Monday, December 5, 2011

1001 life saving Arabian Nights

What makes our true stories so compelling? Why do we listen with such rapt attention? Paula Junn, our Social Media director at massmouth said she realized that while she was listening  the story  allowed her to feel as if she was to living a life that was not her own. But after listening she felt a level of connection that was extraordinary. That really resonated. When we listen deeply, we are looking into the eyes and face of a person who has lived somewhere and some thing we have not. That is the beauty of all good literature - isn't it? And live storytelling is the most direct and organic form.

We had a blast at Central Square Theater last weekend and will be there again this weekend. The show, Arabian Nights is gorgeous and fun. Here is the skinny:

Do you have a story that saved your life? What story could you tell to save your life? Were you ever rescued? Did you ever save someone's life or lives ?
DEC 10 Workshop Leader: Norah Dooley and  storytellers  from massmouth: Farrah Haider, Ben Cunningham the Big Mouth Off 1st an 2nd place winners and the multi-talented, Paula Junn.

Storyteller's from massmouth  and CentralSquare Theater celebrate the art of storytelling with real life stories on the theme:
"1,001 Stories From Your Life:
Stories That Save Lives, Stories of Lives Being Saved and Life-Saving Stories".
Following a short storytelling workshop on how to create a story from your life experience, audience members will be invited to enthrall the audience with their stories before Central Sq. Theater's show...
Arabian Nights
Enter ancient Persia, and be transformed by the power of storytelling Based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk tales from the Middle East and Asia, Arabian Nights is rich with suspense, romance and hilarity – stories irresistible for all ages, At its heart is the power of the imagination to heal, inspire, and transform.
Because your have a life, you have a story. Bring it.
TIX and Info: (617) 576-9278 - massmouth members get a discount. Call for information 450 Massachusetts Avenue  Cambridge, MA 02139 Here is a short and shaky video from last weeks show from iPhone footage:

Friday, December 2, 2011

"what to say "- coaching dilemmas

Just a nice picture, not a weak performance at Royalston Shakespeare Co.
Just another day online, at the office. The research errand I was on was serious - time sensitive tax information for our nonprofit corporation. Not exactly my fave topic. And somehow I had wandered into the ArtsEdge site. Delightful. Not what I needed to be doing but what a rich resource for arts educators. Warning: DO NOT go there if you are in a hurry.

So after spending an hour online browsing at the excellent  Kennedy Center for the Arts blog, I had to move on. Before I left,  I skimmed an article about "what to say" when directing students in theater.   I started thinking about how to adapt these ideas for use in my storytelling coaching.  I copied and pasted the list into an email and sent it to myself.  Sometimes the material presented by a performer is astoundingly bad. Did I just say that? Phew, no. I just wrote that. We all know that we think that sometimes. But that is not what we want to say.  We know the work or performance is just unformed, not ready, in process, etc, etc... The writer/educator at ArtsEdge and I think it good to have a few set phrases you can rely on while you gather thoughts about how to be helpful. Below is my first stab at riffing on that list to help story coaches say positive things to help move into a conversation and critique.  Do you you have any favorites? Add yours in the comments below.

Things for a teacher/coach to say after a flawed performance or weak story:

1. “You are really improving.  What would happen if you tried... ( give a specific exercise or direction for student to try.)

 2. “Good"  Or "Thank you.  How can we help you make your story stronger...”  ( if obvious to you what might help, name it, if not just say "stronger").

This was "bad", even the other actors thought so.
3. “Project your voice as if the whole audience was outside, down the hall and in the restroom”

 4. “Good. Keep what you are doing. Please try or see how you feel about adding…”  ( when someone is really tentative - then give some specific exercise or direction to try)

 5. “Interesting. Help us help you by telling us what you care about most in this story...( when you don't even know where to begin - or some specific questions from what is given to tease out where the story is)

 6. “Good. Now what are some ways you want to challenge yourself ?” ( for someone who is almost there but kind of missing the mark)

 7. “Stories happen people to people, or people and animals, people and environment - Show us one thing ( each) so we can "hear" "see" what you see? Show us verbally - or   Show us non verbally ( facial, sound effect,movement etc.)

 8. “What is most important to you? What do you really want us to take away from your story?”

 9. “Breathe. "Anxiety is excitement without breath, " said my first storytelling teacher and great storyteller,  Jennifer Justice (now the Artistic Director of Durham Family Theater). Don’t rush - find at least two places to pause for a full 3 count.”

 10. “What felt good to you in this story? How can you build on that ?”

Ah - finally found the the original article and you may read it here: What Do I Say?   Ten ways a drama teacher can respond constructively and sensitively to student work

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heroic Imagination and Stories

I was reading about Professor Phil Zimbardo's "Heroic Imagination Project"  when I reread an email from my friend Bruce in Japan. While talking with his class and Professor Allen-Tamai's classes the week before I had told some the story, "Boys Wear Pink" and  students had responded with some important, heartfelt stories of their own.  Here is a page from Professor Zimbardo's web site...

Lesson-3: Take Action

Last lesson’s Hero Challenge asked you to build your courage to face challenges in the moment. Reacting to a bad situation is one half of being a hero. The other is becoming proactive! This week is about building a life of heroism, making your journey through life a “hero’s journey.”

Now watch this video: Of course your life is not a movie, and none of us can jump from skyscraper to skyscraper in one fell swoop. In real life, heroism is about what’s inside your mind.

What would you do in this arena if you could do anything? Is there a social issue about which you are passionate?
Following is a video which describes the work of Dan Wallrath, a social activist who is building and donating homes to military veterans.

Now watch this video:

Becoming a proactive hero means connecting your head, heart, and guts. Things that you care about deeply and authentically are the key. At the end of this page, we’ll ask you to make a commitment to act in an area where you feel a need for change. Will you commit to use your compassion, courage and wisdom to make a positive difference? Just remember, as you continue along your heroic path, there are bound to be hurdles to clear. To clear them, use your courage, and persistence.

