You are currently viewing Word of Mouth: Nashville Conversations—Kristen Chapman Gibbons, Storyteller

Kristen Chapman Gibbons is deeply curious about people. The storyteller, performer and social media strategist is fascinated by real life. To her, eating spiritually, emotionally and physically is about sharing stories and hearing what others have to say. By wearing her heart on her sleeve, the wordsmith and comedian has found her way.

What is your biggest driving force?

I’m motivated by the unknown. When I know where all of the boundaries are I get very bored.

How does that quality relate to you being a storyteller?

Storytelling helps you to pay attention to the little things and make sense of the incomprehensible. My dad was a minister but he was also violent so that meant I had to be very perceptive. Writing was a safe space to explore my mind and make sense of the pain.

Did you write about the trauma that was going on at home?

Absolutely not. There was a tremendous amount of pressure to portray a perfect image at all times. I tip-toed around that.

I’m assuming that’s the reason you’re so transparent now?

Yes. Until I was almost out of college, I was very straight edge because my parents were Fundamentalist Christians. However, thinking and speaking for myself became a way to banish the shame that I felt. I did whatever I had to do to break the cycle.

Did you ever go over-board on the self-help stuff?

(Laughs) Yes, I was so annoying! After becoming a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselor I spoke like a therapist for 12 straight years. The funny thing is, while I’m empathetic listening is not my forte. Finding a great listener is like stumbling across a unicorn these days.

That’s why I’m here. Yet, sharing your experiences is how you connect with others.  

Storytelling has always been my most valuable asset and way of relating. Even when I was a counselor I used transparency as a way to connect, which led to fantastic relationships with hundreds of young people.

Why do you think we feel this pressure, as a society, to be perfect or not have problems?

It’s straight up scary to be vulnerable. Yet, I believe that in the dark, dusty corners the good shit lies. Thankfully I have an audience who expects and appreciates my vulnerability. Being outspoken gives me a richer, deeper connection with others.

Why do you love live storytelling?

There is nothing more profound than to know and be known. Storytelling humanizes people and puts their lives in context.

Do you ever feel too exposed when revealing very personal details about your own life?

It’s empowering only because I chose to keep vast regions of myself clothed for such a long time. At some point I decided that I wouldn’t survive my own self-hatred if I didn’t honor the truth. I had to stop trying to make it pretty for everyone else’s benefits. I had to be raw and not care about what other people thought.

How do you construct your stories in order to tell them live?

Usually I wing it because I’m better on the fly. As an extrovert, I allow the audience to energize me. However, I tend to hide behind self-deprecation. It’s so much easier to sob in your beer and there’s also something cathartic about finding the dark humor in life. It’s easy to make fun of myself because I do it in my head all the time anyways.

We all think if we reveal too much others won’t like us. 

Yes, but it’s almost important to show the stains on your shirt so others can relate to you. I called myself a “survivor” for years, which was my way distancing myself from the past. Or I’d just go to the bar and get hammered.

Oh man, me too.

Emotions are unpredictable and terrifying. Yet masking them is even more exhausting. Somehow it’s become this cultural virtue to not be affected by anything. It’s why everything I do is about becoming more plugged in. When I’m turned on, I turn everyone else on.

Attend Kristen’s next storytelling event on June 10th at 7PM at the Actors Bridge Ensemble Theatre. 

Check out her blog Big Blue Dot Y’all Here.  Follow her on social media @KCGibbons

Photo by Anna Haas

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