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Change Creativity Discussions Family Listening Story Telling Workshops Writing

The Invisible Women

Peggy Seeger – The Invisible Woman

Watching Peggy Seeger’s singing, I hear the voice of the many older women who I am lucky to have in my life. I have been running creative writing workshops for Davenham Theatre and through Stitch. It really strikes me that the majority of participants are women who are over the age of 55. These workshops are open to anyone to come and yet we see these women loyally attend. They are grateful and positive and tell me that they get so much from the sessions.

But here is something that I think these women would struggle to accept from me. They have amazing insight, they care so deeply about the world they inhabit and their stories are beautifully compelling. It is a gift to spend a couple of hours with these women and listen to their thoughts. I have this amazing tribe that are now my friends.

One of the challenges that many writers face is the fear that anyone will find their work interesting or relevant, it is certainly something I feel at times. However this feeling is rife in this community of women and I think when you listen to Peggy Seeger singing, you can understand why.

Extract of Tell Me A Story of a Chair by Liz, a project by Stitch

My own mum told me that as she has got older, her visibility has dropped. That people pass her by without even seeing her. During the Covid Pandemic, we have all been locked away from each other, unable to meet up in public spaces. Those shielding even more so. We have collectively lost sight of many who are not in our immediate circles. The Invisible turned into memory.

As we emerge from this lockdown and Britain reopens its doors, let’s make sure we have room for everyone at the table. If you are an older woman who is feeling invisible, please tell your story. We need the grandmother’s wisdom now more than ever. If you are not an older woman, pull up a seat and look at ways to ask and listen. Let their stories inspire your story. You’ll feel richer as a result.

Lost Light by Denise for This Is Something That I know a project by Stitch
Categories
Change Discussions Education Listening Opinion Story Telling Writing

The One

Taking down evil in storytelling is quite often presented as an individualistic action. A hero will defeat a villain. These characters are binary. The hero is good and the villain is bad. This narrative has been served up to us time and time and time again. Even when we get told stories about a group of people battling another, this is quite often reduced down to leaders.

However banishing the monsters of this world is a collective effort. For so long, we have been living in a story of a pyramid. We have been consumed by the notion of the ‘One’.

The one who rules us. The one who stole our heart. The one who cast dark magic. The one that got away with it. The one that saves us. The one that had roast beef. The one that had none.

It is an isolating view of the world and it stops us diversifying what we know, who we know and how we learn. It comes with an enormous pressure. For those that are the one and for those who are not.

When we look at the moments when there was a pivot in society, we would see that those moments are built on ‘We’ and ‘Us’. Not ‘I’ and ‘me.’ The Civil Rights movement, the Suffragettes, School Strike for Climate, Black Lives Matter. These were built by grass root collectives.

Good and just society is neither the thesis of capitalism nor the antithesis of communism, but a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism.

Martin Luther King Jnr

So let’s start telling stories where people come together to ask for a better life. Let’s hear stories which aren’t about ‘the one’ but are about ‘Us’. We will discover other ideas and other people and we may even find ourselves sat in their stories in ways that surprise and delight us.

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Change Creativity Discussions Story Telling Workshops Writing

Creativity and Collective Curiosity

The term collective curiosity has been swilling around my brain for the last week. I think as we are for the most part currently sat in our homes, it can be hard to connect with what other people are wondering about.

One of the things I love about running creative workshops is hearing that amongst the different views and voices and experiences that make up a room, we can normally find a sense of collective curiosity. Collective curiosity is the notion that we have shared ideas that we all wonder about. The power of this collective curiosity is not to be sniffed at. The room could have different opinions, unique takes and understanding, but the feeling that you are all explorers, learners, creators unites the room.

“Curiosity is the engine of Achievement.”

Sir Ken Robinson

I have been delivering online workshops for the past 6 months. Yes, there have been things that are not as easy. Yes, it has been difficult not connecting and being in the room altogether. As a lover of people, I have found this enormously hard. However, there is still the sanctuary of coming together, creating and engaging a shared curiosity.

So if you have been sat at the edge of the pool, looking at that refreshing water and wondering whether it is worth dipping your toe, dive in. The water is just the right temperature and lifeguards are on hand.

