I’ve been musing recently on what it’s all about. I mean, what is the point of running around giving performances, writing books and articles, injecting a bit of storytelling into various leadership programmes? What difference does any of it make? The world is going to hell in a handcart and I spend my time trying to persuade people that they should spend more time telling and listening to stories!
But in the midst of this despair and self-pity, I recall that two men who have inspired me in different ways have both died within the past few weeks. My personal acquaintance with each was slight. The first was archetypal psychologist James Hillman; the second was singer-songwriter Jackie Leven. Both men poured their lives into their work. They too may have wondered occasionally what it was all about but that didn’t stop them writing or making music.
I met James a decade ago when he hosted an intimate conversation about Shakespeare’s Tempest. His opening remark still rings in my ears: “Let us consider what constitutes right conduct when the ship is going down?” I no longer recall the detail of what followed but I do remember his passionate energy and iconoclastic questioning of our comfortable assumptions about the ways of the world. He was already in his mid-seventies and I still look to him as a role-model for male elderhood.
Jackie was a fellow participant in a Wild Dance event for men in the 1990s. It was my first exposure to any kind of “menswork” and I was frankly terrified. Jackie took me under his wing that day and listened appreciatively as I spoke about feeling that I had spent much of my life hiding the fire in my belly. He listened and he challenged me to stop hiding it; he was close behind me as I symbolically stood in front of the whole group and unveiled the light from a torch (a borrowed bicycle lamp as I remember) from under my clothing and claimed my place as a man among men.
So I have particular reasons to be grateful to both men who touched my life in ways that were highly significant for me but probably unknown to them. They were simply being themselves and doing their work. They left their mark in a myriad of unintended and unexpected ways. The world is richer for their lives and poorer for their passing. I salute them and give thanks.
In lighting a candle for each of them I am reminded of a saying of Confucius: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Then I think back to where this post began and I realise that is what it’s all about.
In 1970, when an oxygen tank exploded on board Apollo 13 and the spacecraft began to leak, Commander Jim Lovell had someone back on earth to turn to for help. Within hours, NASA had gathered together a “tiger team” of astronauts and scientists at Mission Control to come up with a solution for the problem. They succeeded and thanks to their efforts the crew of Apollo 13 returned home safely.
It is a great story of human ingenuity, endeavour and courage. Just the kind of story you might think we need to hear as we look forward to an uncertain future. But I’m not so sure. Today the whole planet has a problem but there is no Houston, no Mission Control, no-one else to turn to who is not already on board. If we are going to find ways of creating a sustainable future then we have to do so ourselves.
Perhaps we need different kinds of stories to inspire us now.
My first book Coming Home to Story: Storytelling Beyond Happily Ever After was published on 1st November by Vala Publishing and I’m still basking in the huge pleasure of launching it at parties in Bristol, Edinburgh and London. It was absolutely amazing to see so many friends and supporters – and good to practise my handwriting, signing books.
Here is a picture of it on the bookstand for the first time at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh last month (it’s the grey and silver hardback in the middle of the picture). Click on the image for a gallery of photographs from the London launch.
I’m still getting used to the idea that people are actually reading my words. It took me three years to write the book and it seems to be taking people three days to read it. Is the 365:1 writing/reading ratio par for the course, I wonder?
What is the book about? I would say that it is about the journey towards being and becoming a storyteller. It is a personal story of finding and responding to a calling that came late in life but it also makes a case for the vital role of stories, storytelling and storytellers in the re-enchantment of the modern world. Of course, while I was writing it I could decide what I thought it was all about. Now that it is out there somewhere I have to get used to the fact that what really matters is what other people make of it.
The publisher’s blurb says:
Coming Home to Story tells of the magic of stories and storytelling, and their power to liberate the human spirit. Master Storyteller Geoff Mead takes the reader inside the experience of telling and listening to stories. He shows how stories and storytelling engage our imaginations, heal communities, and bring adventure and passion into our lives.
Master Storyteller, eh? Now there’s something to try to live up to.
If you would like to read more about the book or buy a copy click on the Vala logo below.