A woman goes on a journey
Paving the way from the wobbly home on the hill to the sanctuary of words
Four years of searching for purpose, a place in this universe had gone by. The same amount of time she spent anchored, determined and genuinely enjoying herself in high school four years before - that faraway land of happy feelings. A transformation was bound to occur, as they always did at these intervals. She suddenly found herself in the shoes of countless eastern European young adults that had fled their home in the search of something more, better, something sublime, but vague. Then the day came when the vagueness dispersed and she rediscovered her everlasting safe haven. This story is, more than anything else, a promise to herself, to never again dismiss her sanctuary of words as unrealistic and superfluous.
Back in the hot Transylvanian summer of 2007, I was faced with a decision that I was told would radically shape my future — or at least the following four years of it. Just like I was to be faced with one four years later in 2011 and yet another one, four more summers later, in the fall of 2015. All of these decisions had to be the best answers to “What next?” in their respective times.
Only, I was never a conventional decision maker. As a 15 year old in 2007, I had the backbone to stand up to my parents and go in the direction my heart was calling instead of following the crowd. Looking back, it was more lucky than wise that I chose the philology path to the sciences in high school. But I did get to reap the sweet fruits of surrendering to the power of words for four years. I still recall my dad’s clumsy urging for considering a more predictable avenue. But in my mind, what did he know that I didn’t? He never graduated from high school, nor did my mother. From our wobbly home on the hill, I was to be the first one to embark on this journey and I for once was entitled to know what I wanted.
When the next life altering choice had to be made, as a 19 year old deciding on an undergraduate degree to pursue, I caved in and rejected the unusual, but honest voice within. I had made my choice for the following four years. I was going to study business administration. I think of the long phone call the evening before applying. My heart was inclined towards the kingdom of words, while my brain was listening to the calm voice on the other end of the line, my dear friend listing advantages and disadvantages of each course. The momentarily lapse of sense was to dictate my following four years: practical, precise, but numb business studies.
Four years of procrastination, as I was to realize. Four years of beating around the bush, taking odd jobs and studying for a convenient degree, one that promised a balanced future. But not four wasted years. Deep down, I knew that whatever I did would propel me further, build me up stronger, clarify my vision, clear my throat and help me find my voice. I just needed a gentle push.
Along these for years of studying business — besides the one constant, which was confusion — there was a pattern in my life. I kept getting stuck among creatives. But did I belong here? My fiancee — a photographer. My closest friends — designers, my other dear friends — musicians. My parents — carpenters, creatives in their own way. Did I belong here? But what do I create? I cannot draw, I take decent, but soulless pictures (beat my master at this one?), I tend to over design and my singing voice is average. But there is one chore — in other’s eyes at least — that I can rejoice performing for hours on end. I build sentences and phrases and paragraphs. I create stories. I HAVE been told I am brilliant, but I have always unassumingly dismissed it. Not anymore!
The Power of Storytelling — where the journey went full circle
In a staggering haze of coincidences that are to be narrated elsewhere, the second week of October brought me to a house I had visited before. More precisely, I found myself in the room that hosted Romania’s home office, Bucharest. It felt funny how both times, Denmark had been the intermediary between our encounter. First, for an interview that opened the door to fleeing Romania, now for a storytelling conference. Looking back, storytelling has silently haunted me along the years. It took conceiving a startup and receiving a grant to raise it to find storytelling again. This was my gentle push.
Don’t you also sometimes have to hear the same thing several times before it truly resonates with you? The window needs to be wide open for you to be able to assimilate the information that comes towards you. Well, the Power of Storytelling was a marathon of resonance inside my soul. PoS closed the circle I started drawing when I chose which high school to attend. It is not a perfect circle, but it is full of precious lessons within.
Some of the lessons I learned in a couple of days last week. At the Power of Storytelling, I learned fearlessness, busy-ness, drive and belonging. I learned I have hard work to do and that I would end up feeling as a fraud no matter the hours I put into a story, but also that I had to put them in. The people with sparks in their eyes and love in their voices spoke to me. Who they were to me and how they spoke to my heart comes next.
Cristi, the tall and gentle fellow giving off the radiance of a warm soul, warned there will be crying, which seemed a bit odd looking at the room full of people in their smart garbs and I became doubtfully defensive.
