Tiny cogs in the giant wheel of herstory.

subway-train-cropped

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. – R. Buckminster Fuller

Like yours, there are so many stories in my family. Stories I know, stories I will never know, stories I tell myself to make sense of my past. Stories of serendipity, migration, and happenstance. Tiny cogs in the giant wheel of my herstory/ history without which I wouldn’t exist at all. Random, unexpected connections to things I find commonplace or take for granted, things like my morning commute for example. Although I travel by public transit almost every weekday, it didn’t occur to me until recently, that if it wasn’t for the subway, I wouldn’t be here.

subway anansi/ travels across time/ dimensions defined/ by sidewalk chalk

I don’t remember a time in Toronto before the subway, but I grew up in a pre-Metro Pass, pre-Presto era when bus drivers carried cash so they could make change, and an extra fare was required north of Eglinton. I remember my mother grumbling when it was time to pay, yet again. We lived in the newly developed suburb of Don Mills, almost at Lawrence Avenue, not far from the fare boundary but too far to walk comfortably.

In the Joni Mitchel, Gordon Lightfoot, Guess Who, Dan Hill, The Band and Ann Murray world of my youth; before Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrissette, Justin Beiber, Drake and The Weekend; before the Blue Jays, “We the North” and Canada’s Wonderland, transit was high on my list of what made Toronto noteworthy. Who else but New York had subways? Where else in North America could you ride a streetcar other than San Fransisco?

“Citified” I took for granted the easy access to downtown, the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario, the abundance of record and book stores, the proximity of major department stores like Eaton’s, Sears, and The Bay. The nearby mall and reliable transit, meant we didn’t have to have to order anything from a catalogue. In the early 70s, the skyline wasn’t distinguished by the unique shape of the CN tower, or a plethora of condos, stores closed on Sundays and corporal punishment was a legal and still practiced in schools. The scent of buttered popcorn and cigarettes mingled in movie theatres that only had one screen. Kids bobbed around unseatbelted in the back of station wagons, rode their bikes without helmets and tore down icy winter hills on wooden toboggans or scraps of cardboard. That was my normal but it was miles away from the Hog Town experience of previous generations. When my grandfather was growing up, the Royal York hotel was the tallest downtown building, men needed garters to hold up their socks, smoking jackets, pipes and silver cigarette cases spoke to the cachet and popularity of tobacco smoking, and photographs were always black and white, unless someone paid to have them hand-tinted.

I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can’t do anything anyway. – Toni Morrison

The reason my father’s parents moved to The Six from Renfrew is lost in history, I know more about the migration of my mother’s family. My maternal grandfather, was the son of a homemaker and photographer. He was a construction worker, nature-lover, and eventually a Civil Engineer, who returned to his hometown of Toronto in the late 1940s, with his Fort William bride and four children in tow. The family was temporarily gifted with a succession of empty houses expropriated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to make way for the first subway heading north from Union Station. My grandmother faced the thankless task of cleaning and making a sequence of hastily abandoned houses feel and function like home. Her husband no doubt worked hard on the project and even enjoyed a moment in the limelight, appearing on the cover of the Globe and Mail’s Saturday Night magazine. He’s there on the front of the November 1, 1949 edition, pictured beside the Resident Engineer. Standing on the right, my grandfather wears a summer suit, his fedora cocked jauntily to the left. The two men hold a set of plans, a large crane looms in the background, while they both stare off into Toronto’s transit future.

what prayers await you/ beneath/ cement catacombs?

My grandfather died before I was born, so I have no idea what future he was imagining, transit or otherwise. Although squeezed between other frazzled rush hour commuters, I’m pretty sure it’s not the overcrowding and inevitable signal delays, ubiquitous weekend line closures or the shuttle buses needed after disturbing and tragic injuries “at track level.” Still I can’t help thinking how strange it is that a gigantic 205,000 kilogram machine and the underground tunnels it barrels down is one of many cogs in the complex wheel of my family’s history, without which I probably wouldn’t exist at all.

cryogenic swords/ rocket past/ force fields/ and borders/ belong only to those/ who name them

Note: A special thank you to my mom for patiently answering my questions about our family history, again.

