“Folklore? Now? Um, There’s a Pandemic Going On?”: or, How Folklore Will Help You Weather The Storm

March 31, 2020

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results” – Herman Melville

It’s weird and grim out there right now. If you’ve already been self-isolating for a few weeks, as we have, you might be getting really sick of the color of your own walls. You might be staring down the barrel of another night of pasta (or, if you’re like Brittany, woefully trying to figure out how to make pasta and longing for some goddamn takeout.)


You might be out of toilet paper.

toilet paper dog

You might know people who are sick, or you might not be feeling great yourself.

Will all this going on, we just want to remind you that it’s ok if you’re not exactly feeling perky. As we said last week but in case you need someone to say it again, you do NOT have to be the Queen of Productivity right now. You don’t have to be feeling chipper if you’re not. And we hereby give you permission to wear PJs all day and binge watch a thousand episodes of The Good Place or She-Ra or your story of choice. In fact, we’re here today to remind you that stories are going to help us get through this.

“Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.” – Peter Forbes

magic book folklore art stories

Honestly, watching or reading a great story and then maybe talking to your best friend or your spouse (or even your cat) can be a really healing thing to do right now. We might be in this bizarre alternate dimension for a while, and that sucks, but we have stories. And we have folklore.

“Stories are the most powerful form of human communication.” – Peg C. Neuhauser

There are people who will scoff at this, but we know (and we know you know): stories have power. And stories are one of the most incredible tools in the folklorist’s arsenal of enchantment and connection.

storytime folklore art stories

There’s a wonderful folklorist named Dan Ben-Amos, and he came up with the most famous and beloved definition of folklore we have so far. Dr. Ben-Amos says that folklore is “artistic communication in small groups.” In other words, folklore is about creativity, harnessed for self-expression and connection with others.

“I am a part of all that I have met.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

This kind of creativity doesn’t have to be picture-perfect or Instagram worthy. It can be spontaneous, imperfect, experimental. It’s about finding a meaningful spark and sharing it with others.

If you’re on your couch in your pjs or sweatpants and thinking “That’s cute, Brittany and Sara. Where am I supposed to find this spark and then what do I do with it?” That’s fair. But there are a truly infinite number of ways to go about it.

You can stay on your couch and binge that Netflix show… but you could do it via a Netflix party. By watching with your friends, perhaps making a little ritual out of your viewing or having a running commentary in the chat window, you are mingling art and connection. You are creating community.

cat netflix binge

You could share a recipe – something you’ve never made before, or your signature dish – with your father or your daughter and then try making them in your own kitchens at the same time. Let this spark stories.

recipe book folklore art stories

You can read your niece a fairy tale via Skype.

“Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.” – Carl Sessions Stepp

None of these stories (or acts of creative expression in small groups) have to be earth-shattering in and of themselves. It’s the willingness to be vulnerable, to connect, to play, and to make or share something meaningful with your fellow humans that matters.

If you think this sounds cool, but you don’t quite know where to start, join us, and we’ll do it together! Last week, when we realized a bunch of people in the Carterhaugh family were watching the GORGEOUS live stream of Finnish National Ballet’s version of “The Little Mermaid,” we spontaneously put up a Discord chat that was a big hit. We had so much fun connecting with everyone who joined that we want to do something similar again, so on Saturday, April 4th, at 7:30PM EDT, we invite you to watch the MET Opera’s version of Verdi’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with us! All you have to do is open the live stream at 7:30PM EDT and then hop on over to this link for our special Discord chat for the event. We promise the chat will be silly and fun and full of weird commentary, gifs, and folklore nerds, so please join us! We’ll be chatting via text only, so don’t worry about being camera-ready or finding your earphones – this is going to be low key!

How are you embracing story and connection during this time of social distancing? Let us know in the comments!

Add A Comment