"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

11 December 2017

What Story Will You Choose?

"Leave yesterday behind and move swiftly into this wonderful new day, knowing that it holds within it only the very best for you, and expect only the very best to come out of it."  Eileen Caddy, Opening Doors Within (1986).

Are you the sort of person who expects the best or the worst? When you wake up in the morning do you expect that the day will be a disaster or do you look forward to an adventure? Say you had to go to your local council or government office to sort out the renewal of an important document and you knew it wasn't going to be straightforward because you didn't have all of the proper documents? Would you expect to be given a hard time and have to fight for what you wanted or would you expect to be helped along the way to a successful resolution?

Are you choosing to live by old, hard-luck stories or by new, open-ended, full of hope stories?

As some of you will know, I moved to Canada from the UK a few months ago in order to spend some time with my family and get better acquainted with my grandchildren. A couple of weeks ago, I had to obtain a new driving license. It should have been a relatively simple matter of exchanging my UK license for a Canadian one. However, my UK license had expired and I'd returned it -- as requested -- to the DVLA. Without a license to exchange, I was liable to having to go through the entire application process which would include a theory test, eye test, and the driving test. And the earliest driving test appointment was about 6 weeks away. I contacted the DVLA in the UK about renewing my license but was informed that they could not renew my license as long as I was living in Canada.

Now some of you might be thinking -- why didn't he tell them he was living in the UK and have them send his renewal to his home address there and have someone send it on to him in Canada. Yes, I could have done that but that introduces an element of deceit into the process and that's not the story I wanted to choose for myself.

Instead, I decided to go ahead and go to the local driving authority office and sort out what I needed. I admit, I was anxious and expecting the worse. Several people warned me that the place was chaotic, filled with people, including new immigrants, all trying to get their licenses, have them renewed or trying to sort out other related issues. I'd been advised to get there early as the place is usually packed and expect to wait a long time. I was also told to expect "attitude" from the clerks.

I felt my blood pressure rise. I was stressed out, thinking I'll never get my license in time to obtain a car before the year's end. In short, I started to think of all the worse things that could happen. I was creating a story of disaster.

The morning of my appointment, I took some time out to do a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a half-hour walk. It was then that I decided to choose a different approach. I would go to the authority office expecting the best. I visualised the successful outcome I wanted and saw in my mind's eye walking out with my new license in hand.

My brother dropped me off and wished me luck before going in. To my surprise the place was not as packed as I'd been led to expect. I found a chair and sat next to an older man, who turned out to be a farmer who was coming to renew a license for one of his vehicles. He complained that the office was poorly run because the government had out-sourced the licensing bureau to a private company who, he argued, did things as cheaply as possible. "Look," he pointed out, "there are at least half-a-dozen wickets but only two clerks." There was a ticket operation in place but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way people were called forward. I noticed a few instances of queue jumping which created an air of tension among the crowd. There were also some language issues and instances of whole families turning up at a wicket when only one member of the family required assistance. I also saw several examples of frustrated clerks trying to sort out foreign documents and explain local rules and procedures to people who were struggling to understand. The atmosphere was indeed tense and confusing. "It can't be easy to work here," I said to the farmer.

Just then, a new number was called. I watched a heavy-set man with a great black beard, in his late 20s step forward. He looked like a local, wearing a cap and sweater of the local football team. I heard him speak to the clerk and she asked him for identification. He stared hard at her. He made no move to offer any sort of card or document proving his identity. She repeated her request suggesting certain identity documents that he might have -- a driver's license, a student card, a health insurance card, for example. Again, he made no move towards producing the requested documented. Instead he stared hard at her and repeated his request. She patiently explained that he would have to produce at least one form of identification. He now became agitated and I wondered what his next move would be. What "story" would he choose?

In the next moment, he exploded with a profusion of profanity, aimed at the clerk then at everyone around him. He stomped off and we could still hear him swearing as he headed back towards the street. I didn't imagine he was going to have a great day.

My number was called and I had to step into that toxic cloud the man had left behind. I took at deep breath and mentally reinforced my choice to see a good outcome.

"Good morning," I smiled at the woman before me, "I hope you won't let that outburst cloud your day."
     She smiled back and said, "It happens all the time, I'm used to it."
"Life would be better, don't you think, if we didn't have to get used to it." She looked up and made eye contact.
     "How can I help you?" she smiled back.

