Awhile ago I wrote about the tree mural I was painting on my wall to create a family tree. I finished it. It is three metres high and four metres wide. Now it is finished, I wonder what on earth I was thinking. I’ve got the family photos ready to go on it but I think I will just look at it awhile.
Here’s a Storytellers’ Secret: if you tell a story you want to remember five times within 24 hours, the story is yours. The trick is who will listen to your tale?
When we embody a story, it uses all our senses plus our reading of our audience to embed it into our cells. Gesture, facial expression, patterning of words, repeated refrains, all assist in embodying the story. This resonates far deeper than memorising a story (which we would never do, would we?). When a story has been taken into cellular memory and each movement in the tale gives rise to the next part of the story, we have the story’s soul.
Every Storyteller I know, including myself, has been asked if a story they have told is true. Every story holds an element of truth. It is why different stories resonate and stay with us. There is something in the tale that is true for us. When we tell a story and it resonates for our audience, we can feel it. It is a moment of intimate connection, where we are one.
Storytelling is physical but it’s impact is non-physical and why it can resonate with your audience (this leads into philosophical discussion, which storytellers love). When practicing a story, it can be difficult to find an audience who will listen to your tale five times in one day. If you have obliging friends and family, use them. Their reactions to the story will assist you to refine it and take it into your cellular memory.
What if you don’t have people who will listen or feel too self-conscious to ask? I know I will sound somewhat pompous here but, put your ego aside. When I tell a story, it is not about me. Yes, I use my skills and talents and mostly my own stories. However, I tell particular stories because I feel an urge to tell them. Storytelling is a calling, it is the story that is important.
I once was asked to perform for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers. As an adopted child, a foster carer and permanent carer, I felt I was the person to choose and perform these stories. I would have passed the gig onto someone else if I had not felt strongly about it. I carefully chose stories where the child in the story was encouraged to be her very own self, despite any opposition, by the parents who had care of her. It hit the mark. (If you want to know more about me as a parent and carer, read the blogs under Parenting, Introspectives and Musings.) This is an example of why I feel Storytelling is a calling.
Back to the question, what if you don’t have people to listen to you tell the tale? Record it, listen to yourself, re-record, listen again five times. If you listen with how the story sounds and how you want it to sound, embellish the parts you wish to stand out, you will have a story to remember. At your first opportunity, tell your story to another human (dogs and cats get distracted). Ask them what they hear in the story and never tell your audience they are wrong. People bring themselves to art and see what it is they do and in the case of stories, hear what they hear. They do not have to hear what resonated for your, your truth, they get to hear their own.
Now you know how to choose a story and remember it, it is time to begin. Let me know how you go.
One of the many challenges for new Storytellers is how we remember our stories. I wrote previously about choosing stories that resonate with you, have particular meaning for you, that you want to share with others. We have also spoken about not memorising stories. So, how do you do it?
Once I have caught or created a story, I write it out in full, then edit edit edit, until I have encapsulated the tale within three sentences. The process of doing this begins to embed the story into my memory and highlight the sections that resonate especially for you. Then put all the writing away.
Storytelling is a visual and audial experience. It is how we tell and how we share the stories. I often draw six images that tell the story and then practice telling the story just using those images. When I have done this enough, I put the drawings away.
By this time, the story is firmly embedded in my mind and I am starting to develop the characters and embody the story through gesture and facial expressions. I will often do this in front of a mirror. This is quite confronting for some tellers, so do not feel obliged to do it. However, I want to know what my audience will be seeing. I have also videoed storytellers I have mentored so they can see what they look like when they tell. We need to put ego aside when telling a story. Being able to watch yourself tell for improvement is a good thing.
My last method is to record the story. We all know that we learn songs on the radio through repetition. When I have a story sounding and looking like I want it to be, I record it. Then every practice in front of the mirror, in the car as I drive, while I’m making dinner, embeds and embodies the story deeply into my memory. I have even mimed to my recording in front of the mirror to save my vocal chords and keep practising.
Every time we listen to our story, it embeds into our memories. I highly recommend recording your stories and re-recording until it sounds just the way you want to tell it. I have played my own stories, until I am word perfect. (Playing them in the car, with accompanying facial expressions and gestures, can attract attention from fellow drivers. I’ll tell you about the driver who followed me and my driving octopus for many kilometres another time.)
The biggest hint I can give you is practise, practise, practise; and when you have had enough, practise some more. Never tell a story you are unprepared to tell. It disrespects you, the story and your audience.
When we tell stories, the well-practised story rolls off our tongue as we interact with the audience and assess, remember, adjust and respond.
