While it’s true that every story has value, it’s important to understand in what context a story has value. Not all stories are appropriate or desirable in all settings.
For example, I have been a member of a twelve-step fellowship for over two decades. In twelve step programs, every member of the group has the right to share his or her stories, experiences, strength and hope for a certain length of time in the meetings. Nobody interrupts and members do not comment on each other stories. This is a model is similar to one I have used over the years in therapeutic writing groups I have led.
The purpose of those stories is to support people in their individual healing processes and to build empathy/community in the group. It’s wonderful and it works. People do change, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, over time, through this process.
Every now and then, there is someone in the group who shares something that could be turned into a monologue or a memoir. But that is not the point. Most of the time, sharing a story, while being cathartic, is not enough to claim it as art.
I still love and respect personal storytelling. But, there comes a time when it is essential to know the difference between a journal entry, an improvised story that can be used as raw material to build on, and art. For me, storytelling and writing that rises to the level of art, has become infused with a quality of consciousness that elevates the story into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Another example, used by the great solo performer Mike Daisey in a storytelling workshop at my home last week is The Moth.
The Moth is a terrific organization that has shined a spotlight on the telling of heartfelt stories in public. It has played an enormous part in the resurgence of interest in storytelling in this country and globally. For that reason alone, I am extremely grateful to them and for them.
Their model is to find people who have interesting, authentic, heartfelt stories, and to tell them in a generally straightforward way. Are they art? Most are not, yet the sharing can still make for an enjoyable evening.
A few of them are, however.
Who are those few? Those are the storytellers, who internally, weave the stories with their imagination. They know when to exaggerate or emphasize something to make it a funnier or a dramatic moment. They know when to drop ianother “characters voice” for a more compelling delivery. They have a musicality infused in their telling. They intuit the rhythm inherent in all words and phrasing and they use it in their delivery. They “feel into” how a particular section of the story will “land” with an audience. They wont tell you everything upfront. They will reveal some of their cards at unexpected moments. They also know how to build and engage a relationship with the audience and part of them will be internally “tracking” that relationship, and working with it, throughout their performance.
Artists, particularly performing artists, are always working with energy. We are working with the energy that is between the lines, up and above and to the side of the lines as well. We are playing, dancing, interacting with unseen worlds, that run as an underground river, beneath the literal. We are shamans, magicians, and alchemists of energy. Often, we are congruently, also the hard core craftspeople. We ruthlessly seek the light, the darkness and the gems that reside in our stories and in our own heart. Our material is ours to discover. The entire cosmos is our playing field. We mine for gold in our sleep. Like a dog with a bone, we chew and chew and chew on the elements of our story, that will give us a moment of transcendence. It is the moment where we, and our audience (or reader) become one.
This is the domain of creating art.
Ultimately, creating art in the form of stage worthy monologues or memoir, involves the marriage of stories plus consciousness. Your own state of being cannot be faked. Your audience or reader will be rooting for you, but they will not be willing to do the work for you.
You must do your own work on all levels. This includes developing yourself intellectually, applying the skills inherent in craft, as well as becoming an embodiment of spiritual and emotional maturity. Without these qualities present, it becomes near impossible to create from the consciousness of art.
I wish I could tell you, after decades devoted to the development of creative process and the creation of art, that this was a linear process, easily grasped. It is not.
All you can control is your willingness to continually show up for your own generative/creative process, and see what evolves from it. Tell your stories. Write your shitty first drafts as Anne Lamott encourages you to do. I concur with her.
Please don’t think that I am saying not to create until you are ready to publish your memoir or perform your solo show to an audience. But do understand, for you to take your place as an artist, the world will respond back to you because of one thing: your consciousness. This includes your consciousness about social issues, the culture around you, how you hold your personal and familial history, your concern for others, your inclusiveness, your ability to communicate what you really mean and many other, more etheric intangibles.
We all have holes in our consciousness. Examine yours. Connect to the glorious Divine being that you are. Drop into your own depth. Seek out the places where you are broken. Own them. Don’t cover up. Perfectionism is ugly and carries the vibration of stagnation. It’s not art.
Love is art.
I guess that is what I want to get to. All true art radiates love. It may be confrontational. It may be funny. It may live exclusively in the realm of the shadow. But it will reside in the land of Truth, which to me, is also the land of love. It mirrors back the Self to the Self. I am not speaking of narcissism here. I am speaking to the one Self from which all things are born and to which all things return. Art is the playground of human consciousness exposed in an organic container (a book, a song, a performance) crafted for an experience of heightened reality. It is offered to others only as a gift. Likely, it will challenge cultural or personal norms. That is the role of an artist. Your most whole self will step aside for something greater to come through you in its creation. It’s elusive yet completely available. It is a paradox.
If you are on your way to becoming an artist, or if you are deepening in your work as an artist, continue to show up for the work. Also immerse yourself in the work of others. You need inspiration from others, like a seed needs water, to bloom. Read great books. See amazing shows that wake up parts of yourself that are still dormant. Notice how others use structure and take note of what works and what doesn’t.
Get support. My support may be of value to you in this context, but this is just a jumping off point.
Hire a writing coach, sign up for a theater class, or get a director. There’s really no time to waste.
Where are you in your artistic evolution? What’s the next step for you?
Write about it.