Before you start, remember:

Knowing that practice makes your everyday heroism improve means that there are no failures, just feedback, so try, try again to do the right thing. You are not given a particular allocation of heroic capabilities at birth that you can never increase — you can always increase your ability to act heroically through your effort.
People who bounce back from set-backs use a positive explanatory style: they recognize their power to influence their world, they see setbacks as temporary, and they keep things in perspective – a bad outcome in one area of life or at one moment doesn’t sour their entire outlook.

Call to Action - So what will you do?

What specific action will you take this week to make this change in the world? Opportunities are all around you. Good luck!
Prof Zimbardo's project was inspiring.  Then I saw that Bruce had written  this:
"I was just talking with Prof. Saito, reminiscing on your talk and meeting, and she added another interesting story to the pink shirts, red dress, bullying story theme.  It too is a true story--one that I hadn't heard--about Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), who is perhaps my favorite modern Japanese story writer-poet : see for example his short story "Restaurant of Many Orders" Translations & Such: The Restaurant of Many Orders [Miyazawa Kenji].     When he was in school, there was a very poor boy in his class. The boy's mother had only some red cloth from which to make his underwear (probably the good old "fundoshi"--or perhaps it included some larger undershirt) So he went to school and a bully spotted the red underwear, and as bullies do, he proceeded to bully and punch the boy because of this. When Kenji heard of this he found some red cloth (he too was dirt poor) and made himself some red underwear and wore it to school the next day. He walked up to the bully and said,  "So if you're punching him, I guess you'll have to punch me too".  Kenji was never big, or robust of health, but the bully backed down and gave up bullying the other boy.    Kenji went on to become one of the world's best, most beloved storytellers. "

The Restaurant of Many Orders [Miyazawa Kenji]
Once there were two young gentlemen deep in the mountains, among the dry leaves. They were dressed just like British soldiers and carried shiny guns. With them were two dogs that looked like polar bears. One of them said something like this:

“What’s wrong with these mountains? We haven’t seen a single bird nor beast! I wish something would show up so that I could shoot it. Bang! Baang!”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to put a couple of bullets into the yellow belly of a deer about now! To watch it spin about a couple of times before it fell down dead!”

They were deep in the mountains. So deep, in fact, that even their hunter guide had gotten lost and wandered off. So deep, in fact, that even those dogs that looked like polar bears both got dizzy, and howled, and foamed at the mouth, and dropped dead.

“Well there goes 2,400 yen!” said one of the men, peeling back his dog’s eyelid.
“Well mine was 2,800 yen!” said the other man, his head lowered in regret.

The first gentleman went pale, and he carefully watched the other gentleman’s expression as he said, “I think we should head back.”
“I think we should head back, too. The weather has gotten cold, and I’ve gotten hungry.”
“Well then let’s call it quits. On the way back, we can stop by that inn we stayed at yesterday and buy some game birds.”

Miyazawa Kenji died at 36 of pneumonia
“They had rabbit, too, didn’t they? It’ll be just as if we hunted them ourselves. Well, let’s get going, then.”

But wouldn’t you know, they had no idea which direction would get them back. The wind howled, the grass rustled, the leaves whispered, the trees creaked.

“I’m so hungry! I’ve had a pain in my side since a while back.”
“Me, too. I hope we don’t have to walk much further.”
“I hope so, too. Oh, what shall we do? I really want something to eat!”
“I really want something to eat, too!”

The two gentlemen carried on like that as they walked through the rustling grass.
Glancing behind, one of them saw an impressive Western-style house. At its entrance was a sign:


“This is perfect! There’s a place to eat right here! Let’s go in!”
“Well now, I wonder what a restaurant is doing in a place like this? But I guess they serve food here...”
“Of course they do! That’s what the sign says!”
“Well then, let’s go in. I’m so hungry I could faint.”

The two of them stood at the entranceway. It was quite impressive, made of white porcelain bricks. There was also a glass door with gold writing that said:

All are welcome. Please come in for a free meal.

The two hunters were overjoyed, and said:

“Well do you see that? What a wonderful place the world is. We had a bad time earlier today, but now look how lucky we are! Not only did we find a restaurant, but one with free food!”

“That’s right! The sign says that they’ll make us a free meal!”

They pushed open the door and went inside, entering a hallway. On the other side of the glass door was written:

We especially welcome our fat and young customers.

The two were thrilled to be especially welcomed.

“Hey! We’re doubly welcome!”
“That’s right! We’re both fat and young!”

Marching down the hallway, they next came to a door painted blue.

“What an odd house. I wonder why it has so many doors?”
“This is the Russian style. All houses in cold places or in the mountains are built like this.”

As they began to open the door, they noticed something written in yellow above them:

This is a restaurant with many orders. Please be patient.

“They’re that busy, all the way up here in the mountains?”
“Well, sure. Even down in Tokyo, none of the big restaurants are on the main streets!”

As they were talking they opened the door. On the other side was written:

We really have many orders. Please be patient with each one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Japan in under 7 days

Day Six  Wednesday, NOV 16,   2011
Being immersed in Japanese culture, even for so short a time,  was like meeting an old friend and starting up a warm friendship right where we left off 30 something years ago. This was not the starry eyed admiration of a 23 year old who was so disappointed in her US plastic-TV 'culture'  Back then and even now I feel this exchange mirrors my deepest misgivings about our young 'culture'-

Reporter: "Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?"
Gandhi: "I think it would be a very good idea."   Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

Now, I know the US has some fine traditions and that Japanese culture also has a dark side. Still, there are so many norms of civil society in Japan and so many Japanese people are so very kind and is remarkable. Some concrete examples I noticed:  Water in the subway, to drink and to fill bottles. Water in fountains at public parks - with faucets that stay on unless turned off. Think about it -where in the US do we still have that? Lights in a subway station with chain pulls that are easily reached by any passerby. Public places in airports and train stations are clean, bright and comfortable.  Tourist places and train stations are filled with people to help you find your way.