The biggest test of all is to take a deep breath and tell.
Let me know how you go.
The right and the wrong way to learn to tell a story.
When you have chosen a story to tell, you need to remember it! There are lots of different ways to remember a story and practice it for telling. The wrong way is to write it out word for word and memorise it, particularly if they were not your words to start with. While there are what I think of as literary tellers, those for whom the words chosen hold the meaning, for most Storytellers the meaning of a tale is what resonates for you.
There is a story of mine that has had startling different meanings for other people when they hear it told, than it has for me. There have been stories I have heard that I hear differently to what resonates for the Teller. It is what resonates for us that draws us to particular stories and what we focus on in the re-telling.
When we listen to stories, images are created by our minds. It’s why I use props for the preschool age as they are not yet adept at imaging images and don’t yet have the connections and categories of images that language in stories can evoke. Props assist the casting of the story spell. There are people who are not visual and need the flow and rhythm of the story to create meaning. This is not common but does happen. One Storyteller recounts the time when an adult, listening intently to a tale, suddenly jumped and exclaimed, “What was that?” It was the first time he had had the experience of seeing something in his mind. To think, this is what storytelling can evoke.
The passage of the story from the Storyteller travels through the experiences and life story of the listeners. Just as art is in the eye of the beholder (or beauty, whatever), a told story slips past the busyness of an everyday conversation into an intimacy with the listener’s imagination.
So, if we focus too much on including particular words and phrases, unless we are very very good (and I can think of one or two) Storytellers, we can lose the connection between Teller and Listener to create the possibility of a tale that is just for them.
When I create a new story, it takes a while. An idea bubbles around in my head and bits and pieces add themselves along the way until I find myself telling parts of it to myself. At this point I might write the story down. Once written, I leave it. The story is now part of my conscious mind and the images it evokes begin to link together. As I like to draw, I often sketch the tale in no more than 6 pages with one image per page. When I know a story well, I tell it as it unfolds in my mind. I do not skip from page to page but I am right inside the story telling it as it happens.
There are several ways to learn new stories, whether other people’s or ones you have created yourself. We will discuss that next time.
One of the things that really annoys me is how things that happened so long ago still have impact now.
I understand that our foundation story is deeply routed into our brains and our smaller selves can get trapped in the ruts. It can take all our skill as learned adults to get our smaller selves out of those ruts and moving in a positive and healthy directions.
Our foundation stories keep coming up throughout our lives in our various interactions and experiences, as they are our blueprints and how we recognise our relationships. Changing the blueprints is a lifetime of work.
It annoys me that things my adoptive mother did so many decades ago can still have impact. She’s ancient. I’m well and truly middle-aged. I have a deep seated anger toward her that I rarely touch. I also have deep seated pain that I let go and let go and let go.
I have been through periods with my own adult children where they have been busy separating and blaming. I understand that this is a process we all go through. I am grateful that they have matured and we have settled into adult relationships that are mutually supportive. I did not do to them what my mother did to me and my siblings.
What happens when your parent is the cause of significant damage for you? When they put you into such appalling situations of abuse that the blueprints are disastrous? Those blueprints may never be able to be altered. They get shelved. They get dusty. They get frayed and torn at the edges. They are still there.
I have no resolution for this, I’m just irritated. I cannot allow myself to even think about my mother. It makes me sad, especially when I consider what I have with my girls, whom I adore. They are truly wonderful people (and yes, I know I am biased). I wish my mother thought that of me.
And therein lies the niggling doubt. No matter how much I appreciate myself and am grateful for my resilience and strength, the foundation person in my life does not consider me a person of worth. There it is, that thread of doubt that it might be true.
Ahh, now that I know what it is that taints my blueprints, maybe I can get them off the shelf and find those threads and erase them.
At the age of fifty I realised that the long desired tattoo had not been etched upon my skin because I hadn’t drawn it yet.
This was a revelation. I had started drawing and painting again to soothe my mind and develop skills to illustrate my own stories. I had already e-published one of my stories, having purchased photographs from a skilled wildlife photographer. I decided I wanted to do my own illustrations and pencils grew from my hands.
I doodle all the time, if I am not using my hands for anything else. It seems to be a point of fascination in meetings at work, with the mistaken belief that I am not listening, until I say something precisely on point. Doodling keeps my anxiety, at being in a room full of people, at bay. It keeps my “busy mind” occupied, so I can focus on the discussion. More on doodling another time
When my drawing and thoughts of tattoos coincided, I realised that I needed to draw my own tattoos. I had always wanted a tattoo but never liked anyone’s artwork enough to have it needled into my flesh. I started drawing tattoo ideas.
