I have been thinking over this last month about listening. It goes without saying that if we all want to have greater connection to the world around us, we have to be attentive listeners. I have previously blogged about the things you can do with your body to help you listen more comfortably. I am aware that we all understand that we should be better listeners, but its easy to forget about that when Facebook prompts us with ‘What’s on your mind?’ or Twitter’s decision to double the number of characters late last year. We are told to tell all, but are we listening?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the dangers of a single story in her powerful TED talk. We have to challenge that one story we know about a certain person or country. This single story limits us and stops us listening. At the extreme, this is what the far-right have always used to justify actions of hate and discrimination. However, at the milder end, we are all missing out on opening our minds to the people and possibilities that surround us.
I am currently reading Keith Johnstone’s ‘Improv for Storytellers’. He writes that instead of telling his students to be ‘Good Listeners’, he encourages them to ‘Be altered by what was said.’ I can’t think of a more apt way for explaining the effect that listening should have on us. So whether we are trying to tune into a conversation in a board room, our children telling us about their day or trying to listen to ourselves with greater integrity, all these moments could lead to alterations about the way we perceive the world. It’s time to let our minds be changed, influenced, informed or moved by what we hear in the world around us.
Little Red Riding is a shocking tale. It’s more than the simplified children’s tale of doing what your told (Sticking to the path) and not talking to strangers (the Big, Bad Wolf). We think of all of the Grimm tales and their counterparts as being for children.
The original name of the Collection was Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children and Household Tales.) We as modern audience focus on the side of the tales that are for children, but what about the ‘Household’ part of the collection?
When I get asked, as a Storyteller, what content I would perform for adults, I see a lot of nose wrinkling when I say traditional tales like you would find within the collections of Grimm Brother’s, Charles Perrault, Giambattista Basile.
Many of these collectors and writers including Hans Christians Anderson, had not purposely written or recorded their work for audiences made up solely of children. If you read the Juniper Tree from Brother’s Grimm, you are faced with a tale of murder, deceit, cannibalism and children being horribly manipulated alongside a magic tree, a bartering bird, and a little girl. These traditional tales can be (and should be) adjusted to the audience that are listening to them. Often though the tales are heavily diluted into sweet bedtime tales and a patronising delivery of “And the moral of the story is….”
Storytelling is a gateway into literacy (more on this is another blog), if we cheapen the tales in this way, it is no wonder no one can be bothered to sit down and orally share tales. We all love telling anecdotes, we are all storytellers, so why not take these tales and use them as a tool to unpick our modern life.
Cinderella is a tale of slavery. Worldwide, it’s estimated that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. Beauty and the Beast a tale of imprisoning a young woman. The Beast can be found in the likes of Ariel Castro and Josef Fritzl. The Elves and the shoemaker tells a story if helping those most in need. We need these stories to help us connect into the world we live in.
These stories could be serving as much now, as when they were originally bought into the public consciousness, as they have throughout the whole history of humankind.
Yet you are write these characters with such texture that I connect to them. They are not women who are likely heroes, but I still hear the trials and understand them.
This seems important, as you seem like none of these women either, from the short biographies we now have of your life. You write in such an a rich way, that we even connect with Heathcliff.
You come over as someone who had a sense of wonder alongside a sense of home. Who could carve rich imagined worlds from the limits of your bedroom. If we could all write like this or imagine life like this, we would all be able to live freely.
Your poetry also talks of being in the moment. Connecting ourselves into the presence.We have a name for that now – Mindfulness. Linking that to your rich imagination is both inspiring and humbling.
“Thy mind is ever moving In regions dark to thee; Recall its useless roving— Come back and dwell with me.”
Shall Earth No More Inspire Me, Emily Bronte
My mind is ever moving. If I could hang out and chat with you, I am sure that I could become enlightened on this darker regions.
There are many things that I love about Christmas and I find that I am a late bloomer of love with it. As the day draws nearer and I look beyond the things I ‘have’ to do (present wrapping, present shopping, more wrapping, food buying, more wrapping, checking lists, checking them twice.), I am reminded of the things I love and surprisingly it’s not the vast amount of food. It got me thinking about how the world might seem a bit brighter if we exported the values of Christmas to other parts of the year.
1. Festive Family Fun
The world just opens open up for things for families to go and do together, big families or small families, young families or older families. From ice skating to crafting to visiting Father Christmas. Most people will be heading to some kind of theatre, whether its a traditional pantomime, or a magical tale or a relaxed romp for the little ones. Theatre’s (both conventional and others) through open their doors and the community descends. Here’s the thing, their are plenty of theatre’s opening their doors the rest of the year for family audiences too. Some of the smaller theatre’s host beautiful and intimate family shows and having the footfall at these places that the traditional christmas show has, could allow these companies to go further in entertaining your family.
