Why storytelling (and life) is like juggling

The only place to start, is at the beginning
You will drop the ball (club, ring, hacky sack etc.)
If you pick up the ball, you can keep going
Telling yourself you are bad/incompetent/stupid/a slow learner (insert your “favourite” insult here) etc. is not helpful
Practice, practice, practice
People will help you, if you ask
People will help you, even if you don’t ask
People will tell you that some things are impossible (ignore them)
People will tell you that you can do it (ignore them too, because of course you are already telling yourself that you can do it!)
You can do it
You won’t be perfect
Perfect is over rated
Sometimes you will be afraid
Sometimes you will have courage
Sometimes you will doubt yourself
Keep going
Blaming anyone (including yourself) is not helpful
Trying is more helpful than not trying
Sometimes you will feel like giving up
Rest
Rest is good
So is movement
Holding your breath is not helpful
Breath
Your willingness to practice is directly correlated to the audiences’ willingness to watch you
Unless they love you, in which case they will watch you do just about anything
When it works, it’s the best feeling in the world
If you are the only one keeping track of how many times you drop the ball, stop counting
If anyone else is giving you a running tally of how many times you dropped the ball, get out of ear-shot
No amount of practice, education, physical prowess, wisdom or money will protect you from the possibility of dropping the ball
Practice anyway
When you succeed
Celebrate!
It’s not dropping the ball that matters
It’s your willingness to pick it back up

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Juggling props and hand print

 

 

 

Why names matter

Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable. ~W.H. Auden

In one of the storytelling circles I attend, the host often asks new listeners what their name is, and the story of their name. I’m always fascinated when people don’t actually know what their name means, or what language it’s from and the translation of the word. I concede that it is a bit strange how few names in English have an obvious correlation to the language, such as Rose, Opal, Ruby, Pearl, April, May and June. In fact, right now I can’t think of any male names that fit the pattern. Perhaps it’s the storyteller in me that can’t wrap my head around not needing to know. As far as I”m concerned, names matter. Maybe it’s because I was named after my paternal grandmother, who died when my father was only four-years-old. She was a woman unique to her time, as she owned and ran three hair salons during the depression. Someone my father’s boyhood memories could not expand on. My grandmother Leah’s dark eyes called me, mutely, from sepia-toned photos. I felt the only connection I had to her was our name.

How could I have known how deeply one’s name is connected to their identity, to their humanity? I didn’t know it, but I sure felt it.

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My grandmother, Leah Dupuis

Names matter. During the transatlantic slave trade, captives were routinely striped of their names, and forbidden to speak their mother-tongue, or any language not understood by their captors. link The same tactics where used against First Nations and Inuit children attending Residential Schools in Canada. link In both cases there were times when the renaming or un-naming also became numbering. Some of your may know of the numbered tattoos that inmates of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp were given during WW II. What is less well known is that in the 1940s Inuit in Canada’s north were given identifying numbers, on identity tags, numbers that were often used instead of names. All such dehumanizing practices have the potential to leave scars, the kind that can’t be removed by lasers. link

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The little green warrior

When I was in JK, my mother was summoned to the school because the French teacher had a problem with my attitude. I remember refusing to answer to her in class because she insisted on calling me “Lay-ah” as opposed to “Lee-ah” as I was accustomed to hearing. To put it in perspective, I was a very compliant child, most of the time. So getting in trouble at school was something that rarely happened. I found the teacher’s refusal to pronounce my name correctly (when it was clear to me she could) intensely insulting. My name was not French and I didn’t see the point of making it so. Then the little green warrior inside me stood up and roared, and I explained to her once, that “Lay-ah” was not my name. After that I remained silent, stone-faced, and refused to respond when she called on me. As an adult I wish I could go back and stand behind my four-year-old self, with silver pom-poms, cheering, “Give me an L, give me an E, give me an A, give me an H!” How wise and brave that little girl was! I don’t remember the outcome (and my Mom has forgotten this story) but I look fondly on the memory of that rare show of defiance. (Ironically my great grandparents and my grandmother spoke French, so they probably would have pronounced her name the way my teacher did, but I didn’t know that at the time). Of course I was too young to understand that not everyone has the luxury, of silence, of defiance. How could I have known how deeply one’s name is connected to their identity, to their humanity? I didn’t know it, but I sure felt it.

I wish I could go back and stand behind my four-year-old self, with silver pom-poms, cheering.

Names matter. Names have power. Names carry history and meaning, tell stories, speak of our lineage and reflect something of who we are. Learning to remember and pronounce someone’s name is a matter of respect. Listening to their story opens the path for deeper communication.

