A space of one’s own

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

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On Death, Dreaming and Beyonce

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

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