Every single person has a library-worth of stories inside of them. In chapter five of Ellayne Ganzfried and Mona Greenfield’s new book, The Word Escapes Me, an aphasia group teams up with The Moth, a storytelling organization, to capture a moment from their life.

The Word Escapes Me

Which Story to Tell?

It’s not easy. The Moth is about performing your story, note-free. Take an activity that would be difficult under any circumstances — boiling down a moment of life into a succinct story, and then performing it in front of an audience without notes — and now add aphasia on top of it. And yet stories are shared: A visit to a Japanese temple leads a woman to find Buddhism. A man tries to find his way back to dancing the tango. A woman brings together her birth mother and adoptive mother for lunch.

Notice the stories are not about aphasia. No matter how large aphasia may loom over your life, this project drives home that people are complex and unique.

A Story Tells Who We Are

The chapter reminded me of a recent Washington Post article about Jay Newton-Small and her project, MemoryWell. She paused filling out a questionnaire for her father’s nursing home. She realized telling the stories from her father’s life would give the dementia staff a clearer understanding of the man in their care.

Knowing personal details of her father’s life helped his caregivers understand trigger points that could upset him and references that might please him. “It completely transformed his care.”

It wasn’t about telling the story of his dementia, it was about telling the story of his life. This was a man who had lived in Ethiopia, driven a car for Winston Churchill, and worked as a diplomat.

It was about collecting the hundreds of anecdotes that exist inside a person, from a first pet to a worst date. They’re the stories that we use to entertain others as well as give them a slice of ourselves. The stories that create a deeper understanding of the person.

Tell Your Story

The Moth is a spoken event where storytellers take center stage, and while we can’t recreate the energy that comes from having dozens of eyes watching you as you perform, it is a great exercise to craft a tiny story from your life.

In one paragraph (or even just a few words) tell us a story: a funny memory, a moment from childhood, a friend, an important trip: anything that tells us about you. The point: you have these stories inside of you. While it may be difficult to reach in and pull them out, it’s worth the work in order to bring more of these stories into the world.

This is the third installment of our online book club. You can still read the first post and second post in the series, and you can enter the conversation at any time.

Join this online book club! Copies of The Word Escapes Me can be purchased through all online book retailers including Amazon. You can also purchase the book directly from Balboa Press, and discounts are offered on bulk orders.

Image: David Bleasdale via Flickr via Creative Commons license