I got up, had one last breakfast with Bruce and Mitsue, who have cooked for me and taken care of my every comfort. As much as I missed my family, I was sad to leave because I had felt so at home in Japan and we never see enough of our dear friends who work so hard and live so far away. I said goodbye to Bruce who went off to work first and then answered some emails. Mitsue left an hour or so later and I  had a few free hours on a lovely sunny day to wander and shop for souvenirs.  I went to the mall that was attached to the amusement park and bought some random things and then hurried home to see if all my stuff could be packed into one bag. Took some doing but I did it. I locked up and hopped into a cab that I directed to the correct Ueno station for the train to Narita. Phew. What a trip.

at the onsen, eating a multi-course dinner
Day Five  Tuesday, NOV 15,  2011
First thing this am, we tried to get Mituse's iPad working to download movies. She showed me a delightful story of a tandem telling of "Jack in The Beanstalk" by a two year old and his aunt. Then it was time to hit the road to meet Bruce at Seisen University in Gotanda area of Tokyo. We took three trains and walked a ways too. Poor Mitsue had to do all that and more to get to her work. Seisen Univesrity is a small and beautiful Catholic college. Also an all girls college, the main building is from the 1850s and  the grounds are lush with trees and vegetation - right in the center of Tokyo. Everyone at Seisen was extraordinarily friendly and engaging. Bruce considers himself very lucky.

Day Four  Monday, NOV 14,  2011

Got up really early - around 6AM and walked from Yugawara, Ohnoya onsen,  to the main street and back - almost in time for breakfast.  meet with Kris Kondo, an old friend from Boston/Kaji Aso Studio days. She had so many gifts for me! See them in the slide show below; jewelry, poetry, painted rocks, robes! An amazing treasure trove.

Day Three  Sunday, NOV 13,  2011

We took a taxi to the next talk, which felt as if it was just down the street. has published Mitsue's book and CD. they gathered together nearly 60 teachers of English who were as lively and engaged a group of educators as I have ever met. We had a blast working together. And then it was time for a trip to the Ohnoya onsen and an overnight at a traditional tatami-floored, shoji-doored ryokan. This  feature of Japanese life had been the highlight of my first trip to Japan and I was not disappointed my second time around.  The small town of Yuguwara ( I think I am not remembering the name correctly, will have to check this)  was very charming, more beautiful than 'cute' and we walked around alot. At the inn we exchanged modern western clothes for Japanese yukata and ate and slept on the sweet smelling tatami floor. I was told we even had a small earthquake to round out the authentic cultural experience. I slept right through it because at dinner the sake flowed and the fish dishes just kept on coming. Heavenly!

Day 2 Nov 12, 2011

This was the big day, the day of presentation for the Japanese government grant that Mistue wrote to bring me to Tokyo. Mitsue went off early to get ready.  I was felling a bit better prepared for my 2nd talk to teachers of English and education students.  Bruce and I  traveled together as he had a free day and Mitsue's students met us at her office where I made final adjustments to a program for people who operated in English on a wide variety of levels.

I was very worried that I would get excited and talk too fast. Before the talk I needed to use the bathroom so I hurried down the hall and walked into...a traditional bathroom in the floor. I jumped back and rushed out thinking I had gone into a men's room by mistake. Checking the sign I realized that I had not. The day before when I used that room I had used a stall with a Western style toilet. Culture shock was settling in and my gaffe made me laugh.  Finally the presentation.  My talk seemed to go well at least the teachers laughed at the funny places so I knew we were, at some points at least,  on the same wavelength.

Aoyama Lecture Hall - from  Sasaki,Yuta's blog
The most astounding thing happened during the break.  Mitsue was very eager to introduce me to a young man,  who turned out to be none other than Sasaki-san, the kamishibai guy! He had read the emails we sent the night before at 8 AM and there he was at 10:30AM - come all the way from Kuni-tachi ( a fairly distant part of Tokyo).  I invited him to perform as a slam-dunk finish to the nearly 90+ minute program and he "brought down the house" with his 3 minute story.  Just the day before, two Japanese grad students had told me after hearing me tell stories that I was "lucky to speak English" because there "was no Japanese storytelling".  These students looked very unconvinced when I tried to tell them storytelling exists everywhere and must be alive and well in Japan, too. Sasaki-san and his mother and I had lunch together in Mitsue's office along with Bruce who acted as a translator. We talked for hours ! How lucky we were to have such a devoted translator. It seems the Japanese government has forbidden street performance and this, along with TV, has nearly killed the art form in Japan. Sasaki-san is determined to bring it back!

Sasaki-san performs kamishibai w/iPad
It turns out that years ago, Bruce had told me about Sasaki-san's sensei. Sasaki,Yuta began studying the art of kamishibai in 2006 under the late Masao Morishita, who performed in Tokyo to great acclaim for more than 50 years before his death in 2008.  Years after Bruce told me the story,  I had often repeated to other performers, the moving story of a man who had lost his voice but had recorded his stories so he could continue to perform. Sasaki, is the only '"deshi" ( student/apprentice who trains under and assists a sensei on a committed basis) this master left behind. Sasaki-san showed me one of  Morishita sensei's kamishibai paintings. He has inherited his master's wooden theater and cards and uses them in the tradintional manner in his neighborhood. only there may he practice the art in its natural habitat - the street. I felt so honored but even more, it felt magical somehow, to meet Sasaki and his mother.  We know that we share the same passion for the art of storytelling. Now I feel that somehow I need to take his story and his storytelling, to the US.

Bruce had said that jet lag would hit me around 4PM but around 3 PM I started to have uncontrollable yawns and my eyes started to droop. With deep regrets and promises to see how I could to help promote kamishibai, I said goodbye to Sasaki-san and his mother. We took the train home and I crashed. Poor Mitsue had another full afternoon of presentation to sit through. But when we were reunited we reflected and marveled over the serendipity of the day, as we ate delicious sukiyaki that Mitsue made for us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dazed- Day One JAPAN Fri NOV 11 2011

Balcony in Bunkyo-ku
Where did Thursday go anyway? That pesky international date line! I slept like a baby for over 12 hours and awoke at 6am. Like a little kid at Xmas, I got up before anyone else was awake and padded around to the front of the house to look out and see where I was. I was so excited! Not only were my hosts dear friends who never see enough even though they have been visiting us in Boston, every year since the 80s - but,  I thought I would never live long enough to save enough money to see them in Japan. And yet, here I was in their apartment, in the center of one of the many 'centers' of Tokyo, in Japan.  I was so excited!