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Danu, pastel on paper, by Leah

Why your story matters and historical revisionism

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Barbed wire, south coast, Jamaica

When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak. – Audre Lorde

I’m feeling more than a little sick.  I went to listen to a talk at the AGO last night given by Charmain Nelson and I’m still trying to recover from one of the facts she stated during her presentation. She said that during years of teaching at a Canadian university (McGill) she asked her students to raise their hands if they knew there was a history of slavery in Canada and that none of her Canadian born students raised their hands. None. Let that sink in for a minute.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

Really?  None? I knew that there were huge gaps in the curriculum in elementary and high schools in Ontario (the only place I went to school so I will stick with that). And of course all history is written by the people who have the power to write, repeat, fashion, shape and revise history. And yes, many have heard of Harriet Tubman and how she carried slaves on the Underground Railway from the US to freedom in Canada. But somehow it is never mentioned that there was a time before that when there  wasn’t anywhere on this continent to escape to. And before Africans were kidnapped and brought to North America, the indigenous people of this land were also enslaved. link

When the ax came into the forest, the trees said the handle is one of us. – Alice Walker

I actually didn’t realize that in 2016, there was still such ignorance out there about the way this country was “settled”.  It’s something I think we should be talking about more. It is “the elephant in the room” whose shadow is cast across this land (yes it’s a mix metaphor but so be it). And it is our collective responsibility to see that the fullness of this history is taught in our schools. And for those of us who did not learn this history in school, it is our responsibility to seek this information out ourselves. Black History, First Nations and Inuit history. The history of settlement and the history of our discriminatory immigration policies.

The only person who can tell your stories from your perspective is you. Period.

One thing I read in regards to the recent Truth and Reconciliation committee findings regarding Canada’s history of Residential Schools was that Canadians should take the time to educate themselves about First Nations history. It’s seems to be the best option, until that history becomes a part of the curriculum. I recently heard an interview on CBC where Audrey Rochette said that during a university class she was attending, when the topic of the Canadian Residential School system came up, students were actually crying. Crying because this was their first exposure to the topic. First.  Here is the link to the interview: link

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

On historical revisionism: there is a sin that Catholics call “the sin of omission” and as far as I know it is considered as serious as a lie. When you omit something of course, it means you leave it out. That’s why people in court are asked to swear to tell the whole truth. Obviously there is a lot of history missing in what passes for the “Canadian History” that is taught in our schools. I thought more had changed since I was in school (over 30 years ago). And I am beyond shocked, I am actually disgusted. Some of this shock I reluctantly admit lies in the White Privilege I carry with me. I have the luxury, on a daily basis, of forgetting (if I choose) how much work is still left to be done, and of ignoring how much racism remains a reality in Canada.

As a storyteller these omissions, more accurately called “lies” are among the reasons I believe so strongly in the power of  people telling their own stories. And one of the reasons I tell mine. If I don’t, who will? And through what lens? My belief is that the only person who can tell your stories from your perspective is you. Period.

All history is written by the people who have the power to write, repeat, fashion, shape and revise history.

There is so much more to say, but for now I will leave you with some resources:

The Freedom Seekers by Daniel G. Hill, the first Director and later the Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Daniel G. Hill is the father of Lawrence and Dan Hill. Lawrence Hill an author and wrote the acclaimed novel, The Book of Negroes, (which has been made into a mini-series by CBC) Dan Hill is a Grammy and Juno award winner, musician, producer and author. The brothers grew up in Don Mills, which at the time was a suburb of Toronto.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada

APTN History Archives

The Ontario Black History Society

Black History Ottawa

Truth and Reconciliation on CBC

Marie-Joseph Angelique

 

Why spiderweft?

I’m a bit of a nerd, and when it comes to words, a total nerd. I love words (and they love me back, at least that’s how I feel) so let’s go with that.

weft – the horizontal threads in a fabric or on a loom. The vertical ones are called the “warp”. And while technically spiders don’t weave in the hash tag patterns that humans have adopted (i.e. copied from observing nature) it is a very “weaverly” word, and so I chose it. It also has a nice feel when spoken aloud, and rhymes with “heft” which gives it some weight.
spider – what isn’t there to like about spiders? Unless of course one is dangling menacingly overhead in the shower or crawling across your face in a nightmare – and hopefully, never, never in person! Yes, I used to be terrified of them, and now, fortunately, am much less afraid.
Spiders are a very powerful symbol in “mythology” (more on “mythology” later). And except for the very far north and south of the globe, beyond the tree line, I’m pretty sure they are everywhere.
alphabet – in some cultures, spiders are considered to be the creators of the written alphabet. As a storyteller I have great respect for the spoken word. But as a reader and writer, I am fascinated by the written word. And the first time I came across the idea of Spider as the creator of the alphabet I remembered reflecting on one of the things I used to think to myself as a very young reader, “What is the spider thinking?” You know the little teeny, tiny red ones, not much bigger than an asterisk that sometimes crawl across your page when you are reading outside? “What is that spider thinking of as it crawls across this page, and across the words that have so much meaning for me? What is it thinking, what is it aware of, and what am I moving or walking across every day that I don’t understand is even there?”

