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Change Creativity Education Family Primary Secondary song stories Story Telling Writing Young People

Belong- The Song of the Selkie’s Child

The Selkie’s Child can see that her mother is fading. She knows that she must free her.

What the hardest choice you have had to make?

When you father steals your mother’s seal skin, and you know the right thing is to let her go. The Selkie’s child comes to her mother and pledges to help her find her seal skin, even if it means losing her mother to the sea.

You can read my version of the Selkie story here.

A poetry workshop is available to book exploring identity, perception and conflict through folklore. You can read more about workshops here.

Categories
Change children Creativity Family Grimm Listening Primary stories Story Telling Voice Writing

Gretel’s Utopia

If you could build a better world what would it look like?

Gretel wants to live in a better world. She dreams of her perfect place -a Utopia to hope for. This piece of spoken word incorporating song, was inspired by ideas gathered in workshops gather with children and their families over 2022.

A Utopian world building workshop is available to book exploring children’s identity and values and Fantasy and Science Fiction Genres. You can read more about workshops here.

Categories
Change children Creativity Discussions Education Grimm Public Speaking Secondary Story Telling Voice Workshops Writing Young People

Red: A Dystopian Fairy Tale

A retelling of a tale you already know.

Informed by ideas gathered in workshops with young people and children, Red: A Dystopian Fairy Tale is a spoken word piece about an imagined futuristic world ruled by a totalitarian regime known as Mother.

A world building workshop is available to book exploring Dystopian fiction. You can read more about workshops here.

Categories
Change Creativity Education Opinion Workshops

Doorways to Belonging and Change

I am sat reflecting on how many times I have talked about codes over the last year. Appealing to my inner child to write in that invisible ink that only shows up under UV light. Or writing letters backwards to create a secret language or drawing shapes to replace the alphabet.

This last year when I have designed workshops for children, I have looked at code breaking and code generating over and over again. At first I thought that this was something I was doing because it was easy to move it online. Teaching children over zoom is a challenge. I wanted an activity to hold their focus. Something that felt small and intimate as an act but would have their imaginations reeling at the possibilities. The more I thought about 8 year old me and 8 year old them, the more that I knew it was the right way to go. Some of them had already done it before. It did not matter. It was a chance to find a common tongue. If I write a secret message in numbers can you crack it? If I mix up the words in a sentence can you unscramble it? What code would you write in? And then we jumped to symbols and talked about hieroglyphics. And even though we are all sat in our homes, gazing into another screen, we find the thing that we couldn’t have in real life. We find an escape. Amongst the cats or dogs or snacks or piles of toys, paper, washing. The debris of our life surrounds us and yet we are somewhere else. Together. Writing codes and discovering a new way to communicate.

Secret Agent, The Case of the Missing Bear, Z-Arts

But this time fades, the world unfurls and unfolds. The toys go back in their box, the washing away in the draws, the paper into the recycling bin. We go out, back into reality and school and work. Grateful for the demand of onscreen time to drop, grateful for our children.

There was something powerful though. Something to be understood about the possibility of languages and communication. And I stared at the different codes explored and invented over the last year, I felt a pull back to something fundamental – Our human desire to communicate and understand.

Characters and Code Breaking workshop, Curious Minds and Culture Warrington

So in a time when we are constantly and maybe desperately looking forward, let’s go back to when that great wave of migration sweeps through Europe. Let’s go back to wood and stone and ancient inscriptions carved into plates, jewellery and those giant rune stones. Portals to another place.

One of the earliest written text, Elder Futhark – a series of different symbols that represent something close to our own alphabet. These sharp and angular shapes, known also as Runes, are loaded with meaning. They represented Gods and Goddesses, elements and nature, daily life and the human condition. They could be read as an alphabet or they could be placed together to create some other meaning. They could be cast in a manner that would allow you to predict the future if in the hands of a Rune Reader or Sage. They were very open to interpretation.

They come with some gate keeping. For some, they are relics from history and for others they hold weight, magic and other worldly powers. Some see them as just strange marks. For me, an opportunity to play.

I have been playing with them for the last two weeks, exploring their shapes and their meaning. Layering them up and flipping them round. When reversed they have different meanings. At the same time I have been reflecting on my practice and pulling all my ideas together and there are some common connections betweens the Runes that I kept coming back to and the sketches and poems that are up on the studio wall.

