SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Saturday, August 26, 2017

To the one who surprised me!

The best mistake I made was to conceive a second time. 'Too soon' is what I said as I sat shedding tears of self pity in front of the gynae. ‘Hmm, better now than never’ said my Gynae quite unsympathetically. So he was born in August 2003. Apparently on the delivery table, in a daze of pain I shouted out I wanted to name him after Krishna the divine soul...how clich├ęd is all I have to say now, yet a perfect fit for my dear sonny boy Keshav.
His father saw him after 5 months (he did manage to come for the delivery but couldn’t stay too long). By which time the puny boy of 3.3 kgs had bloated into a 5kg boxer. Adventures abound in Jorhat, having swallowed a cockroach egg while crawling about and drank powdered milk that tore his insides; we made a super stay over at the Airforce Hospital with dysentery! The doctors then proclaimed he had an enlarged head and I worried and fretted over that too, till my husband put a stop to that nonsense and reassured me every male in his family were enlarged that way too!
We returned to Besant Nagar for a stint in IIT Madras for the pater. Every morning one proud grandparent would carry the curious wide eyed boy for a stroll down Elliots beach road or just stand at the gate chatting and gossiping with the walkers. He ran and never walked, so his right eyebrow bears witness to two injuries that amounted to 6 stitches in all!! His words were anagrams of all that he wanted to say, Computer became “punkitoot” and lollipop was “illapop” and we watched with joy his antics many days.
He completed 3 years in Bangalore and we started preschool. First day of school he vomited all over the class floor and I got a call asking me to pick him up! That was the beginning of many days. Waking him up was really tough and then getting him ready...a herculean task! How we would chase each other over and under the bed!! Many songs to motivate him; many stories to goad him! Brush your teeth and clap your hands, Wheels of the bus, Old Macdonald, Karadi songs and rhymes to entertain him till he got into the bus. He was always the last to be dropped off whilst returning, and the little guy would fall asleep, then just as the reverse horn of the bus would sound, he would wake up and loudly shout ‘red right’, red right’!!
In no chronological order, but as the thoughts come to me, presenting to you Keshav, 15 years of childhood:
He grew so fast, through Karate lessons that he abandoned after his Dan 1 belt and tennis lessons that he still goes to. Learning to cycle like a pro and throw almonds up high to catch them in his mouth, to solve the Rubix cube all on his own, to sketching and doodling with passion, to talking like an express train and refusing to allow me to hug or kiss him. To taking guitar classes and dreaming of his own band someday, to collecting coins like an obsessed Shylock and being an out an out entertainer; learning to swim and keeping at it even though at one point he feared it so. He who is getting better at sitting and studying but reads his books hanging from the sofa, upside down! He who slept through a chaotic night when he locked himself inside the house and we had to break the door to get in! He played Holi with the tiniest of pitchkari, but really never whined for more! He with the kindest heart who stopped to help his friend in an obstacle race and refuses to squash even a tiny bug! He who is growing into a big boy with big thoughts; Happiest Birthday my dearest sonny boy. Happiness and good health to you always!



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Storytelling the Future

My first storytelling session was in a Multi Ability classroom of a Special School ( Vidya Sagar) in Chennai. Year 1996.
 I took the children to the garden, we sat around and we had a bucket of water in the middle. Each child had a puppet in their hand – made with simple newspaper; a lion, a rabbit and a few more animals. As we peered into it, we saw our reflection.  So by now you may know what story I went on to tell. The Panchatantra tale of the Lion and the Rabbit and how the rabbit outwits the lion. This experience triggered a series of reactions. The children (a few of them) started noticing and looking at themselves on reflecting surfaces - as that is what they took back from that story experience. It is mind blowing...to think of this cause and effect in retrospect...
 It was an experience for the children. That story allowed children to experience an idea, a concept, abstract or literal notions within the space of a narrative arc.

