The Stories That Tell Us
It bubbled through me one blustery summers night by the seas of the wild west.
Could have been nothing else looking back. Here in this place, in this time there would be no other tale to tell than that of the Selkie. The seal who turns to woman. The being who has her skin stolen and held to ransom by the desires of a man for seven years. A creature betrayed by his very clear very bitter no when she asks for what is hers.
Of course there are other versions of the Selkie story buried deep in the coastlines of both sides of the North Atlantic but the thread of it is always the same.
I find it a hard story to sit with.
I am never sure what it will ask of me. What of myself I will have to pay in exchange for being able to tell it to the humans gathered.
I did my best to ignore it.
Ignored the insistent tapping on my shoulder.
Ignored the hissed whispers in my ear.
The evening was almost up. It had to be that moment. I would get no sleep, be pestered again and again in my dreaming if I did not wrap my shawl around me and get up. Stand in front of these people I had not long known and tell of the Selkie.
Except I didn’t do what I thought I would. As soon as I stood I knew there was a difference.
There are stories we tell and stories that tell us.
My relationship with the story of the Selkie over the years was one such story that most definitely told me (I will come back to being claimed by a story next time). What poured out of my mouth in those moments was not what I had expected, not what I would have planned, not a single thing I had said in previous tellings that followed these same threads. I didn’t tell what I wanted, not what I thought I should say, the story told through me what it wanted us all to hear.
My notes that following morning simply said: We don’t tell stories, stories tell us. And stories can change us if we let them, take us in unexpected directions, take us beyond the assumptions of what we think we know and show us a world of wonder and possibilities.
This is all well and good to say, brings a poetic romanticism to the art of storytelling, but what does it actually mean?
As I type these words I hope something like a clearer definition may come forward. But that in itself is a part of it, when we let stories tell us there is no clear, concise intellectual reasoning, or snappy soundbites, it never quite reaches that layer of us. What it does instead is it envelops us with a felt understanding of what it means to live with that story. It bursts us open, touches us deep in the core of us, makes us weep at our own beauty, and have courage in the darkness of our forest dwellings.
It is a delightful paradox of being an action that uses our voice yet limits our ability to accurately describe it. What if it were approached from another direction? What of the stories we tell?
That is much easier to grasp a sense of, for these are the stories we take ownership of. The anecdote we share with a friend in a late night phone conversation, the tall tale we regale the filled corner of the bar with. These are the stories we wrap ourselves up in. Have clear control of, know rather than feel. We have sniffed them out and made them our own.
Stories that tell us on the other hand sniff us out and make us their own.
It’s an exceptional experience to be told by a story but it never fails to make me any less nervous as I get ready to speak, though each time I have a little more trust that I won’t be deserted by it mid sentence. It is not a channelling, there is no sense of being possessed in the mediumship quality of the term, it’s more a merging but even that doesn’t quite cut it as a description. You somehow feel more yourself rather than less. Taken on a glorious ride but it’s not like a drug high or a power trip either. For me, there is something deeply humbling about being chosen by a story, that I am strong enough somehow to navigate it’s demands. They are not always sweet and delightful, they are not always leading to a happy ever after, they jump in and out at will.