I explained exactly why I was there and what I needed.
     "Do you have identification," she asked.
I produced my ID papers and explained why I didn't have my old license. She listened and understood. I did have a copy of my licensing record from my online account and showed her that. It had my license number on it and with it she was able to verify my record. Long story short, although I didn't fit exactly the mold called for, the clerk found a way through the maze of rules and procedures -- including the record of my first Canadian driver's license awarded more than forty-five years earlier. And, after about 20 minutes or so--and an eye test--I was handed a full, unrestricted license with a smile and a thank you for being so pleasant. I should also say that our interaction also included a pleasant conversation about our home towns, about what I did in the UK, and our feelings about moving to a new place. Choosing to be positive produced a win-win outcome for both of us. I thanked her and left.

Once outside with license in hand, I was virtually moved to tears -- a release of all the anxiety that I had allowed to build up prior to this morning. That old story of expecting the worse had been a familiar tale. "Good guys come last" and "It's a cut-throat world" were just a couple of the "stories" I was brought up on. And those stories find a way to infect your outlook on life events. I frequently recited these sorts of stories to myself whenever I had to confront a difficult or challenging situation. But today was proof that even at my advanced age an old dog can learn new tricks -- or at least a new story.

Earlier this week, I took this new attitude into another government office, this time to finalize the transfer of ownership of a car. Again, I was warned to expect the worse. Right away I encountered a stumbling block. I needed the signature of a "commissioner" to authenticate my and my son's signatures. Instead of choosing frustration, I asked for the clerk's assistance. "Well," she said, "the town's municipal offices are right across the street." We went there only to be told that the commissioners were busy in a meeting and to come back later in the day. "That's not possible," I explained, "is there anyone else who could help?" She thought for a moment and then said, "You could go across the street to the lawyers' offices. I'm sure they could help."

We retraced our steps and found the lawyers' offices virtually next to the local government office. We went in and pleasantly explained our needs. The receptionist couldn't have been more helpful and had our application officially stamped and signed. She even made us copies and procured a nice big envelope into which we placed our documents. We'd been told there would be a charge but imagine my surprise when the lawyer only charged us $10 (and not the $20 the municipal office commissioners were going to charge). Back to the government office to complete the transfer of ownership. Expressions of gratitude all round.

Later, as my son and I enjoyed a coffee down by the harbour, he laughed, "Dad, that could have gone all wrong. That woman can be so officious and difficult at times. "It's all about choice," I replied, "We either choose to see the worst in people or the best. Expecting the worst hasn't worked out very well for me in the past so I thought why not choose a different attitude, a different story to live by."

What story will you choose today?

06 December 2017

Ode to Failure

Further to my last blog post, "What Story Will You Choose", I wanted to share this compelling video from writer and artist Tamara Levitt entitled "Ode to Failure".

In it, Tamara shares a personal story of how her preparation for success didn't prepare her for failure. Yet she goes on to show how "failure" has led her to a different story -- a story of transformation and celebration.

Learn more about Tamara Levitt and her work at www.tamaralevitt.com. And, share your own stories of "failure" and celebrating effort in the comments section below.

31 October 2017

Remembering storyteller Elsie Moir

Elsie Moir sharing stories
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Elsie Moir this year. Elsie passed away peacefully on March 24, 2017 after a struggle with cancer. She was 84. Elsie had fought off two previous bouts with the illness but had decided to forgo treatment when it returned a third time in favour of some quality of life in the time she had left. She was surrounded by her husband Ian and a very close and loving family.

I met Elsie back at the beginning of 2011 when she signed up for one of my StoryCoaching groups in Edinburgh, Scotland. Elsie was 78 years old then, the oldest of our group. I remember her as a lively elder, full of wisdom, an indomitable spirit, and a twinkle in her eyes. We soon learned that Elsie was also a wonderful storyteller who could both entertain us with her original versions of children's tales and hold us spellbound with her accounts of her time working as a teacher in a black community in South Africa during the early 60s. The twelve years she and her minister husband Ian spent there in those years of apartheid deepened her commitment to social justice and active service to community.