As a storyteller I create a safe space for the child to go on a journey, to step into a space that is co- created (a world of our mutual creation), where imagination is the vehicle that drives us through many lands, validating what they know already and introducing new things and at the same time acknowledging every little thing that the child wishes to bring into that space – their thoughts, feelings and experiences in order to reach a destination, a place where they are emotionally stronger.

We all know Humans are hardwired for stories, and storytelling has been the most ancient method existing to pass on knowledge, ideas, values, and beliefs. Yet we in the field of education struggle to include it in our day to day life and curriculum.
The Aha moment for me was when I realised the reason for this is we don’t recognise what Storytelling is about and we have forgotten that we are all Storytellers. We just have to be present to this fact and find opportunities in the classroom to tell stories. We have to create a Climate of Storytelling within the classroom in order to provide an Immersive Storytelling Experience for the child and it starts in preschool.
“Storytelling is a gift of understanding the self, others and the story itself (Dr.Mary F Lenox in an article on telling multicultural tales).

There is the Story, the Storyteller and the Audience.
·        Let me tell you about the STORY - Story is not just Book with pictures, nor is it Panchatantra/ Jataka tale/ Aesop fable with a value/ moral at the end. Most teachers are given a story to tell, and they don’t even connect with the story. Or they tell a story without really understanding why they are telling it. According to Dr. Mary Read Macdonald, the Grandma of Storytelling, all one needs is a good story to tell – but we don’t spend enough time thinking about the stories we are going to tell.
So we need Reading Circles for the Teachers, tell each other stories, practise, and decide what stories you would like to tell. I sincerely believe the Teacher must decide what stories they want to tell. Find the Story

·        Create the Space: Storytelling is a way to facilitate Listening and Awareness – You need to create a space to transport the child – like an orchestra conductor who has a place to stand, a storyteller must create the space for storytelling.
·        Storytelling is a ritual where the story is an offering. Create your own rituals and systems that resonate with you and the audience. Do it every time...sometime just tuning into the audience will help you find this ritual.
·        Tell stories at every opportunity you can get or create opportunities within the class to tell stories.
·        Tell Stories from Personal experience, Traditional Tales, Made up stories
·        Play around with the story – Story Acting, Ask Children to Dictate (Vivian Paley in her seminal work called “Helicopter Stories – let the imagination fly” goes into detail about it).
·        Make up Stories from objects around the class/ house. Even the mathematical operations can be storified (Emperor Equal, Angel Addition, Duke Division – Waldorf Schools use storytelling at every opportunity.Very small children are taught through songs....and then progress to Fairy Tales, Mythology and Made up tales.)

The Teacher has to don the Storyteller persona – feel comfortable in that skin, According to Eleanor Duckworth (a Harvard trained educationist) The teacher must use what she already knows and question what she has and that is the way to becoming better and better at what she does. Building a Storytelling Classroom is essential. We don’t have to invent the wheel again. We need to reflect back in time to the days when Stories were used as didactic tools and then learn to apply it to the ever morphing Chimera that is the 21st century. There are many workable systems available which can be applied into the classroom...all we need is to see value in the methodology and then tell more stories.
Lets gather together to say “Once Upon a Time”.

# This is the presentation given by me at the Panel Discussion on "Storytelling for Preschool" , held at VHD Institute in April 2017. I was giving my perspective as a Storyteller and the other panelists were wonderfully multitalented from the Theatre, Education, Counselor and Content creator spaces.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Perspective - The Rose Bush and the Snail (HCAnderson)

The Rose Bush & the Snail -

by Hans Christian Anderson
A hedge of hazel-nut bushes encircled the garden;  but in the centre of the garden stood a rose-tree, and under it sat a snail--she had much within her, she had herself.
"Wait, until my time comes," said she, "I shall accomplish something more than putting forth roses, bearing nuts, or giving milk, like the cows and sheep!"
"I expect something fearfully grand," said the rose-tree, "may I ask when it will take place?"
"I shall take my time," said the snail, "you are in too great a hurry, and when that is the case, how can one's expectations be fulfilled?"
The next year the snail lay in about the same spot under the rose-tree, which put forth buds and developed roses, ever fresh, ever new. The snail half crept forth, stretched out its feelers and drew itself in again.

