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Pearl Steinberg: A Special Ambience

There is a special ambience between a storyteller and the audience. If a storyteller does not have a willing listener, his/her story might as well not exist.

I remember an experience I had when I first moved to Portland from NY. My husband and I had made the move to a senior residence facility in a community not far from our eldest son and his family, after it became obvious that a split-level house no longer served our needs. One morning we came down to the dining room for breakfast and sat at a table with a couple who were ‘old-timers’, in an effort to get to know some of the other residents. In answer to one of the woman’s questions, I answered with an animated description of a NY experience. When I had finished, instead of any acknowledgement of what I had said, the woman said,” Can you say that again, without using your hands?” I was flabbergasted! Instead of hearing my interesting story, she was sizing me up. Was she saying that I was too New York, too Jewish, or Italian? She did not hear my story! My story was wasted on her! A non-listener! A criticizer! Fortunately, she was an anomaly. Others were quite happy to hear my tales.

When I first told stories in public, I noticed that at times a member of the audience might seem to ‘tune out’, and, after a bit, tune back in. I came to realize that something in my story had awakened a deep-seated memory or had touched on something meaningful for that person. I knew this because I myself had had that experience when listening to other storytellers. And that is the great thing about stories–the common human factor, the underlying togetherness. We relate to the humor, the absurdity, the experiences of others that we will probably never undergo ourselves, but can enjoy, vicariously.

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