When you make a story - any story - personal, you invite your listeners to share their stories, too. On Friday night, at Godfrey Daniels, I told a tall tale but I prefaced it with the beginning of a personal story and ended the tale with the ending of my own story. At intermission, people offered me their own encounters of the bear kind - for my tall tale was about the biggest bear in Arkansas and my personal story was about my own brush with a bear.
Robin Reichert told stories about family recipes and people had to tell her about their family recipes. And Larry Sceurman told a story about growing up in Bethlehem and that invited the audience to offer their growing up reminiscences.
Even an old folktale - one that the teller announces is an old folk tale - can be made personal. The teller just has to find a personal event or quandary that relates to a theme or event in the folktale.
For instance, in one of my personal favorite stories, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", the heroine has to wash candle wax out of her lover's shirt in order to save him. A story about a laundry mishap - the day the teller put too much soap in - or staining a new garment within minutes of putting it on - or a memory of hanging wash with a grandmother or mother - or helpful laundry hints of the old and clever sort delivered tongue-in-cheek - sets the audience up to appreciate the dire straits of our poor nameless heroine. And a reminder when that part of the story comes around - an aside pointing out to the audience that Auntie Sharon would have used a paper bag and a hot iron to get that wax out - pulls the personal back in.
I suspect that some storytellers are making sour faces if they are reading this. That a fairy tale should not be tampered with is a strong credo for some tellers. But every time a story is told it is modified. The teller's voice, mannerisms and choice of words are all individual. So be it. Change is the most certain thing in life outside of death.
Most people - if asked point blank to tell a story from their own lives - will say that nothing interesting ever happened to them. When I hear someone else's personal stories my own memories percolate. That's the way it is. Our listeners have great stories to tell and as storytellers we should find ways to get those stories out.
You should have been at the show on Friday night. You might have found some stories lurking in your memory. 'Nuff said.