The first was change. I can see that my work follows the shifts, some for the better and some for the worse. Some changes are linear, others are cyclical. The waxing and waning on the moon, the mushrooms emerging and disappearing, our bodies – heart beating, blood pumping, ageing towards dust. The chance to jump off or step furtively forwards. The changes we want and we don’t. The changes that confine and challenge us and the changes that open us up.

Dagaz – Breakthrough

In the Runes, Dagaz represents breakthrough. An awakening and awareness. A transformation. There is certainty to it – hope and happiness, growth and release, day break, a balance point where two opposites meet. Working creatively gives us space to shift and change the way we see the world.

The next was Home with all of its complexities. That home will define us and to make healthy changes we need to feel that we belong somewhere. Our home could be bricks and mortar, twigs and feathers, the town where we live, or the country we come from. Our sense of home defines how we move forward.

Othala – Ancestral home

The Rune that covers this for me was Othala. Its first meaning is ancestral home. Further inspection reveals a meaning of our fundamental values, our source of support and safety, what really matters to us. When I work creatively I want to feel safe. In workshops, the safer people feel, the more secure they are in the room, the more they will take those creative risks. Creativity can flourish if we feel safe, ideas can flow if we feel like we belong.

I saw in my writing and sketches the grasping for courage and in fact creating something in the first place is an act of courage. No lions may be encountered along the way, but who hasn’t heard the negative impostor voice telling you that the whole creative act is pointless and who really cares anyway? I certainly have. A quality I greatly admire in others is the courage to share the story in whatever form suits them.

Uruz – Strength

In the Runes, Uruz represents strength and untamed potential. It can represent a time of great energy, health and freedom. It can mean tenacity and wisdom and the formulation of self. Watching rooms of all shapes and sizes, ages and stages over the last few years, I see that I am lucky to witness those acts of strength and bravery. As individuals change their attitudes from apologising to acceptance, as they take those creative steps into getting know themselves, the world unravels the messy knots we can tie ourselves in and reveals the threads of possibility.

So after a bit of play, I settled into this new discovery of myself and my values. I settled on a new logo.

The Othala and Dagaz combined to create a house where change is possible. The Uruz a small doorway, because everyone know it takes a little bit of courage to step through and build bridges to belonging.

Categories
Change Creativity stories Story Telling Voice Writing

Transformation: A Selkie Story

The world always changes. Even in ways that may not always be visible to us and if we let ourselves, then we change too. Sometimes other people hold us back and at other times we may let them. Some stories survive all those changes and serve us. They deepen our understanding of the way we experience the world, even if we live in a different time and place entirely. Those stories belong to us all and the way we tell them tells us something about the teller themselves. So here is an offering, in this time of transformation, to hopefully help make sense of this jumbled world.


You already know this story.

A lonely man, they always are.

He found it hard to connect to others and yet he could see their joy within their families and that their hearts were full and he wanted that. He saw their heads thrown back in laughter and when out walking the weather beaten coastal paths at dusk, the warm glow of a well attended hearth spilled out of small cottage windows, and he wanted that.

In the village, he witnessed lovers walking hand in hand, eyes missing the surrounding gray world, lost deeply to each other and the promises of the happy lives they were going to have together. And he wanted that.

But time passed and as he stitched the torn nets of local fishermen, he never made a catch. With each stitch into each net his heart shrunk, his gut grew and the lines of loneliness and frustration deepened. He had never been small, even as a boy, but now he was broad and tall – a hulking mass of a man. And as he swelled the women in the village were lost to him and carried into calmer waters on a more comfortable boat. They didn’t want him. 

So the man grew solitary and short tempered, his language coarse with under use and his voice carried a bark- the kind you’d hear in an agitated dog. 

One evening, as the sun slipped below the surface of the sea and the moon swelled like an empty, expectant plate, the man took a turn off his usual clifftop path and carefully picked his way over the rocks that were always shifting in the cliff face. He descended down towards the smaller smooth stones that washed up on the shoreline. 