Butterflies are one of my many favourite things. I drew butterfly after butterfly while I searched for an artist whose tattoos I liked. Found one, showed her my drawings, discussed exactly where I wanted it and we were away. I let her have free reign and we were both happy with the result. Original artwork, inspired by my own art, etched into my skin.
The really interesting thing was it didn’t hurt. Not one bit. I had researched where the least painful parts of the body were for tattooing and knew that I wanted to give my hump wings (you know the hump at the back of the neck that comes from too much slouching and reading). It was just right.
I knew that I wanted my next tattoo, knew what I wanted it to be and figured out an approximate cost. I decided they would be an annual birthday gift to myself. The next tattoo was of a seahorse with wings. I played with this image for a long time and came across another artist closer to home. I visited her at the studio and liked her, her art and the studio more. Her take on my design was more appropriate for a tattoo. My drawings and paintings were much softer, her’s are striking. I love my winged seahorse, he divinely sits on my back right shoulder, waiting patiently.
This year I had a round-bellied, silver teapot with a flannel flower design needled into my skin and I discovered that when you tattoo your non-dominant side, it hurts, rather a lot. I am right handed and the work on the back of my neck and my right shoulder became intense but not at all painful. The teapot was painful. Very. It is also perfect.
I have been wondering why I am willing to endure the needles, hours of it, wounding my skin for the image to be permanently placed there. I feel the wounding is necessary as the wound heals and in its place there is an image of my own artwork, on my skin. This is uplifting and delighting in a way I don’t quite know how to express. Every time I catch a glimpse of my work (and I look a lot), I am pleased all over again.
There are many associations with each of the images I have placed. They are also part of what will be a whole piece when I am done. I don’t know that I will ever put my tatts in a place for others to see easily. The only time others see them is in summer or when I am in my bathers (as I swim frequently, they are frequently seen, usually by the grey-haired set, keeping their curls dry. That’s another story.). I don’t have tattoos for others, I have them for myself. Each piece and placement has more than one significance. The next piece will be on the painful side too. I’ve already drawn it.
One question I am often asked is why they are on my upper back where I can’t see them? I can see my upper back by turning my head or looking in the mirror. Don’t other people look at their backs? The pieces are for me, not anyone else. They signify things for me. They elicit a range of stories, memories and concepts for me that are pleasurable. Isn’t it curious that people seem to think I have created them for others? I confess to not really understanding that. They are mine, I know they are there, I know what they signify and I know the whole piece it will become.
This is artwork designed by me, inspired by my design that I get to wear. It has taken more than half my life to get to this place and there is such freedom in it.
With all the trouble in the world, it can be difficult to maintain our focus on the good things in life. Youngest Daughter has taken the attitude that since the world will end in a year or two, she may as well do whatever she likes until then. A melodramatic teen, perhaps. A common perception, maybe. What I do know is the perpetuation of misery and promotion of fear by politicians and media, is poisoning our children’s perception of their future.
We have federal, state and local governments who are promoting safety, taking a stance against family violence. The cognitive dissonance here is a government claiming anti violence who are the perpetrators of violence against the families being interred on Manus and Nauru. How can they live with themselves? How can we?
I face this darkness and dishonesty by focusing on what I can do. I focus on sustainability and strengthening our communities. I focus on being honest (sometimes too bluntly) and doing my part for a sustainable future, despite the dismal picture being painted by our ‘leaders’.
I am keen to follow the lead of Transition Newcastle who held a Fair Share Festival last year. A festival where community come together to explore re-thinking, re-sharing, re-using, re-purposing and re-hoping our lives. Tiny homes, food sharing, community energy, wicking beds, re-fashion, repair cafes, the list of ways in which we can share hope for the future is endless.
I’m taking a stand for hope.
It’s raining, it’s pouring, I wish I was still snoring. All the animals are inside, and slightly damp, the visiting teens are inside, and watching telly loudly. The view through my lounge window is of looming grey clouds and rain. All the plants are holding their leaves to the sky and laughing.
I’ve loved the power and light show though. Only because we have not lost power, for which I am most grateful. Parts of the town have. Trees down, creek rising but on the bright side, no fires. The ‘fire season’ is officially over. On the first day the fire bans were lifted, which was hot and incredibly windy, people went to town burning off. Guess what happened? Yup, fires out of control.
Reminds me of one year a neighbour down the road, lit debris at the base of a tree. The fire began racing up the trunk and the neighbour began batting at it with his plastic rake, sending embers off into the wind. I stopped and told him I’d rung the fire brigade. He gave me a few choice words as he ran for his hose.
