Bristol Review of Books – Issue 19 Winter 2011
Freefall Writing Newsletter – January 2012
Featured Publication: Coming Home to Story by Geoff Mead
Richard Olivier calls Coming Home to Story (2011 Vala Publishing, Bristol) “a visceral journey into the heart of storytelling.” Part memoir, part metaphysic, and above all, a richly detailed exploration of the art and craft of storytelling, this beautifully written book delivers everything its title implies: about story, about home, and about – at the age of fifty — coming home.
A long-time FreefallWriting participant, Geoff wrote this book over a the course of a two-year Mentorship. With final input from his editor at Vala, he has created a masterpiece. Those looking for the courage to follow their hearts will be inspired by his journey. And for everyone with an interest in story, this book is a gift from the gods.
Fact & Fiction Magazine – January 2012
The ManKind Project (UK & Ireland) Newsletter – January 2012
Storytelling is an art which generations of men have practised round the fire. And we can all tell a story, of things that move us, of things that mean something profound to us, of our experiences and our lives. And the art of heart-centred storytelling, an art that lets you serve as therapist, as a healer, as a shaman, is a gift that can be developed. Here’s what Geoff Mead says in his book-from-the-heart, Coming Home To Story : “Hidden inside every tale we tell there is a pot of gold: a wealth of untold stories. Inevitably, the main narrative focuses on a few key episodes in the lives of its heroes and heroines and we only catch glimpses of the whole cast of supporting characters who appear briefly and often disappear without trace. For every question a story answers, it poses many more. The questions are endless and one could argue that they are not really relevant to the story that is being told. But these back-stories form part of the rich imaginal world, which the storyteller needs to have internalised in order to tell the story convincingly. What is more, the healing potential of stories is often found by looking in the unexplored nooks and crannies, by following the loose ends – the threads not spun into the tale. Sometimes our sympathies do not lie with the hero or heroine. The fate of a minor character or even the ostensible villain of the piece catches our fancy or touches us in some way. We can choose to let such moments go but if the thought or feeling stays with you then it is a good idea to follow it up somehow……”
In other words, a story speaks to our experience, our ancestors’ experience, and the deepest part of our connection with the world. Stories are a gateway to our minds, to our shadows, to what makes us who we are. Stories reveal our truths, tell us what we need to know, and show us where to go. As Geoff observes about men and their stories: “A lot has been written in recent years about masculinity in our current age, much of it rightly critical of patriarchal behaviours and some of it downright derogatory. But the question of what it means to live well as a man has received less attention and I hope that these chapters – based on personal experience – will offer valuable insights to men and women alike. Some of those insights are about how telling stories can bring men closer together as brothers, fathers and sons. Others are about how certain kinds of story illuminate the nature of our journeys through life. All of them concern aspects of storytelling that are rarely spotlighted and demand far more from the storyteller than the exercise of his or her craft. There is something here for any storyteller who wishes to work with groups of men (or groups of women) or who wants to glimpse how storytelling can help us strengthen the bonds of love between us and our parents and children. As we become storytellers, questions inevitably arise about what sort of stories we want to tell and to whom. The Possibilities are endless – a sea of stories and a host of different audiences – and such variety is part of the richness and joy of storytelling. There is no reason to restrict ourselves to any one kind of story or any single category of listener. Nevertheless, in time, we are likely to find ourselves drawn towards certain genres of story and to feel more excited by telling to particular types of audiences. The stories we are drawn to tell are often the ones that we most need to hear….”
And here is Geoff’s account of his farewell to his father.
“A few weeks later, back at Roeburndale for another workshop, on 18 June 1995, which happened to be Father’s Day, I was in for a surprise. Late in the afternoon I went for a solitary walk and lay down to look through the wooden slats of a rickety footbridge suspended over a river. It was bright sunshine, although it had rained heavily the night before, and the sunlight glittered on the swollen blood-red torrent as it rushed beneath me. I was mesmerised by the scintillating light half blinding my eyes and the sound of the water filling my ears with what sounded like a wild song.
Forgetting that I was supposed to be a sensible grown-up man, I sang back to the river in hoarse, high-pitched tones that were snatched away by the rushing water. This strange and unexpected musical conversation seemed to expand my consciousness. Roeburndale was an ancient unspoiled valley and I was willing to believe it still had magic. My rational mind relaxed its grip and I felt completely present and wide open to everything around me.
In that moment I noticed a charred tree-stump caught on a rock, swaying in the current. And in some extraordinary fashion that I can neither explain nor describe, though it did not change shape, it became my father’s body. My heart pounding, I stumbled into the water and dragged him ashore. I could feel his presence so strongly that I sat on the bank with my arms around the tree-stump and I – the man who had forgotten how to cry – cried like the child I had been when he died. I could imagine that the river was weeping too, his tears perhaps. In that way, we cried together for what we had both lost when he died. We cried and we laughed at the impossible joy of being together again.
“I have missed you so much,” I said aloud. “You are my son. I love you,” was his wordless reply. We stayed together by the river bank until dusk and then I carried the tree-stump up the steep side of the valley and placed it on a boulder so that he could keep guard over me sleeping down below at the campsite. That night I slept a sweet, dreamless sleep as though resting like a child in his arins without any care or burden. The next morning I told the other men about my experience and led them up through the long, wet grass to the tree-stump perched on the boulder. As we arrived at the boulder, a solitary fighter jet passed high overhead in the sky above like a sign saying “I am here” [Editor: Geoff’s father was in the RAF and died in a flying accident when Geoff was 4 years old]. I wept again for my father, this time as a man surrounded by other men, feeling the strength of their arms as they held me up, seeing their own tears falling and mingling with mine on the ground – a libation for all our fathers.
My belief was that he had come to me to say goodbye, had come for me to return him to the friendly earth and mourn him as I had been unable to do as a child. It was time to let go of a ghost so that I could have a real father – one who had lived well and died early. As I sat on the boulder beside my father’s image, some of the other men dug a grave in a small wild garden by the river. When they returned, we carried the tree-stump in a funeral procession and placed it in the ground. Together, we covered it with soil and smoothed the earth down as if tucking him in bed under a green quilt. Then someone asked if I wanted to say anything. I thought for a moment and the words came easily:
“My father could fly – and it cost him his life. He was a strong man, a loving man, and fearless. If he had been different, he might have lived longer, but he died doing what he loved best and I am proud of him. His name was Raymond Geoffrey Mead and he died in 1953, aged twenty-eight years. Thank you for helping me to bury him today. Goodbye Dad – I love you – Rest in Peace.”
Resurgence – June 2012