Epic Weekend 2012

Some time since writing, and one thing that has occupied much of my time and thought was preparing for and enjoying the Epic Weekend in April 2012. We told the Norse Epics, and when we were done, we were very tired! Or I was anyway. But two of the tellers, Allison Cox from Vashon Island in Washington State (www.vashonislandgodlendoodles.shutterfly.com) and Nan Gregory of Vancouver, B.C.(www.cwill.bc.ca/search/member_detail/117) sat down after sleeping some and wrote open letters to the group of 25 or so tellers that had participated. I asked if I could publish them here and they graciously agreed. If you came here from SC-CC’s newsletter, Le Raconteur, by the by, I’d love it if you left a comment so we could see who used the link. Enjoy; the letters give a great sense of both being in the Epic Weekend in Vancouver, and the Norse myths told this year. My thanks to all the tellers who came, some from great distances, to tell their piece of the epic this time.

From Allison, slightly edited for clarity by me:

Hail to the Epic list!

I am still thinking WOW (wonders of wonders) about this past weekend [Vancouver Epic Weekend, Norse Myths]. All the thoughts bubbling up in memory (that old raven floating the skies of our minds) Some were questions:

Why is fire god Loki depicted [as] so creative, quick and smart but also so malevolent in such cold climates, where the heat source was so crucial to survival? Was it because their homes were often destroyed by fire? (burning and pillaging) Was it exposure to volcanic action in Scandinavia or Iceland that needed personification?

Were Loki and Thor part early Smithy gods as well – a thundering hammer and fire? If so, no wonder they were often partnered together.

Why are wolves usually considered evil in these Nordic stories? Was there such competition for food that the wolves were thought of only as raiders of stock? Maybe because the wolves are pack animals they are considered a bigger threat (or more like us). I could hardly bear to hear of the spearing of Fenrir through his jaw and snout with a sword while he already [lay] in chains. All because he was born – the gods did not yet know the role he was to play in Ragnorok. I had to remind myself these tales were about nature elementals.

And lots of thoughts and memories…

I have been telling people about the term “bone houses” and Priscilla and Doreen’s story about the gods aging when Idun and her golden apples suddenly were not around. Seldom have I felt so conflicted during a tale – wanting to laugh out loud and squirming in my seat as I recognized many of the gods ailments of age as already mine. Somehow it seemed more horrifying and hilarious that it was happening to these magnificent and superior gods.

I have been looking but I am still not clear – was Idun an Aesir who married a Vanir? Did she just grow the apples on trees in the back yard and keep them in her box to distribute to the gods? Anyone found more to her story than her kidnapping and her being Bragi’s wife?

I was drawn in by Melanie’s telling of Utgard-Loki, the magician shapeshifting king of the giants who tested his opponents’ strengths with magic but then treated them fairly for their efforts and told them truthfully how he feared them and then whisked away the entire city of giants from sight as if it had all been a dream. It reminded me of the trip to the land of giants taken by the Irish master builder and his son.

And I was struck by the details in Philomena’s, Faye’s and Rachel’s and so many of the stories when simple objects – gloves, a gate, a lock – were all given names and individual powers that went along with that given name. It is a different time from much of our experience. [Everything] that one used had to be wrought from scratch or handed down – truly these objects carried a reverence for the crafting and the power gained through continual use over time.

I loved the details of how the dwarves made the magical gifts for the Aesir – the fascination of golden hair [made of metal] that became real, the amazing boat that fit all but could be folded up in your pocket, the arm ring that birthed more arm rings every 9 days. Allice’s ending [of her story] of Loki beginning to become more twisted and dark after the humiliation and pain of his mouth sewn shut sat right with me and helped me in [my own] telling of and listening to his demise.