Upon her return to Edinburgh, Ian was subsequently assigned as minister to West Pilton's Old Kirk. Elsie returned to teaching, taking up a post at her old school in Edinburgh's working class district of Granton. But after a year, Elsie decided to devote her life to helping her husband and the Church's work in the communities of West Pilton and Granton which was seeing an influx of many new immigrant families. Elsie was determined to make them feel welcome.

Elsie sharing a story at the "Gift of Story" evening,
Augustine United Church, Edinburgh, Feb. 2013 
Elsie, a stalwart supporter of educational opportunities for all, turned her talents to the creative arts. She established a Parents and Toddlers group as well as one to support parents. She encouraged the use of art, music, drama, and storytelling as she had done in South Africa. She also encouraged children and their parents to learn together inviting them to explore particular themes then present them as part of what was called the "Worship Workshops" to the entire community.

During the 2000s, Elsie went on to set up the Magic Carpet Club and, later, the Patch Club -- again both aimed at supporting children and parents in using the expressive arts to share their stories. During this time, Elsie began to explore her talents as a storyteller to accompany her musical and craft skills. By all accounts her stories were loved and cherished.

Elsie attended my StoryCoaching group for five years and in that time, we had the privilege of getting to know her well. She was an example of someone who did not let age (nor cancer) get in the way of her learning nor continuing to serve her community. She not only grew into a confident storyteller but also blessed the rest of us with her wisdom, honesty, and sense of humour. We often shared lunches or gathered in a nearby café where she would listen intently to another's story or share one of her memories of South Africa, a country and people she dearly loved. We never failed to be moved by her stories told without sentimentality. She had that knack of rooting historical fact in personal experience. You experienced events unfolding through her eyes and through the senses of those she knew first-hand.
Elsie Moir, storyteller and activist

I'm sure I speak on behalf of everyone who worked alongside Elsie in that group that she was a very special woman. I remember a special storytelling performance ("The Gift of Story") we gave at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh during February 2013 and how Elsie enthralled the audience with her story of the children's uprising in Soweto in 1976. I'll always remember her final words, "The bringers of the light must endure the burning."

Elsie's light shone bright and we endure the burning of her passing, yet I know her light will never be extinguished as long as we continue to remember her legacy and stories. I know I will for they are imprinted on my heart forever.

Elsie is survived by her husband Ian, sons Andrew, Neil, and Peter, her sister Anne, and her eight loving grandchildren.

Thank you to the North Edinburgh News for info and pics. And many thanks to Ian for bringing Elsie to our StoryCoaching group during those five years. Such a blessing!

Elsie Moir (centre) with parents and toddlers of Granton Parish Church

04 August 2017

5 Keys to Unlocking Your Story

Ever wonder why some businesses succeed where others fail? or why your own business isn't taking off the way you'd hoped. You've got a great service or product but you're not attracting the sort of clients you imagined working with? The problem might be your lack of a compelling story.

One of the most important things I've learned from my work with business entrepreneurs, creatives, and artists is that the successful ones are ones with great stories. In fact, your story is probably the most valuable asset you have. Yet too many business focus more on telling people how great their services or products are.

Having a great service or product is pretty much a given. But if you want people to really trust you and be willing to build a relationship with you, they need to know your story. That's why your website's "About Me" or bio page is probably the most clicked-on page -- people want to know who they're dealing with and why they should trust you. Your story can begin to build that relationship.

I'm offering a 5-week course over at my Academy of Storytelling (http://academy-of-storytelling.teachable.com) entitled "5 Keys to Unlocking Your Story". In it, I offer 5 "keys" to helping you discover, shape, and tell your story -- a story which not only tells people who you are but shares your passion for what you do, your values and principles, and demonstrates that you understand your potential clients and are confident you can help them.

I'm offering this course for only $79. It's a self-paced course. You'll receive the first lesson soon after you enrol and a new lesson each week. You can take as long as you want to complete it as the material is always available to you once you're joined the Academy and enrolled on the course. Each lesson has an audio introduction, content, and downloadable exercises to help you create, shape, and tell your compelling story.

There's even a money-back guarantee.

Go to the Academy of Storytelling now and enrol as a student for free. You only pay for the courses you enrol on. Once enrolled you can also join our Facebook "Common Room" where you can meet other students and share your experiences. And you can always contact me to discuss your work.

Invest in your business today by signing up for the "5 Keys to Unlocking Your Story" and discover the treasure of your story. Take the first step toward attracting the sort of clients you want to work with. Start building relationships with your story and watch your business go from strength to strength as you become a storytelling entrepreneur.

