Q and A with a Story Guru: Diane Wyzga: A Plethora of Story Influences

See a photo of Diane, her bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Q&A with Diane Wyzga, Question 5:

Q: What people or entities have been most influential to you in your story work and why?

A: To name one runs the risk of forgetting others. As a way of honoring all who matter to me, I’d like to remember a few.

Doug Lipman and his coaching work taught me to listen with appreciation, always lifting up the best in the teller.Later I would learn he was reframing St. Benedict’s words, “Listen with the ear of the heart.”At a time when I was shaky on my storyteller feet he told me that I have an innate ability to translate universal concepts into sound bytes that resonate with the listener.This I have taken to heart in my work.

Jay O’Callahan appreciates language so much he told me to use less of it, not more. Jay hounded me to “choose — choose — choose” the right word. I hear him in my ear like the ocean: “If you have five words, make it three. If you have three words, make it one.” I am in awe of the grandeur of the epic-scale stories he creates like “The Auk” and “Pouring the Sun” that derive from his own humanity. This gifted world-renowned teller has himself sailed rough seas finding the beating heart of his story or telling to noisy or unappreciative audiences.

Elizabeth Ellis (whose voice, Jay O’Callahan says, sounds like chocolate) made certain I did my homework before stepping in front of a crowd of 5 or 500. She often admonished me to “be a gift to them;” do not expect your listeners to reach out and catch you because you are not prepared. Even with the most difficult personal stories you tell, be in control of the story so your emotions do not run all over the place. Remember the role of a virtual journey is to take the listener with us and return them safely to where we began.

Loren Niemi didn’t let me get away with anything when crafting stories or stage presence. Loren’s topics are edgy, his presentation style sly. Ellis says his material is out there where the tall grass grows in empty lots with broken beer bottles glittering in the sun. The Niemi/Ellis book, Inviting the Wolf In, taught me that there is no human trait too dark that you can’t tell something about it that will relate to the listener’s experience. I learned that all of human experience qualifies for story subject matter; the knife-blade decision is knowing what your listener needs to hear and what you are prepared to tell.[Editor’s note: Loren Niemi has been part of this Q&A series].

Ed Stivender mimicked all the ways we grew up as Catholic kids. His stories are side-splitting hilarious and strangely respectful, much like Sister’s Catechism theater. I have to believe one day she heard Ed Stivender & then had an “AhHa!” moment. He gave me permission to poke fun at authority.

As the new millennium approached I served with Gail Rosen, Allison Cox, and others as a member of the board of the Healing Story Alliance (a special interest group of the National Storytelling Network). Together we created Diving in the Moon journal. Gail and Allison were visionaries who believed that story facilitated healing. Our paths diverged and have met up again. We are older, but the power of story to heal continues more strongly than ever.

StoryWerx: My local tribe of performing tellers who bring to life the music of the spoken word. I began teaching storytelling to them; in time they taught me more about myself than I could ever learn in school — or therapy.

Garrison Keillor and stories from Lake Woebegone on NPR: who else can keep you locked in your car glued to the radio in a state of extraordinary listening while the grocery story parking lot fills and then empties out on a Saturday night?

Finally, Holly Near opened another listening door for me with her music, in particular: The Souls Are Coming Back!

Can you call on your imagination
As if telling a myth to a child
Put in the fantastical, wonderful, magical
Add the romantic, the brave and the wild