At the front of the condo their 6th floor balcony looks out at a music school like Berkley College on one side and a tiny pocket neighborhood of single family homes and is just a block from a six lane Haksan-Dori or White Mountain Ave. On this a main thoroughfare, there is a high rise with a roller coaster and huge ferris wheel. It was like Mass Ave or Boylston Street.  But comparison is hard because Tokyo is so huge it could put all of down-town Boston in it's watch-pocket. And Haksan-Dori  is not even the largest or busiest street. In Tokyo, even tho' the streets and sidewalks are full of traffic  ( loads of bicycles ridden by people of all ages) most of the action is below ground in the incredible subway system.

After working the entire 13 hour flight from Toronto I was feeling almost prepared for my 1st talk of four.  And I still needed to create and decide about handouts for a 90 minute lecture and workshop for Mituse's undergraduates at Aoyama Unversity. My presentation had a lot of new material that was not yet formatted for ppt. and was mixed with some existing material. I was really frustrated that I  had not  prioritizing my time better to make life a bit easier for myself.

So I ate breakfast and got right to work. First, I checked my email. I noticed that I had comment on my blog about kamishibai and there was also link from Tim Ereneta in CA about a young kamishibai storyteller, Yuta Sasaki in Tokyo who uses an iPad in his work and who had vowed, with his sensei to make "kamishibai storytelling a normal part of everyday life again." [ Cannot thank Tim enough for being the kind of 'social connecter' that we admire and try to emulate] 

Forgetting my functional illiteracy, I immediately started looking for this young man, Yuta Sasaki's  contact info on google. He had a ton of blogs, loads of video,  great graphics and pictures.  But contact? Oops! All my google and Firefox controls were now in Japanese, including ones that might say "switch language" so  I asked Bruce, who was my guide for the day, to help me. I  knew I had to at least try to contact Sasaki-san after I  read his vow. He was likely a kindred spirit in "promoting the art of storytelling in the 21st century". 

We did not have enough time to find him so I put that on hold and finished the talk, slides and handouts and dressed in time to head out by subway to Aoyama ( Blue Mountain University) via train. Bruce and Mitsue's station,  Kasuga ( spring sun ) is a 2 minute walk from the front door of their apartment building.  The talk went well. After sharing background and a bit of theory I told the students my fave story - Molly O'Donahugh. I asked them to think of their stories and ran the short Everybody Has a Story workshop for ELL students a first time for me. I was excited but too tired to be nervous and basically enjoyed my time with the students so much that we missed the bell.
Next was Mitsue's graduate class where most students were English Lit majors. Professor Allen led a discussion of orality and "versions of stories" and I was invited to tell the Rough Faced Girl by Rafe Martin as an example of a Cinderella story.  Mitsue had a few senior students who were helping us in all aspects from video to making flyers.  Mai, Yu and Shunsuke had just been accepted into the graduate school of Aoyama U so we went out for superb coffee and extraordinary pastries to celebrate. Each student told us an extraordinary personal story, in English. It was a lovely end to the school day. We had a fine dinner, prepared at home by Mitsue. She also found the email for Sasaki-san and I wrote to him in English and she in Japanese, inviting him to meet and/or come to the talk tomorrow. As I still needed to create and decide about handouts for a 90 minute lecture and then the private workshop for teachers the next day, I was up most of  the night again.   The next day I realized, to my chagrin, that all my formatting struggles were fruitless. The use  Japanese use A4 - which is a quite a bit longer and I needn't have gone crazy working to have each story to fit on one page!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tokyo - Nov 11, 2011

Whooeeee! It is Friday already and I can hardly believe I am here! Plane journey was relatively easy (considering how much I hate it) and without complications. I liked Air Canada and Toronto Airport has a ton of lovely public art.  But mama mia, I am a long way from home. Below is a youtube of some pictures - a little backwards look at my journey which did take the better part of a day.

I fell asleep at 6:30PM Tokyo time, for a little nap.  And woke up 12 hours later.  Very rested and totally excited to be in Japan. On the way from Ueno station to Bunkyo-ku I noticed aka-chochin ( red lantern bars that stay open late for food and beer) loads of bicycles and vending machines on the street which I remembered from 35 years ago.  I looked out from the sixth floor of the appahto, where I am staying and listened to early morning bird songs and watched people walk to work under umbrellas, looking just like Hakusai- Edo period block prints. Sugoi desu neh? Now to work! First talk is at 1PM today, to undergraduates at Aoyama University on the importance of storytelling. And I am looking into the work of this modern day Japanese performer that Tim Erenata told me about.

Waku-waku, suru! Very excited. Matta, neh?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kamishibai and Why I love Powerpoints: Insight from wikipedia

Kamishibai and Why I  love Powerpoints: Insight from wikipedia
Tokyo kamishibai with a mic
Looking at pictures and talking about them must be in my DNA. I love making and working with Powerpoints and digital projectors. Perhaps, many, many years ago a distant relative or ancestor was a "cantastoria" who told stories with i giuglliari di piazza or the "jesters of the square"

Cantastoria (also spelled cantastorie, canta storia or canta historia) comes from Italian for "sung story" or "singing history" and is known by many other names around the world. It is a theatrical form where a performer tells or sings a story while gesturing to a series of images. These images can be painted, printed or drawn on any sort of material.  Picture stories were also popular in Asia. In 6th century India religious tales called Saubhikas were performed by traveling storytellers who carried banners painted with images of gods from house to house. Another form called Yamapapaka featured vertical cloth scrolls accompanied by sung stories of the afterlife. In Tibet this was known as ma-ni-pa and in China this was known as pien or transformation story.