Along with all this wonder was a consistent harsh and brutal edge that was often hard for me to bear listening to. I would be afraid too if any of these gods came knocking at the door, because something bad seemed to happen when they did! I needed to hear Nan’s comment about how the Aesir were so distraught and blinded by their grief that more horrible atrocities were being committed – beating the giantess’ wolf to death to subdue it while she pushed Baldur’s boat/pyre off to sea, [The dwarf Thor kicked out of his way, who landed on the burning pyre with no escape and with no one caring.] I again needed to hear Nan say it “was horrible,” for it was so hard for me to keep listening, no matter how beautifully told.

[….] I thought I would never make it through all that carnage. So I want Abegael, Patricia and Traudi to know that the music helped me get through some of this pain. [It] felt like all of us rowing a great boat, pulling oars to the rhythm, and breathing with the rounds. It was hard enough when I heard about people having to eat each other, of Odin … going to meet Fenrir to be swallowed (at least there was no chewing!) but when Thor killed the serpent and shouted “all is not lost” to the gods, only to die from the serpent’s poison nine steps later, something broke in me and I wanted us to howl like wolves for all these terrible losses. Tears and wailing needed to happen, so thank you, Abegael, for your tears!

As I drove home [in Washington State], I wondered how [the] survivors went on after so much loss. How did they let go of all that grief? How did they embrace “life” and yearning for life” (the names of the two humans who hid in Yggdrasil until it was over)? It does not matter if you are alive if you no longer care to live. To remind myself again, I looked up in Wikipedia who the Poetic Eddas say the survivors were:

In the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá,
The völva sees the earth reappearing from the water, and an eagle over a waterfall hunting fish on a mountain. The surviving Æsir meet together at the field of Iðavöllr. They discuss Jörmungandr, great events of the past, and the runic alphabet. In the grass, they find the golden game pieces that the gods are described as having once happily enjoyed playing games with long ago (attested earlier in the same poem). The reemerged fields grow without needing to be sown. The gods Höðr and Baldr return from Hel and live happily together.[18]

Hod and Baldur return! I missed that entirely … and that is important to know — how they gathered together to go on…. I found the following at http://dailymythogies.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/the-gods-remaining-after-ragnarok/

I’ve always wondered why the gods that are left after the “end of the world” were the ones chosen to survive.
Lif and Leifthrasir are the two humans left – Life and Yearning for
Life. Those cannot truly die so they continue on to repopulate the earth. That makes sense.
Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer, also remains. It is thunder and lightning so it should survive to bring those to the new world.
The daughter of the sun also survives and lights the new world. That’s fairly obviously important.
Baldr is the god of beauty, fertility, light and peace. These are all qualities that should be desired in a new and better world.
Vidar is the god of silence, strength and justice. These are also desirable qualities for a new world.
Vali is associated with justice and death. Death is a necessary part of life, therefore it shouldn’t cease to exist.
Modi and Magni are the sons of Thor and save Mjollnir. They are “Anger” and “Strength.” The two of them together embody the late Thor’s qualities. This is important because Thor was a very central figure in the religion and mythology.
Hodr is the blind god of poetry. Poetry was widely valued in Norse culture surprisingly. The runes and writing were often considered magical or could bring luck – whether good or bad.

For me I think one answer to how one copes with all this is time. These stories make no pretense about how very [far] they reach back into time. I could not even entertain all these thoughts circling in my head until I got home, spent all night and all day sleeping and having amazing dreams that also continued processing all this input, and then another day to think more. No choice about whether this was coming up – it was an intense experience to hear these tales all told out loud versus taken in snippets or just close the book when it seems overwhelming. It helps that I come home to the edge of the rain forest, with such amazing green to soothe me outside my window – it is good that we choose to tell these stories in the Spring!

And to just put this down in writing I needed to read and reread Faye’s note to us:
…the important thing is that when we experience Ragnarok, we are reminded that things will begin anew. There is life and hope within the skeletal remains of whatever has happened. Hvelgemir, the stream of creative beginnings will flow again, no matter the immensity of the gap we may feel.
Of course I was also reminded that there are lots of ways to laugh, and that it is good to gather in a hall with friends old and new.

