8.3 A Political Act

Last week, I was sitting up front on the stage of the Stories We Don't Tell, a live storytelling show I co-produce. I'm usually off to the side to help with the audio recording of the performers. The host of the show, Stefan Hostetter, referred to the event as an 'experiment in empathy' and this made me think, as I sat there watching the audience watch the performers, that with the recent political turmoil, just getting up and sharing your story is a political act.

Then I thought, Oh, shit, this is bad.

If just openly talking about who you are is a political act, then we are in very seriously challenging times. Since November, I've been reading and looking into how artists reacted to different eras of unrest, most notably the 1960s and 1970s. I've been looking for guidance on how to participate with my art. How to protest utilizing my creative talents.

This journey is by no means finished and whatever I figure out along the way is no complete answer. You gotta start somewhere. So, I began with educating myself and listening to others, seeking out events and people that have completely different life experiences from me. For the past couple of months, I've found myself in spaces and places that I've never been, listening to people sharing stories totally different from my own. In this case, I do not equate silence with inaction. On the contrary, if sharing your story is a political act, and a story needs an audience - even if that audience is just one person - then listening is an integral part of that political act. 

I've written about this before, but I'll keep bugging you about it. I'm going to see stuff, especially plays. Again, written and performed by people who have completely different life experiences. Something that was not expected is how much I related to the stories in these plays and movies. I mean, of course, I want to have an emotional experience when I go to the theatre, it's kind of become a prerequisite of mine. I recently saw Empire of the Sun by Tetsuro Shigematsu and the play was about him trying to get a better understanding of his recently deceased father. I feel silly writing about how being able to relate to the story was surprising. Also, it made me appreciate how different the playwright's experience was from mine, yet so similar at the same time.

Imagine not having these creative guideposts that help provide insights into our lives?

I'm taking up this space that is my little corner of the internet. The internet is a clusterfuck of information, so I do know that my voice is probably getting lost in the mix, which to be honest, is not a big deal. There are many voices more important than mine. What I'm much more sensitive about are these spaces I'm taking up in person. I was at an event a while ago where the speakers were representing something specific. I felt welcomed and comfortable, but also, it was definitely a place to listen. I think it's important to read a room and understand how you fit into that room. This isn't some political correctness bull shit, it's just common decency and respect for others. I mean, just shut the fuck up sometimes and you might learn something.

So, right, an experiment in empathy. I'm into this. As the Stories We Don't Tell event progressed, I learned something deep and meaningful about each of the performers. I had no personal experience with most of the things they described, but their stories brought me that much closer to having a better understanding of what shaped them into the person brave enough to stand up in front of that audience. Maybe this is a good thing that sharing your story is a political act? By good, I just mean that I'm wary of falling into complacency and not appreciating the many creative outlets I have at my disposal. Yep, this terrible political fiasco is an extreme way of reminding us of this, but historically speaking, we've been here before. We just can't seem to learn from our mistakes.

I'm just gonna keep listening.

If you would like to hear some stories from the Stories We Don't Tell event, we've recently launched the second season of the podcast. Click on the banner or this link to subscribe to Stories We Don't Tell: A Podcast About Storytelling.

Paul Dore