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Subway train at Davisville Station, Toronto

From rhubarb to tomatillos

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“But always, to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and prophyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that.” – Edna Ferber

 

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raspberry with a heart-shaped centre

There are so many stories in my garden. Stories of the people who worked the land before me, clues to its history, scraps of tile, old nuts and bolts, snail shells, marbles, grubs masquerading as marbles; even a giant ring left by a troll. Towering over it, a huge cross, part sentinel, part scarecrow, one hundred percent repurposed metal streetlight post, now used as a laundry line. No wonder my maternal grandmother visits me there. Disguised as a butterfly, her white wings flicker past as I kneel on the earth.
This is my first year gardening, my first year since I was a young girl, helping my grandmother with hers. My help mostly consisted of watching, harvesting and eating. My favourite thing to do was pick raspberries for the table and it was understood that I would eat as many as I picked. My second favourite thing was eating rhubarb, delightfully sour, dipped in sugar.

I grew the tomatillos on whim, watching them fill out their papery husks.

Fast forward: My partner and I moved into our new space in the fall, so we didn’t have the opportunity to do much in the way of planning or even preparing the soil. Nothing to do but dream, and the garden I dreamed of included raspberries and rhubarb. The garden we inherited was 5 feet high with weeds, and in mid-September the landlord unceremoniously chopped it back to a 5 o’clock shadow of stubble. Sadly the raspberry canes did not survive the purge.

For the months of October, November, December, January, and February, the soil was frozen, and I existed in a tense state of anticipation. March brought seed shopping and research, trips to the dollar store for supplies, advice seeking and more research.
In late April I was finally able to start planting seeds indoors. The lighting was less than ideal, some survived, some didn’t. The greenness of my thumb seemed to be more of an indication of my inexperience rather than my success. In early May, corner grocery stores beckoned with small plants that looked hardier and more likely to survive than the scraggly seedlings I had been sprouting. In late May, the planting finally began. Still in a corner of my mind was the regret that I hadn’t been able to source a rhubarb plant, and I had discovered that the raspberry canes would take two years to start bearing again.

The garden we inherited was 5 feet high with weeds, and in mid-September the landlord unceremoniously chopped it back to a 5 o’clock shadow of stubble.

After weeks of weeding, hours spent mixing in manure and organic fertilizer, watering, waiting and hoping, it finally started to fill out. In the end there was bok choy, sweet and hot peppers, celery, celeriac, strawberries, arugula, leaf lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos and so many herbs, cilantro, rosemary, culinary sage, thyme, lemon and African basil, lemon balm and a prickly borage plant that attempted to take over. Later I was brave enough to try planting okra and then the calalloo sprung up on its own, a happy surprise which required next to no tending. At some point I started to muse about how much my eating had changed and how much food had changed in Hog Town over the years. I grew up in an avocado-less household, where spinach was always cooked into an unseasoned fir-green mush. No one I knew had eaten okra, heard of tomatillos, tasted fresh cilantro or added anything other than ice berg lettuce to their salads, never mind arugula.

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tomatillos, tomato, blackberries, pepper, green beans, calalloo  (in background)

It was a childhood culinary experience full of baked potatoes smothered in butter (the skin really is the best part) hot roast beef sandwiches, a uniquely named family casserole dubbed “suppog”, root beer floats, vanilla ice cream in cantaloupe boats, freshly picked raspberries, carrots still warm from the earth, and on holidays pies and cranberry sauce made from scratch. On the flip side there were canned peas, Kraft dinner, and to fill in any nutritional gaps, the requisite dose of cod-liver oil. The variety wasn’t horrible but it was limited, fortunately the gastronomic landscape has shifted tectonically over the years. Now Toronto is renowned for having some of the best and most culturally varied cuisine in the world.
I grew the tomatillos on whim, watching them fill out their papery husks, even though I had never tasted one. Now the fridge is home to sweetly simmered tomatillo jam with lime and a hint of lavender tucked up against the jars of savoury tomatillo freezer jam, speckled with hot peppers. It might seem like that’s a long way from my grandmother’s garden but I know she would like them both because the tomatillos (a relative of the gooseberry) carry the slightly less tart but still very definable flavour of rhubarb. Seems like in a roundabout way, I got my wish after all. No wonder all the butterflies in the garden are dancing.

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” – Rumi

How the rare purple squirrel was saved from extinction

crayon box

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. – Pablo Picasso

I haven’t been posting as much as I wish I had lately, and not because I had a lack of things to say but because they haven’t really had a connection to storytelling per say.

