Megan Kaplan loves a good story. From her childhood years spent scribbling her thoughts in a diary to her career as a magazine journalist, she has always been fascinated by truth telling. Now, as the founder of The Wildling, a Minneapolis nonprofit that leads live storytelling workshops for middle schoolers, she is empowering the next generation to find their stories and share them boldly. We sat down with Megan to chat about curiosity, community, and how storytelling can lead to a greater wellness.
February 4, 2022
How would you describe the work of The Wildling?
The Wildling is about helping young people build social-emotional growth and understanding of themselves through live storytelling. It’s about getting kids back to their innate, core ability to share from themselves in a meaningful way. So, we built a meaningful experience for youth—one that would imprint on them the value of knowing who they are, knowing what they want to share, and knowing they will have people to see them and hear them.
Why did you start it?
I had been working as a journalist for so long, and I was shifting my gaze a little and thinking about ways I could serve. Being a mom of four, I had witnessed how technology has overtaken a lot of our existence and how we are sharing “stories” that seem to exist in a vacuum. So, it interested me to look at what a storytelling experience could be if we got back to the basics of authentically sharing from ourselves without distractions.
"Just that little touch of what the kids say is amazing to watch unfold, and as the mic is passed, we always see such a beautiful mix of stories, and none are better than the others."
Was there a problem you were trying to solve?
I didn’t have an agenda. I was curious about accessing story in a new way. So, I asked myself, “Can I create something for middle schoolers around storytelling, wellbeing, and self-identification that encourages them to come together, access who they are, and share in meaningful ways?” And I didn’t really know what The Wildling was until the kids told me. The participants informed the program.
Why middle schoolers?
I struggled a lot in 7th grade, which is a very common age to find yourself in this weird place, straddling youth and adulthood. I also saw my kids come up into their middle-school years, and I realized that was the point in my life where I felt the most vulnerable, the most alone, and the most confused, lost, and unsure of where to go next. So, that was the population I wanted to reach.
How have the kids responded?
In every workshop, kids from all types of identities and experiences and geographies come together, and each one shares something so different. One kid might be awkward and only share something small—a little bit about their truth, and another might share a performance piece. Maybe a story has to do with a pet or maybe it has to do with something really massive like gender identity. But just that little touch of what they say is amazing to watch unfold, and as the mic is passed, we always see such a beautiful mix of stories, and none are better than the others.
What do you hope that community leads to?
I want society to listen better. I want people to listen to themselves, to their stories as they live them, and to others. We don’t live in a listening culture. Our team works with a school psychologist who hears a lot of kids say, “Nobody is listening to me.” If you’re not seen and heard, you’re going to feel lost and alone. And I want to help young people learn to be freer with sharing their stories and really listening to others.
What change do you want to see in your own community as a result of The Wildling?
I'm upset by the growing presence of geographic, socioeconomic, and racial division in the world. What I hope is that, once someone is able to access story, connect with community, and feel safe doing it, they would be able to do that with communities they don’t know as much about. I want to see more curiosity about crossing our comfort zones. And to achieve that kind of equity and inclusion, we have to practice all the time. We have to constantly build relationships, and they can't just be with people we're used to being around. That’s why, from the beginning, I really wanted kids from all over to get involved with The Wildling. Because learning is bigger—and sometimes you’re braver—when you’re with people you don’t know.
What brings you into work every day?
There is nothing I enjoy more than helping somebody find and develop a story worth telling. The most fun thing I can think of is sitting with a kid and saying “What do you mean you don’t have a story? I’ll help you find a story. You have so many, so let’s go down that road.” I believe stories are the core of who we are. Whoever you are, your story is yours. You own it. So, why not make it yours? That’s what The Wildling is doing. We help people shape their stories and make them their own.
"The more you’re learning in community—in a safe community where people are listening to you—the more you attach to new ideas."
What are you building?
I’m trying to build a greater wellness through storytelling. I want people to feel better about who they are. To connect and make choices for the betterment of society. To me, wellness is a feeling of ease in who you are—who you are among your peers, in the world at large, and in yourself. We all hunger for that. We all need that. That’s our nourishment, and I know storytelling can help us get there.
What drives you to get there?
The curiosity is the drive. I’m curious every time I hear a kid tell a story. I’m in. What happens in the room with just 12 kids fills me up so much. It is so interesting, so valuable, and so meaningful. So, I can’t shut the door on the next one and the next one. I keep opening doors, and the doors have gotten wider and wider.