When a baby is born, the first question is usually “Is it a boy or a girl?” The answer determines a lot about that baby's life: not just how long it will live or how much it will earn (which it does) but also, depending on where the child is born, how much freedom to speak, work or travel it will have, how well listened to it will be, how respected, how likely to love its body or not, how assertive or passive it is allowed to be. When we read the reports from child psychologists that show that little girls are most often complimented on their looks, “Aren't you pretty?” whilst little boys get comments such as “Aren't you strong?” we can see how this first, essential difference between masculine and feminine is one of the most tricky and joyous there is.
Up until last year I had been running story retreats for women for a long time and really enjoyed the experience of spending time with a group of vibrant, passionate and interested women, all of whom are actively working on what it means to be a woman in the world today and how we can bring balance to the masculine and feminine inside ourselves. But then, like all the best colleagues, Roi issued me a challenge: “why aren't you doing this work with men? Men need this too.” When I heard this, I felt a stab of fear and straight away recognised that here was another cutting edge for my work. I did wonder if any men would turn up but I needn't have worried. When “The King and the Fearless Girl” weekend ran in early May, 3 fine men and 9 wonderful women turned up and I ran my first mixed weekend story retreat on the relationship between the masculine and feminine. I learnt a lot thanks to these brave souls, not least that I can be even more fearless in my life if I choose to be.
With the world in such chaos with wars, natural and nuclear disasters, environmental pollution, internet pornography, sex trafficking, child abuse, so called “kitchen deaths” in India and the whole scale abortion of female foetus' in China, I often wonder what a less patriarchal, more balanced world would look like. Earlier this month, I saw a glimpse of an answer. My step-daughter Gemma aged 29, invited me to come and suppport her on a 5km “Race for Life” for Cancer Research. Gem's mother died of cancer when she was just 13 and I was very proud and happy to be there for her. I hadn't realised that the event was just for women until I turned up to find several thousand women all dressed in pink, some in fancy dress, some carrying babies, some heavily pregnant, some in wheelchairs or on crutches and all with a moving message pinned to their backs about why they were running. Gem's said “In memory of my dear mum Jenny” and underneath, a message from her 18 month old son “Dear Granny, I wish I had known you, love Zach”. The thousands of women were all laughing and encouraging each other as they energetically warmed up to the music whilst all around me were men in support roles: pushing buggies, holding babies, giving bottles of water to their partners, assisting grandparents along, high-fiving their daughters and, at the finishing line, cheering themselves hoarse as the women came racing, walking, limping and wheeling themselves in. There was an enormous cheer for a lone young man of about 25 who evaded all the checks by dressing up in a tight pink lycra dress and wig and who sprinted over the line bearing a message “For my Nan, my Mum and my sister.”
As I looked around, I wondered if I was seeing a vision of the future, a vision of where the world needs to go right now. Could we be on the brink of a time when all of humanity needs the masculine to stand strong to protect and support the feminine in bringing forth a new way of working, a new way of being in the world, one that will lead to a more balanced and ultimately more humane way of being on this beautiful planet? I hope so. In the meantime, I will continue working with Roi's challenge, so look out for more story retreats for women and men and who knows, perhaps in this small way, our work with story can help bring about a new consciousness …
By the time you read this, it will be about 9 weeks before the storytelling festival which is being opened by Booker Prize winning author Ben Okri OBE. Thanks to all of you who have already booked for this new venture, every advance booking helps us to feel less nervous and also to look forward in anticipation to a gathering of so many friends! Over half the places on the Alumni Day have already been booked and the morning workshops for those booking a full festival package are starting to fill up too. Many people have said, “it feels like the old days when we used to have the summer storytelling symposiums” and we suspect it will be like that but even more so! With so many fantastic performers who have either been associated with the School or trained here, together with talented storytellers making documentaries, selling their wares, being strolling minstrels, clowns, you name it, it promises to be a wonderful community event for both the School of Storytelling community and the local Forest Row community. Some people have asked how the festival came about and of course, there's a story.
Last July the UK Border Agency changed their immigration policy. No non-EU students could come into the country to study, even if it was for a weekend. When Yvette informed us all of this change, we realised it would have a profound effect on our work. How could you have an International School when only EU students could attend? Some people who had booked onto the 3 month course were immediately affected and for students who had studied with us in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and were hoping to continue in the UK, well, their hopes were dashed.
Yvette commissioned some advice from an immigration lawyer and back came something very interesting: courses were covered by this legislation but not Conferences or Festivals. Immediately Sue suggested we run a Festival so that people from all over the world would have at least one opportunity to be together and become the kind of international community we had always enjoyed in the past. Ashley said, “Yes!” and the rest is history (or will be very shortly!) So, if you would like to be part of this historic celebratory gathering, you are very welcome. Join us on Facebook to find out the latest news and there's a special offer for Alumni if you go onto the net. We look forward to seeing as many of you as can make it, whether it's for the whole weekend, a day or even a single performance of this extraordinary summer story extravaganza!
Our group is filling up - if you would like to join our flagship course, contact Yvette asap.
