stories I tell? What is my purpose in not only writing them (I would write whether or not I could ever make a career of it), but in sharing them? What exactly is my mission, beyond the practical concerns of making a living?

I haven’t begun to answer these questions. My #newstory this year is living into them. Sitting with them through sunrises and sunsets, through dark still hours and the chaos of the day. Honoring them in all their messiness and their wonder. Taking the time to let the honor of storytelling sink deep–to appreciate the power that it can have, and to wield that power with love and kindness.

I want to make a living doing what I love, but most of all, I want to make a life. The ethics of storytelling, for me, are inseparable from all that. So I’m forging onward, querying, submitting, processing the rejections, and querying again, while trying to keep the true goal in mind–the search for what is not only authentic but right. 

Above all, when stories appear, I want to always, always treat them with care.

And I wish her insight to battle love’s blindness
Strength from the milk of human kindness
A safe place for all the pieces that scattered
Learn to pretend there’s more than love that matters

~The Indigo Girls, “Love Will Come To You”

10 thoughts on “I will sing a new song

      1. Brenna I think you’re right. I’d say acting in the absence of fear can be many wonderful things, but that it isn’t courage. I’m thinking courage is a quality and not a feeling. I can drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just fine. For some people with bridge phobia (what is that really called) it takes tremendous courage. Some even have to get in the trunk of their car and be driven across – but they still do it! That’s courage but probably feels like crippling fear. I used that example, because I could never make myself do it, claustrophobia being my pet phobia.

  1. That is one of my favourite Indigo Girls songs, and so apt, Brenna. This has me thinking about how hard it is to find the whole story – with all its high points and blemishes – behind every life.

    1. Thanks, Sue. I love that one, too. It really is hard to find some of the stories–some come easily, while others are fiercely guarded and only appear on their own time.

  2. Brenna, I have to tell you how much I’m enjoying reading your posts on the “Live the Quest” theme. As someone who’s feeling rather in between quests at the moment, it’s very inspiring (and humbling) to see how you’re working through these big questions. I’m glad you’re doing this, and I’m glad you’re letting us peek in on the process!

    1. Thanks so much, Jen! I really appreciate that. These questions really have helped me sort through a lot of stuff. If you think you might find them helpful, check out the website. If you like, you can sign up, answer prompts at your own speed and in your own way, and join an extremely awesome Facebook group of wildly creative people. It’s been super-inspiring! http://trackingwonder.com/quest-2015/

  3. Another wonderful post, Brenna. And oh boy, am I right there with you about the #newstory question from Jeffrey…you said it so eloquently though, I am going to link to this from my blog, one day soon.

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