Narrative Resonance and You (meaning me)

I am typically loath to make generalizations, but I am gonna open this post with one, heedless of the consequences: I think we all have a specific form of narrative that speaks to us. It’s not necessarily our favourite, but for whatever reason, we connect to it on a deeper level than we do other kinds of stories. Many of my friends, for example, tell me that found family narratives hold special significance for them, that even mediocre stories have the power to profoundly affect them if a found-family scenario is involved.

I think the stories in which a person finds meaning can say a lot about that person. About their hopes, their fears, their experiences. Again, this is not about favourite tropes; it’s about the ones that reach into your chest and give your heart a twist–for good or ill, regardless of the story’s quality or the circumstances in which the thematic element comes up.

The category of stories that do this to me is simultaneously simple and complex: tales of self-actualization affect me like nothing else. Stories where someone has to overcome opposition–internal or societal–in order to simply be who they are. Musicals, books, movies, anything where this is the core theme is gonna hit me hard.

It’s, obviously, a huge category, which predictably means I spend a lot of time emotionally compromised by the media I consume. I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one either, as this struggle, the fight to be who you are regardless of forces telling you you shouldn’t, is one that members of oppressed communities know well.

These stories, regardless of their trappings, are for me about accepting myself as queer, a journey that eight years in is still unfinished. They are about understanding and finding the confidence to express my gender. About being Native, despite growing up with my white family. About being proud to be disabled, to be a caregiver, to be me. About being proud to be, to exist in the world and to take up space.

Whether it’s Billy Elliott learning to dance or Matilda realizing her family doesn’t define her path, whether it’s the titular character of Sunday in the Park with George struggling to reconnect with art or Charlie Price of Kinky Boots realizing that making shoes is what he wants to do…

All of these characters come to a place where, regardless of their self-doubt, regardless of the censure of peers or scorn of family, they simply are. They are themselves without apology or subdual, without uncertainty or second guesses.

I’d like to get to that point one day. I feel like I’m moving that way, on good days, and these stories make me feel like I can do it, like this journey is worthwhile.

And that is why if you need me you’ll find me crying about musicals.

Defining Myself: I Tell Stories

In my about page I use a number of terms to articulate my identity. Some of them are probably familiar to anyone reading this; “queer”, “disabled”, and “poor” are all nuanced, complex identities, but have a certain baseline level of cultural familiarity. I have a lot of things to say about them, but those will come with time.

What do I mean, though, when I call myself a ‘storyteller’? Well, the truth is…I’m still sorting that out myself.

An anticlimactic answer, I know. But it’s the truth. Storyteller is a label that means a lot of things to a lot of people, and one intricately bound up in my understanding of myself as an Indigenous Canadian, as someone Métis, whose family has lived on the Canadian Prairie since long before it bore that name.

When I call myself a storyteller, what I mean is this: I see my place in the world, in my communities, to be one of sharing. Of speaking my experiences, of hearing those of others within my community, and of bringing us together and moving us forward. Of collaborating with others whose experiences are like mine, and weaving our stories together, to create something more beautiful, complex, and true than we could alone.

When I call myself a storyteller, it’s not an individual process. Certainly there are stories I have that only I can tell; stories of my childhood, of my experiences. But the stories I want to tell are ones that need multiple perspectives. They are the stories that unite narratives, that find our common ground and build on it.

When I call myself a storyteller it is because I want to build. Other people are doing the work of destroying oppressive systems; I acknowledge them, I celebrate them, I admire them more than I can say. But more and more I have come to believe their work is not mine. Other people are doing the work of educating our oppressors; I am awed by them, by their patience and compassion. But they too do work I am not well-suited to.

When I call myself a storyteller it is because I want to look to my own communities. I want to find the seeds these others have planted, and to nourish them.

When I call myself a storyteller, it’s not because I want to tell my story.

It’s because I want to be part of writing ours.