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I like the idea of a web, a web in terms of connection. Some people speak of a web of energy that connects all living things on the earth. And there is an awesome web of fungi in the soil that connects plants to each other by their roots. Really. It is mind-blowing. Read more here.

The trick with webs is that you have to know what your relationship is to them.

For the more scientific-minded there is the world-wide-web a.k.a. the internet or “www”. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life before it. Before it was possible to connect with friends and strangers at the click of a mouse or a touch on your phone. Before it was possible to find out the answers to random questions at any time of day or night, such as “How many months is a cat pregnant for?” “How to crochet a slip knot.” and “What does ineffable’ mean?” The idea of social and business networks also has a web-like feel.

The trick with webs is that you have to know what your relationship is to them. Are you the weaver or are you the prey? For me, the web is a great resource and way to interact with others but at the same time, it can be a tool I use to disconnect from myself. Finding balance is an ongoing process.
When I see a spider, I often ask myself if I have been neglecting my writing. The bigger the spider the faster I ask! Sometimes Spider is a sign that I need to get back to my creative pursuits, and sometimes s/he is a confirmation that I am going in the write/right direction.
Today’s questions for myself: Am I the weaver or am I the prey? What relationship do I have to others through networks? And are these networks beneficial or detrimental (in both directions)? As a writer, and storyteller, how do I connect to others doing similar work? How do I connect to the audience, reader or “village” and how does that energy affect me? Have I been giving adequate time to my creative pursuits? If not, why?

Links to Spider, creation and weaving lore, all links are meant to be jumping off points if you are interested in learning more:
Anansi comes from a Twi language and means “spider”. See more on the Twi language here.
Although this link is written for a younger audience, it gives a good overview of Anansi, Anancy, Aunt Nancy, the spider trickster brought to the diaspora from West Africa during the slave trade. Anansi is known as the keeper of the stories.
Spider in Celtic lore.
Spider appears variously as the creator of the world and/or textiles/weaving and the alphabet in many Aboriginal traditions, across North and South America:
Spider as creator.
And Spider appears in Greek lore
If you find interesting links in your search, please share them.

Beginnings and perfection

Is it possible to procrastinate about procrastinating? If so, I believe it may be one of my many talents (lack of humility in the afore mentioned statement noted). As of today, however, I have relieved myself of all excuses and am starting this blog. Simply because it’s January, and it’s time. I think of the winter months as a time for introspection and planning, as well as hibernating (although in a modern urban area that can be a bit tricky at times). So here you will find me, navel gazing, toe gazing and intestinal organ gazing (perhaps in that particular order, perhaps not) in print. Because I am a storyteller. Because I AM.

“If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.”~ Margaret Atwood

Beginnings can be terrifying (maybe not as much as endings but terrifying nonetheless). However, beginnings are precious and beautiful  in part because you never know where the next one will lead you. But if there wasn’t a pay off for delaying action, we wouldn’t procrastinate, so … what are the pay offs? (A great question to ask yourself when you feel that resistance happening). I would suggest that without beginnings we can hold all our perfect imaginings intact. All the images of the perfect friendship, perfect photo, perfect poem,  perfect novel,  perfect story,  perfect piroutte, perfect grade on the perfect essay…snore. Are you bored yet?

We like the imperfect because it reminds us of ourselves. ~ Randy Bachman

I think one of the most important lessons in art, is that there is no such thing as perfect. And personally, I think “perfect” can be boring. Diamonds have flaws (which is what helps to distinguish them from other diamonds) people definitely have flaws. Trail and “error”, taking risks and trying new things leads to innovation and creation (and yes, at times, disaster but that’s why they are called “risks”). Telling the right story, at the right time, to the right person (who of course wants to hear it) is my idea of “perfect” storytelling – The innovative, creative, risk-taking and not boring kind of course!

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it. ~ Salvadore Dali

So today I am asking myself the following questions: What does perfection mean to me? Am I attached to it? If so, why? How does not taking creative risks limit me? What is the next creative risk I am willing to take? What have I been stopping myself from doing because I’m afraid of imperfection?

 Without beginnings we can hold all our perfect imaginings intact.