Saturday, April 16, 2005

A week in the life of a storyteller

And what a busy week it was. Beginning with the stories told last Sunday at the Annual Toronto Festival of Storytelling (check out the “One Wish” post for a taste) and ending last night with a perfectly wonderful evening of 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling. I’m sitting at home listening to CBC’s Go – hosted by Brent Banbury (worth it – check it out) and thinking about my crazy week. Monday I facilitated the last of three sessions reflecting on needed structural changes at Sketch (a “working arts studio for street involved and homeless youth”) – ya gotta see this place to believe it – a few thousand square feet of studio space (for painting, sculpture, woodshop, photography and more) with a wonderful staff of community artists doing what I think is the most challenging and innovative use of art in urban life that I know of – an arts drop-in centre – every city should have at least one of these (hint-hint for any of youse folk looking for something to put your hearts into – call Sketch – talk to Phyllis – think about one for your city).

One Tuesday we met at Catalyst to talk about our future – we’re a stubborn lot and it’s been tough times and we’re talking about closing the office soon and finding both a new basis of unity and a new way to work together (e.g. a network of home offices). We’re in our 7th year and we’ve failed to find a way to make our work economically viable – we’re all burning out as we continue to impoverish ourselves to make the dream of a popular education collective work. But popular education remains a wonderful idea poorly understood by funders. They love the democratic practice – but continue to insist on risk-free guaranteed outcomes that they fail to realize are contradictory to democratic practice. Alas. We’re determined to continue to exist. But it’s a big year of change for us.

Wednesday and Thursday I jetted off to Ottawa to do a two-day Naming the Moment workshop for the political team of the Council of Canadians. (Well, it was a prop plane, actually, that left from Toronto Island airport – about a 15 minute bike-ride from my home – ya gotta love that – down to the Island, across a small strait on a ferry and onto the very lovely Dash 8 aircraft). The Council of Canadians is one of the largest groups in Canada taking on the issue of “deep integration” (i.e. with the US economy – the strategy that aims to eliminate Canadian sovereignty over our water, food production, energy, foreign policy and more). The Council is 20 years old and has grown a great deal in the past few years – and I hope they continue to grow and reach new communities across the country including Quebec.

A quick flight back to Toronto Island in time to dash over to see the play I wrote about in my last post. And last night it was over to the 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling. As some of you know, we’ve relocated from our home of 15 years to Innis College Café. And last night was well as the next three, we are itinerant due to Innis having had prior commitments for the Café. We were across the street in a small lecture auditorium in the Faculty of Information Science building – an odd space that I had thought would work when Dan and Celia and I had looked at it a couple of months ago but of which I was pretty sceptical last night. It was looking pretty thin as 8:00 pm rolled around but, sure enough, a dozen folks showed up for what proved to be a wonderful evening. No less than 5 people told stories at the 1,001 for the very first time. It’s always nice to hear at least one new voice – but to have 5 is a most rare event. And 5 wonderful tellings they were. Inspired by Martin’s whimsical tale of his seeking out of Merlin’s cave (as described by Nikolai Tolstoy in The Quest for Merlin) one fellow told a tale of seeking out Amethyst Cove near Cape Split on the Bay of Fundy; another fellow told a tale of seeking out a megalithic tomb with his younger brother in the mountains of Portugal (including one very uncomfortable night of non-sleep beside the tomb, accosted by an unidentifiable creature screeching and circling the insomniac brothers); a young woman told of the mysterious and magical appearance of a doll at Christmas; and one fellow from Newfoundland told a tale of his boyhood – a winter walk over to his aunts’ home to get a fine-toothed comb. He had been led to believe these two widows were witches; and I wish you could have heard the tale, for I mark it as one of the most memorable tellings I’ve listened to in 15 years of attending the 1,001 Friday Nights. Thank you, John, for that. I was asked to tell “Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman (to go with the grail theme begun by Martin); Shawna told a harrowing tale of her time in Spain – misadventure avoided by the power of a dream; David told the “Porcelain Man” by Richard Kennedy – and a fine telling it was (parents, if your looking for modern fairy tales to tell your kids, look for Richard Kennedy’s work – you’ll thank me, I’m sure). And Karen rounded out the evening with a delightful Jack tale she learned from Duncan Williamson – one that I am particularly fond of and may get around to sharing in this here blog one day. And there you have a taste of what the 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling is like. Spread the word. Come down and listen. Who know, you might even feel like telling yourself. (As I mentioned above, we’re not in the Café again for a few weeks – we’ll be in Innis College room 204 for the next three weeks.)

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