It’s a dark Thursday evening and twenty storytelling students are sitting in a small empty room. Storytelling comes under the Aesthetics department at Oslo University College but anything less aesthetic than this bare room would be hard to find. Utterly soulless, the hum of 20 smartphones and the ventilation, windows you can’t open and selflocking doors you need a code to enter. We start to sing. We sing our way out of this dry and empty room and into another. As we pass nearer or further from one another our voices vibrate together jarring and ringing in the air. They listen to my story and it’s like I can sense their keen visualization in the atmosphere. This kind of ‘teaching’ is a bit like surfing on a wave. I provide a kind of structure but all the time tuning into their energy, their questions, their worries and their great enthusiasm. And the sea that’s carrying me and them is essentially a sea of trust without which none of this can happen.
Something funny happened at the end of the evening. A confident teacher and coach shared her dread of the coming performance with me. I talked about how my own terror abated and how dread can contribute. Then I tried something new. At the next session I want them to open out their stories into a whole days experience for kids. So I splashed up my website on the wall with bits of video from various projects. Ow! Suddenly I found myself very uncomfortable and nervous as if I was painting a huge selfie on the wall. Had to cut it short. So weird the way an image of myself made me feel vulnerable and fake.
Our next session was yesterday. I had given them copies of stories which Marte and I are working on for a book. Of course as soon as they start to work on them they discover the holes. Holes I half knew were there but in the act of telling or preparing to tell they surface. This is going to make this book even more fabulous. Like the woman who was working on the story of Johnny Appleseed picked up on something that has been bothering me. How come Johnny Appleseed went round America planting apple trees when you have to graft apple trees to make them produce proper apples? She had gone home and dived deep into the story of the real Johnny. I called Marte who is a biologist – ‘Johnny was against grafting, so his apples were used for pie and cider.’ Those true life stories are tricky as hell. You are bound to end up lying because as you weren’t there and are not God you have no chance of knowing the truth. But my heart swelled as I saw that lady turn into young Johnny Appleseed boy, pick up a piece of imaginary earth from the horrible aestheticless room and bring it to life, complete with earthworms and the autumn smell of a thousand rotted leaves. The students went to town. They opened up what was just a story to a day where the kids are getting a huge experience which involves maybe 3 or 5 subjects in their curriculum. Whats wonderful, in my experience, is that the children will remember both the story, the knowledge and the day for years. In the story where the King of the Deer turns India vegetarian the students brought in a domestic science teacher so all the kids can learn to cook a good veggie dish. In ‘The First Wolf’ they got all the kids to create their own animal from sticks and moss and bits, and then make their own story in their own setting in the forest. They taught the kids to plant a fig tree, to sow seeds with and without water. A cornucopia of creativity it was. And they taught us to sing. Again.