Happy New Year! I hope your year has started well. Mine did. Here’s how it happened:
In January 2011, I and my friend Helen Chadwick (the singer and composer that some of you know from the summer course Wind and Waves) went walking in the north of England, in the snow blizzards we were having at that time. We reviewed 2010, we looked ahead to 2011, did some fine walks and ate some great food.
Before we left, we agreed that it was so good that we’d do it again next year. We got our brand new, almost completely blank 2011 diaries out and blocked out December 30th 2011 – January 2nd 2012 and decided we’d go to Dorset. It was a strange moment, writing a date for December when we were only just in January, a leap of faith that we’d both still be alive, healthy, with enough money to take time off and still wanting to walk but we wrote it down anyway.
When we met in Dorset on December 30th 2011 (a week ago as I write), I reflected back on that moment: how our intention at that moment had resulted in this wonderful New Year walking holiday and it reminded me of something.
Many of you are familiar with the quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Suit the action to the word and the word to the action”. Ashley, Roi and I often use it when we are teaching, especially on the three month course. We use it to illustrate the importance for the storyteller of bringing together the appropriate gesture with the right word so that the imagination and true intention of the story and the storyteller can shine through.
Research has shown that when people remember a story or anything that we speak, over 80% of what is remembered comes through the body language (the gesture or the action), then the tone of voice and then finally the words themselves. If the gesture and the word do not come together in the right way, the story is often robbed of its power and can become unbelievable, empty or lacking in meaning.
As in story, so in life (is there really any difference?!). At this time of year when we often speak words of intention or resolution, “this year I will exercise for 30 minutes every day or, I will write every morning or, I will learn a new story every month or, I will go walking with my friend Helen in Dorset from Dec 30th – Jan 2nd” for example, we need to ensure that we suit the action to the word and the word to the action.
As storytellers we can take entirely seriously the creative ability of words and sound to bring into being something new, so that these intentions or resolutions have the opportunity to become reality. If we don’t bring the words and actions together, if we don’t do what we say we are going to do, we run the risk that the very story of our lives can become robbed of its power, become empty or lacking in meaning. At the very least, we can miss out on wonderful experiences, like four days of winter walking with a dear friend!
So at the beginning of 2012 I wish you a great year and may we all endeavor to suit our actions to our words and our words to our actions in the stories we tell and the lives we live.
(If you are interested in a course on the stories we live, check out the 5 week “Your Journey Your Voice” with Ashley and Sue in May at Emerson.)
IN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE: News from New Zealand
In January – March 2011, Ashley and Sue went to New Zealand to teach a five week course, The Storyteller in the Community, for the very first time. It was a very active group (to say the least!) and three of them brought into being the In the Belly of the Whale Storytelling Festival on November 19th at Te Ra Waldorf School in Raumati South, North Island. The intrepid three were Judy Frost-Evans, Holly Gooch and Emily Fawcett.
Here’s a report from them about what happened:
The Festival poster amidst the New Zealand countryside
The Festival was very informal: you could sit around the fire and listen or share stories with other adults, you could eat some of the simply divine salads that were on sale while watching the kids have a go at juggling, you could enjoy stories in the enchanted garden or later in the Hall or you could do what Holly’s two sons did which is spend hours toasting marshmallows on the fire!
“The day started with an opening ceremony in which Judy described the festival as the birth of something new and Emily lit a fire using a piece of flint from the South Downs near Emerson College and struck it with steel to produce a spark. With this and her breath she lit a discarded birds nest, and then rested the nest in amongst the sticks and logs that she had assembled. There was an audible intake of breath from the crowd as the fire burst into life. It crackled and warmed those gathered and soon after local talent Tanemahutu Gray from Te Ra, called a karakia or Maori prayer.
Emily Fawcett breathes life into the fire at the opening ceremony
We were also lucky to have the blessing and input of experienced storytellers Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones from Hastings, Linda Bremford from Wellington, Gaye Sutton from the Wairarapa and Heather Periam all the way from Invercargill. We really appreciated their support and enthusiasm for this new project and I think they all left feeling revived and inspired.
There were many magical moments, especially the opening ceremony but here are two of Holly’s favourites: during a puppet show by puppeteer Anna Bailey she had the full hall of children and adults silently watching as she moved an adorable fisherman around the stage by strings. Then suddenly, she introduced a new puppet. It was a graceful mermaid. It moved so beautifully, and the music that played as she moved was so fitting, that I got all choked up! Then, later in the day as I looked around the room in the middle of the performance by Peter and Mary all I saw were people’s faces beaming with smiles and laughter as yet another kid from the audience came out with a hilarious line as they acted out one of Mary’s stories while Peter played a bluesy soundtrack.”
Holly Gooch with an entranced audience
Judy, Emily and Holly say they learnt a lot about what works well and what doesn’t in this first festival and that their biggest achievement was to create a wonderful, magical atmosphere. The downside was that the festival came out at a financial loss, so will there be another In the Belly of the Whale Storytelling Festival? We think so and as this goes to print, it’s possible that it will be in March 2013 at the end of the next five week “The Storyteller in the Community” course!
EYES SENSITIVE TO STARS
by Inger Lise Oelrich, Sweden
I grew up in a city with straight lines, many cars and constant busyness. Always there was noise of some sort, traffic in the back- ground or vehicles thundering past inches from me. I also grew up mostly in the northern hemisphere, way up in the cold lands where long and dark winters swing incredibly into the midnight sun of high summer. This is Scandinavia. Here in the north we develop much sensitivity to shifting nuances of light and dark through the year - the opposite of living in Africa where sunrise and sunsets happen quickly! In our countries, when the morning sun arrives and in the evening departs, there are long, slow dances of shifting color, moods of pink, mauve, red and brilliant orange - even greens and purples. If you are lucky enough to live in the country, this color feast plays itself out in a landscape painted white with snow.