Thank the gods for that and for all of you. I am amazed at how much our shared experience has enriched my life year after year.

Finally – Here is the resource I promised to share that provided the frame tale for my story of “Ottar’s Woods”.

The Storyteller’s Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom from Around the World by Carolyn McVickar Edwards

Hugs to you all!

And now from Nan, in response also lightly edited by me:

Dear Allison,

Thank you for all your deep thoughts and feelings and for taking the time to express them to us. I love what you bring to everything I’ve experienced with you, openness, love, intelligence, seeking, honesty, and a willingness to traverse pain.

Here’s me.

I slept well and woke refreshed. What I took away from our weekend was more based on us than the story. We did it, and it was wonderful. We put our hearts into our stories and prepared our heads off. Watching teller after teller pace the garden or the hall as their stories came up reminded me I’m one of a tribe and gave me courage to try. Sometimes our stories fit well, the telling shines, sometimes not so much (I still don’t know what the heck I was saying in the Conference of the Birds) [an earlier Epic Weekend was Persian myths] but it doesn’t matter to the fabric: we pick up and knit back stitches for each other.

For me the weekend was a time away from the terrors, horrors and guilt-inducing inequities of the real world. It was creation and co-operation and friendship. And when elements of the story weighed me down, I thought to myself “Hey, that’s them. Not me. And hey, guess what, I’m alive and so is the world and isn’t it a gorgeous place to be?”

Thanks to Anne and Faye for asking me to tell Loki at his worst. I loved exploring my own darkness–very cathartic it was indeed, and such a gift to express the evil of jealousy-let-loose in a way that harms no one.

So that’s me, uncharacteristically sunny . . . Maybe just a reaction to a place I didn’t want to go. Still, the place I got to is very sustaining. My heart is still shining.

I wish the same for all.

Thanks, everyone!


My new role as a facilitator

This January I started something new to me. I read about it happening in the U.K. – a storyteller invited experienced tellers to a facilitated group for working on stories. I have long wanted to find the vehicle for teaching others about things I’ve learned in the course of 27+ years telling stories professionally, but have not found a clear way to do that, except for giving workshops to beginners, or particular groups, like parents or teachers. Reading this article on a British teller, the way opened before me!

A small group, say five or six experienced tellers, plus myself, in a cozy setting. We meet for a session of work, with each participant bringing a story they want to tell that has a knot or a puzzle in it for them. The group listens to all or just a part of the story, then, through the use of constructive criticism, I facilitate and join in a discussion concerning the story and the teller’s work.

I ask a fee from each participant, less than my fee for one to one coaching. I have done two sessions so far. The first one had just one participant, but the next time enrollment doubled! In both cases it was very exciting, and I think we all learned a lot. I keep us on track too; it is easy to just get into chatting, and that is definitely not the point.
Since starting, I have heard from others that this is a popular activity in America, though I am not aware of it so much in Canada. May just be my own lack of knowledge.
All experienced tellers in the Vancouver area or elsewhere are welcome, I just like to have a chat first to see if we will work well together.

It is a drop-in, pay as you go proposition, so even if you are just visiting and would like to try it, come along. It is such a pleasure to dig deeply into the details of working out a story. Happy Leap Year everyone!

An Honour and a Delight

Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada [SC-CC] is delighted to announce:
2011 STORYKEEPER Award Recipient Melanie Ray of Vancouver, BC

For Immediate Release
May 5, 2011 – Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada (SC-CC) is thrilled to announce that the winner of the 2nd annual STORYKEEPER AWARD/PRIX GUARDIENNE DES CONTES is Vancouver storyteller, Melanie Ray. The award will be presented to her, in front of her national peers, at the SC-CC conference in Yellowknife, NWT. The conference takes place from May 26th to 29th, 2011.

The award was created to recognize outstanding storytellers who not only delight audiences with great tales, but who, over the years, have worked to enlarge audiences, mentor other storytellers, support the SC-CC at local, national and international levels and have expanded the scope of the art.

