While preparing for this week’s course assignment in storytelling, I became horribly distracted watching episodes of Art21. Perhaps I should do so more often as a particular gem inspired my work. I caught a segment on Carrie Mae Weems, a photographer whose work is heavily inspired by storytelling. When speaking about the early years of her life, she said that “narrative and storytelling is in the blood.” This got me thinking, perhaps too much, about myself.
Never once have I counted creativity as a strong suit of mine. Whenever people ask what I do, I almost always say “I study art history/work in museums. Don’t have a creative bone in my body, but I love talking about the work of those who do.” Recently, however, storytelling has become this monumental force in my life. To best understand exactly how the least creative person I know (myself) got to this point, we’ll have to travel back in time about three years.
The first fall after graduating from undergrad was particularly crisp. There was something freeing about being out of school, but still living in the same city where I’d spent four years laboring over my degree. I was fortunate. Unlike my roommate, one of my best friends for all of college, I had been working in a job within my field since before graduation. Perhaps unluckily though, I hated almost everything about it. I had great coworkers, but they were really the only redeeming factor. Despite the beautiful sunrises, I hated commuting from Tacoma to Seattle. I couldn’t really handle forty hours of non-stop customer service a week. And, easily the worst thing of all, I abhorred the terrible uniforms we had to wear. It probably didn’t help that mine never really fit. But we won’t dwell on that.
A perfect sunrise over the Sound.
That fall, despite its usual beauty, felt lonely. I had spent so much of my life learning that to not go to school felt odd. Commuting alone to a job that used approximately 25% of my smarts but took up 90% of my time didn’t really help all that much either. It wasn’t until chatting with a friend I had recently helped move out to Syracuse that I was inspired to apply for graduate school. It had long been a dream of mine to continue my studies in art history, but I felt time off from that would be appropriate. After some encouragement from professors and friends, including my roommate who was already applying for a master’s in journalism, I started the research and application process that led me to Syracuse University.
But how to tell my family? What may seem like an exciting moment in a person’s life offered me nothing but anxiety. A born and raised Washingtonian, the farthest I’d been from home was living in Tacoma. This was but a relatively short three hour drive from where I was born. Seattle had schools with nice programs, but there was an itch to move on to somewhere new. So I only applied on the east coast, a factor that I never really shared with the family until actually finishing up applications. This devastated my mother. She pushed and prodded to have me wait, or apply closer to home. She never explicitly mentioned her feelings of concern, but I knew they were there. She worried about me making it so far from home. And I worried about her making it with me so far from home. Three months and a few panic attacks later, she saw me off in a moving truck across the country. Aside from the many swapped “I love yous,” she left me with something I’d never forget.
“Michelle. I know you’ll do great things. I am so proud. You better come back here better at something when you’re all done with this.”
This seemed like an easy task. “I’m going to school. Of course I’ll get better at something. Geeze,” I remember thinking while heading down the driveway. It wasn’t until getting out here and starting classes that I realized what I would actually grow in and embrace: telling my story.
Moving so far from home inspires more stories than one may think. When meeting people in a completely foreign environment, stories where a crutch for me that explained some of my oddities. To be honest, I had never thought of storytelling as the best way to engage with new acquaintances and realize commonalities. You’re probably thinking that I’ve never met other people then. “Of course you tell stories to get to know people. How else would you do it?” And you’d be making a pretty great point.
But for me, it was so much more than that. I was thrown into the deep end and had to explain to people where I’m from, what my family is like, what I’ve done with my life. It’s one thing when you meet someone from your city or state. With those people there is an already shared knowledge of locations, common phrases, popular activities, and all around cultural norms. I can only describe the move across the country as a mild case of culture shock. What’s all this about lacrosse? Wait, people hang out in malls here? What’s with all these freeways? Wait, you don’t call them freeways? The same could be said for those I met. How else does one explain to a lot of New Yorkers that I’ve lived in a farm on the desert? Or how a quick move across the mountains within the state, allowed me to live on the outskirts of the rainforest? Or why I can’t direct myself around this state because I don’t have an ocean to use as reference? Or what the Space Needle is, that it doesn’t actually pour rain In Seattle, and no, I’m not really that into Nirvana or Starbucks.
Settings for most of my tales from the Pacific Northwest.
The list goes on and on. The best way to explain what makes this Pacific Northwest transplant tick was in the form of really quick, informal stories. And I’ve grown to love it. I sometimes feel like an ambassador from the PNW and I absolutely adore sharing everything about it.
Wegmans also enjoys sharing the wonders of Washington with New York.
Perhaps the best part of embracing this kind of storytelling is how it has slowly invaded the rest of my daily life. I’ve started experimenting with how to best include more tales and explanations in my academic papers. At little bit of dabbling in adding more stories to profiles of artists in the neighborhood where I work have made for more exciting data sharing. All in all, it is no longer fair to say I am devoid of creativity. It’s slowly getting there, especially with the help of this storytelling course. Hopefully it’ll be something to share with Mom when I get home next.