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Team Member Spotlight: What growing up in Appalachia taught me about storytelling

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This post was written by Stories Inc. Creative Director Doyle Maurer.

The opportunity to be a Creative Director at Stories Incorporated is a dream come true, not just because of my roots in visual journalism, but because of my deep connection to the importance of storytelling. 

In Appalachia, stories are everywhere — it’s how we pass down recipes from our Mimi’s kitchen, it’s how we teach our grandkids the words to old folks songs that were never written down, and it’s how we teach our families lessons they’ll never forget.

It’s taken me a long time to see it, but I’ve recently come to realize that my journey to becoming a Creative Director was largely shaped by my experience growing up in Appalachia.

Doyle’s college town in West Virginia from above.

To help make sense of this I need to share some context, because you can’t know me without knowing a little about where I came from. I take that everywhere I go. It lives in me.

What it was like to grow up in Appalachia

First off, where I’m from directions come in the form of landmarks and natural features. “How do you get to the house?” is answered with: 

“Take the road that follows the river, go across the tracks, past the elementary school and over the tunnel. Keep going until you go down the hill where you’ll see a big field. Turn left after the field on the dirt road. Our house is on the right before the road ends. I’ll be outside.”

Growing up, I spent most of my time at my mom’s house, where life was full of adventure, games, and creativity. We hiked through bamboo jungles, built forts, and camped in the woods. For our camping trips in the front yard we ran extension cords from the living room to power our lamps in the tent. We built treehouses, had bonfires, and we tubed down the coal river until we hit lower falls. We spent our days swimming and skipping coal, counting the bounces until it sank to the bottom. My mom even launched a laminated newspaper with all the neighbor kids, reporting on the happenings of the road; my first journalism job.

Image of camping in the woods captured by Doyle Maurer.

Life at my mom’s house taught me how to create, explore, and to never be afraid of getting dirty. It taught me to be tough, to embrace the unpredictability of life, and to always look forward to tomorrow because you never know what’s waiting in the woods. 

Mom has always said she’s never been bored a day in her life because her mind is always creating, and that’s the best trait she’s passed on to me. I carry these lessons with me in the work I do every day.

From left to right, Doyle’s uncle, cousin, Doyle, brother, and mom.

But with that wanderlust came a healthy dose of entropy — the chaos and mess that made life both exciting and challenging. In fact, I didn’t get the nickname Hurricane Doyle by accident. I learned from the best.

As much as I loved life at my mom’s house, my dad’s was a world apart. My dad was a mechanic that could solve any problem. He’s analytical in solving problems because he believes in a right way and a wrong way to do things. His garage was organized, and you placed your shoes by the door when you walked in.

While he never went to college, my dad is one of the smartest, wisest, and most capable people I know, and he’s the first person that introduced me to the importance of systems. He taught me how to present a message to a specific audience, organize my thoughts, and sell ideas.

Image of nature in Doyle’s hometown.

I always fell asleep in the car on the way to my dad’s house, and he says I slept more than any kid he knew. Looking back, I know I slept at dad’s house because it was peaceful, quiet, and comforting, and my body needed that.

At the time, I didn’t see the importance of the skills I learned from my dad. There were no forts. There were no games. There were no stories in the newspaper of the river monster that eats children at night. But, today I see things much differently, and I know I wouldn’t be the person that I am without the important lessons my dad taught me.

Within the greater context of storytelling in Appalachia, my mom and dad represent two sides of who I am. The creative: my mom, and the director: my dad. Without either of them it’s easy to imagine myself as a starving artist or a car salesman, and I’m eternally grateful for the lessons they’ve taught me, as well as the thousands of other lessons I learned from growing up in a culture that’s deeply connected to well-told stories.

Finding my voice in the outside world

Since leaving Appalachia almost a decade ago, I’ve lived with a hint of shame about my home. The place that made me. 

Moving to Washington D.C. was culture shock. People didn’t smile on the metro like they did in the hallways at school. Words felt different when they hit my ears, and mine started feeling different when they left my mouth. Sometimes I felt dumb for the way I spoke, or the strange sayings I grew up with were met with confusion. The world outside of Appalachia was much different, and it was a big adjustment. 

So I decided to change.

Over time I started feeling like an outsider in my own home as I started to lose myself in pursuit of a new me. But, lately I’ve been rediscovering the roots that made me, and I’m more excited than ever to tell a great story. 

To me, home is a place where people care, they listen, and they follow through on their word. In my short time as a Creative Director at Stories Incorporated I’ve found that same sense of home. I’m lucky to be in a position where I get to exercise my passion day in and day out with some of the best people I’ve ever met. 

I recently heard that sometimes you have to leave the place you love to find your own voice, and this is mine. I’m excited to bring who I am to the work we do for our clients, and I look forward to hearing your team’s story soon.