"Everything looks as it did a year ago! No progress has been made; the rose-tree still bears roses; it does not get along any farther!"
The summer faded away, the autumn passed, the rose-tree constantly bore flowers and buds, until the snow fell, and the weather was raw and damp. The rose-tree bent itself towards the earth, the snail crept in the earth.
A new year commenced; the roses came out, and the snail came out.
"Now you are an old rose bush," said the snail, "you will soon die away. You have given the world everything that you had in you; whether that be much or little is a question, upon which I have not time to reflect. But it is quite evident, that you have not done the slightest thing towards your inward development; otherwise I suppose that something different would have sprung from you. Can you answer this? You will soon be nothing but a stick! Can you understand what I say?"
"You startle me," said the rose-tree, "I have never thought upon that!"
"No, I suppose that you have never meddled much with thinking! Can you tell me why you blossom? And how it withers? How? Why?"
"No," said the rose-tree, "I blossom with pleasure because I could not do otherwise. The sun was so warm, the air so refreshing, I drank the clear dew and the fortifying rain; I breathed, I lived! A strength came to me from the earth, a strength came from above, I felt a happiness, ever new, ever great and therefore I must blossom ever, that was my life, I could not do otherwise!"
"You have led a very easy life!" said the snail.
"Certainly, everything has been given to me," said the rose-tree, "but still more has been given to you. You are one of those meditative, pensive, profound natures, one of the highly gifted, that astound the whole world!"
"I have assuredly no such thought in my mind," said the snail, "the world is nothing to me! What have I to do with the world? I have enough with myself, and enough in myself!"
"But should we not all, here on earth, give the best part of us to others? Offer what we can!--It is true, that I have only given roses--but you? You who have received so much, what have you given to the world? What do you give her?"
"What I have given? What I give? I spit upon her! She is good for nothing! I have nothing to do with her. Put forth roses, you can do no more! Let the hazel bushes bear nuts! Let the cows and sheep give milk; they have each their audience, I have mine within myself! I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me!"
And thereupon the snail withdrew into her house and closed it.
"That is so sad," said the rose-tree, "with the best will, I cannot creep in, I must ever spring out, spring forth in roses. The leaves drop off and are blown away by the wind. Yet, I saw one of the roses laid in the hymn-book of the mother of the family; one of my roses was placed upon the breast of a charming young girl, and one was kissed with joy by a child's mouth. This did me so much good, it was a real blessing! That is my recollection, my life!"
And the rose-tree flowered in innocence, and the snail sat indifferently in her house. The world was nothing to her.
And years passed away. The snail became earth to earth and the rose-tree became earth to earth; the remembrances in the hymn-book were also blown away--but new rose-trees bloomed in the garden, new snails grew in the garden; they crept in their houses and spat.--The world is nothing to them.
Shall we read the story of the past again? It will not be different.

This kind of story is a fable. Where an animal is humanised and conveys a perspective to life. Gaining perspective is the sole purpose of life I think.
Here the snail admonishes the Rosebush for not looking inward and not having a purpose in life...yet what the rosebush can do the snail cannot, and the rosebush is our typical extrovert and the snail perhaps an introvert.. and then that leads us to the ultimate truth that nothing is permanent...not even a thought...
It is all about gaining perspective in life and being ok with that...for every perspective leads us on a way much like "two roads diverged in a yellow wood".
This character strength is especially useful when trying to make sense of a life choice or make decisions and especially to help us connect our insides with the outside...
What a beautiful story..a bit too deep and perhaps has to be adapted for children. 
What a fable!!