I am a storyteller, so are you!

Christine Staple-Ebanks, Guest Speaker the Jamaican American Connection Annual Trailblazer Scholarship Banquet, Ct, USA

Finding my voice has been one of the greatest dilemmas of my life. I have always felt a call to write, and in my early years doing so came easily — writing poems and short stories that is.

During my teen years, writing became my trusted best friend as I traveled through the ‘joys’ of puberty — where my thoughts lingered in the vicinity of “I’m not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough or talented enough” (you know that wonderful phase of development where everything feels ‘topsy turvy’ and you take it all out on yourself?). Writing became my solace. It was my ‘go-to’ place and gave me an avenue to process my thoughts and feelings. I lived in my imagination, to keep me out of my reality. Then as I matured, I applied this gift to my college years and later to my job in marketing and research.

It was not until I encountered a life-defining experience a decade or so ago (AKA my ‘defining moment’), that I returned to writing as a way of helping me cope with the challenges. It was this time of difficulty, which re-ignited my quest to find my voice. As I pondered my circumstances, it came to my awareness that all of my life had been a series of stories. Each time I shared any of these stories with others, I was in fact ‘storytelling’. As the years progressed I grew better at eliminating the fluff and getting to the stuff whenever I shared my story(ies). The better I got at getting to the stuff, the more engaging I became.

In storytelling, I endeavor to speak authentically to issues. The way I figure it, I don’t want others to ‘sugar coat’ a situation, because when it doesn’t work out for me in the same way, I get very disappointed. So as a rule, whenever I stand up to speak or write on an issue, I do so from my life (and I have got plenty of experiences to draw from).

Take for example this photo of me and my son Nathan. This photo was taken days after I received his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. My baby was only nine months old. It is only now as I look back at this photo, that I can see all it communicated — I felt alone, lost, confused and perplexed … what was this diagnosis? What did it even mean? What does it mean for my child? For me? My family? Where do I go for help? What’s in store for us in the future? As this story unfolded, writing was my therapy. I committed my feelings and the happenings of my life to paper. So it was only natural (actually it wasn’t so natural, as it was really the encouragement of many persons) that I was galvanized to (self) publish my book “Raising Nathan: Every Life Has a Story” in 2015.

Though the path from writing down my thoughts to publishing took the greater part of 6 years, it wasn’t because I didn’t have the materials or the words, it was because I didn’t consider myself a writer. I thought that I had nothing to say that would be of any interest to others (even though whenever I spoke the audience was clearly moved), I doubted myself. I only committed to the process of publishing my book when the ‘umpteenth’ person looked me in the eye and said “thousands of persons need to read your story. You need to write your book”.

That evening, I had a talk with myself and asked “so what? What if no one ever read what I wrote, does that take away the fact that I have a story to tell? I cleared the space and started writing from scratch that same night. I wrote none stop for the greater part of three months. When I finally sat back to take a breath, I had my first manuscript… and the rest as they say is history!

What I have learnt during this process is that the most interesting stories are real life stories. Take a look at the continued popularity of ‘Reality TV’ (though we all know there is not much reality in them). People are interested in people. When we share from our lives, we offer to others the opportunity to look into their own lives.

I recall a few months ago, I spoke at an event in Long Island, New York. The occasion was the launch and fundraising event of the Nathan Ebanks Children Advocacy Group Inc., of which I am a co-founder. The audience was mixed, mostly people I was meeting for the first time. I shared my story of what brought me to this place, where I needed to have this organization and why we were inspired to do the work that we do. I spoke about my experience with my son Nathan, from pregnancy through to that moment. I shared about my joys, my sorrows, my laughter, my tears and my friends and family and other active supporters. When I was done (all of 20 minutes), there was a thunderous applause. After the event a gentleman came up to me to ask if he could give me a hug. I consented and after a quick hug, he thanked me for the share. He said that while my story was about my experiences with my child and his diagnosis of a major disability, it (my story) was applicable to any of life’s challenges. He said what he heard was that when life deals you a blow, you have a choice in how you look at it… You can choose to surrender and be swept away by the tides, or you can choose to learn, grow and find a solution. I could see in his eyes that he was going through stuff and what I had shared helped him. He could relate.

Since then, I have been thinking of how many stories of others contributed to my mindset today. They are too many to count. Today I look at my son Nathan, and he is thriving and striving, thanks mostly in part to the insights I got from the stories of countless others. So the way I recon it, we all have something to give to the world. It is through our lives that we can help and inspire others to press on. So maybe like I did, you may feel that you are no storyteller. But you would be surprised how things you may deem as not being important is important to someone else. You will never know until you put pen to paper (proverbially) and share your stories. The explosion of social media attests to that. Even a story that didn’t end well could become a cautionary tale for someone else.

And so my resolve is to become more consistent in telling my story. Thankfully there are platforms such as Medium, which facilitates individuals like you and me to share… leaving us with no excuse. Whether you think you are a writer or not, by writing down your experiences, you are fulfilling your destiny as a ‘storyteller’… it is in all of us not just a few.

That is why I have concluded that I am a storyteller and so are you!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Join me again next week for another inspirational piece.