Why this blog?

"... Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves ... Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." - Letters to a Young Artist, R. M. Rilke

Rooted in the promise and challenge of growth ...

these are letters from a young teacher.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tcha Tee Man Wi Storytelling Festival

"I'm a storyteller ... I take the long way home."
Regi Carpenter, featured teller

How to express the state of my mind and heart and soul at the close of this - or any - storytelling festival?? Perhaps it is best to share simple snippets of thought, as recorded in my journal, with the highlights of the weekend.

Friday night concert - Regi Carpenter was new to my schema of storytelling performers. She was so theatrical, and truly brought so many aspects of ART into the idea of storytelling as a performance art: song, movement, imagery, cadence of voice ... She reminded me of what Anne had said last weekend, that storytellers really use all the body has to offer to practice their art, because that is all they have. Yet, what we have is enough.

Saturday morning workshop with Joel ben Izzy - He began with a story about traveling to Mexico with Green Mountain Coffee and visiting a coffee plant where the hostess was just as joyful as can be ... he honed in a minute on the holes in the roof of the house. They were tiny pricks, really, but enough to shed quarter-size circles of light onto the floor. "These little thing," he said, "are what let us into storytelling." I could not help but remember Dayton Edmonds' story of the Sky Blanket and think: those pricks in the ceiling, they are like the stars in the Sky Blanket that remind us of the world beyond. Perhaps, then, stories serve a dual purpose: like the stars of the Sky Blanket, they remind us of what lies beyond the world we live in; and like the pricks in the ceiling, they let the light of the world beyond in to shed just a quarter-size illumination on something that happens here, in this world.

Picnic lunch with Fern, fellow storyteller and (very newly so) my boyfriend - I re-read a chapter from David Sobol's The Storytellers' Journey, titled The Archetype of the Storyteller: "I will treat the archetype of the storyteller ... not as a transcendent category, but as a dynamic process." Sobol features three "totemic tales", as he calls them, that seem to reflect different aspects of recognizing oneself as a storyteller, complete with an identity and purpose within human culture. The archetype, though, he seems to say, is not the identity, itself, but the process of identification. In other words, the processing of an experience in search of meaning.
... Meaning-making! This is what we tell stories for, each and every one of us! Yet, the one who finds meaning in the personal experience of finding meaning in all experience for the sake of all people ... that is the storyteller. The archetypal practice of storytellers seems now to emerge in my mind: The conscious craft of making meaning out of all life experience on behalf of and for the whole of humanity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

24 hours in Portland

Good old PDX. Just a train ride away from Seattle, yet I really do not visit as often as I should.

On this particular occasion, I was going to Portland for the express purpose of taking in as much of the storytelling scene there as I possibly could in 24 hours. You may think 24 hours is not a long time, but you don't know what I'm used to packing into 24 hours. Allow me to let you in on this adventure ...

I was so graciously hosted by storyteller friend and colleague Anne Rutherford, a fabulous teller I met last summer at a storytellers' retreat. She, like myself, is always eager to "talk story", which we proceeded to do almost the minute I put my backpack down in the guest room. I can still hear her saying at one point, coffee cup held mid-reach in the air, "You know, it's a privilege we have to sit with these stories ..."

Indeed, the life of a storyteller is paradoxically two-sided: we appear to most as performers, on stage, the entertainer at the center of everyone's attention; yet, like most entertainers, a vastly greater amount of time is put into the research, preparation, and practice. Like Anne says, first, we sit with the stories. We sit for a long time, and let them percolate through our brains and our hearts and our gut. And though we certainly think about effective presentation of a performance, we know better that the ultimate success of the performance is how it resonates with the audience and how those stories stay with listeners long after the telling. So, as we sit with these stories, we think: What resonates in that story on a basic human level? And that can take a while to recognize, let along prepare for presentation.

All this continued to flow through my mind as I watched local tellers from the Portland Storytellers Guild at their monthly performance showcase and appreciated the obvious care and conscientious preparation of each teller's segment. The last story of the evening was an old Welsh myth, I believe, told by a lovely woman named Conchetta. She ended the tale with a delightfully embedded appreciation of the tradition: "... Pay homage to the bards, for, had they not saved and told these stories, we would never have known of how Quill lost Rhiannon with the wit and generosity, and how Rhiannon won him back with her own ..."

The highlight of the weekend was a Unitarian Universalist service Sunday morning that featured a storytelling friend of Anne's, named Barbara, as the sermon-giver. Her story was titled "The truth about lies" and wove together several vignettes from different periods in her personal life. Each exposed a particular lie she had told, but with a delicate honesty that sought not redemption or forgiveness from others, but truth for herself.

"I don't think it's worth trying to be a truth-teller all our lives through," she said, "Lies are windows to the truth of what we fear most in the world. The best we can do is to know when we are telling lies and why."

It was an extremely moving story and event that left Anne and myself almost gasping for breath. As my afternoon train pulled out, I looked back on that city and on that weekend thinking:

Stories are lies, too, aren't they? They lie on purpose, either as fiction, or a folktale passed down many generations, or a crafted personal story ... yet not with the ill intention of deceit, but with the intention of - like Barbara - inspiring and discovering truth. This way of thinking about story helps me understand why some of my readings have described storytelling as a liminal experience, as a threshold. Stories, themselves, present a careful line between truth and imagination, the comfortable and the uncomfortable, the known and the unknown of ourselves and of the world. As storytellers, we walk that line, facilitating the process of each side informing the other not in discord, but in growth and development. Perhaps, then, that is the storyteller's craft: the weaving of dichotomous ideas together in a dance of tension that ultimately builds to cooperation. As the tension builds, truth and imagination, the comfortable and the uncomfortable, the known and unknown dance with each other, not against each other. By allowing these dichotomies to dance together, we find how embedded they are in each other; by allowing for two, we reach the wholeness of one.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Stories from the easel ...

I'm making Fische [fish]. They're purple. That's the water. Now the blue water. Purple blue water. That's the water. Fische in the water!
- Georgia, 3yr 6mo

Painting 1 Painting 2
Painting 1: "This is an old engine. It doesn't have any names. It rides on the tracks to far away. It has real sparks because the wheels are going a little bit faster, so real sparks come out. These little sparks go out of the engine and squeeeeeze and then they'll come out of the wheels a little bit faster and that's why there are sparks!"
Painting 2: "This is another old engine. They're friends. IT's because the drivers ... there are two tables, and they have breakfast. But sometimes the sparks go, little tiny ones come out when it goes a little faster. This one goes faster than the other one."
- Kevin, 3yr 8mo

Monday, February 1, 2010

From fish to infinity

Or, how Sesame Street saves us once again!

Please check out the NY Times column by Steven Strogatz examining concepts of math, from preschool on up. The column debuted today, and I thank my aspiring physics scholar of a cousin for sending me the tip! It all starts somewhere ...

Actually, what I found most intriguing in this debut column is the double-sided concept of abstract reality he addresses. Numbers allow us to deal with and engage with reality more efficiently, but, as he writes, "at a serious cost of abstraction." Yet, this very leap of abstraction leads us to the concept of, say, addition, which also helps us engage with reality more efficiently. Like most of the things I find cognitively magical, the powers of the abstract reality of numbers seems to function, in my thinking, like a double-helix: two seemingly opposite forces, bound together in relation with each other by the concrete connections we can observe, and thus forever influential on each other.

But don't let me put too many thoughts in your head. Read it for yourself!