In Indonesia the scroll was made horizontal and became the wayang beber and employed four performers: A man who sings the story, two men who operate the rolling of the scroll, and a woman who holds a lamp to illuminate particular pictures featured in the story. Other Indonesian theater forms such as wayang kulit shadow play and wayang golek rod puppet shows developed around the same time and are still performed today. In Japan cantastoria appears as "etoki" or "emaki" in the form of hanging scrolls divided into separate panels, foreshadowing the immensely popular manga, or Japanese comics.

Surrounded by children
Etoki sometimes took the shape of little booklets, or even displays of dolls posed on the roadside with backgrounds behind them. In the 20th century, Japanese canndymen would bicycle around with serial shows called kamishibai where the story was told to a series of changing pictures that slid in and out of an open-framed box.

In aboriginal Australia storytellers paint story sequences on tree bark and also on themselves for the purposes of performing the tale.

In the 19th century giant scrolling moving panorama performances were performed throughout the United Kingdom and United States. The 20th century has seen cantastoria employed by the radical art, theater and puppetry movements to tell stories from perspectives outside of the mainstream media, especially by the Bread and Puppet Theater. Elements of picture storytelling can also be seen in the portable mural-posters of the Beehive Collective.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting ready...

hiragana chart
I have been been listening to Japanese language podcasts all this week. Finally worked out why my downloads were not coming in and now I have 100s of podcasts on all kinds of situations. It has been a little bit fun to see how much I can cram into my head and what was left from 30 years ago. And I think I wold have learned a lot had there been these kinds of tools when I was studying. The truth of my still being able to speak Japanese is like this old joke:
A doctor has come to see one of his patients in a hospital. The patient has had major surgery to both of his hands.

"Doctor," says the man excitedly and dramatically holds up his heavily bandaged hands. "Will I be able to play the piano when these bandages come off?"

"I don't see why not," replies the doctor.

"Wonderful," says the man. "I  always wanted to be able to play!"
1978, signing a painting
I never was able to speak Japanese. But 35 years ago I did have nearly 200  words and phrases - all not very useful conversational vocabulary gleaned from studying haiku and Japanese calligraphy as an art student and as an associate of a very eccentric artist who taught us all some seriously naughty to downright vulgar things to say. Last time, I listened, a lot in Japan. And every time I ventured to say something,  I found my foot in my mouth because I had managed to be very offensive - even when avoiding all the crazy things I had been told to say. My gaffes were mainly due to creative use of a limited vocabulary and even more limited grammar niether of which covered the words needed in formal and informal situations.

So, I loved the discipline of sho-do where my mistakes were quieter.  Wikipedia says, "Japanese calligraphy was influenced by, and influenced, Zen thought. For any particular piece of paper, the calligrapher has but one chance to create with the brush. The brush strokes cannot be corrected and even a lack of confidence will show up in the work. The calligrapher must concentrate and be fluid in execution. The brush writes a statement about the calligrapher at a moment in time (-Hitsuzendo, the Zen way of the brush)." I liked the high stakes, no going back process. My favorite poem and possbily the only one I had memorized well was by Basho:
Old pond ya
frog jumps in
the sound of water.
The calligraphy sample below of the poem is from this website:  I studied calligraphy at Kaji Aso Studio, where, very long ago, I was a founding member. Their catalogue lists Calligraphy like this:
Introduction to Japanese Calligraphy  “ The Art of the Brush” Japanese calligraphy is presented not just as an art form and an exercise, but as a unified aestheticism and life enriching practice. Enjoy the simplicity of this art form that is so close to dance in its expression.

Fire by Kaji Aso
Above is sample of Mr.(as he preferred to be called) Aso's  work, Fire, sumi on rice paper. I do remember the practice of calligraphy fondly. 35 years later,  I am reduced to copying out hiragana like a kindergartner as I prepare to travel in a land where I will be functionally illiterate the minute I step off the plane.

Luckily,  I am not going to  Japan to write or recite haiku. I will be talking about storytelling and how it is a powerful, underutilized tool to promote literacy and help ELL learners gain proficiency. And I am presenting my talk in English. Phew!  It is my hope that it will also foster an enthusiasm for English in Japanese youth for it is a required subject from the time they are five. Wish me luck.
poem, Basho

Monday, October 3, 2011

Going to Japan to tell stories and...

Aoyama Gakuin University
Late this summer I was surprised and delighted to learn that a project proposal, written by a friend was funded by the Japanese Government and this has prompted an invitation, complete with all travel expenses, for me to give some lectures on Story, Storytelling and ELL in Tokyo, Japan. My sponsor and host, Professor Mitsue Allen-Tamai, has just published a book, Teaching English to Young Learners through Stories and Activities and is a leader in the field of English instruction for young learners. Mitsue visits every summer and we have been talking together about storytelling and language intruction for decades.  Now, Mitsue has created this opportunity to make our thoughts, public.

In mid November, 2011 I will be a guest speaker at Aoyama Gakuin University and the working title of my talk is: "Storytelling: An Organic Base for Literacy and Language". While visiting Aoyama Gakuin University I will meet with undergraduate and graduate students who have an interest in teaching English. I also will present a longer, formal seminar on applied storytelling in ELL classes in a meeting exclusively for practitioners who are actually teaching English to children. These will be followed by a joint lecture with Mitsue Allen-Tamai, a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan, and an adjunct professor at the graduate school of Temple University in Japan. Professor Allen-Tamai has been teaching courses to train college students to become English teachers of young children at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  She is quoted at the end of this article in the JapanTimes. I am very excited about classroom visits and storytelling with Professor Allen-Tamai in kindergartens and also with 5th-6th graders in Tokyo school.  A possible lecture at Seisen University English department, in Tokyo  and a visit to an onsen* are also in the works. When I first went to Japan we stayed at a magically beautiful onsen on the Izu peninsula. But 35 years is a long time between visits and while I will be presenting in English, I must find time to study up on my very rudimentary Japanese...Waku waku, Doki doki shimasu ne!  (So very excited and thrilled! At least this is what I hope I said. )

*Onsen: from wikipedia:
An onsen (温泉) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism.
Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂 or 野天風呂 rotenburo or notenburo) and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (内湯) often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or bed and breakfast (民宿).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Life of A Storyteller: It's Like This, too...