City corners become the temporary dwelling of choirs and small groups, people hum along to the brass band, everyone knows the words to Christmas songs, whether its Mariah Carey or Slade. I had a realisation in a singing group for toddlers the other day that I was resisting singing the Bruce Springsteen version of ‘ Santa Claus is coming to town”. If anything makes people feel better its the singing. We have scientific evidence to support this (http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcc7tyc), you don’t need 3 eggnogs and a baileys to slur your way through Last Christmas at the staff Party. You could join a choir, go to open mic night or head out for Karaoke. Sing with your kids, sing to your Nan, your Brothers, your Dad!
As I said above not the quantity (although that is great too), but all of sudden the most unexpected people are talking in culinary wizardry. They did 3 birds last year, this year their trying 5, their taking notes on Masterchef and Nigella. They have soaked the fruit for the christmas cake from the 27th December last year. the world is full of surprises, but gastronomy at Christmas is perplexing. Your Uncle Brian who doesn’t even know how to scramble an egg, is quoting Heston Blumenthal on making the perfect Persian Spiced Christmas Pudding. I mean, come on Brian, you thought Cumin was something very different in May! However if Uncle Brian rocked out those persian fusion dishes the rest of the year, then I’d be round his house for dinner more. (I don’t actually have an Unlce Brian.)
Friendly, helpful and a co operative attitude. Can you IMAGINE?!?!? This would be a completely different country right now if Goodwill was rolled out year round the way it is at Christmas time. We might notice each other more, we might stick up for each other more and we might listen more. This has been complicated by the boom in social media. We now have a soap box in which we can reel off our thoughts, without maybe a backward glance to what we wrote a week later and who we may have hurt in the long run. If we could share our opinions in person, I think we would be more understanding to one and other. We would find a way of working through difference co operatively. Social Media can be a friendly place, and many people are full of Goodwill year round, but if was there in the way it is at Christmas, I’m sure we all wouldn’t be looking at Scandinavia so longingly.
Here is where social media is an incredibly powerful tool. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with folk sharing the work of charities that they are supporting. From Lemn Sissay’s Care Leavers Christmas Dinner to Shelter, from local level charities collecting Christmas Hampers for those without, like Barakah Food Aid to funding campaigns like Bloody Good Period who bring sanitary products to women who can’t access them. It’s brilliant and inspiring to see all these forces of good and people getting behind them. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to see our level of generosity and action rolled out through the rest of the year?
So unlike Wizzard, I’m not wishing for Christmas every day, but I would like the positivity and the great atmosphere that this time of year brings to the forefront.
Although listening to The Darkness, Christmas Time, throughout the year would be great.
A lot of clients come through the door chasing clarity, feeling like they are mumbling or loosing their thread when they are talking.
Earlier in this A-Z Voice series, I talked about Articulation. This work concentrated on the relationship between the soft palette and the tongue. This time I would like to concentrate on the Jaw.
The jaw is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. Think what we put our jaws through! How we might clench our jaws or grind our teeth. These things put unnessary strain and energy into a part of our body that we need to be loose and soft. Not sure? Try speaking throigh clenched teeth and you can hear our locked your voice is.
It may seem that your voice is fixed just because of a locked jaw but if you try and move you tongue up and down with a fixed jaw, it’s fairly immobile compared to when the jaw is soft and flexible.
Our tongue is one of our main articulators. If this is restricted in any way that our diction is not so hot. The root of the tongue is also anchored into a piece of cartilage called the Hyoid bone. Also suspended from the Hyoid bone is our vocal chords. We need our vocal chords to move up and down. So if we have a locked jaw and a fixed tongue we have restricted vocal chords, this all contributes to a flat, dull voice that sounds like it’s uninterested in the ideas it shares or the audience it speaks for.
The good news is that this is something that can be worked on. One simple way to combat Jaw tension is to have a really good yawn. Something that I am sure we can all do!
In my dream society, all members have a voice. Everyone has a space to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings. Freedom of speech is the essence of the place I’d like to inhabit. In most ways, this is in place in the world I inhabit. However, the difference between my dream world and reality is that everyone has the ability to understand the power of their voice. Not just in the content, but in the vocal mechanism itself.
Through teaching for the last ten years, it has become apparent to me, that most people think that individuals are gifted with a beautiful speaking voice. A voice that eases into their listener’s ears and transports us with their stories, awakens us with their ideas and moves us with their view. Maybe some people are lucky to have been born with this skill. However I believe that everyone can unleash this marvellous power and use their voice to their full potential, if they are shown how.
In my dream society this is something we would teach to children as part of mainstream schooling, so as adults they contribute to society confidently and freely. In the world we inhabit, children may access this through extra curricular activities. Those who practice the creative and expressive arts are more likely to have confidence in their voice.
As adults in the society we live in, we can feel the divide between those who have accessed this and those who have not. However we perceive it as raw, unlearnable talent. This is it not the case, a clear, confident, authentic voice is available to us all, if we choose to engage with training that explores and deepens our understanding.