There are many artists and organisations offering ways to engage. I promise that it is worth coming and stretching those creative muscles and finding a collective curiosity.

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Change Creativity Discussions Education Opinion Story Telling

In a Desert

I am in a desert. I am thirsty.

I am thirsty and I am in the desert. I am not sure how I came to being in the desert. At one point I was in a room full of people. Some of those people where those that I love and some were people that I hadn’t met yet. The room was full.

Then someone turned out the light. The colour drained to blackness, the noise of all of those voices were silent, I couldn’t see. I didn’t seem able to move. No I could move, but I might as well of not bothered because it remained black. Sometimes the sound of my own breath was deafening. I slept and slept and slept.

When I woke I was in the desert. The light was bright to begin with. The sun burning my eyeballs. I had to cover my eyes with my hands and let my vision adjust from darkness to light.

Sand got everywhere. Everywhere. In my mouth, up my nose, in my ears and the fibres of my clothes. I didn’t notice that I was thirsty then. Although I probably was. I was dealing with the sand. So I lifted my t-shirt over my nose. To stop the sand blowing into my mouth. The days were hot.

The night was cold and long. Sleep escaped me. Underneath that blanket of infinite stars that shone in the velvet blue sky, I felt lonely.

I am haunted by memories of place where space was held for thoughts, beliefs, experiences. Where things were weaved, stitched, spoken, drawn, constructed. Where people came together.

I am in the desert and I have been here for some time. I have tried walking forward. Tried to find water. Tried to find people. I guess I need help. I think others may be in a desert too. So maybe be if we shout into the silent night sky and sign our names in the sand, we can find water. Water for everyone.

An open letter can be found here that asks Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and to the board and staff of Arts Council England to open a dialogue about the problems facing community arts. If you are a community artist or an arts organisation that supports participatory arts, you may want to add your voice.

If you are not a community artist, but want to support, please consider writing to your M.P. and/or the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. It may be helpful to talk about your experiences as a participant on a community arts project. You can find their detail and write to them here.

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Change children Creativity Discussions Education Family Listening Opinion stories Story Telling Writing

Music is Music

This afternoon, I entered into a Zoom meeting with composer and musician Tayo Akinbode, hosted by Z-Arts. Being a storyteller, can be a lonely process and we are living in a lonely time, so it was great to hear about how Tayo creates music to tell a story.

One of the thoughts that regularly swills around my head is around the difference and similarities between working with children or adults. It’s a question I get asked regularly moving between these different groups that I work with. It leaves me a bit stumped as other then a slight modification of language, there is no difference. Children laugh and so do adults. Adults struggle crossing the creative threshold and so do children. Both children and adults want to hear and tell stories. So it is a relief to hear someone as experienced as Tayo say ‘I wouldn’t dumb down music for children.’

I have finished writing the story of my family ancestors. A project I was inspired to start after working with Emily O’Shea company, On The Border. I am now in the process of editing the story into an audio experience and it is a relief to be piecing the story together. The writing process has been difficult. The vision I sat down with was to create a piece of audio storytelling about my great-grandparents. They were performers at the turn on the 20th century who went on to manage some of the first variety cinema’s in the country (a mixture between Music Hall and Cinema). Before I sat down to research, this part of my family had mythical qualities. I wanted to use Music Hall numbers in order to help tell their story. I wanted this to be a piece for family audiences. Something that could be enjoyed with everyone – an intergenerational activity. That you could listen at a distance together with your elderly granny who is shielding and your 8 year old nephew who is home schooling. That it would open up conversations about family stories in a way that I could not have with my own grandparents. I was going to use this idea to develop my creative practice, to experiment and play.

But the doubts creep in. Will children get this? Is the music too bawdy? Am I just inventing truths that I cannot find? Is this material appropriate for family audiences? Nothing kills playtime like doubt and nothing makes experimentation more pointless then isolation. So thanks to Z-Arts for providing connection and thanks to Tayo for grounding me and reminding me that children are no different from the rest of us, which in my wobbly, lonely, creative moments I forget.