It is a beautiful thing to be an artist. And I am ever grateful that I have work that allows me such full expression of who I really am. But lest I get too ecstatic in this " art and life are beautiful" vein, I feel I should mention that the merry life of a live performer is like this too...

It's Like This, too: the life of a storyteller in two short acts

Telling stories in an urban park on an pre-inspected surface...

 ACT 1 "More Interesting than Dog Poop"
Scene: A Summer gig, not too long ago  -

My work sends me to some funky venues.
This one was a park along side a highway where the planes are low overhead in their approach to Logan. It was about 90º F.

It was also before lunch and maybe after nap
About 20 kids about 3 years old each,
walking like somnambulists, holding on to
clothesline were brought out to me and
we were all led to a huge tree.

How primal - how essential !
Me, a tree and a group of children.
This is storytelling.
This is what it is all about!

The disaffected teen staff were sullen
and glum. Who could blame them?
It was so damn hot, humid and smelly.
But when I pointed out that the broken glass mixed in the
wet with dew covered grass as unsuitable for tender toddler bottoms of my audience they
became even unhappier.
We moved around the tree and finally to another tree.
And I started at last.
A plane roared overhead. I pushed on.
Traffic flowed and growled in the background.
I engaged and cavorted.
Then a bright and perspicacious little boy noticed a huge dog
turd about 18" inches away from my foot.

God. I wished I had seen that first.

"Wow. Look! Dog P-O-O-P!"

20 little heads were snapped around and riveted
in attention on the brown, perfectly
formed canine offering by my foot. The teen counselors perked up.
This became a moment of intense interest. My audience could not get enough -
It quickly evolved into group participation.
They had to see and share and even wanted to touch.
This last desire snapped the teen's into action.
They had no tools to remove the intruding turd so the counselors worked on crowd control.

And the rest of my gig was spent in shameless competition.
By god ! I am storyteller!

I am more
interesting than dog poop.
Aren't I?
Story is bigger than this!
Isn't story bigger than this?

Apparently not.
I bought a sound system next year.
I bring plastic bags.
I know who I am.

I am a storyteller and that is for shizzle!

Such is the power of storytelling.

Act 2  And I thought dog poop was stiff competition? 
Scene: A school gig in the winter

Performer's Affirmation - "Don't lose concentration."
One day,  I tested the power of storytelling.
For real. I was right in the beginning set of my presentation in a cafetorium filled with 300 or so K- 2 grades sitting on their bottoms. The kindergardners were already a bit rambunctious. I was intent on keeping their attention. As is often the case, they are disoriented in a big space where they can only see me or the person next to them.  I usually request to see them in the warm familiarity of their classrooms.  In their own space their teacher's eyes, arms and laps are always close by.
Their sketchy attention was soon downgraded to a non-issue when a poor little 1st grader quietly let fly. 
I saw some of the action in my peripheral vision. Luckily the calm and very quiet 1st grader who lost his/her breakfast and made a spectacular technicolor yawn was behind the K- folk who were now with me and my story.

The space for 15 feet around the incident was quickly and immediately evacuated.

This happened so quickly and noiselessly that I wasn't sure what was going on until I saw there was a hole in what had been a visual field full of 1st graders.
And in the middle of the large white space
was an enormous puddle of
red vomit.

For quite a while the spot was vacant. The news was passed quickly through the students and rippled in whispers to the back rows where 1st and 2nd graders started poking their heads up like
gophers to try and "see".

A teacher covered the one foot circle of
vomit, with small paper napkins.
This manouever took some time. She was thorough. And slow.
Finally the fire engine red circle with orange chunks
was covered up. Mostly.

And then janitor came. Moving
with the measured,
precise movements of a character in a Noh play,
he carefully swept and then
he brought out sawdust and sprinkled and swept some more.
He returned with disinfectant
and sprayed and wiped and wiped again.

It was not a simple task. A laborious process. A careful cleaning.

But, by god - I was more interesting than throw up and clean up. I never stopped and never lost the
crowd or my train of thought.

This is the POWER of storytelling. Essential. Deep. Organic. Human.


Both these "acts" were previously published in this very blog 4 years ago. That was back in the day, when I first started a blog, thanks to Andrea Lovett, who walked me through the set up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Last Day of Read Boston for me

It is my last day of Read Boston. I will be in Charlestown all day. Yesterday was a great day. I worked in the South End Settlement House in their lovely walled garden, the Tadpole playground on the Boston Common, at a school in Chinatown and then at the zebra gate of Franklin Park Zoo in the evening. Hard to express fully how joyful and satisfying it is to tell stories all day.

Here is a short slide show of the earlier part of my day. Biking from place to place, on a gorgeous day, telling stories. My idea of heaven.

Today I wrote this on the way to Charlestown. What I especially enjoy about bicycling part are the little things...

A meditation on some black details while riding on the Charles River to work.

black starling bathes in a tiny puddle on asphalt path
what a yellow beak!
kingfisher is a black question mark on top a
round white buoy.
A long shadow behind as I peddle by on a
black bike in early morning sun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Been working on sound recordings of our work at masmouth for  nearly a full year. Finally about to publish some podcasts at iTunes and SoundCloud. I have also put up a few of my own stories at Sound Cloud and here [below] is the player. The audio content will be updated in the player to the left as I add more of my slapdash material.

   Latest tracks by norah_dooley

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vermont to Montreal July 26th - July 27th

The Galaxy Book Shop in Hardwick, VT
self serve with cash in the till
Amazing roof garden
Nearly all of Monday was spent driving up and down Route 2. I was taking youngest daughter for her obligatory immunizations before college. This was a lot of time in the car - 7 hours due to traffic but relatively easy. Easier than we had thought and Rosie and I enjoyed pleasant conversations and a nice breakfast at Whole Foods on the way out and she was much relieved that the this series of shots was not very painful as the previous ones. I also arranged other important doctors visits as I drove so it was a good day. And if not a vacation precisely at least some stress was removed from the summer. 