However, the shield I had put up as Cristi spoke completely shattered with Jacqui’s first words. She reminded me that my grandfather had been a miner. He descended under the ground, breathed in the infect air and carried on his back the rough treasures he excavated. I had never bothered ask what those treasures were. To me, he was an “other”. But they, the “others”, are us and we are them. Jacqui and her Danish mother that I could see so clearly on her face even without having met her, my Transylvanian grandfather made me sob. From that moment on, I was sold and trembling uncontrollably.
Once as self-doubting as myself and with a gentle voice, Carmen found a path towards redemption. She surrendered herself to the incommensurate pleasure of words and is today stronger than ever before. Carmen wrote herself free and gave me hope.
It’s Leslie’s book I am reading now and perhaps she was the one to encourage me most. With her bold voice escaping a frail body, she taught me that I do have a story! Even if I write it about and to myself, I will inevitably help myself put words to my life, if not to others’ lives.
Dan, with his shabby appearance and precious, underplayed humor, reminded me I forgot the banana. And here I am, going back for it. Asking myself what I wanted to become when I was “little”, as he puts it. He also reminded me to have accidents often and in this regard I am no disappointment. I am just crawling out of a four year long accident in business school.
Wendy the firefighter. Probably the most matter of fact person I’ve met in a while, with a warm smile and an attentive ear at hand at all times. When I walked up to her to apologize for calling her a designer, as I thought she might be part of the crowd for whom these details matter, she told me she is not “some people” and “some people” need to get over themselves, I could call her a firefighter. She was down to earth as any of the other keynotes and told us we should not be afraid to ask, but we should be terrified to assume. She sent us off to look for the beauty that happens in the meanwhile.
Richard, with his broad smile and dynamic personality, told me to break resistance with my heart open and not dare leave my longings unattended. Style and authenticity come with hard work, which puts you in a flow that abolishes introversion. What a comfort to know these barriers can be bent for someone who recently scored 100% introverted on a personality test.
Alexander let his story play out in front of us and speak for him. The room finally went dim for “Toto and His Sisters” to play, as Cristi had wished for for the entire event. The director confessed to not having the certainty that documenting the children will turn into a story, but their strong personalities made them promising characters. There was something narration worthy bound to happen and Alexander trusted his intuition, silently observing the story being born in front of him.
John’s composed narrative reinforced the importance of sensual writing and the dangers of becoming a narrative autistic, which I must admit I am being here. But hey! All for the sake of practice.
Mike reminded me of the magic of exploration and discovery of the alchemy of turning an experience into written words on a page. Reverie and procrastination are part of the process, the unconscious navigation towards the finished story. Forgetting and remembering at the same time must be mastered and the more I do this blue collar job, the more shitty writing I do, the more the words will come together in harmony. The hardest part about writing is having readers. I, too, shudder at the thought someone will read this.
Chris probably remains the dearest to me. His unapologetic humor and effort to truly connect touched me most. He told us he used to be one of the lost kids, he still is, but we have to believe hard enough and whatever we wish will come true. I believed him. Although at the end of the day we will all feel like frauds pulling off a scam, it is UNKIND not to share. Writers are seekers. At the other end of any story, there is someone driven to answer a question. Here I am trying to answer how I got away from storytelling all these years.
Robert, the kind listener and worrier, closed the communion by uttering what was on everyone’s minds: “I did not know it is such an honor until I found myself here”.
I loved them all with my eyes, I feasted on their stories that keep on living in my body, shiver by shiver.
I am grateful for fearlessly showing me their ordinariness. Self loathing morning routines, monotonous reading voices, frowned upon longings, odd jobs, procrastination patterns. The Power of Storytelling, where this woman’s journey went full circle will occupy a special place in my heart forever and I shall return, with my homework completely unprepared again, but with my heart open and ready to grow.
This is my clumsy story, my current normal that I shall use as a foundation to building myself up a little stronger with every story. I have chosen the answer to this time’s “What next?”. I know now that storytelling is magic, but also that magic does not naturally occur in nature, you have to work hard for it and spend 10 hours in the attic looking for the right sentence. I love this experiment as I would an ugly child. I give to you my draft masterpiece!