The Storyteller’s Toolkit – part 3, Self-care, FOMO and Digital-Detox

SELF-CARE

How beautiful it is to do nothing – and then rest afterwards – Spanish Proverb

Painters wash their brushes, carpenter’s oil their tools, musicians clean and tune their instruments, singers exercise and care for their voices, doesn’t it follow that storytellers must take care of the tools of their trade as well? And yes, you, dear storyteller are the tool of your trade. You, all of you, not just your voice.

As an artist, creative or storyteller (or however you define yourself) it’s important to prioritize self-care. Of course no two artists are alike, and there is no simple formula for this.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. – Audre Lorde

FOMO

One of my biggest challenges when preparing for a performance, or in the days following one, is to avoid overextending myself. I had a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) last Sunday, because I wanted to attend the free events at the Reference Library as part of the opening weekend of the Toronto Storytelling Festival. My mind wanted to, my heart wanted to, my creative-self wanted to, but my body was saying, “No!”

Yes, we are storytellers but we are also human, subject to the beauty and limitations of our very human bodies.

I participated as a poet, in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Wychwood Barns the night before, and although I didn’t have a lot of prep to do (because I knew my poems well) I wanted to/needed to: show up to sound check, arrive at the venue early, stay to see all the performers and schmooze afterwards. The pre-show adrenaline rush, combined with the energy needed to perform, and the effort of the social interactions (yes, I am part introvert, so sometimes it is draining) and all the walking I had done the previous day meant my body really needed some rest on Sunday afternoon. Yes rest. In the end, it came down to whether my preference was to take care of my physical health, or push my limits and drag myself out of the house based on the fact that if I didn’t go, I might miss out on something (FOMO).

You suppose that you are the lock on the door, but you are the key that opens it. – Rumi

Reality check, we are probably always missing out on something! So it’s really a matter of figuring out what your priority is at any given time. Yes, we are storytellers but we are also human, subject to the beauty and limitations of our very human bodies. Relaxation, healthy food, clean water, adequate sleep, movement, social connection, financial status, stress level, access to artistic expression and health care all play roles in how we feel, and inevitably how we will perform. These are just some of the things that can affect the energy we have access to when we are ready to create. We are not fully in control of all of them, but we can still be mindful of how and when we take care of ourselves.

DIGITAL DETOX

I know, I know, you are reading this on your phone, computer or other tech device, and now I’m about to suggest that you take a break. TV, movies, phone, radio, computer, video games, they all have a way of taking us outside of ourselves. Yes, they can be magical, entertaining, enlightening and even educational but like many things life, they also benefit from some moderation, and maybe even a digital fast every once in awhile.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. – Anne Lamott

There have been times where I’ve forgotten my phone at home and have had really interesting conversations or made connections that I might not have if I was looking at it instead of the world.  There have been days where I have intentionally turned it off, or even taken it as step further by covering all the clocks, and  mirrors I have at home. It never ceases to amaze me how calming,  nurturing and healing even a short break can be.  This unstructured “me time” is often the catalyst for new creative inspiration.

So whether it’s a long soak in a hot tub, a leisurely stroll in nature, blocking out time for meditation, contemplation, or daydreaming. Whether you decide to curl up with a great book, spin some vinyl, or concoct a culinary masterpiece, try consciously making space for non-digital relaxation in your day, your week or your month. In the end, you might find it is the most powerful creative tool you have at your disposal.

For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms – Anne Morrow Lindebergh in Gifts from the Sea

Here is a link to a great blog I read, if you need some more ideas regarding unplugging, or limiting your phone use.

https://www.lifehack.org/432440/7-day-digital-detox-challenge-that-will-transform-your-life

mug pic with watermark cropped

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The Storyteller’s Toolkit – Part 2 – Dust Bunnies, Vacuums and Accountability

Stories do not exist in a vacuum. Well maybe stories about dust-bunnies do – but that’s a tale/tail for another time. Stories exist in a community. Stories by their very nature involve a teller, a writer or a performer and a listener, audience or village.* Accountability to the community is central.

