Written by Leanne Esposito
This column is all about words. With a master’s degree in creative writing, editing, and publishing, I’ve made words my world. It wasn’t always this way. As a child of the sixties, I was a free-ranging, sporty kid who never touched a book. It may have had something to do with the lack of novels in our home – a small stack of golden books was a nightly read, and a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, the family’s academic reference tools. They gathered dust. I barely touched them.
Biggles, the Secret Seven and Little Women did nothing for me. Pious plots and adventurers were a yawn. I wanted more. Magic and mysticism may have stirred me.
It was an adult choice to return to studies. My lecturers and writing mentors opened me up to a wizardry world of literature where an otherness prevailed. I’ve studied everything from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, and unconventional genres in between. My favourites are gothic novels or empowerment, especially of the human mind and spirit. The list is long. Reading works like Midnight’s Children by award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie to the ancient philosopher Laozi Tzu’s the Dao De Jing has activated my creative mind.
Today I still enjoy sport, either watching or participating, as my formative years were shaped by the doing of it. However, my mind has now had a chance to explore what my body no longer does.
We writers ask many questions. Creatively we ask of our characters deep, soul searching ones. We explore their natures and offer up characters as multidimensional individuals. There is nothing worse than a flat, one-dimensional character. They are boring. Not worth the read.
Real people are really complex. I’ve found it both an honour and a privilege to interview many individuals and write their life stories. Sometimes just an excerpt of it. To share what makes a person unique is treasurable. In my opinion, it often takes a writer, or a journalist, to create that comfortable space in which to chip away at the outer shell, and to reach their subject’s core.
Many people from an older generation are far too modest. They have been taught to be humble. Not to brag. Not to boast. However, once they feel safe in the interviewer’s presence, they enjoy the gentle probing question, which ignites the spark of a memory. The idea that their story is worth telling unlocks the vault. There is no doubt that everyone is worthy. The idiom that we all have a story inside is true.
On the flip side, younger generations liberally share their selves daily on social media and have learnt to show-off. This is not a criticism. There are multiple platforms on which they can star. Their narratives are on display for the world to explore. Some are manipulated and fictionalised. Some are real. They may be pretending to be someone they’re not, which is in itself creative.
Either way, there are risks involved in the way a writer tells a story. Keeping it real and positive are not always mutually exclusive. Stories need to be treated carefully and weighed up for their worthiness. Often a subject will overshare, and that’s okay. Other stories are personal. Not for publication. What is important is that the individual feels safe. When and if they are ready to share is up to them. Which brings me to an essential component of life, even before the storytelling.
Counsellor and Journalist Chris Smith wrote an article for the Courier Mail: An hour with Oscar could save his life, in examining the tragic death of athlete and coach Paul Green.
He said, “We need to learn to converse, truly.”
Let’s focus on the word truly and check in with the authentic self.
In examining the toll of life on mental health in men, especially athletes, he urged that it was vitally important to go beyond the simple R U OK standard, which requires a closed yes, or no, answer.
He says that every one of us should learn a simple phrase of communication.
“Tell me about yourself.
“And be ready to respond because I really want to know when they reply with, ‘Why?’”
It’s what we writers do daily. It’s what we should all learn to do if we want open and honest communication with our fellow humans.
Asking an individual about themselves may help to open that vault which is closed to protect the self. It can be an opportunity for an individual to explore and expose some problematic issues in a safe space.
Remember, we all have a story inside of us. It doesn’t need to be written. Feeling heard could be a step towards healing. Self-writing on difficult subjects is often said to be cathartic. Telling that challenging story can be as curative.
Oral traditions are as old as time itself. So, let’s all offer a space for others to open up.
Storytelling is essential and it may well be the key to sharing the burden in a crisis.
If you wish to explore yourself through life writing, follow me on Instagram @coffee_writers