Cronnie Wisdom

Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen

Thursday, April 4, 2024

If you don't like the story...keep it to yourself!


I am saddened and disturbed by the criticism of traditional tellers and the stories they share at events or concerts.  Honestly, I can't even imagine complaining about a story told at a performance any more than I would feel compelled to share my opinion about a play to an actor or about a song to a musician.  It's just plain rude. Yet this seems to be who are today in our de-civilized world. 

But storytelling takes this criticism to another level. It seems to be part of our current cultural debate regarding book banning and history rewriting because what is presented seems “too upsetting” to someone.  At one event, someone from the audience objected to a traditional folktale in which a rabbit was cooked by a farmer. This story can hardly be seen as overly violent in the way that most television and films are today (even those that are G rated).  Let us remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon character in which there was always lots of hunter references and explosives.  I still recall Elmer Fudd, as the hunter, singing or saying, “Kill the Wabbit!”

I have a friend who was an elementary school teacher.  She now reads stories to children at public schools, but each book she reads must be pre-approved.  What can’t be read?  A book about the Civil War perhaps?  A book in which a family is depicted as biracial or in which the parents are gay?  What about the librarians who face prosecution? This is our world and if we can no longer speak of our history of hatred and oppression because our children are too fragile to hear of these things, how do they ever learn empathy? What happens to the storytellers in historical museums?

It reminds me of the debate as to whether you can tell fairy tales to children at all.  While being age appropriate is important, I follow the psychologists who believe that these stories give children a safe place to ponder and make sense of a very unsafe world.  I think it provides that same function for adults.

I like to consider myself as a “keeper” of the old stories.  I like discovering the history, culture, and people within them - learning what was coded and how they spoke truth to power.  I especially treasure the messages within them that need to be heard today. But I’m not sure if I have a story to tell that might not offend someone.  I doubt that the bard or the seanchai of the past ever worried about that. I doubt that the medicine men or grandmothers did either.  Sometimes being offended was the point!  Could they tell a story about a changeling today, or a selkie without nary a complaint?  What about poor Demeter trying to give immortality to the king’s son by placing him in the fire?   What happened to poor Ariadne when Theseus abandoned her on the shore of some deserted island?  Is Tatterhood’s unfeminine demeanor an appropriate role model for girls? 

I love to tell stories, but I don’t want to be censored.  I love to tell stories in a safe environment which is why I like telling in class.  We can stop and talk about what might be disturbing in a story.  We can talk about all the mothers and stepmothers who needed to abandon their children. I love to write about stories and share them in my podcast.  I just turn off the comments, knowing someone somewhere has something negative to say.  I know I’m not the best to ask, because there is something in my core that believes the story is the most important.  I hope that there are tellers throughout the world telling stories of oppression, urging the people to seek justice and peace.  I hope they keep telling them even if people squirm in their seats, even if some walk off in a huff, even if they face prosecution. Perhaps that’s just my 71-year-old crone speaking.

I understand the need to nurture performance storytelling in community. My question is, how can we be both the keepers of the story while also the keepers of the tellers? How can we create a safe place to tell traditional stories, especially the stories that need to be told today? 

Here's my advice.  If you don't like the story, just keep it to yourself!  Or perhaps you'll like it better, once you learn a bit more.


1 comment:

Robin said...

Thank you Kathy!