My story telling started with car sickness

Ruth Griffiths

During my three decades as an editor with the local newspaper, I thought of myself as more of a storyteller than a journalist. A newspaper should record the events of the community and reflect the opinions both popular and prophetic. However, as a reader of the newspaper and then a writer, it was always the “human interest” stories that appealed to me more than the so-called “hard news”. Throughout my life I have enjoyed telling my stories and the stories of others.

My earliest recollections of storytelling were to entertain and distract my siblings during car rides. My sister was often car sick, even on short car rides, so I would make up stories for her so that she was able to focus less on her upset stomach.

In Grade 7 I wrote a few chapters of a “novel” that I called Storm Warning. The teacher encouraged me to write more chapters and allowed me to read them to my classmates. Amazingly, they listened with rapt attention.

I don’t recall particular storytelling episodes in high school or university, but I took up storytelling again when my children were small. To help them settle into sleep at night I would read their favourite book … over and over again. To entertain them, as much as to save myself from reading about the Berenstain Bears yet again, I would make up stories in which they were the starring characters.

When my youngest was old enough for daycare, I began work at the Herald. I enjoyed the adrenalin and challenge of meeting daily deadlines, however my favourite activity was interviewing people and turning their thoughts into inspiring stories.

I especially enjoyed interviewing people who were celebrating their 100th birthday. Often I would ask the hackneyed question “what is your secret to living to be 100?” Most often the answer was something like “living one day at a time.” But sometimes those whom I interviewed shared their personal formula for longevity.

I had frequently seen one of the centenarians, who lived in my neighbourhood, out on walks with his daughter-in-law. But he attributed his longevity not to exercise but to daily Bible reading and eating oatmeal for breakfast. I titled his story Porridge and Prayer.

Another man in our community had a quite different recipe for long life. He said he smoked a cigar every day and drank whiskey. I remember thinking he had really beat the odds!

A book by the late Harold R. Johnson, The Power of Story, was published this year. The publisher, McNally Robinson, says: “In The Power of Story, Johnson explains the role of storytelling in every aspect of human life, from personal identity to history and the social contracts that structure our societies, and illustrates how we can direct its potential to re-create and reform not only our own lives, but the life we share.”

Johnson shows how we can take back the power of the story of our own life, claim the story and re-tell it in a more positive, optimistic frame.

What are the negative stories that you tell yourself, over and over again? Perhaps you need to come up with a new story for your life. Just as I dreamed up new stories for my children’s bedtimes, perhaps I can come up with new versions of the story of my life.