Last week I had a couple of nights at home husband-less. Traditionally these evenings typically go something like this: we all eat “catch and kill” (a term coined by some beautiful friends of ours that means “mama aint cooking; you kids get your own!”); I open a bottle of wine intending to drink only half of it but inevitably end up polishing off the lot, then going looking for more; and I either binge some soppy series on one of the streaming services available to me, or watch something I know he wouldn’t be interested in which causes me to sob my eyes out and look for the sequel. Then I go to bed too late and regret it all in the morning. It mostly went down that way, or it did the first night at least: I binged the entire series of Mystery Road on iView – great new Aussie drama, go watch it. The second night I stumbled across a Netflix special called “Nanette” by Australian Comedian Hannah Gadsby. I watched it. I thought about it. I looked up stuff about it online. I “liked” Hannah’s page on Facebook. Then, as I sank deep into that second half of that bottle of wine, I watched it again.
You may have guessed from the few posts I’ve managed thus far, that this little experiment into vulnerability I have got going on is a bit of a personal journey. It is a journey which I am trying to learn from and grow from. Well Nanette left me altered forever, I have grown. It was raw. It was real. It was vulnerability. And I have never ever seen anyone stand up and speak with more authenticity. I laughed and I sobbed with her. I wrote down a billion inspirational quotes to share with you (okay, maybe it was only 15). But mostly, I tried to dissect what it was that made this performance speak to me above all others who have aired their vulnerability before.
I’m not being naive here: Hannah is a professional comedian; it is what she does. Her job is to (as she puts it) create a tension in the room that captures an audience, and then deliver the punch line. I get that. But what made the difference in this performance is this: Hannah used a really powerful tool called story telling. I don’t need to share all those quotes I wrote down for you. But I do want to talk about the story telling.
Long before film, before electronics, before literacy was the norm, human beings lived in a verbal culture. Cultural practice, languages, laws, lessons and histories were passed from generation to generation through art, dance, and story telling. Multi generational family and community groups would come together to share stories. Face to face, with real human connection. Connection and feeling connected has been proven over and over to be at the core of human happiness: if you type “human connection” or “the importance of connection” into a search engine there is seemingly no end to the hits directing you to blogs, self help pages, and research all about connection.
What if the reason some of us are so lost, so removed from connection is because we’ve lost the art of story telling? We have art galleries, and museums. But how often do we come together for story telling? Aside from the odd poetry reading at an off beat festival or in a funky part of one of our larger cities, how many of us come together for a face to face story telling session that doesn’t involve kindergarten children? Instead, we now live in a world of keyboard warriors and Cyber bullying where the target for our attack is removed from our immediate presence and therefore easier prey.
Instead of posting that witty comment “tearing that guy a new one”, stop and listen to the story behind what is being said. You don’t have to agree with him. But listen to him. Where is he coming from? What has occurred in his story that makes him feel that it is okay to behave the way he is? I will share a small story with you now – I don’t share this story very often because it really does elicit vulnerability on my part so it will be a surprise to some, and I am not going to share all of it because it is not my story alone to share. But I will share a little to illustrate something to you.
A few years ago my family experienced a traumatic event in our home. When the perpetrator was apprehended and tried before the court, his story was shared. A childhood of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Learning difficulties that were never addressed. A life in and out of multiple temporary homes. As traumatic as the experience he inflicted on us was, on hearing this story of a lost childhood my husband looked up and said to me: “what an awful story, he never had a chance...”. It wasn’t forgiveness. It wasn’t about saying that what he did was okay. Hearing the story didn’t take away any of the trauma inflicted on our family. But what it did was ignite our empathy. Through our empathy for this man, I feel that we somehow began to move on from what he did to us. I really feel that until we do stop and share and listen to the stories, we will be without empathy. And without empathy, what happens to our humanity? Where is our healing?
I’m not great at oral story telling. I stumble and forget words, become unsure of what I am wanting to convey. This is of course in addition to the struggle that is coming to grips with facing my vulnerability and having a voice in the first place. But I think I should try. I will start here, with written story telling… and maybe when that becomes comfortable I can move on to oral stories. I like that idea. I hope you will join me.
Nanette is powerful for it’s content and Hannah’s comedy alone. It resonated with me, and I implore you to watch it. Hannah’s raw vulnerability is an example for all of us, her story is moving and gut wrenching and her delivery thought provoking. I cannot help but wonder… is story telling what we are all missing in this life? Real stories. Our family or cultural stories. Your story. My story. And the real human connection that these stories are the platform for…
Everybody has a story. Tell your story. Your story should be heard.
Hannah Gadsby. Comedian, actress, and now story teller.
(Photograph from Hannah Gadsby Facebook Page)