He starred out to sea – what was the point of a man so lonely? He pulled off his boots and decided he would swim till he could swim no more. Until he would slip silently beneath the waves. And this resolve, this feeling of holding a destination in his mind, this decision lifted his eyes. What a beautiful place to die. His skin felt the wind blowing through his threadbare unpatched clothes. He tasted the salt heavy in the air and he heard the wind singing. Or did he? Amongst the whistling wind, he heard laughter and shouts and multiple voices. He wasn’t alone, somewhere nearby was a group of people. He turned towards the voices and understood that they were coming from a small inlet surrounded by rocks – a perfect place, protected from the elements. He walked over and not wanting to be seen he crawled the final section and peered through the cracks in the rocks.

A group of naked women were laughing. Their white skin seemed to glow in the moonlight, like they had a bright and brilliant light within them. The man was filled with longing, his mind turned to his empty house, his empty life, his empty heart. What life he could have if his house could be filled with such radiance. How freely these women danced and sang and swam. He quietly climbed higher to get a better look, keen to not get caught.

That is when he saw the skins – silver blotted with darker patches. They were all an arms length away from him. Seal skins. He counted them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. He counted the women – One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. These women had not arrived on foot over land. They had come from the sea and shed their velvety skin to dance upon the sands freely under a full moon. His longing turned from want to need to must have. He was going to have one, just one, of those women, just one of those magical selkie women would be enough. He reached out and with thick fingers grabbed the nearest skin. It felt soft and thick like a scarf hugging your neck or a sleeping kitten. He pulled himself back to his hiding place behind the rocks and stuffed the skin under his jumper. He waited wondering which woman would belong to him. 

One by one, the women returned to their skins, a gray dawn was arriving over the cliftops. It was time to return home to the sea. They pulled on their skins and slipped into the incoming tide, till only one woman remained. She searched but could not find her skin. She called to her sisters to help her but they had disappeared beneath the waves.  She called and searched and called and searched until her heart grew weary and the man watched and watched, waiting for the moment when her hope would disappear.

Soon enough, the woman gave up. She sank down to the rock beneath her, hugging her knees to her chest.

The man stepped out from his hiding place.

‘I have your skin.’ he said.

The selkie woman shivered from the cold, the exposure, from the man that towered over her. 

‘Come with me.’ he said.  ‘I can give you a good life.’

‘I have a good life.’ she replied. ‘Swimming with my sisters. Please give me back my skin.’

The man’s longing burned. He thought how much better his life would be for having her in it.

‘Stay with me, for 7 years. For 7 years be my wife. After those seven years have passed, I will return your skin to you. The woman thought what else could she do but accept his offer. She could not return to the sea without her skin to protect her and she could not fight a man so large. What was 7 years in a life that could stretch to 100. She agreed. The man greedily snatched her up. He set her on her feet and helped her down from the rocks. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders.

The coat felt strange – coarse against her skin and the smell was odd like smoke, but what does a woman of the sea know of fire? She followed him as he led her back up off the beach and up the cliff and along the path to his village by the harbour. And there in a tumbledown cottage they made a life and the man softened, although those years of jagged loneliness could never really be smoothed.

She wore the dresses he bought her and looked like a normal wife despite not knowing the ways of a kitchen. Her belly soon swelled and carried out into the world, on a tide of fear, a child was born. A girl. The child was human. She bore no sign of being Selkie. Now the woman was tied to land in a way that was larger than the deal struck on the beach.

Seven years passed. The girl was fed on stories of sea caves and creatures. She was hushed to sleep with the songs of whales and seaweed and water.  The child grew well. Rosy skinned and full bodied in fine fettle. The woman waned.  Her skin became dryer and dryer until it cracked and her eyes suffered. The world turned into colour and indistinguishable shapes. The woman loved her child, but the longing to be back in the sea with her own kind was causing her body to shut down. 

As the seventh year drew to a close, she turned to the man and asked for her skin to be returned to her. The girl, whose parents thought she was asleep, heard the conversation between her parents.

‘7 years have passed. It is time for my skin to be returned to me.’ said the woman.

The man’s fear of being alone reared its ugly head. Left with a young girl to raise without a woman to guide her in things he did not know or understand.

‘I cannot give your skin back to you.’ he said.’ I cannot lose you to the sea.I cannot once again be alone.’

