January 19th, Washington DC.
It was interesting to observe how the team steered the last two days. I could feel them trying to address as many needs as possible, adapting their structure accordingly. The slightly tight structure of the first two days I felt softened and in the bleeding of edges the space seemed to charge with the inaudible sound of people’s minds whirring. On Saturday we broke into smaller groups to discuss these main areas that had come up:
The Role of Storytelling.
Using the tools.
Partners/strategies for building a project in the community.
The Role of the Facilitator.
Then, in the afternoon we had a wonderful session with Liz Lerman; nimbleness, having multiple names for things, multiple categories to organise and catalyse thought, reframing thinking and on and on…. It’s not easy (for me) to describe how Liz works in the moment, much of what we did she’d done with us at The Point last year but it feels as fresh as ever and her focus, speed, generosity is simply astounding and responsive to anything that comes up.
After goodbyes to all the participants, Sacha and I had a quick lunch with Iana, a lovely person working as a mediator, wanting to try and build community classes where she lives on Deer Isle in Maine a 14 hour drive north. Her use of language was very interesting for me to listen to. She described the importance of reflective listening for children, how through story telling with the listening child reflecting back what they had heard from the story told, children can learn early that it’s ok for our stories to be misunderstood and then corrected and in doing so they learn that each other can be corrected, that it’s alright, we’re not wrong.
On the final day Iana had given me some feedback following a trio exercise the ‘moving interview’; two people interrupt the storyteller/mover with rapid fire questions as well as providing physical contact/interruption simultaneously, to give the moving person lots to negotiate towards releasing/surfacing unexpected thought and feeling. She said kindly, ‘I shouldn’t work so hard to be accurate in what I wanted to say…..’
I had been gradually noticing how once again, I was not speaking much or easily in the group circle situations. This is a recurring issue for me, but in this particular context a reminder of how I get overwhelmed sometimes with simplifying what is in my mind to be able to express it. This began to unsettle me, and when asked to re-find our ‘buddies’ from day one, lovely Emily, I faced away from the other pairs talking in the room as I welled up with the fear of having to talk and share in the circle at closing time, which I knew was coming.
I was asking myself the question about contribution. Did it mean that if I don’t speak even when I am thinking – I assess/judge whether it’s clear/important enough to speak aloud, is there something potentially more important about ‘supporting the group effort’ that makes someone a good contributor in a group? Something to do with the responsibility of supporting the navigating of the groups learning by contributing verbally to be more fully present for others than deciding whether what I’m saying is vital and necessary enough. I wondered again whether this was a cultural difference. The people in the room were largely American and articulate in their communication. I could feel the ground of their education requiring this to be the case, whereas even at 43 I don’t feel particularly articulate in describing difficult processes. Of course the wonderful session with Liz Lerman on Saturday afternoon brought into sharp focus again how we can learn these skills and demonstrates in quite extraordinary ways how complex ideas can multiply/co-exist/be reframed, particularly by naming what is being thought/felt/struggled with.
I’m not sure of the answer to my concerns about ‘speaking out’. It’s not new by any means. I do speak but not much, mostly when each person is invited to or when I have something clear to say.
During the last circle, Cassie put forward a new idea they have been working with ‘the circle of possibility’ a visioning tool. We were asked to imagine a challenge we faced, that we’d distilled in our ‘buddy’ pairs, then express it within a structure of, having already done/overcome this challenge in the future… ‘When I left the Winter Institute I did ….. ‘
So, I began to speak, slowly, in the moment, not knowing where it would lead and feeling very uncomfortable. I described a conversation in a café near where I live in Topsham, with a new producer friend I’ve been working with called Rae. I asked her to help me by having a conversation, because I wanted to work out how to identify a new group I might begin to work with (Dance Exchange does a lot of work in Care Homes for example) – a group I’d not worked with before.
Imagining this fictional conversation slowly stirred some quiet resolve. And I do feel now, that some thinking has subtly shifted.
I already work on various projects, in the community and professionally not making any large distinction between them, more I attempt to bring the same rigour to everything I do without assuming I know how to do the things before I start.
I do want to broaden the kinds of projects I’m involved in and to take my approaches/and ME into new contexts where I might be able to create some meaningful exchange between people. I think that despite my difficulties of talking about what I do/can do, I do trust that I do/can create from small things and that I do/can hold a space for things to happen and that, I’m good at this.
I realise as I’m writing here that maybe this is my own personal answer to the question of; ‘The Role of Artists working to build Community’. In a way I’m not sure we directly tackled it, but my responsibility maybe is to honour new curiosities when they arise, to see where they lead and to keep going. And to keep trying to imagine new ways to do things to share and build understanding, in a range of ways, with different people, where I can possibly make a difference in their lives and by doing so in mine too.