Tag Archives: wisdom

Family History: 25 Years of Storytelling Wisdom

Cherie SchwartzWhen I said lots of people think stories are just stories and not always true, I happened to also sneeze. Cherie Karo Schwartz’s comeback was a Yiddish proverb “Sneeze on the truth.”

Families, she told me, are like the 33 Chilean miners recently rescued from half a mile underground. To survive, they organized themselves. They designated parts of the mine for sleeping, eating and other purposes. They picked a leader. They sang and told stories. Families do the same. They create space and tunnels and make decisions. A spiritual leader arises to hold the sacred space. “It’s really the only way to stay sane,” she added, “especially when you’re stuck in the dark.” In her mind, “soul” and “story” are nearly the same, I realized, and she defined “sanity” as something akin to preserving and perpetuating our stories–our souls.

I’d driven to Denver and I was sitting in her kitchen, eating honey cake that morning, because I wanted to know why people came to her sessions on family folklore. I thought she’d know. She was a professional storyteller who’d made a specialty of family folklore for more than twenty-five years. I also thought I knew the answer. I expected her to talk about a need for roots, a place in history, a search for identity . . ..

We touched on those things but, deep down, she seemed to think story existed on an even more primal level. Quoting Bary Lopez, she said, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory.” She continued, “We need stories to stay human, like those miners trapped with no obvious help. Stories are heartbeat, everything.”

Circle Spinning BookCherie Karo Schwartz descends from a Rabbi, known as a lawgiver, mystic, and storyteller. He said a malech or angel sat on his shoulder and whispered stories to him.  Her grandmother, her bubbe, used to say, “Sit down, let me tell you a story and make you a part of the family.”

When I asked if people came to her sessions because they felt they’d lost their family stories, she shook her head. “We’re human beings; we have stories.” Nevertheless, she provides a page of  questions to get people started. Asking good questions applies to a lot of things, she believed. “When children come home from school, don’t ask what they learned, ask whether they asked good questions . . .”

I left hoping I’d asked one or two.


Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, Memoir, Old Storytelling Traditions, Story pegs, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

Finding Wisdom

I have a frieChinese word wisdomnd who got a PhD based on a thesis about wisdom. Where do you find it? Can it be taught? She traveled worldwide, Lapland, Kenya, Japan, deep south of US, etc. asking who was considered wise in varying cultures and then interviewing those people. She was looking for a commonality. What made people wise? What made others call someone wise?

No surprise, none of the people she interviewed considered himself/herself wise, not even Wangari Maathai, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize that same week. Most were surprised that they’d been nominated for her study. None were too busy to talk. All gave full attention to the questions being asked. The commonality? Without exception, they had all lived through difficult times, suffered enormous personal losses, and somehow risen above their own suffering to assume a life-affirming role in the lives of others.

For example, Wangari Maathai’s husband sued her for divorce in 1979 saying she was too strong-willed for a woman and he couldn’t control her. When she protested, saying it was a ruse to get her to quit her leadership of the Green Belt Movement, the judge sent her to jail for six months and told never to use her husband’s name again. It was assumed that without her husband’s income, she would be unable to continue her efforts against corrupt land practices in Kenya. In one of the hardest decisions of her life, when she was released from prison, she left her children in her husband’s care, and continued her efforts.

Chinese word wisdomWhat wisdom did my friend find? The interviews ended without great nuggets of knowledge. Her candidates had no answers, claimed no special powers, most advocated no particular religion or lifestyle. Many, like Maathai, had causes, but felt no need to force their agenda on anyone. Most felt that right would prevail without resorting to hate or arms. Although they were not naive about the difficulty they had faced or would continue to face. Above all, they told stories. Lots and lots of wonderfully moving stories about themselves and others. Hard questions, it seems, don’t have answers. They have stories.

Oh, and they all laughed easily and often.


Filed under Definition, Life Story, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Story Motif

Truth Better Than Fiction OR Vice Versa?

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James

And who isn’t wise enough to gloss over a few things when we tell our stories? Ah, but where is the line between applying a little wisdom and telling a story that never happened?

Movie poster Julie and JuliaI will confess that I loved the movie Julie and Julia, about Julia Child and a cooking blog by Julie Powell. I liked the idea that the movie was based on real events. That doesn’t mean that I expected every single detail to be true. That never happens. My husband and I can come home from the same dinner party and remember the evening entirely differently. Everything we do is colored by memory, expectation, our differing feelings and experiences. Not to mention whatever wisdom we’ve applied to the things we’d rather not recall. book cover Julie and JuliaNevertheless, when I picked up the book Julie and Julia and read the disclaimer that parts of the book had been fictionalized, I put it down again. As a reader, I didn’t want to wonder which parts.

logo The Daily BeastThe following article from thedailybeast.com argues that some true stories are better as fiction. I agree. I also like memoir. Mostly I want them to be clearly one or the other. However, wisdom aside, even that may not be as easy as it sounds. See what you think . . .



Filed under Life Story, Memoir, Memories, Movie, Personal Narrative

The Wolf You Feed!

Oh, the wisdom of stories!!!

You can talk about good and evil, pontificate about ying and yang, try to explain the id and the ego. OR you can tell a story. This one is thanks to Carol Grever and her wonderful blog http://www.straightspouseconnection.com/2009/03/the-fight-inside-me.html

Also check out her books and film http://www.carolgrever.com

wolf   A grandmother is teaching her little granddaughter.  She says, “Two wolves are fighting inside you.  One of the wolves is hateful, angry, aggressive, envious, resentful, guilty, and despairing.  The other wolf is compassionate, joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, kind, generous, and forgiving.  These two wolves are always fighting inside you.”

   The little girl thinks about this image of opposites for a moment, then asks, “Grandmother, which wolf wins?”

   The wise elder replies, “The one you feed.”

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Filed under Animal Stories, stories, Story Motif, Uncategorized