Then there was the other neighbour who lit a fire near their fence and a tree. Youngest Daughter and I stood watching as the flames took over the fence and leapt to the tree. I called the brigade.
We’ve watched a fair bit of weather through our lounge window. One year, hail stones as large as golf and tennis balls bounced into our front garden. The car received a lovely array of circular dents in the roof. Youngest Daughter, being seven, raced into the front yard to collect some hail stones and proudly showed me three. We put them in the freezer to keep them.
Another view was our first year here in a bush fire area. It was Black Saturday. I was already freaked out and the power kept cutting out. I was very aware of how fast fire could spread and there were four big fires well within 20 kms of us. The winds of change could easily bring them our way. I was bravely staying, encouraged by a fire-wise neighbour, when Youngest Daughter went to the window. “Mum,” she said, “Look how pretty the sky is.” I whipped around and saw vivid orange smoke clouds. We cut and ran to our friends for the night.
Other views through my window have been spider webs of rain drops in the trees, gymea lilies silhouetted against the sunrise, children making mudslides down the embankment, cats sunning themselves and pouncing upon one another. I’ll keep watching and let you know what we see next.
As we grow older, we gather layers of grief. Grief is a strange beast, best let have it’s way. It ebbs and flows like tidal waters under a glowing moon. It creates its own patterns to your days, the late hours, when we are tired and at our most vulnerable, are when the currents are strongest.
How we deal with grief builds resilience or swallows us whole. For me, living each day with loss means I need routine and happy habits, I need work to distract me and I need times to reflect.
Acknowledging grief is not easy to do. What is it every Australian says when asked how they are? Fine. I’m fine. Truly I am. I’m full of gratitude for my little house, my fluffy peeps, my kids, my work and my interests. I am fine. What I also am is quite lost, quite often.
I have learnt that this is okay. It waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. A morning I have to convince myself to get out of bed and go to work can brighten into a day of laughter. A day which has started well can drag on and go downhill. I have remedies for these.
Every day I dash home from work and take my three little dogs to the off lead dog park. There we play ball, meet their doggy friends and chat with their humans. I love being down there. It’s a peaceful piece of bush, with a brisk creek running through, which dogs and small people enjoy.
I make sure I have plenty of berries. Full of vitamin C, low in fructose and delicious, they cheer me up and ensure I don’t resort to lollies or chocolate. I ring friends to see how they are and what they are up to. It’s good to hear other people’s stories. I take myself out for coffee.
I spend time thinking about good memories with the loved one lost. I count my blessings and sometimes I cry. Not often, I don’t like crying, but sometimes it is just the thing to do. I do what I need to do and move with the flow.
I have been thinking a lot about how I could have been different as a parent. This is a torture unique to parents, that even when we know that we have done our best, however flawed, we scrutinise.
Youngest Daughter has returned to care. This has been an agonising journey. I have had to recognise that the damage done to her in her first three years of life and subsequently by her birth mother, has had cumulative impact over time, exacerbated by the dreaded hormones. I will always be here for her and love her no matter what. At 15 and a half, she has decided that she can do whatever the bleep she wants and bleep everyone. She loves me and protects me from her excesses by choosing not to live with me.
My heart breaks over and over again. Living with the grief of watching a loved one struggle and be the cause of their own suffering is deeply sorrowful. It has taken me some time to unravel the tangled threads of thought and trace back to what is mine and acknowledge the grief. I share this here as I understand there are many parents who are perplexed and shattered by their children’s choices. Whether or not I agree with hers, I still love every molecule of her.
I have had substantial practice over the last ten years of letting go. It is agonising to do so when you know they do not yet have the skills, knowledge or ability to understand the world, or only from their own limited perspective. Letting go is so very hard when all you want to do is keep the loved one safe, even from themselves.
Trusting that she can keep herself safe is a constant practice. I have to pep talk myself through moment by moment. When she is missing for days and the agency that has care of her is ringing me to make contact. When I coach her back to them and they don’t let me know she is home. When no-one tells me she is missing and she and I have been chatting so I have no idea. It is bizarre and strange and cuts through to your centre as a parent.
My challenge is to keep her alive long enough for her to want to be alive. Let her know that I believe in her until she believes in herself. Tell her she is my shining girl until she sees it for herself. Keep the faith until she finds it. Love her always and hope she discovers she loves herself.
Hold her in the Light with me, for all those children for whom we wish a future, a life they love and are proud of.
In the photo, Me in the background, Youngest Daughter, Eldest Daughter and Middle Daughter.