A Brief Reflection on Storytelling
The train from Yekaterinburg to Krasnoyarsk was 38 hours. To our dismay, there were no power chargers, and no air conditioning. All our devices died, and sleep as hibernation has its limits in 28 degree heat. We talked to our neighbors, but I quickly became very cranky, hot, and bored.
So I told stories. Mostly, I retold to Melody all of the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfiction that I’ve read over the years—the well-written stories, and the poorly written ones. But it passed the time, and by the time we arrived in Krasnoyarsk, my throat was sore.
The next day, on our 6km walk to the hiking entrance of Stolbi park, I told stories again. 6km is a long way, and most of the path was on a road. Additionally, we were thirsty and getting tired. So I retold the angsty stories I wrote in middle school, all about denied love and violent passion, and a science fiction story I wrote where everyone slowly fades away. Then I summarized my favourite childhood book, Gregor the Overlander, for Melody. Honestly, I would have retold the whole series, but my voice grew hoarse.
Why do we tell fictional stories? I’d like to say something more profound, but from this experience, it seems to happen when we are bored and genuinely have nothing else to do. But in some ways, it’s better than watching a movie or reading a book, because it’s interactive. The characters from my childhood stories are like friends to me, so when I retell stories I desperately want Melody to understand the intricate bond between characters. She has to love them like I do. And since she didn’t tell me to be quiet while I talked for hours, I’ll infer she enjoyed it too.
The situation made me think of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, when her family was stuck inside a small cabin during the Long Winter with nothing to do but sing and talk. What else is there to do but to tell stories? Stories of love and betrayal, friendship and unexpected journeys, stories to make us feel emotion and pass the time.
Melody and I on the bus to Tsetserleg in Mongolia, many days after our trip to Krasnoyarsk.