Journeying away from ‘Professional Storyteller’

By Limor Shiponi

It has happened that I’ve participated more than once in an event outside Israel, where people introduced me as, “please welcome Limor, she’s from Israel and she’s going to tell us Jewish stories”. My immediate inner reaction was, “hell not” which I didn’t speak out loud of course, but went on telling the stories I intended to tell. From my point of view, if I was invited to tell, it was because of my skill, not any part of my perceived background. I don’t like organizers telling me what I should tell before I’ve seen my partners in telling – those today labeled ‘audience’.

As time passed and my travels extended, I did notice an inner wish sprouting, though. A wish to tell something unique to my identity, to invite people through my stories to visit lands unknown to them, maybe visited and forgotten, maybe of surprising wonder, or interest, or just another fragment of our humanity I get to meet more often than others because of where I come from and who I am.

Now I know, that wish had to do with connecting back to community, first of all – for my own sake. After years of being an outstanding storyteller, master of platform, skill, all wit and wisdom expressed through great eloquence, charm and charisma, I got to the point I realized the admiration and repute I was winning for all the above, got me pretty disconnected from others and myself.

I became a stage person, a ‘professional storyteller’, a skill for hire. Technically that means I’m elevated from my partners in telling so we can see each other when the audience gets too large. It also means I’m a portable skilled device that can perform anywhere if invited. I’m sure that to many, this seems great – but not to all.¬†Internally, for a storyteller, that’s collateral damage to the damage of inner disconnect; the ‘belly of the whale’ in a storyteller’s hero’s journey. It’s most probably the point when a storyteller might start raising a hand to find help somewhere outside of her fantasy ‘professional’ position, wondering about her own background and community, seemingly known to her at that point, not necessarily truthfully visited or trusted to remember me as a sibling or daughter of any specific tribe, heritage or culture – after I’ve forgotten for so many years.

Thereof starts the road of trials

For me it started by trying to figure out the stories of my parents, then their families. I remember I was even somewhat embarrassed to pose questions directly; eventually I found the way. Then it was looking back at my resistance, that “hell not” that popped up every time someone said I was going to tell Jewish stories, and figured the issue was, “but I’m an Israeli, not exactly the same as Jewish, you know?!” Not that Jewish is wrong, but Israeli is more precise.¬† So I found what Israeli stories might be and that helped me connect to communities far away from my home.

Yet those stories are fit for there, not for here. Here people don’t need me to tell them what Israeli is like – they live it. Here they appreciate me as the teller of Arthurian Legends, Canterbury Tales, folktales from around the world and all kinds of other amazing stories, some of them composed by myself. People appreciate what I tell, the way I tell and connect to an audience; you could say that when it comes to storytelling, I’ve met the goddess.

Meeting the goddess is amazing. Staying with the goddess, living in storytelling nirvana for the rest of my storytelling life is superbly tempting. There is though a minute price-tag attached to it, nothing too grand but still obligatory: you have to hand in your voice. That will promise you can stay with the goddess – forever.

I almost did.

But in storytelling land, ‘I’ is not the smallest atom constructing the world; it’s ‘us’ and ‘us’ didn’t give up on my role as part of a community. ‘Us’ arrived by mail and phone to remind me about my sacred duty to the society I’m part of, a duty granted to me because I have the skill and devotion – lost in favor of the devotion to sustain my position as ‘professional storyteller’, a northern star far above and away from my true communal center.

To be continued and hopefully, not alone.

8 thoughts on “Journeying away from ‘Professional Storyteller’”

  1. Dear Limor,
    Thank you for posting this personal musing, it touched me deeply. I will keep it for those dark days when I “forget” to delve into resistance in search for meaning. And I will reread it whenever I notice I’m hiding from “us”.
    As for you, dear friend, I wish you a good journey back to “you”. Please send us more postcards like this one.
    And again: Thank you.

  2. Thanks for posting this on the Storytellers Group FB page, Limor. Perhaps it was the goddess who spoke to you to remind you that “storytelling” and “connection” are part and parcel of each other, and that connection of the teller with the listeners of the story is as the same importance as connection of the teller to the story is of the same importance as connection of the listeners to the story. To remain true to Story, we must remain true to ourselves and to our audiences. When being a Storyteller becomes of more concern than being a teller of stories, it is definitely time to reflect. Although I have not ‘met’ the goddess in my telling career, she has already sent me the message that to pause and reflect and re-direct my path would be a good thing to do. I wish you well on your continued journey and I hope that others will heed your words and experience. It seems there are more than a few who would benefit. Your writing flows like a river and passes the shore near my heart.

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