Personal Vs Traditional Stories

I attended "Barefaced Stories" at the Blue Room in Perth last night. This is a MOTH style storytelling of true personal stories, usually humorous and often painfully hilarious as tellers reveal their past folly's and triumphs.
After the performances (which are capped at 6min each) I was talking with one of the performers about the genre of fairy-tales and metaphorical stories vs undisguised personal stories. She was arguing that metaphorical stories are constructed by an author and therefore have an intended meaning, while personal stories leave the audience free to take whatever meaning they want.
In some ways I agree with this, any metaphor is created out of someone's impression that the metaphor represents something and while someone else may have a very different impression or reading of the metaphor there is no getting away from the fact that there was an 'intended' meaning.
However, and this is what I find disappointing, personal stories while allowing the audience to interpret their own meaning also allow the audience to not question the meaning at all. By not 'intending' a meaning, 'no meaning' is achieved and this is what allows personal stories of this kind to become purely a form entertainment, divorced from the teaching and nourishing aspects that traditional storytelling has always had.
So this is the predicament for traditional storytellers; Stories hold within them the seeds of wisdom but our postmodern society rejects any deliberate attempts to convey an intended meaning, because doing so is akin to saying "I'm better than you because I know something that you should learn."
Since I am attempting to convey something i.e. how I feel and what I'm trying to figure out, I find that a metaphorical story can best describe it.

There was once a small island where lived two siblings. One day the ground shook with an earthquake and the people knew that a tsunami was coming. Now on this island there were two hills and each sibling ran and climbed one of the hills. One sibling looked across at the other and called out to them.
"Quick that hill will not be high enough, come up here with me."
"What!" cried the other "Your hill is lower than mine. You should come up here."
They argued back and forth but could not come to an agreement before the tsunami hit and the one on the lower hill drowned leaving the survivor alone and miserable.

I want a better ending for this story. I am not content to either be drowned or miserable but how do we discover which is the higher hill?

Comments

 I think that a deep

 I think that a deep personal story holds within it mythic potential. It can take on metaphoric dimensions. And yet  since a personal story is in 'real' time and space,  it can be difficult to see beyond the literal.  And I think we human beings need to see beyond the literal - into the world of metaphor, for personal transformation. Therefore the comment that personal stories do not have an intended meaning and leave the audience free to take what meaning they want,  perplexes me.  Telling a personal story can have huge intentions.  That is why the great storyteller Donald Davis said so wisely to me ' never tell a story that isnt finished' - because we can use our own story for our own thearpy, to debrief, to warn others, to teach, to express our bitterness, a sense of grace,   to be seen.

 I think that a traditional story, a fairy tale, a mythic story on the other hand can mean something different to each person in the room. It speaks to us as in dream, with images and mysteries and achetypes. They are not of this world, beyond time and space, and it is easier to see it with vagaries and uncertainties, to notice when the soul sits up and takes notice.  What is the wolf - today? what does the curse represent to me now? what does salvation look like for me, in that happily ever after.  What form is the prince of my dreams?  what is the  integation of male and female that I seek......

 

Even new born babies dream. We are wired towards metaphor, and surely the language of fairy tales and myths leend themselves to the endless interpretation of metaphor more easily than a personal story.

 

Jesse, A great topic for

Jesse, A great topic for discussion and I love your hill story.
 
While I agree with Donna that personal stories can be hugely intentional- I think I know what you are referring to. Sometimes people tell tales that haven't been sufficiently digested for there to be much more to them than entertainment. With reference to Donald Davis and his advice to Donna, they are unfinished.
This is fascinating to me in the context of Australian culture.
"Stories hold within them the seeds of wisdom but our postmodern society rejects any deliberate attempts to convey an intended meaning, because doing so is akin to saying "I'm better than you because I know something that you should learn."
 
I think you have hit a nail on the head. When I did Sociology of Women at Uni, I wrote an essay on the patriarchal nature of Australian society and its violent roots. Convicts were treated so brutally that to speak out of turn or to rise up above your peers was to possibly invite the attention of guard who might flog you to death on a whim. Thus emerged the tall poppy syndrome (there were other contributing factors of course) and the culture of mate-ship- where you were equal as long as you were white, male and didn't set yourself above your mates. Otherwise, you might get called a 'smart a*#@e', excluded or bullied.
 
Here come some awful generalisations, but in my experience, Americans are quite happy for someone to teach them. They are enthusiastic students and listeners. "That was absolutely fantastic!!" An Australian in the same audience would say shrug and say, "That wasn't bad."
 
I think we still have a deep streak of anti-authouritansim, (yet we still can't get the numbers to become a Republic- strange) so that we are very easily irritated by being taught something. I am a bit that way myself. I like stories which have depth but which I may have to unpack, rather than being whopped over the head with a sanctimonious moral.
 
I am in the middle of marking storytelling assignments by University students. They have to record themselves telling a story to five people- preferably children as the subject is offered through the School of Education. However some students had to tell in front of adults. One did a fabulous job of the amusing tale original tale by Terry Jones (Monty Python fame) of 'Dr Bonocolus and the Devil'. She said in her reflection that 4 out of 5 of her friends liked the story, but one complained that the ending was too predictable. I replied:
 
Loving the folktale genre is niche thing at the moment, but I feel this is changing. If one in five adults disliked the ending- that is more about personal taste for folktales versus stories with a twist. Folktales are food for the soul, but it is not everyone's medicine.
 
I'd love to hear everyone else's thoughts as I think this could be a very significant thing to get our head around as we work to promote storytelling in Australia.

http://www.storytree.com.au
 
Jones,  T.  (1983).    Dr  Bonoculus's  Devil.  In  Fairy  Tales  (pp.  119-­‐122).   Ringwood,  Victoria:  Puffin  Books.
 
 

 I would argue that a well

 I would argue that a well told personal story is also constructed by someone. They have chosen the event, they have chosen the perspective to take (humourous/serious/tell two sides or just one/etc) and importantly on what note to end. And as Donna writes it is also important to note 'when' people choose to tell a story.

I personally believe both are constructed and both offer lessons to the listeners. There are personal stories from refugee children and kids on the streets that I will never forget. There are also traditional tales that I have dwelled on and derived meaning from for decades.

IF the listeners choose to take a lesson they will from personal or traditional tales. Although from my own experience working with groups I feel that listeners can easily dismiss personal stories.

It happened to 'them' not 'me'. 

That could never happen here in Australia.

That was in the past.

Stuff always happens to that dude.

Id never make those mistakes.

I feel that the metaphor used in traditional tales places it beyond time/person/country. This allows every person to relate to the characters and situations. This is the strength and the long lasting nature of the traditional tale.

Thanks for the thoughts Jesse and generating this discussion.

Lilli