But Father’s Day came, and Father’s Day went and I was thinking a lot about my dad. It is a really hard day for me, some years more than others. I’m sure it’s a really hard day for a lot of people, given death, separation, family dynamics and abuse. But just like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, it’s very “in your face” in a public way, advertised for weeks with events and sales created around it and so much commercial hype that it’s not easily ignored. So every year since my father’s death I get through it, somehow.

A month or two ago, I passed a record store that had second-hand vinyl on sale, marked down to 50 cents. And there he was, a beardless, baby-faced, Gordon Lightfoot, staring at me. And there they were, in all caps, in a school-bus-yellow oval on the front cover, the words If You Could Read My Mind. Hundreds of other people had passed the store that day without knowing (or needing to know) that it was my father’s favourite song. But I knew. And so I picked up the album and took it to the cash, where I had a very lovely conversation with the cashier, who could relate when I told him the story (of course I told him the story, I am a storyteller). He was missing his father too, and I promised him a poem I wrote, a poem about my father that I didn’t start writing until 19 years after my father’s death. A poem about grief, loss, rage, reconciliation, acceptance and release. On Sundays/I plant flowers for you/folding tucking prayers into the earth/on Sundays. Then I went home, put the album on the turntable, dropped the needle in the groove, and cried (like I’m crying now incidentally). Fortunately the tears helped release some of the grief. And finally on the Saturday before Father’s Day, I put an end to my procrastination and dropped off a hand written copy of the poem at the store.

The story doesn’t end there though. The first time I heard the song after so many years the poetry of Lightfoot’s lyrics spoke to me across time and circumstance, it was if my father was saying the words to me directly. I don’t know how old I was (probably in elementary school) when my dad told me that If You Could Read My Mind was his favourite song but even at that age, I knew it was important. As the child of divorced parents, I didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with my dad as other children might have with theirs. And so I held onto his revelation even more tightly, comforted by the thought that my father had shared something of his inner life with me that he may not have shared with anyone else. The imagery of the song is powerful, a ghost, a wishing well, a dark castle, a man chained by grief and desire in equal measure. “When you reach the part where the heartache comes/The hero would be me/But heroes often fail”.

We all have sad stories, and many of us have stories of abuse and trauma that we walk with on a daily basis. For me the key to healing is to become the hero of your story (I am using hero as a gender-neutral noun here). Examining your past and becoming a hero is not always an easy process, and it doesn’t come all at once, but it’s a worthwhile journey to embark on.

This year on Father’s Day I was too ill to buy flowers and plant them, which is what I had planned, and what I had done on the first Father’s Day after my dad’s death. I’m not going to pretend it was an easy day this year, it wasn’t, and I moped and dragged myself through it. But this week, on the mend, I was asking myself what where the most important lessons my dad taught me. As a visual artist he was always excited to share his knowledge with me. I distinctly remember him showing me how to create a colour wheel and introducing me to primary and secondary colours. It still feels like “every day magic” to me, taking two colours and making another, it’s almost like watching a new species appear before your eyes (okay, so I exaggerate, another storyteller’s prerogative) but it is actually amazing. I remember learning how to sharpen a pencil with an X-acto knife (way before my mother thought it was appropriate) and actually being good at it. I remember how accomplished I felt in art class when I was the only one who knew how to do it before the teacher taught us. But most of all I remember the purple squirrel. And it was only this week that I really understood why.

Great art picks up where nature ends. – Marc Chagall

When I was growing up, colouring books were banned in our household. Not out of any puritanical need to stifle creativity, rather the opposite, because my dad thought lines on a page were too confining for an artist, and not good for my inner muse. My mother agreed and I always had access to lots of paper, but there weren’t any colouring books around. And so one day, when my dad brought me to visit his sister’s children, I had the rare opportunity to colour in one. The cousin closest in age to me (a few months older) took one look at my masterpiece and instead of admiring my work, went full throttle into ridicule mode.

