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"Story therapy" entertains and inspires

It took almost 30 years before the meaning of a scene in one of his favorite stories finally dawned on professional storyteller Ken Iverson.

Toward the end of the tale, “The Water of Life,” the youngest of three princes enters a castle at the end of the world. His brothers have tried and failed to find the water of life for their dying father. He is the king’s last hope.

“The prince enters a room full of stone statues, each with a gold ring,” Iverson said. “And he goes around and takes each of the rings.”

Every time Iverson told the story, the scene left him feeling betrayed: “The youngest prince is supposed to be pure of heart, but there he is taking gold that isn’t his.”

Then one day Iverson listened to his friend and fellow storyteller Michael Meade tell the story. And suddenly, “I had this whole other image,” Iverson recalls.

“I saw myself in the story and each of the statues was a reflection of me — a part of me that had died because of some trauma.”

Taking the rings, Iverson realized, wasn’t stealing, but reclaiming something that belonged to the prince all along. The rings represented the golden reward that comes after persevering through hardship.

Through the eyes of the prince, Iverson reconciled the pain of divorce — both his own and his parents’.

“I had a new appreciation for my experiences,” he said, “and there was a strength and a sense of peace that came from it. I was reminded that everyone has troubles, but in spite of them, life is still beautiful.”

Iverson will tell stories on Friday afternoon at Cornell Estates in Hillsboro. While he has told stories at folk festivals and schools throughout the Northwest, Iverson holds a special place in his heart for senior centers.

“Senior centers have taught me not to think that anyone isn’t listening,” he said. “One woman in a wheelchair had no visible signs that she was tracking the story, but when I finished, her head came up, she gave me this incredible smile and then started clapping. I was so glad I’d made a point to include her.”

Iverson added that he always tries to go early so he can chat with folks as they arrive.

“I love hearing their stories,” Iverson said.

He’ll hear a lot of those Friday, when in addition to telling tales, Iverson will help distill and shape his audience’s personal anecdotes into something interesting that will entertain listeners.

The process usually begins with a prompt, used to trigger the imagination and bring an idea into focus.

Iverson’s catalysts are both physical objects, like a child’s shoe, and verbal triggers.

“I might ask someone to walk us through a meal at their house,” he said. “I’d ask them questions like, ‘Who cooked?’ or ‘What did they make?’ or ‘Where were the characters sitting?’ I’d ask about the smells and the tastes of the food.”

But the crux of a great story, Iverson believes, is the crisis.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said, but a big change. A great story will show what truly happened and how it affected the people involved.

“The stories that come out of these exercises are amazing,” Iverson said. “It isn’t just the detail, but the joy people have in sharing their stories. Stories show the beauty and the joy of life. People light up when they start sharing their own. “



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