The drive to Vermont was delightful. We stopped Burdick's for coffee in Walpole NH and arrived in Hardwick VT in time for lunch. Hardwick has a coop that we visited in 1984 when or eldest was 1 years old. We bought her a T-shirt that had a buffalo and Buffalo Mtn. Coop which she and all three of her sister wore for 15 years. Hardwick is now the center of the 'localvore' movement.  The first site we enjoyed was this window at the Galaxy Book Store 7 Mill Street. They will have one of my fave poets reading in AUG - David Budbill. I wish someone had been in the window. We could have exchanged stories. We had a local produce lunch at the Buffalo Mtn. Coop Café where the gazpacho was the best I have ever had. Anxious to get out of the car we pushed on Craftsbury to visit our friend Mimi who is the mother of one of our oldest and closest friends, David. Back 1984 we lived together in Cambridge. He was reeling from a divorce proceeding that was tearing at all our hearts and shaking the foundations of our little coop house and community. We were visiting in VT to cheer us and his two year old daughter, Catherine, in this difficult time. I was pregnant with our second child, due in late August. David was separated but still married to Lucy, my best friend from high school. Our friendship and our youthful promise that we would live together and help each other raise our families was the center pole of the three family arrangement in our funky three-decker in Central Square, Cambridge. Robert and I loved Catherine like a niece and our eldest daughter Sira loved her like a cousin. We spent many summers after that visiting David and his parents in Vermont and now our all too infrequent visits are always filled with sweet memories.

On the way to Mimi's there is new farm stand that is owned by Pete Johnson - a shaker and mover, who is responsible for much of this ... article excerpt from  SlowFood blog:

"We all know what local, sustainable food can do for the health of our bodies, but could it also be a cure for the health of ailing economies? Ben Hewitt’s book The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food delves into this question, exploring the growth of a vibrant local food economy in Hardwick, Vermont, population 3,200. Hardwick is a lot like how it sounds – unemployment in the town is 40 percent higher than the state average; incomes are 25 percent lower. But in the last few years, Hardwick has returned to its historical roots in farming, with a new twist – local, sustainable agriculture. It’s growing a vibrant local food system that is restoring not only some jobs and higher wages, but a sense of community and food that’s connected to it. A diverse network of “agrepreneurs” in Hardwick– High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete’s Greens, Jasper Hill Farm, the Vermont Food Venture Center and so on - are producing organic and artisanal foods and seeking investors. Business owners share advice, capital and facilities. About a hundred jobs have been created. Sounds great, but is the story of this one town’s thriving local food system unique, or is it a viable model for other communities? As I read, part of me hoped to find an easy-to-follow plan - just do it like we did! Farm this way, market that way, save the world, take a nap. Sadly, social change isn’t that easy, but while Hardwick doesn’t offer an exact blueprint, it is a thought-provoking example of a thriving local food economy. Hewitt suggests that a couple of unique, and surprising, variables have contributed to the town’s growing local-ag economy: poverty and small size. Hewitt believes that Hardwick’s success is founded upon trust and collaboration which “are in no small ways social and cultural responses to economic hardship.” He also suggests that the population had a “just right” quality that was big enough to be ambitious, and small enough to be fast-acting and flexible. The best lesson to be learned here is about cooperation and inspiration. The Town that Food Saved is a story about the ability of a group of likeminded folks to come together in pursuit of a passion for sustainable, local food– not without challenges, but with dedication to a bigger vision. That’s what Slow Food is all about too. If you’re interested in learning more about thriving local food entrepreneurs, BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) has some exciting network programs focused on sustainable agriculture.  And for ideas on how to invest in other inspiring small food enterprises, you can check out Slow Money, a non-profit dedicated to investing in local food systems and connecting investors to local economies.

We were earlier than planned but Mimi was gracious and read her book as we paddled around her pond and walked the dirt roads a bit, eating fresh raspberries. Then we watched a huge thunder storm roll in, roll over and pass on. Mimi made a delicious curry chicken dinner and we played a few rounds of banana gram  and slept soundly in a room overlooking pond. A gray morning greeted us as we left later than planned for Montreal. But the drive was pleasant and again, shorter than we had thought. We arrived at our 'hotel' at noon and the room was not ready. We discovered only as we were leaving the next day that we had misread the time and we were a full 2 hours early.

We talk a good game...July 24th 2011

We talk a good game...

Robert and Rosie did the framing of the screen house/shed extension.

Robert and I talk a good game about sweetly "doing nothing" but as soon as the sun went down I was immediately engaged in transferring old family videos to DVD. This is my idea of fun.  I love that the little gizmo in white is now all that is needed to connect and digitize from VHS tapes to .mov files. Back in the day I had to borrow a set up from a film-maker friend that cost about $1000 and was 20Xs the size. This set up was less than 1/10 the cost as well. Early in the AM I set this up to run with tapes of Xmas 2000. But when,  like an old fire horse, I heard Robert pounding nails into his screen house project and I found myself strapping on a tool belt to help shingle while the infernal machines worked on my project.
White rectangle in middle is 'gizmo'
My favorite yellow hammer - which I used for 2 years as we built the houses here in Royalston, felt like an old friend. The hammer is light, well balanced and has an easy grip. But my upper body muscles did not find work familiar and hammering was not an old friend. The only muscle I use in my upper body is my damn mouth. Which came in handy as I convinced Robert that the 90+ degree heat was better suited to blue berry picking. After whacking my index finger, nailing shingles too low and bending and pulling 2 nails to each I sent home, we broke for a quick late lunch. And then we went in search of the low bush blueberries that were sited by Maureen earlier in the week. The roads in Lake Dennison were dry and dusty so we went slowly, drinking in the smells and sounds of summer.

Patti was our guide/companion on the back roads of Dennison and we found the blue berries after a few false starts. The berries were not as plentiful as we hoped. Nothing like the top of Gap Mtn.  I pick berries carefully, eating a lot as I go and with a mind towards cooking and freezing them. Robert picks with a clear "quantity over quality mentality" and I have always been the one to prepare the berries for eating. His is a tough act to follow - it can take hours to get his berries usable! This time I got him to agree to clean and separate the berries when we got home.  He was happy to agree because he was certain I was just being whiny - How hard can it be, really? Just to sort the ripe berries from the leaves, twigs, unripe greens and dessicated grey berries? Well, it took him over an hour to clean about a gallon. I think I have a convert to quality picking. The heat was relentless so we drove down to the lake for a swim. Normally, it takes me many minutes to walk in and get all over wet. I'll dive into anything but I HATE walking into cold water. This time I was in before Robert. The water was about 70 degrees and the air temp was over 90 - my fave conditions for swimming. It was luscious.