“Squirrels aren’t purple!” she announced with astonishment, “Squirrels are brown!” And the rest of my older cousins joined her, laughing. Keep in mind, I was a very sensitive only-child, used to the praise and attention of mostly kinder adults, so when my dad asked me how the visit was, I told him the story. Until this week I thought his response was helpful because it confirmed my inborn artistic perspective and talents, he affirmed me as a fellow artist and defended me as a proud father. But now I understand there is another piece that makes this such a powerful story for me. It’s because my father turned me into the hero of the story – rather than leaving me in the role of victim (that I was certainly relating to at the time). With only a few words and a lot of heart-felt emotion, he told me that I could use any colour I wanted, because I was an artist. What I heard was that while everyone else (being my cousins, who he was clearly mad at) thought that squirrels could only be brown, black or grey I (wonderful daughter, hero of the tale) knew in my brave, bold, creative, artistic heart that squirrels could be any colour, even purple. I could feel his admiration for me and my perspective shifted immediately. With the sting of ridicule erased, I stood confidently in the invisible cloak of the artistic visionary, purple-crayon-sabre at my side. A few well timed words and a new way of looking at the situation had transformed me, not for a moment, not for a day but actually for a lifetime.

Art is not a thing, it is a way.  – Elbert Hubbard

Becoming the hero of your own story is not for the fainthearted. It is an ongoing and often challenging process. There is no one way to get there but with time, attention, counselling, and support you can become the hero of even your most painful stories. It is one of the many reasons it’s crucial for you to tell your own story.

The hero would be me – Gordon Lightfoot

Fire & water in magical, sensuous & moving She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt

life with more cowbell

She Mami 3 d’bi.young anitafrika (Nicki) & Amina Alfred (the DJ) in She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt – photos by Dee Kofri

d’bi.young anitafrika’s epic exploration of the Black diaspora, activism, divinity and sexuality in The Orisha Trilogy – starting with Esu Crossing the Middle Passage – continues with The Watah Theatre’s production of She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt: The Orisha Trilogy Part 2. Directed by Blakka Ellis, assisted by Wendy Olunike Adeliyi, with choreography by Ravyn Wngz and Lady Kori, and music direction/composition and live music/vocals by Amina Alfred, She Mami Wata is currently running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace.

Moving forward from the past in Esu and into the present, She Mami Wata takes us to modern-day Jamaica, from a small-town church congregation to a womxn’s* dancehall in Kingston. From recent past to present day, we see the parallel journeys of four friends, from…

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From Esu Crossing the Middle Passage to the Jungle Book, storytelling, integrity and watering

IMG_20160419_144343“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman

I’ve been almost too busy to blog, which is a lovely feeling. Busy hearing stories, busy listening, busy absorbing, busy eating stories, busy being watered by them.

Being watered by stories speaks to me on a very deep level.  I volunteered for the Toronto storytelling festival this year (2016) and was fortunate to be able to participate in part of the 3 day storyteller’s camp (for adults).  In between picking up the lunch order, helping to find a power cord and answering questions, I was just like any other lucky camper. Bob Barton asked me to decide if I was a circle or a square, a waterfall or fireworks, a kite string or a clothes line. Nicole Fougere had me expressing myself with movement. There were times when I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and “That’s a good thing” (I can’t help hearing Martha Stewart’s voice when I write that) because stretching increases your reach.

When Chirine El Ansary led her workshop she spoke to us about her challenge with adopting the word “storyteller” in English (she is trilingual, and also speaks French and Arabic). The struggle was about the word’s limitations. I can’t quite remember all the categories she mentioned but she told us that in Arabic there are 5 words for oral storyteller, based on the type of story the teller tells. For example, there are historical tellers, and poets (sh’er) but the one I aspire to be (and sometimes am) translates to “waterer” the one who gives the listeners the stories they need to hear. What a beautiful image. Especially at this time of year when the top soil is no longer frozen, the crocuses have bloomed, lawns are getting greener and migrant birds are returning. To water. I see a gentle stream trickling toward a tender plant, or a fine trail escaping from a watering can, and I can hear the plant’s gracious sigh. To water. There is a beauty in the imagery for me because it implies growth. No plant can grow without water, especially seedlings, which are extra sensitive to its lack.

