Musings on story and life...
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Story as a force for social change
Storytelling...it has such a nice, quaint sound, doesn't it? Images of kids cuddled under the covers, Mom or Dad holding their rapt attention, or the local librarian, children gathered in a half-circle at her feet as she shares fairy tales.
Storytelling can indeed be those things. While the warm images create a kind of Norman Rockwell feel, there are other images that can be brought up as well. Children sharing a story with a social worker, telling about the abuse they've suffered through the "safe" metaphor of story. Families in a shelter, enjoying a respite from their uncertainty as a storyteller volunteers her time to tell here. Inmates in a prison, most often young men, held rapt as another volunteer shares stories of the hero's journey, so that they might later tell their own hero's journey tale, perhaps reframing their concept of what it means to be a hero.
All of these are examples I've encountered, with the common goal of using the gift of story, and the teller's gifts, for something beyond simple story sharing. Though at first glance, it might sound trite...telling stories in prison?...in some of these cases, it may very well be the first time these young men have experienced the power of archetypes told in direct fashion. There are some who will even go so far as to suggest that some of the violence of youth seen in society today has been a reaching for story, stories not heard at those points in development needed to help build a moral conscience.
I'll leave that theory to the social scientists to debate. For my own experience, I've seen first hand the value of story as a force for social change. As a member of the Bluff Country Talespinners, I've been privileged to tell stories at Place of Grace, a food ministry in the LaCrosse area. This is a unique ministry, which aims to create a space to build community. As a volunteer, I might be serving food, but next to me is another volunteer who is also a "regular." Located in a big old American Foursquare house, there is no separation from the servants and the served. We joke, we eat together, and after the meal is served--the Talespinners tell stories.
Some nights, the crowd is large, everyone piled into the various overstuffed couches and chairs in the living area, others sitting at the table in the next room. No one leaves. When we finish, one of the regulars comments "Lots of people came, because they were hungry for stories."
I'm drawn to this place and hopeful that maybe I can provide stories more often than the annual event the Talespinners provide. No one should have to wait a whole year to have their story plate served. For now, story is working in service of the world community, raising money for those people affected by the tsunami of December 26. StoryTsunami is a worldwide effort that is the brain child of storyteller Lee-Ellen Marvin. Story guilds and other groups are organizing story events that will be benefit programs to raise funds for relief efforts in that part of the world. I'm hopeful that efforts here in LaCrosse will soon be added to the list of events growing every day. Stories from the areas affected will be shared in a local coffeehouse, warming the hearts of listeners in exchange for donations for the relief effort. In these times of divisiveness, efforts such as this are a ray of hope for the human race.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
Stories of New Year's Intentions?
New beginnings...that perennial thought that rolls around each year around this time. We all consider them, even if we don't actually commit them to paper. I'm talking New Year's Resolutions, of course.
Just the other day, I saw a discussion on this topic where the person didn't call them "resolutions," but "intentions." I like that. I think it speaks more clearly to who we are as frail humans, wanting to do good but often faltering at every step on the path. "Resolution" is such a strong word, and to me, sounds harsh. Like a military command, rather than something we do to try and become a better person. "Intentions" are something any of us can keep, though I must here declare that once, about four years ago, I actually did maintain one New Year's Resolution for an entire year. Yes, I wore an apron every time I cooked! My clothing remained relatively stain free that year, and my bottle of Spray and Wash lasted into the following year!
Many stories are simply stories of intentions. "The Golden Lamb," from the middle eastern countries, tells of three friends who intend to take a golden lamb they were given to gain their fortune. They intended to become rich. Yet, realizing that a golden lamb, split three ways, was just chump change after all. They agreed to visit the Grand Vizier on a day when it was known that his intention was to hear all stories of conflict and pass judgement himself. He asked each young man in turn what they intended to do with their fortune, should he grant it. Each young man had fine intentions, one as worthy as the next. The Vizier could not fairly award the fortune to one over the other, so he asked that they each tell a story to his court.
Each young man took his turn, having had lots of practice tending the flock of sheep from which the lamb had emerged. Each story, though different, was enthralling to all who heard. Upon hearing the stories, the Vizier gave each young man his fortune. Warm cloaks, good sandals, and a crusty loaf of bread.
The three friends were outraged. The wise man simply smiled, and explained his intent.
"You could be merchants, or traders, or bookkeepers, as you each suggest. The world is filled with such as these. You all have incredible gifts beyond those, gifts the world hungers to enjoy."
The men were baffled. The Vizier continued.
"You tell stories. You've been given warm cloaks against cold nights' travels. Good sandals to allow you to travel far. And bread to feed you until you reach your destination. Once there, you will be richly provisioned, in exchange for your wonderful tales."
Those three young men did indeed set out, and life did indeed proceed as the wise man had suggested. They may not have become rich in goods, but they were richly rewarded with friendship, conversation and food in exchange for their wonderful stories.
I'd like to think that any intentions I make this year will be such as this. Instead of wishing for more and better, I'd like my intentions to take me places with conversation, rich friendships, and of course, great food. My yoga intention for 2005 will allow me to partake of that food, right?
***As an aside to these ramblings, let me share my first great intention for this year. I did the work needed to apply to be a member of a design team for a new line of scrapbooking supplies, one that everyone who knows me said, "It has your name all over it." The company seeks to share the richness and diversity of world cultures through its products. I was honored and delighted to see my name, along with my design, joined with twelve other designers from around the globe, gracing the page of the Grassroots Originals Design Team yesterday. Now that I've been given this gift to share stories in a different medium on behalf of Grassroots, it will be my intention to do my best and most creative work for them.