‘You will lose me, with or without returning my skin. I cannot survive here. I am fading fast. To keep me here is to kill me.’

‘What of your child? Do you not love her?’

‘ I love her with all of my body, but my body is weak and I cannot be there for her in death.’

The man shook his head. ‘You belong to me. You are mine and mine alone. I will not give you your skin. Filled with darkness, the man left the house. The woman silently mourned the fight she didn’t have 7 years earlier, now too weak, 7 years on to fight.

The girl having heard all of the exchange was horrified. She didn’t want her mother to die. For days her thoughts swilled a round and a round in her head. What could she do? How could she save her mother?

Meanwhile the woman became extremely frail. Her skin was carved up into patterns like contours and borders on a map. Her sight reduced to near blackness. Her heart, already weakened from the years out of the water, out of her skin and away from home, beat like a fading drum.

The girl drank it all in, She saw her fathers impatience and his snap at this sad, frail woman that he now had for a wife. She saw her mother shrinking and despite being young in years, she knew that her mother was dying.

One full mooned night, while the girl sat drinking in the blackness of the night and the blackness of her thoughts she heard a song on the wind. Her small bedroom rattled as the song found its way through the grains of wood holding the pane of glass in place. 

She quietly tip-toed down the stairs on soft slippered feet and made her way to the front door. After Pulling on her woollen hat and mittens and sheepskin lined coat she stepped out into the night. The song was louder out in the harbour. The wind blew from the north west along the coastal path . she followed the sound as she followed the song became louder and the girl grew in confidence, knowing that each step along the path meant discovering answers. Down onto the beach that had been the meeting place for her parents, 7 years earlier. She stopped and looked out to the sea where her mother came from. She felt a pull in her heart, a pull to walk into the waves and never feel land again under her feet , just like her father 7 years before.

But the song called soothingly from behind some rocks further along the beach. So she followed, scrambling over giant rocks, slippery with seaweed  in soft slippers. There lying on the rock below was a seal skin. It was bedraggled and torn in places. Its silver shine reduced to an asphalt gray. The girl knew it was the skin of her mother. Carefully she picked up the skin – it felt as frail as tissue paper. She folded it up with great care and tucked it into her coat. 

Dawn was now breaking from behind the cliffs. So the girl picked her path back over the rocks and up the beach. Back along the path and down to the small village by the harbour. The boats were gone, carrying the men in the village out to sea for the morning catch. The girl made her way to the cottage where she lived and found her mother lying in bed. Eyes open yet unseeing. 

The girl guided her mothers hands to the seal skin and even though it had been years and even though the soft velvety skin had decayed and even though the woman was as sightless as a moonless night, she recognised the skin. For who doesn’t know how it feels to come home?

Tears fell from the woman’s eyes dropping like patchwork upon the skin and with each tear the skin seemed to become healthier. The girl watched as her mother cradled the skin in her arms just like she had cradled her daughter as a baby. She sang weakly aat first, her voice keening, breaking with the heartache of absence and the joy of the return. 

With help from her daughter the woman shuffled from the house and along the headland. Down from the cliffs and onto the beach. There she removed her nightgown and pulled on her skin. The girl watched wrapping her mother’s nightgown around her neck for change is hard and small comforts help.

Before her eyes, her mother was a seal and the girl knew this was how it was meant to be. Awkwardly the two made their way to where the salty water kissed the waves, splashing and laughing in the shallows. Further out they went and soon the girl had wrapped her arms around her seal mothers neck . The seal mother turned and breathed air over her daughter and soon enough they were diving down deeper and deeper and the girl breathed as though she was above the surface. They came to an underground cave. They swam through arriving in a vast cavern filled with other seals, other selkies who all turned to see who had entered. 

A stillness descended and slowly an elderly seal swam towards the seal mother and the girl. There was recognition and acceptance. There was grief and celebration. Before long the child had to be taken back to land for she was not Selkie, nor human. The elderly seal and her mother returned her to the shoreline. The child walked onto a beach forever changed by the homecoming she had witnessed and the journey beneath the waves. She belongs to transformation. Wherever transition took place. She was a sliding scale, perpetual movement. A cycle of breath. She was autumn leaves and spring buds, dawn and dusk, bears emerging from a long winter’s hibernation, pine trees kissing the sky and the sea embracing the land. She was her mother and her father, she was soul and ego and she could navigate an edge- her curiosity overcoming her fear. 

