I had a great coaching session this morning with a woman writing a memoir, a therapist. She’s on vacation from her tough job, and she told me that even when she’s off work, people naturally open up to her and start talking deeply about themselves.
She said, “There’s just such need in this country. We have no one to talk to. We’ve lost our extended family. We’re all so isolated. People just need someone to listen to them.”
I told her that this was how I felt about coaching. Sometimes a whole session will be about the client telling me a story from their life. I’ll try to get them back to the open document on the computers in front of us, on how to describe and polish what they’ve already written, and they’ll spend their one precious hour just telling me a story. I’ve finally learned to stop, and just listen.
How desperately we need to tell our stories. I believe it’s the difference between life and death. I opened Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise de Salvo after my second client this morning, and fell upon this very theme. De Salvo discusses how her father and other world war veterans weren’t allowed to speak their stories, and the rage that ensued.
In another section, she explains that Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, says he had to write down his life growing up poor in Ireland, or he would have “died howling”.
I think of this with my enraged father, and I think of this with a lot of people I meet. I wonder how much their silence about their lives has contributed to their rage. I wrote the following in Earth, my novel, which is semi-autobiographical:
There were so few stories in our house. A story was a memory, and memories quivered the very foundations. If you asked Father about his past, a question about a sibling or parent, the rage shook his thin frame, brought the blood boiling to his face. He would rise from his chair, stand above you with raised bony fist, his fear monstrous. You learned real quick not to ask. Not to speak. Silence weaved its way into the soul. The poverty wasn’t just about food, I wanted to tell Mother, it was a poverty of conversation, of shared history, of legend.
What stories are you not telling? What stories are screaming to get out of you? Go ahead. Speak. I’m listening.
I’m a writing coach: www.artofstorytellingonline.com