Since the School of Storytelling had to become independent in April 2010, when Emerson College closed (luckily temporarily), we have blessed with the presence of Yvette Dellsperger who has been our Registrar and Business Manager through some very challenging times. Her patient, flexible approach has helped us through the difficulties of dealing with a very chaotic time at Emerson and has ensured that, three years later, we are starting to establish ourselves more firmly in the world.
Yvette will be leaving the School in September and moving on to become Head of Hosting and Facilities at …. Emerson College! Although we are very sad to lose her, we know that our students stand a better chance of finding their rooms clean and warm, food ready for them and a welcoming smile waiting at reception when they arrive, with Yvette at the helm, so it seems like a win-win situation. Just as this is going out, we are interviewing for the positions of Registrar and Business and Finance Manager and will let you know who the new people are in the next newsletter. Thank you Yvette for all the gifts you have brought us in the past three years and enjoy your new position.
Ashley is currently walking the Camino in Spain, aiming to be in Finisterre for the Summer Solstice celebration there. As those of you know who have heard Sue's “Along the Way” performance based on her experiences of walking the Camino, the Camino is a transformative experience and when the Founder of an International Storytelling School walks the way, who knows what might spring out of that fertile imagination… Here's a photo of Ashley on the morning of June 1st when he eventually saw the light after walking head first into a lamp post in the city of Burgos!
The Culture of the Heart
This April-May I had the privilege of teaching an international group of students who gathered from all over the world to study storytelling in Israel. The course, called “Meeting The Other,” took place at the “Gate to Humanity” centre located in a forest at the midst of the Galilee region, close to Kibbutz Harduf.
As a part of the course we met and worked with Arab/Jewish teenagers and after an intense process our students, together with the teenagers, created a short performance based on the personal stories of two local older men: Eli Paz from the Jewish town Kiryat Tiv'on and Elias Jabur from the Arab city Shfar'am. Both Eli and Elias were born in the midst of the 1930's.
Eli was born in Poland. His father was a General in the Russian army. When the Germans invaded Poland and broke their treaty with the Russians, Eli’s father sent his family to Kazakhstan, while he continued his duties at the front line. After the war years spent in Kazakhstan, back in Poland, Eli, his brother and mother learned that their father perished. Their mother in desperation sent him with his brother to Israel promising to follow them immediately after. Eli found sanctuary with a new adoptive family in a kibbutz. Years later their mother appeared, but Eli couldn’t forgive her abandoning him and repulsed her. Heartbreakingly, she died a few years later.
Elias was born in Shfar'am (during British mandate in Palestine) to a respected Christian Arab family. His father served as Mayor of Shfar'am. Elias remembered Palestinian leaders meeting in their home during his childhood, gathered around a map stretched on the floor of their living room, while the present leaders were arguing about the borders of the future Palestinian state. He told us how he remembered the morning in 1948, when the Israeli soldiers knocked on the front door of their home. “They told my father not to be afraid and come with them. I remember my father saying, “I am not the one who is afraid: you are the ones holding the guns””. Years later Elias established an international peace movement trying to bring peace to the Middle East.
After we visited Eli and Elias and listened to their life stories, we reduced the stories to seven images. Those images were presented on stage by the teenagers and the international students. While the teenagers spoke and created concrete pictures on the stage using their body language, the students joined them to complete the picture with their own personal stories associated to the scene. At the end Eli and Elias came up from the performance, joined the actors on the stage and shared with the audience more from their lives. This tri-lingual production (English, Hebrew, Arabic) showed the audience the possibilities of harmonious multicultural interaction.
For me this experience was another proof of how celebrating cultural differences rather than rejecting them can become a gift for all of us. By enriching cultural diversity, the seeds for a future culture are sown, a culture which invokes the place in us which is free from our national identities. I call it the culture of the heart.
Earth Speaks – the journey continues….
by Katie Jones
And so, 14 of us gathered once more with Karmit and Roi to continue our journey deeper into the earth, into nature, into the elements of earth, fire, water and air and begin to weave tales, tales of wonder, tales of wisdom. The river whispered, and took us to its source, while fire crackled, hinting at initiation, of transformation, of inner fire, as well as outer. Earth spoke through us, while air danced, expanded, reminding us of our life source.
At times, we simply sat, and listened, from a place deep within, a place of centre, a place of the heart. For when in this place, the more interesting things seem to take place. This is when nature begins to speak and a story starts to unfold. It’s quite something, when we let go of our rational, logical minds, surrender to that other, to allow the intuitive, the inspiration to freely flow, allowing images to simply form.
Usually, us storytellers find a story we like, then we create the world, inviting our audience to journey with us. On this course, quite the opposite happens; the world and the journey into it, comes first. The story comes after. So the images are much clearer, because we have already been there. Our imagination is a powerful tool, and when we connect this with the forces of nature, then all sorts of possibilities, as well as questions arise.
What if, we could find solutions for current global and environmental challenges, through the creation of stories, of wonder tales, where giants are overcome and dragons are met? What if, by letting go of a logical left side way of thinking and living, and embracing our intuitive side, our imagination, allowing nature to shoot solutions and inspiration in like an arrow, solutions that we could never have dreamt of, thinking as currently do?
What if, the giants and dragons represented the global challenges, which the then hero overcame, could we on some level, be overcoming them in the real world too?
Fortunately for us, this is not the end of the journey, in fact, it feels like we are only just beginning................