This brings me to Esu Crossing the Middle Passage which I saw on Sunday. Written and performed by d’bi young anitafrika with music and vocals by tuku and Amina Alfred. d’bi is a storyteller who waters, in every sense of the word. She can make you laugh, cry, hold your breath and want to start a revolution all at the same time. For her, stories matter, and “the village” (a.k.a. the audience) matters deeply. Fed, raised and watered by many creative and dedicated people (including her mother poet/storyteller Anita Stewart)  d’bi teaches and tells with 8 core  principles known as the SORPLUSI methodology. (Check the links below for more info.) One of these principles is “urgency” which is demonstrated in part by the very real and  horrifying connections she draws between the bondage experienced by millions of Africans during slavery and the overt-criminilization and incarceration of black bodies on this continent today. She considers her shows to be collaborations, not only with the performers, musicians, choreographers and technicians that contribute to the production but with the village/audience itself.  There is no “fourth wall”. Esu Crossing started in the lobby of the Storefront Theatre, and from that moment I was part of it. Live storytelling has a unique way of feeding the senses, one that 3-D animation and D-boxing can’t replicate. Because of the show’s thoughtful curation, using minimal props, there was a moment when I smelled that earthy, goaty smell of the grease on the mask, and a cowrie shell brushed against my skin. Those sensations, coupled with d’bi’s 360 degree embodiment of the character, took me somewhere, in a hurry. Suddenly I was no longer an observer, instead I was on a boat, seasick and beaten, homesick and disoriented, enraged, determined, hopeful and terrified all at once.

Is it fair to compare a children’s movie made by Disney studios to that very visceral experience?  Probably not, but I’m going to do it anyway. Last Friday I saw The Jungle Book. I’m glad I saw it, the visuals were stunning, 3-D is always fun (I didn’t know what a D-box was until later) but it was so frustrating because I couldn’t find the story anywhere. And finally I remembered that’s why I never really connected with the book. When I was explaining this to someone later they said, “But it’s for children”. Which to me is like saying, “They are just seedlings, so they don’t need as much care,” when in fact the opposite is true. It’s even more important that children are fed and watered with stories that have integrity, stories with meaning, stories that can grow inside them and help them grow. And any child who has been fed on that kind of story will spot the difference, immediately. There is a very well know teller in Toronto, Dan Yashinsky, who titled a book he wrote, Suddenly They Heard Footsteps, for that very reason.  His son had been raised on stories with substance and then one night (as Dan tells it) he was tired and trying to get his son to go to sleep, and was making up a random story to get the job done. His son picked up on this change and (to help his dad along) piped in with, “Suddenly they heard footsteps…”  If I remember correctly, his son was only 3-years-old at the time. Children know, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know. So it’s even more important that we choose the stories we expose ourselves and the children in our lives to with integrity. Life is short. Why spend it thirsty?

Notes and links:

I will be posting more about my experience at the Toronto Storytelling Festival soon

Today’s word: curate – I know it in relation to curating a visual arts exhibit or even a social media page (thanks Kim Katrin Milan). When I looked it up at Merriam Webster on-line it says it’s from Middle English, “to cure the soul” via Medieval Latin and the Latin “to care” so in the above use, I think it’s very appropriate to think of it as “to care for the soul”  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/curate

d’bi young anitafrika on the SORPLUSI methodology:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So30jB93Q5c

http://www.thesorplusiinstitute.org/?_escaped_fragment_=methodology/cee5

What is D-boxing? http://www.cineplex.com/Theatres/D-Box

What is the fourth wall?  I really like this post: https://alwaysactingup.wordpress.com/what-is-the-4th-wall

 

 

 

Singing in the rain

wooden posts sea side cropped

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea. – Isak Dinesen

There’s something about water that is inherently creative and healing. I find when I’m not creating, one of the fastest ways for me to reconnect with my inner muse is to have a long soak. Epsom salts are a must, so is candle light, and it’s extra nice when I add lavender and olive oil to the tub.
There have been other instances when water was the source of my inspiration. I remember after a particularly scary hail storm, I was traveling and wrote a really amazing story. Funny, it was about a child in the womb. Water, so inspiring, so fundamental.
There are so many ways to enjoy water. Because it’s winter, I’m thinking about skating. How about going to an ice rink, like Harbourfront where the live DJ blasts the tunes while you glide to the beat? Or check out a wave pool, there’s a huge one in Richmond Hill. I was recently at the Regent’s Park Aquatic Centre for a lane swim (and it was free). There is nothing like a swim or a soak in a hot whirlpool to ease muscle pain and relieve stress.
If you are near a lake, river, or the ocean, simply walking or biking along the shore is a lovely way to spend time with nature and get inspired. During the winter, you can find a restaurant with a view of the water, then sit back and enjoy. In the summer, outdoor patios near the beach, boat cruises, splash pads and water parks are all great ways to have fun. In “the six” you can take a ferry ride across the lake to one of the islands. If you check out Centreville there is the memorable log-ride (you will get splashed!) and paddle boats once you arrive. For more adult adventure, try stand-up paddle board, kayaking or canoeing. If you are lucky enough to live or visit somewhere you can snorkel or scuba dive, that can take you even deeper into the wonder-filled underwater world. If not, take a trip to your local aquarium and immerse yourself in the beauty and diversity of the creatures you encounter.