Melanie Ray is a consummate storyteller. For more than a quarter century, she has entertained and inspired audiences of all ages in schools, festivals and other venues across Canada and beyond. Melanie has dedicated herself professionally to the art since 1984, building on a strong foundation of studies in theatre, voice and movement, which has resulted in her relaxed style and presence. She has told with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Rosalie Sorrels, Bill Richardson, Bob Bossin and Nan Gregory to name a few, and in almost every venue imaginable. We have also enjoyed her storytelling on television and CBC Radio.

Melanie’s extensive repertoire covers many genres and styles that display a full range of artistic abilities in telling and performing. In recognition of her unique collection and style, she has been awarded national and provincial grants to tour as a performing storyteller, sharing her skills and stories. Not only an active performer, Melanie has shared her expertise generously with beginning and experienced tellers, conducting workshops and one-on-one lessons with children and adults. She co-ordinates and participates in “Myths ad Memories”, an interactive art and therapy storytelling program for seniors’ groups and residents of seniors’ housing .

About Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada:
SC-CC is a national representative for those involved in maintaining and practicing the oral tradition of storytelling across Canada. They are dedicated to furthering the art form and bringing the diverse peoples of Canada together through story. SC-CC seeks to promote, support and contribute to the growth of storytellers’ work and to ensure storytelling’s continuing development as an integral aspect of Canadian culture.

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

This book was published (by Virago Press) in 2005, and although I have heard of it, and of Angela Carter, this fall has been the first time I have read it. I read it cover to cover. I read it as you would a novel you could not get back to fast enough. It is chock full of unusual stories. What a delicious romp through the doings of the folk, doings that are not always set down in print.

As a storyteller, I am always poking around in collections of tales, looking for stories to add to my repertoire. In a collection of many stories, I might find one, maybe even two or three tales I’d like to tell, a handful more I’ve not heard of before. But in this case, the post-it notes bristled along the top edge of the book thick as a porcupine’s quills. Most are quite short, and the book is a big one, so there are many tales and many more than a few caught my eye, ear and heart. I love stories of strong women, and they were here in plenty, as well as wise women, rude women, stubborn, foolish, vague women, innocent, loving, brutal women – in short, Angela Carter, feminist though she was, was not afraid to show women in ALL their aspects. It was not a collection of just women’s stories either, but there was an abundance of women present, and the range of their responses to the world was as varied as life itself.

She did not try to be exhaustive in representing every culture in the world, but she did range over many cultures and many that I knew little of – Suriname for one. Many stories from Africa, especially the Sudan. Several Inuit tales. Armenia, Lithuania, Iraq, Burma, the list goes on and on.

She wrote a lovely introduction, and notes for the tales, “…not so much scholarly as idiosyncratic….” There is also a heartfelt and thoughtful afterward by Marina Warner, written after the death of Ms. Carter when just 52 years old. How sad that she is not going to be adding any more works to the world’s treasures. But she is new to me, and she has left behind a fair number of things for me to read, and a fair number of tales from this book I think I will be telling in the near future, like the one in which a childless wannabe mum finally gives birth to a pot, or the one about a Burmese woman who kept her promise. I already told the one about a man who fed his wife the Meat of the Tongue to keep her happy….

A Job, a giggle

My search for work turned up an unusual job for me last week.  I laughed out loud when I read the notice for it, sent me by a friend who knows me well.  I answered the ad and indeed, got accepted!  Two days later I packed up a suitcase full of clothes and headed across town.  I was to spend a very enjoyable day as the actor in a 30-second PSA about the not very enjoyable lung condition called COPD.  I was paid, which I liked.  I got to act, which I loved.  I got to see how television is made “on location,” which I found fascinating.  I also got to spend time with three other people and a dog.  Soo the makeup artist gently coaxed good looks out from behind my wrinkles.  Chad the cameraman was constantly inventive with lighting angles and backgrounds and a running, often hilarious commentary.  Once, when Soo was trying to freshen my makeup, a crack of his gave us both the giggles.  Trying to straighten our faces up we gave each other the giggles, then Jenn said something and we all had the giggles – though not the dog.

