“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
Words hold power. They are the tools we use to construct our universe. We all have stories. We all tell stories every day. Stories are how we gather information about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. In my work as a spoken word artist and mentor I have discovered that the stories we tell about ourselves, are perhaps the most profound. We learn our stories, or we grow our own. Through life and its challenges, we discover that the stories we create about ourselves influence how others see us and how we want to be seen. The labels we claim or reject. The experiences we choose to share or hide.
We are the gatekeepers of the stories in our lives, and how we express those stories creates us as heros or villians. Forges us as survivors, or achievers or failures. Draws light to the spaces we most want seen, and shadows the secrets places we would rather turn away from.
I have many stories about myself. Here’s one:
I am a writer. A mother. A friend. I am a caring individual who uses my natural gifts to help others in the world. I am a natural optimist who overcomes obstacles and owns up to my mistakes. I am fiercely forgiving. I am a natural leader, who is innovative and always thinks outside of the box. I love to laugh. I love to love. I am skilled in many areas of creative expression. I am strong.
Here is another story about who I am:
I have been sexually assaulted multiple times. I grew up in an abusive, dysfunctional environment. I am a suicide attempt survivor. I have a mental illness which has affected my quality of life. Sometimes I don’t leave the house for days because I am afraid of interacting with anybody. I have hurt the people who are closest to me. I have been called “toxic”. I have disappointed friends and family. I feel lonely all the time.
Which of these stories is more “true”? Which of these stories do I want to tell? Which of these stories define who I am? Can they exist together?
I’ve always been fascinated by the stories we tell about ourselves. The drops we use to sum up an ocean. I have always wondered what prompts us to leave out pieces of our stories. Which things we don’t want to think about or share. Where do those parts of our story go? Do we want to find them?
Spoken word and oral tradition predate writing, and stories passed down from generation to generation sink into our bones. The memories we share aloud to our children and grandchildren become the new stories they will tell to their own offspring. Our stories begin with the spoken word. With the power to create the lives we want by exorcising our true voice. The little whisper that desperately wants to scream. To shout. To proclaim. To announce “I am here! I am still here”
Spoken word poetry is not where I first learned how to use my voice, but it was the first place I discovered its true power. I’ve never felt more like myself than when I am on a stage performing poetry. For a few minutes, I get to say exactly what I mean. I get to share the parts of myself I would rather hide. The pieces of me that I am still polishing. The parts I want to call “ugly”. The space I want to run away from. Writers, performers or audiences members who are attracted to this form of expression come to these events for a number of reasons, but ultimately, it is to share in the storytelling we crave as people. To know that we are indeed not alone. That despite all of the surface interactions we encounter on a daily basis, for a few moments in time, we have the chance to be fully honest about our lives and ourselves.
There is a world inside of you that needs to be shared with others. Which part of you feels like it’s screaming inside of you, raw and ready to take the stage?
This is your beginning.
What story do you want to tell?
Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.