We had a quick dinner after our swim and finished the day with more work on the screen house. This has been Robert's project - I have not been any help. In fact, the project has been stalled for years because we could not agree on the location, design and materials. I gave in ( I want a barn with a studio - been promised one for 30 years...bon chance ) and Robert, assisted by youngest daughter, Rosalie, did all the framing during the precious 3 weekends while I worked on grant reports, videos and other matters. It was fun to be swinging a hammer again. We worked in the cool of evening until the bugs drove us in.

The Sweet Doing of Nothing July 23rd,2011

Patti is the gardener.  We appreciate and eat.  She plants, weeds and waters.

Our first day of official vacation involved rising early and paying bills, answering and emptying email in-boxes until 3PM. This seemed an inauspicious but necessary start to a week without internet and sometimes even without cell phone as we would see once we were au Canada ( O,Canada ?). I felt guilty for being the cause of such a late start. But we were rewarded by the beauty and  hushed industry of bees and butterflies as soon as we arrived. The slanting light of early evening gave the garden a  luxiourious butterry wash. Ah. En vacance. I forgot all and simply enjoyed the “dolce far niente” – Italian for the “sweet doing of nothing”.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My other Summer Job

This summer the Boston Public Library features Norah Dooley telling stories from from around the world, around the branches and neighborhoods of Boston. This is in conjunction with their annual Summer Reading Program. Spoken word is the source and sustenance of written language and oral stories, in performance, make that connection come alive. All performances are free and open to the public, July 6th thru August 15th.

One World, Many Stories

Norah Dooley performs in Boston Public Libraries as featured  storyteller for Summer Reading 2011
Norah  tells timeless folk tales from around the world. Her stories make audiences sing, laugh, and think. Noodleheads, legends, tricksters, and heroines are well represented as Norah shares engaging
traditional tales from Haiti to India, from Japan to Costa Rica, and from the Mediterranean traditions of Italy, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Algeria –including Mullah Nasreddin stories.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why I Love My Summer Job

Storymobile, ReadBoston and me

  Telling a story in a basketball court for ReadBoston, 2010
During the past 12 summers I have worked for the Storymobile. This is ReadBoston’s most well-known and public program. Each summer about 12 storytellers tell stories at nearly 80 sites throughout the city of Boston for six weeks. These programs are free and open to the public. They are in parks and gyms and libraries. Sometimes there are 20 kids and caretakers. Sometimes hundreds. At the end of every performance every child who attends these storytelling sessions gets to pick out a free paperback book. If a child attends every week, he/she will have six brand new books to add to his/her book collection. And they will have heard 6 different storytellers tell in 6 unique styles and listen to stories. Listening to a story is not a passive act -because actively listening to stories enriches the soil of literacy which is...oral language.

It is often a "tough room", hot venues filled with squirmy and distracted kids.  But it is also amazing, rewarding work. After telling "Little daughter and The Wolf" last year, a six year old came up to me and said, "When are we going to see that movie again?" Which movie, I asked. She said, with some impatience, " The one just now, about the girl and the wolf. "  I said, you made up that movie listening to my words. She looked perplexed and then was yanked out by her teacher along with 9 others, on loops of rope. But I was delighted. She thought her imagination was as 'real' as a movie. Check out the schedule here: Storymobile Schedule. -

A few videos from ReadBoston:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Copley Library 10:00-10:45
66 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02115

8 Oak Street West, Boston (Chinatown), MA 02116

Salvation Army 1:15-2:00
1500 Washington Street, Roxbury, MA 02119

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mosaic School 10:00-10:45
85 Seaverns Avenue, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Bromley Heath TMC Community Service Department 11:15-12:00
30 Bickford Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Marcella Park 1:15-2:00
Marcella Street/Highland Street, Roxbury, MA 02119

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ellis Memorial Children’s Center 10:00-10:45
66 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116

Escuelita Boriken 11:15-12:00
85 West Newton Street, Boston, MA 02118

Ark of Cherubs 1:15-2:00
81 Walnut Ave, Roxbury, MA 02119

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crispus Attucks 10:00-10:45
105 Crawford Street, Dorchester, MA 02121

Egleston Square Library 11:15-12:00
2044 Columbus Avenue, Roxbury, MA 02119

Carter Playground 1:15-2:00
Columbus Avenue & Camden Street, Roxbury, MA 02118

Monday, August 1

Billings Field 10:00-10:45
Centre Street and LaGrange Street
2030 Centre Street, West Roxbury, MA 02132

Ohrenberger C.C. 11:15-12:00
175 West Boundary Road, West Roxbury, MA 02132

Mattapan Library 1:15-2:00
1350 Blue Hill Avenue, Mattapan, MA 02126

Tuesday, August 9

West End House Boys and Girls Club 10:00-10:45
105 Allston Street, Allston, MA 02134

Honan-Allston Library 11:15-12:00
300 North Harvard Street, Allston, MA 02134

Jackson Mann Community Center 1:15-2:00
500 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA 02134

Thursday, August 11, 2011

United South End Settlements, 10:00-10:45
48 Rutland Street, Boston, MA 02118

TADPole Playground 11:00-11:45
Boston Common, Boston (next to the Frog Pond)

Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center/Josiah Quincy School, 1:15-2:00
885 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111

Friday, August 12, 2011

Children’s Quarters 10:00-10:45
36 First Avenue (Charlestown Navy Yard), Charlestown, MA 02129

John F. Kennedy Family Service Center 11:15-12:00
23 Moulton Street, Charlestown, MA 02129

Charlestown Library 1:15-2:00
179 Main Street, Charlestown, MA 0212