So Say We All, So Said Me.
“Storytelling is the essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is.” ~ Tim O’Brien
Hi, my name is June. Today I became a storyteller. I’ve always felt internally I was a storyteller, but when it came to speaking in front of a group, I found my mouth was full of worms. I have a fiery, torch-wielding justice bitch inside me, but it’s so much easier to funnel her words into digital screens than let her cry out a song. Today, however, I unleashed her, I let the tiger loose.
Thanks to the loving presence of my sister Nadina, and the sweaty dedication of a San Diego nonprofit to providing platforms where seasoned and novice storytellers alike can safely communicate their deepest and darkest, most humorous or inspiring tales, I stood up and said something. I said something I needed to say. For five minutes without preparation, I spoke on the topic “Catastrophe.”
“Long Story Short,” said the So Say We All flyer, and it was, for me, at least three years of experience in less than 300 seconds. I think my hands were shaking. My heart was a snake rattle. My hair was buzzing and my mind was on fire. I was terrified of speaking, but more threatened by what would happen if I didn’t.
I stood up in a little room in Liberty Station with planes flying overhead — causing me each time to wonder where everyone was going to and from — and I spoke.
I spoke after attending so many storytelling events in silence, listening. I spoke instead of regretting letting insecurity win yet another daily battle. I spoke about my dad, alcoholism, prison, sidewalk chalk, spirituality, a Nahko and Medicine for The People concert… I spoke about strange, challenging, hilarious things. Real things, living things. Things that taught me, hurt me, helped me grow.
I spoke like a wild woman with a field of whales bellowing memories through her thought fields. I spoke the way a butterfly speaks with wet wings emerging from a chrysalis. Imperfectly, I spoke.
With more southern Californian lingo than my hindsight approves of, I spoke. I spoke too quickly, without flushing out all the details and painting all the pictures I wanted to paint. I spoke like someone who had to speak, not necessarily the calm, polished, solid eye-contact making speaker I could be.
Without giving all characters the full-bodied respect more practice could have given them, I spoke a summary of a much more complex story. Somehow it felt complete.
I spoke with more power and spontaneous poetry than I expected to hear come out of me in five unscripted minutes:
“My brother is the best hugger. My brother’s hugs feel like if a tree could hug you back.”
“My dad is a charismatic force, he’s like a magician, mesmerizing; he’s also a narcissistic alcoholic.”
“My dad can make you feel like standing next to him is most magical three feet of space in the universe, he can also be like a black hole, sucking up all the energy in the room.”
“Sometimes, there isn’t a ‘man of the house’. Sometimes, it takes a woman.”
I spoke, and it didn’t matter that it was imperfect… all the better, it was Me.
With total self-compassion, I was speaking. With certainty that everyone in this room of ‘strangers’ was unconditionally loving and supporting me, just for showing up, I spoke. I spoke like I mattered, like my stories had depth, like my messy heart-centered life had meaning to someone other than me. As if it was the only thing that would free me, I spoke. And it was freeing. All that horny longing.
What more is there than this? I saw the ancestors clapping. I heard the sound of drums. Yes, I’m being excessive, prolific, but for me, inside me, that’s how it was. This hungry growing vine of leafing saying something, tearing up all the taxidermized relics I thought were doomed to dust. This growing thing, expanding from and beyond me: a story, my story, the molten words we build our worlds on.
All the old creaky books I’d become tired of reading closed. Before me was every page I’d ever need and every material to make the stories breathe. Clean. Open. Refreshed. Blank. Pages. Lined pages, giving order to my chaos. Inviting pages, twinkling with the expectant electricity of hands that want to touch your own.
I am only a beginner. I’m only beginning to begin. I was born yesterday, in the nest of intimacy we build when we open our eyes, listen with our hearts, and speak to the void, the cosmos, The Listening. I could go on forever linking arms with every one of you, draw you into that room and the way it felt to be momentarily free. I go on and get so excited because: if I am anyone, I must be everyone.
I am anyone, and I was born today. If I was reborn today, in some way, so were you.
If you’ve got a storyteller hidden somewhere, let my brave imperfect opening be an example of what happens on the other side of fear. Don’t wait too long for your cathartic “finally,” let the tiger loose.
June Underwood is the self-proclaimed writer and messy mindfulness guru of her own life. Often the stories that should be hardest to tell are easiest for her to reveal. There’s something about being transparent, gritty, raw, and uncensored that makes her feel most alive. June believes mindful employment of the pleasure principle is the antidote to addiction, creative expression is the most accessible cure for anxiety and depression, and everyone — if you listen deeply enough — is made up of beautiful stories. After a decade-long dark night (which included its fair share of mystical auroras) June is finally bringing her creative babies into the light. This is her first publicly published story and she would like to kiss you for reading it. Maybe that’s too much, so “Thank you” will do. Your generous witnessing makes her want to become a living Thank You. You could contact her via Instagram.