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul – Kate Chopin

Looking for something more relaxing? How about floatation therapy? That’s you in a tank full of Epsom salts, in body temperature water with no other distractions. There is even evidence that floating increases your access to your own creativity. For something a bit more shocking that’s also meant to enhance your immune system, try a spa that offers hot and cold water plunges. If you haven’t tried it, or can’t afford it, you can do a mini-version in the shower by alternating the hot water with cold, naturopaths call it a “contrast shower”. But just so I’m clear, it’s way more fun at the spa!
The best cure-all I’ve found for the “blahs” is a leisurely walk in the rain. It’s most comfortable in a gentle rain on a warm day. You’ll probably find the residential streets will be nearly deserted, and anyone you do pass by, is more likely to smile. After a while, you may even find yourself singing. I know, “Singing in the Rain” is a corny song title, but they wrote the song for a reason.

It is better to dance in the rain than to sit under a leaking roof. – Vikrant Parsai

Whether you drink it, swim in it, float in it or just look at it, whenever you find inspiration in water this week, please share it in the comments. Have a creative, water and inspiration filled week!

I knit my love blue, the indefinable blue of the line that ties the sky to the sea – Leah

A space of one’s own

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A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. – Virginia Woolf

Finally, my writing space is ready. It’s not a room but it is a corner so to speak. There is a small stylish desk that I bought years ago and try to keep tidy, with my laptop, journal and a bunch of pens and pencils on top. Beside it is a bookcase with reminders of who I am. My old metal crayon box from when I was a child, with crayons still inside, infused with that lovely waxy scent. On the top shelf is a brass gong, a gift from my great uncle’s house, and a reclining blue Buddha. Another shelf holds a basket of art supplies, so I no longer have to go digging in the cupboard when the urge hits. Beneath that, musical instruments, a small set of bongos I bought in Cuba, a clave, and two shakers, and the odd-one-out, an electric pencil sharpener. This melange is rounded out by a few of my favourite books, alongside blank journals and candle holders. A welcoming space. There is a window over the desk and on the wall beside it, a sepia toned photo of a bare-foot 5-year-old girl, sitting on the grass, looking at flowers. It might not be a room, but it is my own and it reminds me of my commitment to write. And for today, that is enough.

Start writing no matter what, the water does not flow until the faucet is turned on – Louis L’Amore

On Death, Dreaming and Beyonce

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Part 1 – Death

It’s been a rough week. It wasn’t what I expected when I went to my social media network feed, but it was there anyway – Death. And because the person who died was the adult child of someone I know, all the walls came crumbling down. Death, it’s a story told too many times in this city. A city cracked at the seams, bleeding out onto the sidewalk, its mask pock-marked with bullet holes. Toronto is supposed to be one of the greatest cities in the world to live in but that’s only on the bright and shiny faux marble surface. That’s only the stainless steel appliance, granite counter top, valet parking, take-out on speed dial, view of the lake – Toronto. Not the city where some feel that walking with a gun and being willing to use it is necessary for survival, for street-cred or to save face. Not the city where too many mother’s and father’s hearts take their last breaths on the pavement, in hallways, in elevators, in parking lots, in cars, on couches, in ambulances and operating rooms. Death.