Jenn Strom was the creator and director, and she was so good at her job.  She welcomed input from all of us, but was effortlessly capable of making her own decisions.  She appreciated each of us, she was gentle, often praising work, but didn’t give up till she got what she wanted.  Which is very reassuring for an actor  – I could trust that she would not allow me to make a big mistake onscreen.  She also brought sandwiches from what must be a fabulous deli called Panne Vero I think.  Best goat’s cheese I’ve ever had.  The dog did not join in the joking around, but she was a trouper when we did our scene together.  Six hours after we started, we said goodbyes all round and I was on my way home, a contented person.

I still have a bit of a giggle about it, even now.  Remember I said I laughed out loud when I read the notice for the job?  Jenn’s request was for an actress who could cough, and appear out of breath when climbing stairs.  What’s so funny about that, you might ask.  When Noah sent me the notice, he said he was sure they would want me.  He knew I have a chronic lung condition of my own, called bronchiectasis.  The chief symptoms of this sort-of rare, non-contagious lung condition are, guess what? – a cough, and shortness of breath! This is the first time bronchiectasis has earned me money, and that gives me a giggle!

Ahem.  I am now going to try and put in a link to the youtube video so you can see this “piece of work.”


Back home at last

What an amazing summer holiday! Yes, I had work too, wonderful work telling at the international storytelling festival in Wales, and in several places in Newfoundland, but I made holiday too!  Just to BE in Wales, and Cornwall, see friends in other parts of England, have a too brief stay in London, a longer one in St. John’s, see Gros Morne National Park, the puffins off Gull Island – all of this and more was a dancing miracle of a holiday.

I have been back from my travels to beyond British Columbia since August 16th, but I’ve been busy since then, catching up on sleep, and the garden, and friends and family, and, uhhh …, more sleep. I saw a movie for the first time in over two months.  (“Get Low” and it is great.)  Mostly though, I’ve been looking for work. The preparations for almost two months of being away as a working storyteller, plus the work I had booked prior to leaving on June 15th, meant that I had no work booked AFTER the tours!

I did not worry.

On my second day back I called the lovely man I work for doing data entry when storytelling gigs are not in the offing. Surprise!  He didn’t need my services for the moment, or for any other moment in the near future. I hung up the phone, fumes of jetlag curling around my brain, where an eerie stillness prevailed.  I surveyed the possibility of panicking, and just – didn’t. Instead, I grinned, shrugged and began using the blank space created by this news to step back a pace and see what new opportunities might be revealed. Now, my time IS getting filled looking for work of any sort, after all, I have to eat.  But I am also putting foremost some ideas for new ways to do my business, and make room for the “art part” to happen too. It always needs a lot of time around it, the art part does.

But I digress. Point is, the travels made me very happy, and I am managing to continue that happiness, and use it as a lens with which to view my ideas for future work. Not a bad gift to bring home from the lovely people I met, and lovely places I saw. I will try and say more about these people and places as I go along here in the next weeks. I will also try writing here on a more regular basis! I have enjoyed reading some of the comments people have been leaving for me – my thanks! – and I want you to find something new here when you come back.

For now, let me say that Cornwall, the wee bit of it I saw along the northern coast, is breathtaking. Tintagel, the traditional location for the epic Medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult (the story I took to Wales), is still there. It is a wild, windy headland, with caverns below it, grass, bracken, bare rock and ruins covering it, a steep bridge of stairs over to it and a working freshwater well at its centre.  It is hedged round with the trappings of tourism, from the necessary to the opportune, but it – literally and figuratively – rises above them in majesty.  It is so big, so open to the sky and the sea, so ancient, it can absorb all people walking on its pathways on any summer’s day, and you feel quite alone with its here-and-now beauty and its stone traces of the past.  Tintagel is a catch in the breath,  a glory in the heart and a mystery in the mind. The picture below is a feeble attempt on my part to convey that.

