The Bravery of Storytelling

Several years ago, I was meeting with a client I hadn’t seen in a few years. We started with the usual Hi. How are You? I’m Fine. How are You? small talk protocol, but then she saw a reliquary hanging on the wall in my office.

The reliquary — traditionally a container for holy objects — was a mixed-media collage I had created. Within the shadowbox frame was a painting of an angel, decorated panels, pieces of a poem, and symbols: an alpha and omega, a feather, a heart. An artist herself, my client asked about the piece, and I told her the story of lost love and deep sadness that had inspired it.

When I was done, she took my hand and thanked me. Then she told me her story — the disappointment that had shaken everything she thought she knew, her attempts to heal, and how the process changed her.

So there we were, two almost-strangers, pushing through the ordinary to the extra-ordinary moments in our lives. There was no protocol for the rest of our meeting that day, instead we talked about our common experiences, the different paths, the shared emotions.

“If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive,” writes Margaret J. Wheatley in her book Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. “When we’re brave enough to risk a conversation, we have the chance to rediscover what it means to be human.”

Ultimately, isn’t that our charge as artists? As writers? To communicate the human experience — to bravely tell our own stories in an effort to share, to teach, to connect with others.

Make no mistake — it takes courage. It takes courage to be honest, to talk about love and loss, about success and disappointment. You have to be brave to talk about your passions and fears — both out loud and in your creative work. Writing, creating art, is not for the faint of heart. No. Writing, creating any kind of art that tells our story, takes big, brave hearts. It is from that place, from that wide open courageous place, that we create what is indeed, holy.


(Image: Divine Inspiration, mixed-media collage, by Jen Payne. Quotes from Wheatley, Margaret J., Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 2012.)

and then: the new year

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” – Neil Gaiman


IMAGE: The Moonlight Bed, Jacek Yerka