As a child, I knew little of this for the earth was covered with a thick skin of hard concrete and huge buildings obscured my view, taking away any experience I might have had of a greater whole, a stronger rhythm embracing us all. In winter, the few daylight hours were spent at school under neon lights, bent over desks doing mindless tasks and when we came out in the afternoon to go home, we were met by darkness, slushy, brown snow and a long line of blinding headlights from the cars. Probably children being smaller, get the floodlights more directly in their faces, for this is what I remember.
And the stars? Never saw them, except possibly one faint twinkle now and then between the rooftops. But the city lights effectively blotted out any sensitivity I might have had to starlight. And anyway, what did it have to do with me? It all seemed so far away. A great loneliness enveloped me: Did I belong anywhere at all or were we just a random bunch of people scattered over the earth? Was there any meaning to it at all? I harbored a longing deep inside, where could I touch the ground of my being?
Many years later, my longing took me to Emerson College. It became an opening for me, as it has been for many others. Here I found a living connection between my inner life and the world around me through the arts and the power of the creative spirit. And out of myself. I will never forget the first time I walked through the dark in the evening, with no outer lights to guide me. It was walking down the lane from Emerson to the village. Some of you will know what I am talking about! It was pitch black. I couldn’t see a hand before me. My senses were totally alert, but couldn’t grasp anything at all to hold on to. I was 29 and fumbling forward like an idiot, yet I felt a soaring joy in my whole body. Something woke up in me and cried: Free at last! Here is your path, your own meeting with the world at large, the real world. It was then that I looked up and saw, as if for the first time, the stars in all their beautiful abundance. WHAT WERE THEY? My God! They had been there all along and I never saw them. What are they doing there, so far away, silent, mysterious yet embracing the earth in one great starry clasp? You cannot look at stars like you look at headlights from a car. The headlights kind of throw themselves at you, making you step back inwardly. But stars you have to adjust to in quite another way, if you are going to see them. They seem to open spaces in you, soothingly.
It was also at Emerson College that my eyes and soul were opened to the glories of nature and the living earth. Through my own senses mind you, not because someone else told me what it was. I was at last ”given permission” to win my own birth given relationship to the earth and get into movement, play and conversation with the elements around me, really feeling and owning them in my body and soul. I no longer felt an outsider on the planet and I started to feel part of a great and nourishing whole. And this included my fellow travelers. The bridge for me here, the eye-opener, was the hidden power of creative imagination through words, gestures, play and conversation.
I have now been working with theatre and storytelling for 30 years as a way of creating community and transformation. Over time, I have become friends with the storytellers at Emerson and their great work of bringing light and love into the world. In Scandinavia, I have developed work in this area, organizing several storytelling symposia in Sweden, developing trainings, workshops and performances. Since 2005 we have a Nordic Healing Story Alliance called ALBA and several of our members have participated in courses at the School of Storytelling over the years. An underlying motif in my own work has been to seek a common ground with others through working with the living earth and storytelling. This is an ever unfolding mystery, but I believe this is a key to the future where we can learn to co-create together out of a common belonging.
Recently I have published a book about my experiences. It is in Swedish, as there has been a need for a book in our Scandinavian languages. On the front page is a painting of the sun. It is the rising sun which not only enlightens but also warms us to the core of our being. We have all felt this warming through and through. The picture of the rising sun is an inspiration for the kind of work I wish to be involved with: When true meeting happens, it is as if the sun rises in our hearts and in the space between us. I think many who have participated in storytelling workshops at Emerson have experienced blessed moments like this.
In 2007 ALBA organized an international symposium “Storytelling as a Pathway to Peace” in Sweden. The same year saw the first ”Healing Story Festival” in the Holy Land, initiated by Roi Gal-Or – both events strongly carried an intention to work with reconciliation and peace through story. At the same time, all of this was pioneer work in answer to a need. We are constantly looking for new methods and ways of being together: meeting, transforming and creating community through listening and telling in a spirit of brother- and sisterhood. Over the years, Roi and I have worked together and had many conversations in this quest for healing of peoples, the land and the individual’s life story. In the spring of 2012 we will be offering a next step in our work together “The Common Ground of Earth and Story”. We invite all interested in this path to join us next April at Emerson.
If you would like to share your pictures or experience, email email@example.com
by Ashley Ramsden and Ed Young
Some of you may remember a favourite Norwegian story I used to tell ‘The Seven Fathers of the House’. As fortune would have it a good friend introduced me the award winning illustrator Ed Young and together we have published the story as a children’s book. It’s one of those stories that you can tell to any age: simple, funny and profound. One of those stories that you never tire of and which keeps unfolding its mystery.
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, ISBN 978-1596435445
Ashley and Sue have finally finished writing their book on the practise of storytelling that they’ve been promising for years and it will be published in August by Hawthorn Press (RRP £25). But here’s the thing, they haven’t found the right title yet! At the moment it’s called “?: A Storyteller’s Handbook”.
Now, if you have a bright idea for the space where the question mark is, Ashley and Sue would like to hear it. It needs to be something that can easily be translated into other languages i.e. not too colloquial. If your title is used, in the autumn you will receive a free, signed copy of the book with their grateful thanks.
Please email all suggestions to Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org – thank you!