I am here in the North of France, in Bernay-en-Ponthieu, with Nomadways in a two week residency with 20 other people from all around the world exploring storytelling.
We began in earnest yesterday morning – the days are packed with different activities, and punctuated with delicious food. I can safely say that I have never, ever eaten so much amazing cheese in all my life.
Today was the beginning of sharing stories from our regions, from our backgrounds. I brought two books, different tellings of the same story: Secret Path and Wenjack. I have been grateful to bring these two versions of Chaney’s story to this international group: to talk about stories as activism, to discuss connections between stories, ways of telling tales, stories as communication, and so much more.
The group is very diverse, many people not living in their countries of origin any more, most being multilingual. I am the only native English speaker of the group, but English is the language we are working in most of the time. I’ve had several opportunities to air my rusty French with local people. In Paris, many people speak English. Here I have yet to meet (of the very few I’ve met) a local person who speaks anything but French.
The last exercise we had this morning was one of putting ourselves into our own future, looking back as we prepared an introduction to our last, published book of stories. I was surprised at how emotional it all was – I was not able to speak my last paragraphs as I was overcome. As a young woman I would have thought that a flaw of character, but today I know it for what it was – genuine gratitude, without apology. I’ve included it all here, my future self’s writing, for you.
I chose storytelling as a means of communication long before I understood that that was what I was doing.
In my early storytelling days, I spent a lot of time with children, or babies and young parents. I had the opportunity to tell stories and new through my (then) local library and in small parent/baby groups. Watching parents with their babies was one of the most enchanting things in the world to me – a new discovery of heart to see all the ways that stories bring us together (and that adults were every bit as involved in listening as the children). Families took the stories home and continued telling them, and would bring to the group stories of their own.
I was only peeling back the first layer of connection through story.
My strengths then were with the verbal experience of story – growing and refining the telling with each sharing of the tale – learning the music of the words, the flows and silences that offered the listener room to find their own place inside of, or connection to, the tale.
Challenges? In the beginning, time and commitment to the projects, belief that the stories I was telling were important enough, connective enough and universal enough to touch the minds and hearts of others were the biggest challenges. Luckily, at some point I began to let go of those concerns, to write and share my stories anyway. If they only touched my family and my community, that was enough.
I owe storytelling debts to contemporary writers and speakers Robert Munch and Stewart McLean (who we lost so recently, for whom loss is felt so keenly across our country).
The biggest debts I owe, though, are to all the babies that passed through my hands, the parents that let me cradle and sing to their precious ones; to my parents who held me, encouraged me and told my family’s stories, and finally to my own children who have given me joy in the telling of stories, and now endless joy in hearing them tell stories of their own.
So. Today so far: universality, connection. Vulnerability. Shared experience, shared emotion.
Learning about stories, each other, and ourselves.
And we’ve only just finished lunch.