And she grew and as she grew she listened, knowing that the world turns and time passes and people change. And people came and they listened to her stories and for the short time that they listened they found peace within and without. She told and listened and listened and told and she saw that the world was an unending cycle of wonder.

Categories
Change Creativity Discussions Family Listening Story Telling Workshops Writing

The Invisible Women

Peggy Seeger – The Invisible Woman

Watching Peggy Seeger’s singing, I hear the voice of the many older women who I am lucky to have in my life. I have been running creative writing workshops for Davenham Theatre and through Stitch. It really strikes me that the majority of participants are women who are over the age of 55. These workshops are open to anyone to come and yet we see these women loyally attend. They are grateful and positive and tell me that they get so much from the sessions.

But here is something that I think these women would struggle to accept from me. They have amazing insight, they care so deeply about the world they inhabit and their stories are beautifully compelling. It is a gift to spend a couple of hours with these women and listen to their thoughts. I have this amazing tribe that are now my friends.

One of the challenges that many writers face is the fear that anyone will find their work interesting or relevant, it is certainly something I feel at times. However this feeling is rife in this community of women and I think when you listen to Peggy Seeger singing, you can understand why.

Extract of Tell Me A Story of a Chair by Liz, a project by Stitch

My own mum told me that as she has got older, her visibility has dropped. That people pass her by without even seeing her. During the Covid Pandemic, we have all been locked away from each other, unable to meet up in public spaces. Those shielding even more so. We have collectively lost sight of many who are not in our immediate circles. The Invisible turned into memory.

As we emerge from this lockdown and Britain reopens its doors, let’s make sure we have room for everyone at the table. If you are an older woman who is feeling invisible, please tell your story. We need the grandmother’s wisdom now more than ever. If you are not an older woman, pull up a seat and look at ways to ask and listen. Let their stories inspire your story. You’ll feel richer as a result.

Lost Light by Denise for This Is Something That I know a project by Stitch
Categories
Change Discussions Family Workshops Writing

Missing

I am walking through a hall. A large hall, with high ceilings, pillars and archways. Everything is made of glass. The hall is full of glass statues. Some are of people I don’t know. Most are of people I do. Some I know really well, like my two friends from drama school. They’re sat next to each other on a bench. They are wrapped up in hats and gloves and scarfs. They are holding a takeaway coffee cup in their hands. Their heads are thrown back in laughter. There is a gap in the middle where I should sit, if I was made of glass, but I keep moving around the room.

Amongst these glass figures are people I have worked with. There is the little boy, who told me all about his pet dog in the last workshop I ran in February. Max, the dog was called. I remember how the boy’s eyes had sparkled as he talked about looking after Max. The statue’s eyes seem to sparkle too.

In the middle of the hall, is my brother and his wife. They are stood next to each other. They look like they are watching something in the distance. Maybe it’s their own dog, Biscuit. I pat my brother on the shoulder. He’s cold. Freezing. My fingers burn from the cold. That’s when I realise they aren’t made of glass. They are made of ice.

I stare at the frozen figures around the hall and realise they have the glisten of frost. I see that they are my relationships that are frozen. The relationships that don’t develop because of the time that I don’t have, the spaces that we cannot share. I become Demeter, waiting for my daughter to return, in a long, hard winter.

Spring will come and with it vaccinations. Those relationships will bloom with the crocus and daffodils. By the time we start planting out our seedlings, we can maybe hold space for one and other. I will be there. Waiting amongst the spring blossoms.

Demeter

The ground is hard

My footsteps create earthquakes.

My grief sends waves 

Down through the ground

Trying to reach you. 

My tears fall

Silently.

They kiss the grassy meadows

Where you once played

And turn into glistening frost.

You will return.

And so will I.

We will sit 

In the apple tree again

Creating blossom showers.

Waiting for the first 

Apple to ripen.

Categories
Change Discussions Education Listening Opinion Story Telling Writing

The One

Taking down evil in storytelling is quite often presented as an individualistic action. A hero will defeat a villain. These characters are binary. The hero is good and the villain is bad. This narrative has been served up to us time and time and time again. Even when we get told stories about a group of people battling another, this is quite often reduced down to leaders.

