Martha’s* grandmother, who was born in the small town Little Water, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation, never used a pattern to weave her rugs. Like all other traditional weavers, the design and colors of the weavings was a creation informed by her world and the world of her ancestors. Martha remembers her grandmother’s fingers, moving like intricate spiders across the loom, inserting little tufts of fleece to mark the spacing, and every time a blanket was finished, Martha was silently dazzled by the perfectly-symmetrical lightning bolt designs that came from her grandmother’s mind.
Martha tells me other stories about what its like to be a woman from this region. She tells me about raising her own grandchildren here in Durango, two boys at the top of their class in high school. She and the boys are currently homeless, and, despite changing hotels every couple of days, they are never late to first period.
I sit and record her story because I am on a quest to recall the art of storytelling.
Inspired by Storycorps and San Juan Women Rise – a group of local activists who believe storytelling is an educational act of solidarity and resistance – I am actively seeking women from different walks of life who are willing to record their stories. When we share personal stories, Sarah Tescher of San Juan Women Rise explains, we find common ground.
When I become a slave to the rat race of workaholism, I am too distracted and impatient to care about gathering such memories. I escaped the generation whose entire existence – first breath, first poop, first broken leg – is published for the world to see on Facebook, but I am young enough to be conditioned to crave instant gratification from technology. With all my texting, typing, and tweeting, I can manage polite exchanges, but to stop and listen to someone’s story for more than a few seconds?
Just send me an email. I’m too distracted to really care. I’d almost prefer to install my iPhone charging dock into my sternum rather than run the risk of separation anxiety or a dead battery.
As convenient and comfortable as it all seems, my relationship with the screen is, in the end, a form of self-gratification that often leaves me feeling burned out and lonely. I suspect that social media and communicating via computer impairs my ability to empathize and connect with others. When I’m not face to face with someone, I miss certain cues, facial expressions that clue me in to what they are saying. Our interaction is mediated by the medium, which means our minds get more “facetime” but our physical bodies get less quality time to tune in and communicate.
Author Adam Alter, whose latest book, “Irresistible,” is about our addictions and attention spans in this increasingly computerized world, said, “10 years ago, before the iPad and iPhone were mainstream, the average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds. Research suggests that there’s been a drop from 12 to eight seconds, shorter than the attention of the average goldfish, which is nine seconds.” I’m not about to sign off my social media completely, but I’m just wondering if it’s affecting more than our attention spans – what about our sex lives?
So what is the antidote? What can I do to be less automatic and more authentic?
I’ve decided to detox my desensitization and find stories. The act of remembering is like wiping off the grime that grows between our surroundings and us after so much screen time. They dissolve the illusion that we humans are at all inferior or superior to each other; they remind us of our shared humanity.
Consumerism doesn’t teach storytelling because good stories aren’t easily packaged; good stories are messy, confusing, and uncontrollable. Better to keep words and actions neat and tidy so they can be sold to the masses for maximum profit – consumerism likes “narrative.”
You can only fake it for so long, and after this election, maybe a lot more of us decided we couldn’t stand much more of the zombie march. We started to see the importance of getting to know our neighbors, understanding our deeper motives as a country. We decided that forgetting was too high of a price to pay.
So I go to feel for the stories inside me. Our bodies are impeccable record keepers, somatic storytellers of our evolutionary and personal journeys. By sensing, feeling, and touching, I crawl into my own skin and remember the parts of myself that have been ignored. I listen to my locked jaw as if it were an angry demon with an important message, as if, by turning my attention towards instead of away, I could re-member the scattered parts into a whole. Injuries and traumas within the tissue teach me how to integrate and, eventually, occupy my body with more ease and acceptance.
I come to tell a story – this one. I find it through creative play, humor, and self-reflection. And, I wonder: What stories are important for you to pay attention to right now? What stories need to be told? What is your preferred language/medium for storytelling?
A culture without stories is little more than snow that does not stick. Storytelling is an act of accumulation, becoming a bit unhinged, turning off the automatic button and getting blown into huge dangerous drifts.
Stories quench our thirst for connection; they are snowpack, keeping the rivers running clean and free.
Let’s use the internet to find ways to connect in person. Check out: www.storycorps.org and find San Juan Women Rise on FB for upcoming storytelling events in Durango.
*name changed for privacyKatie Clancy is a movement educator, dancer, and freelance journalist living in Durango. She dedicates her time to supporting healthy spines and structural alignment through the therapeutic traditions of Pilates, yoga, bodywork, and dance; she is also a member of 20Moons Dance Theatre. Find her here: www.altaer.org; [email protected]