To “call someone out”, to require accountability, to assert one’s opposition to a story, to question someone’s opinions and perspectives, to highlight biases and misrepresentation, to demand an end to appropriation is in no way a demand for the end of free speech. It is, in fact, the opposite. It is called activism. It is called dialogue. It is called standing up for what you believe in. It is called refusing to be silenced.

“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde 

Stories can have many functions, they can: entertain, ridicule, protest, incite, inform, educate, heal, and open paths for dialogue or for reconciliation. They can also brutalize, humiliate, terrify, misrepresent, attempt to control, and yes, appropriate. Gossip is story, hate literature is story, rumours and propaganda are stories.

The status quo is naturally comfortable for those who have the status.

Free Speech comes with responsibility. This is where accountability is key. Can an editor, columnist, artist, or storyteller express controversial views without hurting anyone’s feelings? Unlikely. Can they make a point without relying on their own world view, speaking from their own perspective and exposing their own conscious and unconscious biases? Doubtful (and not necessarily the goal anyway).

Will the reader, listener, audience or village see something from another perspective? Hopefully. If the writer, storyteller, playwright, songwriter or journalist crosses a line in community standards and is called out on it, should they face consequences? Of course. Do these standards shift and change over time? Definitely. Should the goal be to keep the standards consistent, to insist that what was once historically acceptable remain so? Obviously not.

The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. – James Baldwin

Let’s talk about journalism for a moment. News articles by their nature are supposed to aim for objectivity. But if the news was actually objective, there probably wouldn’t be much difference in the way mainstream and alternative media outlets report it. Chances are you have a preference for a certain newspaper, on-line source, pod-cast, Internet site, TV or radio broadcast, and there is a reason why. The reason is slant and bias. In news reporting, objectivity like perfection is an unobtainable, sometimes undefinable, but still necessary target.

On the other hand, editorials and columns, are supposed to contain and express an opinion. And not everyone is going to agree with that opinion every time. Being able to express your views without being jailed or brutalized is central to free speech. The fact that editorial opinions exist and are expressed without fear of government intervention means that we have free speech in Canada. However, there is no guarantee that you won’t be questioned or challenged by other writers, by activists, by individuals or communities.

It is this questioning, this clarifying, this calling for accountability that forces accepted standards to shift.

Sensibly, free speech by necessity has a limit. In Canada, there is a line drawn in the proverbial sand. On one side of the line there is freedom of expression which of course is legal, and on the other side is hate speech, which quite logically is illegal. Drawing the line at hate speech is not censorship. It is part of the legislated civility that encourages respect, helps to protect identifiable groups from hate mongering, and allows communities to remain intact.

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom – Bob Dylan

Then there is a wide gray area where views are expressed that don’t fall clearly into the category of hate speech but cause a community or group to protest. Remember that the protest, whether written or verbal, also falls under the category of free speech. What it is not, is a call for censorship. What it is, is a call for accountability.

It is this questioning, this clarifying, this calling for accountability that forces accepted standards to shift. Without it, the status quo would remain intact. We see the world through our own unique lens, and we all have blind-spots when it comes to our own biases. Biases often reinforced by the prevailing attitudes and norms of the time and the society we live in.

The status quo is naturally comfortable for those who have the status. It is human nature to want to remain comfortable, and to complain when that comfort is challenged or disrupted. But if you want to be accountable, if you want to grow and mature, if you want to understand the world from a new perspective, if you want to be a responsible storyteller, then its time for you to push past that discomfort. It’s spring after all, so open the windows, turn on the lights, look under the bed and sweep out the corners. Befriend the dust bunnies, slay the dragon, question your view of the world, and try something new. Happy hunting.

On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate. – Buckminster Fuller

You have come to the end of this section of The Storyteller’s Toolkit – Part 2 – Dust Bunnies, Vacuums, and Accountability – more on the same topic in the next blog post

Footnote * The term “village” used as an alternative here for “audience” is a term taught to me directly by d’bi young anitafrika. Here is a link to a brief description of her SORPLUSI METHODOLOGY

JA sand
Lines in the sand, south coast, Jamaica, 2008

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