Letters from Miss Jill: The Power of Story

By Jill Carstens

In addition to this column, I have been working on writing a memoir. My writing teacher recently encouraged my fellow memoirists to embrace the stories of our lives as we write in order to create a rich and engaging piece of work.

jill carstens
Jill Carstens

This reminder of the value of story really resonated in my teacher self. Some of my best curriculums came from finely written, creative children’s literature. We can take the significance of a story one step further if we solicit the theories of Joseph Campbell.

In his book, “The Power of Myth,” written with Bill Moyers, he discusses the powerful lessons to be learned by the relatable hero’s journey. The hero’s journey follows a predictable universal cycle of problem, searching for the answer, and the return to a more peaceful status following a transformation that the hero shares with its community.

Campbell asserts that we can all gain templates for our own lives by absorbing these stories. It is the rare person that does not at one time ask themselves, “What is my purpose?” and seeks to find connectedness in the world. Bill Moyers asked Campbell, “Does the hero save the world or save himself?”

Campbell answered easily, “He saves the world by saving himself.” He adds that “a vital person vitalizes,” and notes that if you follow the thread of the hero’s path you will never be alone, but with the world. By exposing ourselves to the stories of others, especially those from different cultures, we broaden our world view, learn more about the universe, and are better equipped to find our own place in the world. Storytelling happens constantly in an early childhood classroom.

Children play-act, often rehearsing typical and comforting scenes of home life. At meeting time, we read stories and discuss them or take turns sharing news from home. We gather with markers and paper and draw our first stories and when we share them, our friends learn a little bit about us and we in turn deepen our understanding of ourselves.

This added benefit of reflection and gaining further personal understanding has definitely become so much more evident to me as I write the story of my life, the sequence of events making sense when looked at years later. I encourage parents to share their own stories of the events of their lives and family as their children grow.

My son is intimately aware of so many stories of our family that give him perspective about himself and where he might have inherited certain traits, such as his grandfather’s penchant for both cooking and having a short temper! Knowing these stories creates a grounding and an ownership of our connected lives. When picking books, keep in mind the hero’s journey.

It can be found in the simplest of works, like a picture book called “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires, where the journey is illustrated in a day when a little girl struggles with making a specific contraption. Until your kids can read these classics on their own, you can read them “The Wizard of Oz” or the C.S. Lewis series, which offer deeper depictions of the hero’s journey.

It is never too early to begin an understanding that life is indeed a journey, one with predictable struggles that develop character that we can be proud of, living life fully.

Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing for this publication! Email her with comments or story ideas at jill@denvernorthstar.com.  


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.