However banishing the monsters of this world is a collective effort. For so long, we have been living in a story of a pyramid. We have been consumed by the notion of the ‘One’.

The one who rules us. The one who stole our heart. The one who cast dark magic. The one that got away with it. The one that saves us. The one that had roast beef. The one that had none.

It is an isolating view of the world and it stops us diversifying what we know, who we know and how we learn. It comes with an enormous pressure. For those that are the one and for those who are not.

When we look at the moments when there was a pivot in society, we would see that those moments are built on ‘We’ and ‘Us’. Not ‘I’ and ‘me.’ The Civil Rights movement, the Suffragettes, School Strike for Climate, Black Lives Matter. These were built by grass root collectives.

Good and just society is neither the thesis of capitalism nor the antithesis of communism, but a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism.

Martin Luther King Jnr

So let’s start telling stories where people come together to ask for a better life. Let’s hear stories which aren’t about ‘the one’ but are about ‘Us’. We will discover other ideas and other people and we may even find ourselves sat in their stories in ways that surprise and delight us.

Categories
Change Creativity Discussions Story Telling Workshops Writing

Creativity and Collective Curiosity

The term collective curiosity has been swilling around my brain for the last week. I think as we are for the most part currently sat in our homes, it can be hard to connect with what other people are wondering about.

One of the things I love about running creative workshops is hearing that amongst the different views and voices and experiences that make up a room, we can normally find a sense of collective curiosity. Collective curiosity is the notion that we have shared ideas that we all wonder about. The power of this collective curiosity is not to be sniffed at. The room could have different opinions, unique takes and understanding, but the feeling that you are all explorers, learners, creators unites the room.

“Curiosity is the engine of Achievement.”

Sir Ken Robinson

I have been delivering online workshops for the past 6 months. Yes, there have been things that are not as easy. Yes, it has been difficult not connecting and being in the room altogether. As a lover of people, I have found this enormously hard. However, there is still the sanctuary of coming together, creating and engaging a shared curiosity.

So if you have been sat at the edge of the pool, looking at that refreshing water and wondering whether it is worth dipping your toe, dive in. The water is just the right temperature and lifeguards are on hand.

There are many artists and organisations offering ways to engage. I promise that it is worth coming and stretching those creative muscles and finding a collective curiosity.

Categories
Change Creativity Discussions Education Opinion Story Telling

In a Desert

I am in a desert. I am thirsty.

I am thirsty and I am in the desert. I am not sure how I came to being in the desert. At one point I was in a room full of people. Some of those people where those that I love and some were people that I hadn’t met yet. The room was full.

Then someone turned out the light. The colour drained to blackness, the noise of all of those voices were silent, I couldn’t see. I didn’t seem able to move. No I could move, but I might as well of not bothered because it remained black. Sometimes the sound of my own breath was deafening. I slept and slept and slept.

When I woke I was in the desert. The light was bright to begin with. The sun burning my eyeballs. I had to cover my eyes with my hands and let my vision adjust from darkness to light.

Sand got everywhere. Everywhere. In my mouth, up my nose, in my ears and the fibres of my clothes. I didn’t notice that I was thirsty then. Although I probably was. I was dealing with the sand. So I lifted my t-shirt over my nose. To stop the sand blowing into my mouth. The days were hot.

The night was cold and long. Sleep escaped me. Underneath that blanket of infinite stars that shone in the velvet blue sky, I felt lonely.

I am haunted by memories of place where space was held for thoughts, beliefs, experiences. Where things were weaved, stitched, spoken, drawn, constructed. Where people came together.

I am in the desert and I have been here for some time. I have tried walking forward. Tried to find water. Tried to find people. I guess I need help. I think others may be in a desert too. So maybe be if we shout into the silent night sky and sign our names in the sand, we can find water. Water for everyone.

An open letter can be found here that asks Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and to the board and staff of Arts Council England to open a dialogue about the problems facing community arts. If you are a community artist or an arts organisation that supports participatory arts, you may want to add your voice.

If you are not a community artist, but want to support, please consider writing to your M.P. and/or the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. It may be helpful to talk about your experiences as a participant on a community arts project. You can find their detail and write to them here.