In learning these things, we free our voice. In freeing our voice, we share our ideas. In sharing our ideas, we evolve and grow our communities.
My dream society isn’t as unattainable as perhaps it first seems. Maybe yours isn’t either.
I stumbled across the above quote, and it resonates incredibly powerfully. Early on this summer I completed a course called The Performer’s Playgroundwith ClownLab. It was a 12 week exploration of playfulness. We had a lot of conversation about finding the joy or the fun in something and enjoying being beautiful even if we were playing something ugly. How do we create fun or channel playfulness?
On reflection, I think the things that inhibit me are the parameters that I have either set myself or the the ones that I have allowed others to set for me – ‘the table of do’s and don’ts‘ as Pullman calls it. There are a list of things I can do and a list of things I can’t do. I wrote a while back about Growth Mindset, the idea that through a shift in personal attitude can alter our potential. How do we know that our personal attitude needs to shift? How do we believe that our potential is unlimited?
Neil Gaiman wrote in Coraline “Fairy tales are more then true; Not because they tell us the Dragons exist, but because they tell us that Dragons can be beaten”.
Stories allow us to see that we can do, or be anything. Some of our favourite characters in our most loved tales and stories have the hardest start; they are orphans. Harry Potter to Cinderella; Superman to Peter Pan; Mowgli to Sophie in the BFG. Their world has been disrupted in a way that no one would want for a child. Yet, these characters go on amazing adventures, and overcome huge obstacles and show a resourcefulness and resilience to find their way through. Peter Pan has no ‘list of right or wrongs’ just a love of play and make believe. His game playing allows him survive and outwit his enemies.
The art of oral storytelling transcends age, ethnicity, education, borders and gender whilst also recording and reflecting our difference in those things. This kind of storytelling is a shared act between teller and listener. Jane B. Wilson tells us in her book The Story Experience, “Those who tell tales are both speakers and listeners. They have heard and remember”.
We are all storytellers and we are all listeners, if we allow ourselves the possibility to listen. We can all believe that we can do more, be more then we think we are. If we see others have defeated the bad guys, maybe we can too.
“The listener is caught and whirled into a talk, living for a single moment in the good, the great, the naughty, the lost. The tellers voice awakes dreams and spins stuff for thought; incites to contemplation.”
I was thinking I would be logical and deliver this series of blogs alphabetically but it actually turns out that my creative brain won’t beat to the drum of alphabetical order!
Here I am, jumping in at the letter M! In one to one coaching I am always finding that people’s opinion of their own voices is actually a bit of a barrier when it comes to working on their voice.
Your voice is a deeply personal vessel, that centres you and connects you to the world around you. Maybe someone has made comment on you voice previously or you feel you struggle to be heard? Maybe you really don’t like the sound of your own voice? Maybe some people’s voices are better then others.
This last idea is a common thought. A good speaking voice is a natural talent. Some people are just talented. It makes me think of the Iceberg analogy of only seeing what’s above the surface….
I don’t believe that a strong speaking voice is a birth right belonging to a lucky and articulate few. Like anybody can sing, anybody can find authenticity, connectivity and confidence in their voice.
However the first step on the journey to finding your voice is most likely a case of changing how you view your voice. Dr Carol Dweck, psychologist, coined the terms ‘growth’ mindset and ‘fixed’ mindset. It looks like this:
This principle is obviously applicable to more then just your relationship to your voice, it’s to do with your outlook on yourself and the world. Growth Mindset is simple, accessible and possible for all. We just have to put it in to practice.
Breath is the driving force four body. We take 17,000-30,000 breaths in a day. That’s 7,363,289 breaths per year. However, how often does our breath end up taking for granted?
Your breath is a magical force. It gets your heart going, provides a platform for speech, it can work you up or it can calm you down.
I would like to invite you to take some time to get to know your breath.
Sit down comfortably somewhere where you feel warm and safe and close your eyes. Now breath in through your nose and as you breath in take the time to follow the journey of that breath, where you feel it is traveling to in the body. Keeping you jaw soft, let the breath out again. Repeat this for a few cycles.
On the next in breath imagine that the breath is travelling all the way through your body as you breath in. It comes in through the nose and travels all the way down to your feet. It travels through the head and the face. The arms and the shoulders. The chest, the spine, the stomach. In and across the hips and down through the thighs, the knees, the lower legs until it reaches the feet. Repeat this a few times.
Now on the next out breath imagine that the breath is travelling up from the feet and out of the body. Take your time to enjoy the feeling of air passing all the way through each and every part of the body. Repeat this a few times.
Now take the time to observe what happens between the in breath and the out breath. Does it stop and start or does it flow continuously. Try not to force yourself to do anything, just allow your breath cycle to come to your natural rhythm.
Now bring the awareness back to the way your body feels, any sound you can here in and out of the room. and write down three words that describe how you feel.
Try this exercise for 5 days and let me know what your words were? Did they change. How did you feel?