Telling stories from Generation to Generation

Photo: Digital Storytelling WorkshopOne thing I know about myself is that I love to start new projects. It is like opening a door to a sunny spring day. Anything is possible.

Another thing I know about myself is I’m not necessarily a strong finisher. In fact I like the idea of always beginning.

This is part of the reason over the past two years I’ve being focusing my practice on working with people to help them share their personal stories with the greater community.  Stories, whether being created or told are new each time. The experience is fresh with meaning in each iteration.

Combine this with my passion for geeking out on media technology and you have the framework for a neLogo: Region of Waterloo Arts Fundw collaboration – Generation to Generation. With funding from the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, I will be working with theatre artists Nada Homsi, Pam Patel and Heather Majaury and generations of people who have fled conditions in their homeland to live here in Waterloo Region.

We will also be working with a number of community partners including: African Community Wellness Initiative, Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, Reception House of Waterloo Region and the YMCA Immigrant Services.

Through storytelling, video and theatre we will explore the passing of family narratives from generation to generation.

Over the coming months I will be tweeting my own generation-to-generation stories under the hashtag #Gen2Gen. I invite you to join this stream to share your family stories.

I will leave you with a quote sent to me just yesterday by my friend and a storyteller in one of my workshops, Chuck Erion.  It immediately resonates with me in the context of this project. Here is part of this message below:

Here’s a quote for you:
“All sorrows can be borne,” the great Danish writer Karen Blixen once said, in a line Grosz cites in his book and that could well serve as its epigraph, “if you put them in a story, or tell a story about them.”

It’s from this book review.

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What it means to be a friend

Social media has changed forever the meaning of the word friend, but when I think of friends I don’t picture the list in my Facebook profile. I picture the faces of people I’ve met, people with whom I’ve shared time and common purpose. These are the faces of people I know actual give a damn about me and the world we live in.

This is not to say my friends care more than others’; your friends care for you in the same way.

Physical proximity is a fundamental part of friendship and for that matter human relationships in general. When I sit across the table from someone, pass them in the street, redirect mis-delivered mail or feed their cat when they are on vacation, I’m more likely to listen to, care for, protect or share with them, simply because they are … near to me.

And that is the whole point.

The more I connect with people who are close by, the easier I find it is to understand the gap that separates me from those who are far away – the gap created by war, poverty, hunger, injustice … lack friendship.

I recently shot and produced a promotional video for the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. It is part their Friends of Crime Prevention campaign, created to help recognize and mobilize those who are making the place where we live safer and more secure by building community – parents, teachers, researchers, community activists and police officers. I met six new “friends” with whom I’ve shared time, purpose and values through this project.

Shortly after finishing the video I spent an evening with another group of friends and artists from the MT Space, where I sit on the board of directors. We spent the evening preparing food for our annual donor appreciation dinner. I sliced onions, chopped parsley, drank wine and sang shoulder-to-shoulder with people who share a belief that theatre and art are essential to a vibrant community life.

Both this videos are under 2 minutes. If you take the time to watch them I’m sure you’ll see the connection between the people who stand next to you and the well being of your community and your world.

It is these friends that make up the fabric of our lives and this place we call home.

Why trust is key to digital storytelling

Each time I facilitate a storytelling workshop or photo-voice project, there is a moment when I’m overwhelmed by the trust someone extends to me and others in the workshop through the sharing of a moving personal story.

It is not just the content of the story, but also the gift of trust – given without hesitation or expectation – that hits you between the eyes and clenches your heart. I wait for and relish these moments.

A while ago, I facilitated a photo-voice project with four young women on behalf of Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, a social service agency that supports people dealing with abusive partners.
The aim of the project was to explore the signs of abusive relationships through pictures and personal reflections.

At the orientation session none of the participants indicated a they had experienced an abusive relationship. However, by the end of the one-day session all four had revealed they had been touched by abuse, either as the child of an abused parent or by an abusive partner.

The “moment of trust” came near the end of the day when one of the women slid the index card she was writing on across the table.

It read: “ … this symbolizes my journey from being a woman that was broken, with lots of emotional scars, feeling dirty and not worthy of love to becoming a woman who escaped domestic violence and is able to recognize the signs of abuse. Now I have the courage to say, do not touch me.”

In that moment I could feel the aching grip of tears on my throat like the grip of an abuser. I knew that I would never experience what this young woman had, but I would carry her story with me for the rest of my life.

Trust is one of the most important things to achieve when facilitating the storytelling process. It reveals itself each and every time without fail, but it always astonishes me with its power to move me.

Perhaps some would frame this as, “trust is something that is earned”, but I believe it is more complex . It requires faith in the process. As the facilitator I must believe the process has integrity and meaning before the members of the group can believe.

At the same time, storytellers need to be able to build trusting relationships with the other members of the story sharing circle. This enables them to tell their stories with authenticity and openness. The circle is a place where active story-listening is practiced; where stories are honoured; where stories feed other stories; where we see ourselves reflected in others’ lives. But more than anything else, when we engage in telling a personal story we must trust in the power of the story to move people.

Trust begets trust.

Please watch this photo-voice video “Signs of Abuse” and see how the “moment of trust” affects you.

To see how this work fits into the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region campaign developed by James Howe of communicate & Howe! read James’s case study.

Telling stories with single images

[vimeo:http://vimeo.com/53917349%5D
Imagine a cube van transformed into a camera. This project reminds me of early landscape photographers who traveled North America documenting the natural wonders. The images captured here are post industrial natural wonders … people who have survived.
The narrative is a bit sentimental, but the beautiful silver images, great storytelling are worth every second.

Stop 4 – Made in Kitchener Walking Tour

It’s hard to believe that not too long ago 1000s of people lined King Street, from Waterloo to Kitchener to watch the Labour Day parade. This video from the Made in Kitchener Project tells the story of The Clown, The Horse and The Labour Day Parade. Take a look.

Made In Kitchener

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