Why We Tell Stories (from the February 2024 Newsletter)

January 31st, 2024 — 12:55pm

“Tell me your story,” the four year old daughter asks her mother in Marie Howe’s spectacular poem, “The Spell.” Her mother obliges: “I dropped you off, I taught my class, I ate a tuna fish sandwich, wrote emails, returned phone calls…”

The next day the daughter asks again, “Mom, tell me your story.” Her mom replies with the same list: “I dropped you off, taught my class, had lunch…” And her daughter said, “No mom, tell me the whole thing.” The mom says: “I feel a little sad.”No Mom, tell me the whole thing,” her daughter insists.  

“Ok, Elise died. Elise is dead and the world feels weary and broken hearted.” This back and forth continues, her daughter continuing to ask for the whole story, the one she senses is mother isn’t saying, and continues asking until the story is complete.

I used this poem in my Writing Circle classes the other week and it still won’t let me go. The words and cadence are  beautiful, but just as beautiful is the invitation it offers to move from the surface of our lives to dig deeper, excavating layer by layer to what lies beneath.

This poem is a reminder to seek the stories inside our stories. This is what we do when we write together in Women’s Writing Circles—we invite ourselves to speak our truths, and then we ask ourselves to tell  more, to tell it all. We never get there, of course—we are works in progress, and our lives are still unfolding. But by writing and telling our stories, we are saying that we have not abandoned ourselves. That our lives are worthy of attention and respect. That we matter. 

This is why we tell our stories.

We suffer from an epidemic of loneliness, even post Covid. We need community. We need each other. Find your posse, your tribe. Find others whose stories you want to hear and who want to hear yours. We are meant to be connected. 

Marie’s poem is below. Embrace the spiral she creates. If you are moved to try your own writing practice, I’ve included very simple instructions. Keep writing your story.




NEW!: Yoga & Writing One-Day Women’s Retreat, Saturday, April 27, 8:30 to 4:00 PM, with two sessions each of writing circles and gentle, mindful yoga, a sumptuous vegetarian lunch, all on a beautiful country property in Sebastopol, CA. I will be joined by my former colleague, Kaitlin Quistgaard,  mindful yoga teacher and former editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal. $225 or $195 if you register by March 10th. Space is limited to ten women. Please email me at dayna@daynamacy if interested. More information at daynamacy.com and www.KaitlinQ.com


Next round of Women’s Writing Circles begins March 13.

Eight week series. Zoom classes begin March 13, 5:30 pm PT to 7:00 pm PT. In person Berkeley classes begin March 15, 10 AM to Noon. Cost: $360 per series. $320 if registered by March 1. No one turned away for lack of funds. If you are experiencing financial challenges, please reach out. daynamacy.com for more info.


Writing Practice: 

You can do this practice solo or with a trusted friend.

What you’ll need:

Ten minutes of quiet

A pen

Some paper or a journal. (I recommend pen and paper instead of your computer. It is a more visceral experience.)

1. Set your timer to ten minutes or have a clock handy.

2. Read the poem below out loud.

3. Choose one of the jump off lines from the poem:

  • Tell me your story
  • Tell me your whole story
  • Where the unlived life lives

Or you can use an alternate line: A few things I might want to write about…

4. Read the poem aloud one more time —then…

5. Begin writing. Pen doesn’t leave the page. Keep your belly soft. Say yes to what arises. If you’re stuck use the line, “Here’s what I want to say”… and keep writing.  When the time is done, put the pen down. Take a few deep breaths, then…

6. Read your piece aloud to yourself. Reading aloud helps your words land in your body. (Or read to a trusted friend. If reading in pairs, please do not comment on your friend’s writing. Simply acknowledge non-verbally, like nodding your head or prayer, hands. This is part of creating a safe space.)

7. Take a few breaths. Your practice is now complete.


The Spell
Marie Howe

Every day when I pick up my four-year-old daughter from preschool
she climbs into her back booster seat and says, Mom—–tell me your story.
And almost every day I tell her: I dropped you off, I taught my class
I ate a tuna fish sandwich, wrote e-mails, returned phone calls, talked with students
and then I came to pick you up.
And almost every day I think, My God, is that what I did?

Yesterday, she climbed into the backseat and said, Mom
tell me your story, and I did what I always did: I said I dropped you off
taught my class, had lunch, returned e-mails, talked with students…
        And she said, No Mom, tell me the whole thing.

And I said, ok. I feel a little sad.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, ok Elise died.

Elise is dead and the world feels weary and brokenhearted.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, in my dream last night I felt my life building up around me and
        when I stepped forward and away from it and turned around I saw a high
        and frozen crested wave.

        And she said, the whole thing Mom.
Then I thought of the other dream, I said, when a goose landed heavily on my head—
But when I’d untangled it from my hair I saw it wasn’t a goose but a winged serpent
writhing up into the sky like a disappearing bee.

And she said, Tell me the whole story.
And I said, Elise is dead, and all the frozen tears are mine of course
and if that wave broke it might wash my life clear,
        and I might begin again from now and from here.

And I looked into the rearview mirror—
She was looking sideways, out the window, to the right
        —where they say the unlived life is.

Ok? I said.
And she said, Ok, still looking in that direction.

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