Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Banned" Stories Call to Storytellers Worldwide

Stories are sometimes banned, whether through some sort of pronouncement or whether through unspoken laws.

Perhaps the intentions to ban stories are based on moral obligations, and yet there are moments when such stories are needed to be shared with the community. Dan Yashinsky, author of Suddenly They Heard Footsteps, came upon a camp where the traditional ghost story of Old Man Bolton was hushed. Before the story was banned, the story was told of a limping ax-carrying murder through the woods of camp.

As the children were perceived as troubled children from troubled homes, the image of Old Man Bolton was thought to create more wounds versus as a healing tool. Yashinsky reminded us that the eight eight-year-old boys already knew "someone similar already in their homes, neighborhoods, schools" like Old Man Bolton (p. 21). Yashinsky continued that "[Old Man Bolton] was the drunk who beat up their moms, or the bureaucrat who decided they couldn't get welfare that month, or the ongoing horror of a life lived in the shadow of hunger" (p. 21).

A few years ago I was asked to share stories at a Shelter for Battered Women and Children. I had to attend an intense training and it was clear that certain stories would not be welcomed in such a place. As I knew stories needed to be shared at the shelter, I accepted the rules. Though the children were surrounded by "happily ever after" type of tales, I felt as if I only fed these children fluff and that I was not extending the role of healer. Being a 19-year-old, I did not feel like I had enough authority to shake the system.

As Yashinsky said, "When you name evil you begin to conquer it" (p. 21). In many ways, the stories I told avoided naming the evil let alone providing any hint to the abuse experienced by the battered women and children. Seven years later, the experience still strikes my mind and partly inspired a program that would no longer hide the feelings often felt during abuse.

I came upon the story of Hephaestus, the blacksmith ugly and lame god who was abused by his mighty parents of Zeus and Hera. I have every intention to approach shelters and counseling areas for victims of child abuse so that a name can finally be given to the wrenching feelings of anger, loneliness and pain found within.

There is a power within the circle of storyteller and listeners much to what Yashinsky shared in his book. I have often found that when people can laugh or cry together, that the memory is etched in the heart. Telling the Hephaestus story is one that, despite its serious subject of child abuse, will also have moments where we can laugh and cry together.

Perhaps I will face a type of ban as I attempt to reach the people who most need to hear the story. I should not feel that I have failed, for a call to ban something tends to mean that something must be addressed and something must be voiced.

Ultimately, "the listener is the hero of the story" (p. 28). By understanding that Hephaestus could be a hero despite being a victim of child abuse, perhaps the listeners will feel enough power within them to carry on their own story and receive the ending they wish.

As the boys at the camp listened to Yashinsky, so is everyone "listening because they desperately want a story of their own, one that can include even their wild passions, terrors, frantic misbehaviors and possibilities of change" (p. 28).

Later Yashinsky stated, "If you'd like to become a storm fool, you need three things: a headful of stories, a willingness to hit the road and the belief that storytelling can change the world" (p. 49).

Confronting the types of stories that people believe must be banned is another way to "hit the road" in order to "change the world". Yet, the world needs more than one storm fool. The life of storyteller calls to us all.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

1 comment:

David said...

Rachael - you only need to scratch the surface of most fairy tales and many myths to discover human suffering and coping. Hephaestus is a great story for the issues you cited. I hope you will tell it for your myth assignment. So, also, are "Hans My Hedgehog" and "Cinderella". I was once asked by a student how she might make a story to tell about her suffering from an abusive father. She wanted to make something up, but we soon found that the stories are already out there. The one that came to my mind was The Giant With No Heart In His Body. The title just about says it all. In this Scandinavian story, a heartless giant keeps a princess in thrall (just like dragons are fond of doing). When we put this beside my student's story, we began to see how the giant, having hidden his heart far away, needed to keep the princess captive as a kind of surrogate heart. He was using her tenderness and vulnerability to make up for his emptiness. The trick is to put stories side by side (the meaning of parable after all) and let them speak to each other.