Coming up soon! I am off to Wales to tell Tristan and Iseult

The Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival is happening July 2-4, 2010, and I have been invited to tell some stories there, including the medieval epic “Tristan and Iseult.”  (you can hear a piece of it elsewhere on my website.)  I am, underneath layers of anxiety concerning papers and prep and time, very VERY excited.  Not only will I be telling one of my favourite stories, not only will I share some of Canada’s stories, I will be hearing some amazing storytellers myself and I am soooo lucky!

Visit www.beyondtheborder.com to learn more about this legendary festival.

“A Song of Small” May 14, 2010, in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May – and I am not dancing under a May tree with my sweetheart, but I am having a lot of fun working up the Emily Carr stories for this last of my spring 2010 bookings for this piece.  I am smoothing out wrinkles, keeping the words fresh in my mind,  discovering how best to make use of a painter’s brush when loaded with (pretend) paint, and turn a chair into a canoe.  All so this Nanaimo presentation of Emily Carr’s tales will be the best yet. Here are the details:

Friday evening, at 7:30 pm, the “Around Town Tellers” gather to tell a few stories to an audience that has grown fond of them doing so.  At 8:30 pm, I will top off the evening with “A Song of Small.”  We will be gathered at the Unitarian Hall, 595 Townsite Road in Nanaimo. Tickets are $5 at the door, and call 250-729-9994, or e-mail  lauriepeck@shaw.ca for more details.  Now, if am going to try and upload (?) or insert the beautiful poster John at Big Wave Design made for me, using a photo taken by my dear friend Tanya Hockley.

Update on “A Song of Small”- Emily Carr stories on two Gulf Islands in British Columbia

The two shows already done of the three I had booked went well.

Andrea and David Spalding hosted me on Pender Island, and there was a sold out house.  Now it was IN a house, so 35 people pretty much filled the space, but what a wonderful, receptive, playful 35 folks they were! Emily was a happy gal, letting them in on her world of painting, writing, thinking and feeling.  As soon as I’d said the last words, I realized just how hot it had grown in the room!  Bless them, not one person in the audience made moan, or even whimpered.  My thanks to Andrea, David and each of those splendid people who came to hear me.

Saturna Island was a different experience, as Jane Dixon-Warren and I set up lights and set and props in a largish community hall, and readied ourselves for who knew how large a crowd later that night.  Not overly large as it turned out, but again, so willing to be taken.  There energy fed my work onstage, even when I lost control of my pencil or the papers I was working with, or stepped out of the lights so carefully arranged earlier.  We had a break and then gathered for informal stories about life on the west coast, Emily, a selkie legend, family reminiscences, tea and cookies.  Yet again I was enchanted by the beauty of people when they listen to each other, and tell their stories, whether my big presentation, or their own anecdotes.  For the first time I used a real easel as a set piece, and it was such a beautiful thing, a delicate but strong and clever wooden structure meant I think for being taken out for painting “en plein air.”  Now of course I want one all the time, but as I travel by bus, train or plane when alone on tour, it would have to be as light and small as this one, and it was a beloved antique, probably not replaceable by its owner, or reproduceable in the art supply shops of today.  Again, many thanks to Jane and Brian and the Saturna Arts Society for having me.

March 20th is World Storytelling Day

There is a net of stories being flung around the globe this spring equinox and Vancouver is a part of it. The Vancouver Society of Storytelling is hosting three tellers I love listening to – Nan Gregory, Kira van Deusen and Jean Pierre Makosso – each telling some juicy part of an epic story. A snatch of the Finnish “Kalevala” some pieces of “Sundiata,” from Mali. Saturday March 20, 4 to 6 pm. $15 at the door, but call 604-876-2272 to reserve your seat and get the address – it is all happening at someone’s house near 41st and Blenheim. Happy spring!

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