Part 2 – Beyonce

Beyonce, the video, the controversy, it’s about herstory. It’s about being willing to witness another’s world view and not tell them to be quiet. You can try to make it about whether Beyonce is worshipping capitalism or being legitimately radical with her Super-Bowl half time show and new Formation video. But what’s really important is the fact that we/you/they can no longer ignore the story. It’s the way that “Stop shooting us” scrawled across a wall speaks to you, enrages you, activates you, makes you uncomfortable, terrifies you or makes you think/feel anything at all. It’s about #BlackLivesMatter, #icantbreathe, #BlackGirlMagic and so much more.

Part 3 – Dreaming

When you wake, you find your dreams written indelibly on your skin.

When anyone dies they leave a legacy, a legacy of what was important to them, the lives they touched, and the art they created, it’s all a part of the story. I don’t think that anyone wishes for their legacy to be that their family and friends stop living, grieve indefinitely, or give up hope. But rather that they live broader, act bolder and dream bigger. Here is something from a story I told about my experiences after my father’s sudden death. “There’s this thing that happens when someone dies, you dream and you wake. And when you wake, you find your dreams written indelibly on your skin, and no amount of scrubbing will take them off.”
Please be safe, dream big and encourage someone who needs it. Small acts of kindness can have giant repercussions.

Cultivating silence – the storyteller’s toolkit, part 1

Sunset at small pond, south coast, Jamaica

Still waters run deep – proverb

As a teller of stories, as a creator of stories, silence is one of your most valuable tools. Without silence there is no place for the stories to land or to expand. Whether you are making space for understanding a story that you are learning, or maintaining the openness required to imagine something new, silence is your ally. Sitting in stillness or meditating is one of the ways you can cultivate silence but it’s not the only way. Anything that involves repetition or rhythm can have the same effect. Walking, swimming, jogging, knitting, cutting vegetables, dancing, drumming are all great places to start. And yes, dancing and drumming are not exactly silent activities, but if you stick to listening to or playing music without vocals those activities can create a type of inner stillness, energetically very similar to silence, where your mind is free from chatter, a place where you can just be.

The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear – Rumi

Why are you afraid of silence? This is an interesting question for a storyteller to ask her or himself. There are many kinds of silence but in this case I am referring to the golden kind, the silence that feels like a cool rain on sun-baked skin, or fresh water on a parched tongue. The silence that feels like sunshine after a long, gloomy winter, like light dancing on water when the clouds part. Refreshing, inviting, satiating. Why are you afraid of silence? A question I have been asking myself a lot lately, as I watch myself do anything and everything to avoid it, to avoid myself. I don’t have an answer yet but now, having drunk from it recently (at least from the shallows, if not the depths) I am less afraid.

Be the blank page, be the expectant surface.

Silence, the golden kind, is a very important part of the storyteller’s toolkit. Without short silences or pauses your stories can feel rushed, cluttered, like too many words on a page with no white space in between, overwhelming. With practice, silence can be used to create tension and expectation in your listeners, or to allow for a moment for you or them to refocus. Maintaining focus while listening takes a lot of effort, sometimes your audience won’t notice when their attention has strayed, pauses give them a chance to reconnect or to catch up.

Why are you so afraid of silence, silence is the root of everything, if you spiral into its void, a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear. – Rumi

In this day and age, our connection to and dependence on technology can be one of our biggest challenges when cultivating silence. We wake up to the incessant beeping of our electronic devices, turn on the radio while we are getting ready for our day or driving to work. Interact through social media or play games on our phones while riding the bus or even when walking down the street. When we finally turn off our devices and take our earphones out, the beeping of bank machines and cash registers, refrigerator doors, coffee machines, and a cacophony of traffic and construction call us out of our reverie. At home and on the street, noise pollution can be an issue, it can raises stress levels, affect hormones, blood pressure, heart rate, concentration and sleep. So you can see why cultivating silence is an essential tool for self-care as well as an important instrument in your storyteller’s toolkit.

The inspiration you seek is already within you, be silent and listen. –Rumi

There is an image that is often referred to when describing writer’s block, and that is the image of the blank page. It is supposed to invoke the fear of having nothing in your creative tank. Is a cluttered page any more inspiring? I think not. When your creativity is overflowing, what you long for is space. Space to move and to dance, space to sing and be heard, a place to jot down notes, a surface to slather with colour, a page to fill. And the page (the audience, the drum, the song, the story) is waiting for you. Be the blank page, be the expectant surface. Take some time to cultivate silence, you may discover it is one of your most powerful create tools.

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. – Kahlil Gibran