From an quiet introvert who used to prefer sitting quietly and writing books, author Yang-May Ooi took on the scary challenge of sharing her stories on stage as a story performer. So what got her out of her room on to the stage?
When I was a child in Malaysia, my grandmother would tell us stories on hot evenings after dinner. We would sit on the verandah of my grandparents house and she – or my grandfather – would recount tales from their lives, sometimes funny, sometimes touching.
Stories from China and Malaysia
She would tell us about her childhood growing up as a pastor’s daughter in China, living in a small rural village in the Swatow province. We could see her in pigtails, treading the irrigation foot mill, running through the fields with her cousin, playing the piano at church on Sundays. She told us about sitting with her own grandmother, sewing and listening to stories at that elder lady’s feet.
She told us about moving to Singapore with her family, when her father, my great-grandfather was appointed as a missionary to a parish there. She described going to university there to study medicine and meeting my grandfather. She talked about how they fell in love and how Grandpa was so poor that when he proposed, he gave her a ring he had found in the street.
She talked about hard work and love and being decent and kind. We learnt how from these simple beginnings, they became involved in their local community in the small town of Taiping in Malaysia. She told us stories about life “during Japanese time” when Japan invaded Malaya during the Second World War – about the long journey by train South to Singapore in the hope of escaping the soldiers, about keeping a large family together during four long years of scarcity and fear.
Witnessing a Life
In listening to her stories, we witnessed her life. And we learnt about courage, sacrifice, kindness, love, and most of all, what it means to live the fullest life we can.
I always imagined that I would one day sit with my children and grandchildren and tell them stories about my life – and the lives of the people we came from.
I turned 48 a few years ago. And it was on a Sunday afternoon, working in the garden in the English rain that I realised that was the age my Grandma was when I was born.
And I don’t have children. Or grandchildren.
But I have so many stories.
That was when I decided to become a story performer.
Stories to Inspire
When we share our stories with others, they witness our lives – but also, at a deeper level, witness their own lives. Our individual stories may be specific in time and fact but the universal truths that live in them allow all of us to witness our own humanity and our own selves.
My purpose in sharing stories from my life – in live performance but also in my upcoming book Rebel Heart , a wisdom memoir evolving from my TEDx talk – is to inspire others to become the witnesses to their own lives and to discover their own courage, kindness, love, and what it means to live the fullest lives they can.
And that mission has such a strong, powerful pull that it has overriden my stammer, my introversion, my fear of public speaking and my anxiety about standing up in front of hundreds of people without pretending to be anyone other than me, plain and simple.
Tell Your Story
Everyone has an inspiring story. If you feel that there are stories in your life that could help others, then start getting them out there. You could try out telling your stories publicly at a story club like Spark London. But you don’t need to go on stage to tell your stories. Share them with your friends and community when you get together over a meal.Or share them on social networks like Facebook. Write them up on a blog. Tell stories through photos and pictures, or painting and drawing. Turn them into songs, music, poetry or drama… If you feel the call to share part of yourself in any of these ways, then listen to that call and share your story in whatever way feels right.
Watch Yang-May’s TEDx talk Rebel Heart/ “F*** the Labels”:
Photo: from the author’s personal album