Solsbury Hill

I grew up in Reading and we had family down in Bath. When we drove down to see them in Bath, my Dad would play Peter Gabriel’s albums. We loved the track, Solsbury Hill. We used to drive past Solsbury Hill on the route to see our family. We used to climb up it (when you could). We loved that song. We’d ask for more Peter Gabriel. We’d listen Red Rain, Don’t Give Up and Games without Frontiers. We did not hear the loaded political meaning in these songs. We didn’t here the meanings that I as an adult now hear. Tayo told us today ‘Children like Music.’ Its a simple statement, but it is an easy one to make. No matter how much I see my children request Michael Jackson (their Dad’s favourite) or sing along to Fleetwood Mac (Rumours is my go to Album), in my artistic process my lived knowledge gets crowded out by my doubts over how to execute an idea. I managed to create children into something ‘other.’

That is why I love working creatively with children. They remind me that we are all not that different from each other. I’m looking forward to Z- Arts opening their doors again so I can be reminded of this by the real child experts, the children themselves. Until then, I will keep going. Clumsily put one foot in front of the other.

After all music is music to be made, all stories are stories waiting to be told and all humans are humans waiting to be heard, no matter their size.

This project am I am working on has bee made possible by funding from the Arts Council Emergency Response Fund. The funding has allowed me time to develop my skills, conduct research and connect to other artists. My thanks go to Z-Arts for providing free access to these conversations and understanding that these conversations are needed.

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Change Creativity Discussions Listening Opinion Story Telling Uncategorized Writing

In the way of a good tale.

This time, more then ever we need stories. Many famous and more intelligent thinkers and writers than me say that after shelter, food and air we need stories. We need stories to listen to and we need stories to tell. But after numerous conversations with friends, peers, fellow artists and family I see a similar trait in behaviour and it’s linked to the way we tell stories.

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”

― Philip Pullman

‘I know how lucky I am compared to others…’ is a mantra that is rolled off the tongue repeatedly. I hear it so often, as often as tales begin with “Once upon a time…”. However where “Once upon a time” leads to a story, “I know how lucky I am compared to others” is the completion of a story that hasn’t even been uttered. Now don’t get me wrong, of course we are lucky compared to others and during this difficult time, we need to count our good fortunes and appreciate what we do have. Gratitude is important. Good fortune can keep us healthy and secure. There are plenty of tales of characters losing everything through a lack of appreciation – like this one.

“I know how lucky I am” has become a sneaky silencer of our conflicts and our stories. But it doesn’t need to be. Your stories matter. Hearing the stories of our friends, colleagues and family (the good, the bad and the ugly) will combat the other dominant force in our lives currently – Loneliness. By denying the stories that you need to tell, you are denying your humanity. Many of us would be horrified to find out that we had been silencing the voice of others, and yet we think nothing of silencing ourselves.

I am currently, furiously, painfully trying to tell the story of my great grandparents. They died in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. This has involved a lot of connecting dots through research using ancestry websites and it has been a background project for about 8 months. I have discovered so many wonderful things about them, things that none of us knew. But I have to guess at what they think and feel.

I would have loved to have found letters and diary entries that they had written, I would have loved to have stories told down through time, so much so that the way the stories were told is a story in themselves. But I do not. For many reasons this is not available.

So I want you to imagine, that 100 years from now, your great grandchild is trying to understand how you felt about the time you live in. What would you want them to know? And if you’re not sure where to begin, what questions would you ask your ancestors who lived 100 years ago?

You could write these questions down and you could answer for your time. You could or you could not. Or you could tell your story to the audience that you currently have, the audience who are invested in you now. Your friends, your colleagues, your family.

So instead of using “I know how lucky I am compared with others”, try “Today, I felt…” because we want to, need to hear your stories, even if your voice shakes.

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Change Creativity Grimm stories Story Telling Writing

The Mouse, The Bird, The Sausage

A tale adapted from the Grimm Brother’s collection

nce, three unlikely friends lived in the hollow of a tree – a mouse, a bird and a sausage. They lived happily in their home, each with their own tasks to keep their home happy.

It was Bird’s job to fetch the twigs for their small fire. It was Mouse’s job to keep their home swept and clear of spiders and cobwebs. It was Sausage’s job to make their dinner. He would stir the pot and then he would go for a swim through the dinner to add flavour.

One day, Bird got to thinking about the different jobs that they all did. Mouse only had to sweep the floor once a day and all Sausage did was go for a swim through the pot and stand there stirring. Meanwhile the bird had to fly through the forest all day to collect twigs and carry them home. It didn’t seem fair that she had to constantly come and go while the others did very little.

Bird complained to her housemates that she felt she worked harder then the others. Mouse and Sausage did not want their friend to be unhappy. They agreed to swap jobs. Sausage would go and fetch the twigs, Mouse would make the dinner and Bird would sweep the floor.

Bird was happy this. She felt she had gone from the hardest job to the easiest.At the start of a new day she swept the floor. Seeing that her job was done she decided to go for a nap. It wold seem that frustrations had taken its toll and she slept all day.

Meanwhile Sausage, had headed out of there hollow and into the woods. He felt great to be away from the host stove and he enjoyed looking at the forest and all of its wonders. He smelt great. So great that his smell filled the forest and snuck into the nose of a nearby fox. The fox followed the scent trial over and under logs until Sausage came in sight. As Sausage bent down to pick up a fallen twig, the fox leapt out from behind a bush and swallowed Sausage down in one noise gulp. That was the end of Sausage.

Meanwhile back at home Mouse had been making the dinner, just as she had seen Sausage do. She chopped up the vegetables, just as she had seen Sausage do. She slid the vegetables into the boiling pot of water, just as she had seen Sausage do. She stirred and stirred all day long, enjoying making food for her friends, just as she had seen Sausage do. And just like Sausage, she dived into the boiling pot to add flavour. Unlike Sausage, she could not swim and the heat was too much for her small fragile body. She drowned in the dinner. That was the end of Mouse.

When Bird woke it was dark and the house was quiet. The fire had gone out and the dinner was cold. She scoffed. Clearly Sausage and Mouse were not up to the tasks that they had taken on. She waited. A long time. The whole night through. And as the night wore on, she started to worry. Why was the home in the tree hollow so empty? So quiet? So friendless? Where were Mouse and Sausage?

Bird decided to clean up. After all that was her job now and it turned out that a lot of spiders wanted to make the Hollow the home so she swept the cobwebs away and shooed the spiders back outside. Sh thought she had better clean up after dinner. So she went to empty the pot and there curled up in a little ball was her dear friend mouse. Bird understood what had happened. Then she worried about Sausage where was he? Why wasn’t he home?

So now she flies from tree to tree searching for her friend Sausage, skittish and cross with herself for being such an ungrateful fool.

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Change Discussions Exercise Listening Opinion Story Telling

Alterations

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.

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Books Creativity Feminism Love Letters Story Telling Uncategorized

Love Letters – #4 Forgotten Storytellers

Dear Leonora Blanche Lang or Nora,

It is unsurprising that your name is obscure to most of the world. Your husband, Andrew Lang, rings bells loudly in proclamation of the great British collectors of folk tales in his Rainbow Fairy collection.

To be fair to Andrew, he did credit you Nora as writer and contributor along the way. In the preface to the last of the collection, The Lilac Fairy Book (1910) he writes:

‘The fairy books have been almost wholly the work of Mrs. Lang, who has translated and adapted them from the French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, and other languages.’

So he did try to honour you, Nora. He also credited 17 other female contributors to the Rainbow Fairy Collection. The world has not unfortunately remembered this. You name should sit along the Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson, but this is sadly not the case.

It’s interesting that nearly all of the collectors of tales had women contributing to the final books but there names are often lost. I want to say, Nora, that life is now better and women’s voices are now represented equally across society, but this is not the case. It still happens where men are credited for the ideas and words of women. We have come along way since you were compiling the Rainbow Fairy collection, but the journey is ongoing with many twists and turns. Your work has gone on to inspire many fantastic works of fiction. Most notably, J. R. R. Tolkien:

“In English none probably rival either the popularity, or the inclusiveness, or the general merits of the twelve books of twelve colours which we owe to Andrew Lang and to his wife.”— J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy Stories’

As someone who is filling their life with these kind of tales, I am grateful for the work that you did.

Love,

Felicity

20180321_123407

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Change Creativity Discussions Listening Opinion Story Telling

Why we should all explore traditional tales….

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.

 

20180321_090543
(Not So) Little Red Riding Hood, read on here…

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….”

20180221_172733
Marleenken, from The Box collection based on The Juniper Tree

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.