Sign up today for only $79 at the Academy of Storytelling.

27 January 2017

Could I Be A Storyteller?

Michael Williams, host of The Teller and the Tale
As the host and producer of the Teller and the Tale, my weekly, half-hour storytelling radio programme on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.com), I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a lot of storytellers. In fact, over the past four years I’ve interviewed nearly seventy tellers from Scotland, Canada, the United States, Denmark, India and other places. And if you’re a listener to the show, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by a storyteller’s upbringing and, in particular, whether or not they had a “special start” in life. Did they grow up in a “storytelling” family where parents and grandparents told lots of stories? Were they encouraged to read at an early age or given special help to become articulate? Did their parents encourage them to perform in front of others? I ask these questions because many people I meet believe that these are the pre-conditions to becoming a professional or even a non-professional storyteller.

What I’ve discovered through my interviews, however, is that there are no particular “pre-conditions” to becoming a storyteller. The majority of storytellers I’ve interviewed report that they didn’t have “storytelling” parents or grandparents, although many remember at least one parent or grandparent who enjoyed sharing day-to-day experiences of work and family. Most storytellers don’t recall being encouraged to read or write or speak out any more or less than other children. In fact, many older tellers remind me that they grew up in an era when children “were better seen and not heard.”
What about school? Again, most storytellers don’t recall a particular momentous occasion that hurled them toward a storyteller’s life, but they often do praise a particular teacher—usually an English teacher—who told stories, encouraged creativity, and regularly praised a student’s imagination and creative efforts.

What I find interesting, though, is how many storytellers reveal that they were shy as adolescents and not particularly outspoken at all. They did not identify themselves as natural extroverts or performers. Yet, they do report having a very active inner life. Many have told me that journaling or keeping a diary or writing poetry was a way of expressing themselves as adolescents. Very often, it’s not until they are in their 20s or 30s that they acknowledge that they had an unique voice that longs to speak and be heard.

And if there is one particular event that unites these voices, it is the experience of hearing a storyteller for the first time. Expressions such as “I want to do that” or “I could do that” are typical responses upon hearing a storyteller for the first time.

Many storytellers take the first step by enrolling on a half-day or full-day workshop. I was well into my 40s when I began what amounted to a seven-year “apprenticeship” through workshops and courses at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. My initial reasons were to augment my professional development as a teacher so I could offer storytelling to a wide range of pupils, but soon I was beginning to see other possibilities. Similarly, many storytellers tell me that they too undertook storytelling as a complement to their work as teachers, therapists, social workers, mental health and community workers, librarians, actors, and, of course, as parents and grandparents. And while the art of storytelling is a useful addition to these roles, once bitten by the storytelling bug, as I was, many go on to explore the world of professional or public storytelling.

Of course, I have to qualify the word “professional”. By it, I mean those tellers who tell in situations for which they are paid. Like any professional artist, storytelling can be developed as a sophisticated and entertaining art form. Some tellers develop their art to work in therapeutic or even business settings. But earning an income from storytelling does not define a storyteller.

In a larger sense, we are all storytellers. To be human is to have a story, or more accurately, stories to tell. And there are many different ways of telling or sharing our stories. We can tell to our children, our partners, our communities, to strangers and friends. We can write our stories, we can dance them, sing them, draw, paint, and photograph them. There is no one way to tell our stories and no one way to become a storyteller. Every voice, like every life journey, is unique. And yet, the stories we tell, though differing in the details, link us together through the experience of our common humanity.

Over the past four years as a radio host, I’ve discovered dozens of wonderful storytellers and had the privilege of hearing their stories. And I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter where they come from, storytellers are like you and me, no more special, no better, no worse. They are just like us – people with a story to tell. And if there’s one message they all pass on is that everyone should have a chance to share their story.

So, could you be a storyteller? Of course you could. Today, storytelling is enjoying a renaissance. Storytelling workshops and courses abound both online and in venues everywhere. Most towns and cities have storytelling clubs or guilds which welcome newcomers. They’re a great way to making new friends and feeling part of a vibrant community. Start by doing an online search for “storytelling groups” or check your “What’s On” section of your local paper. Why not make this year the year you started sharing your stories and learning new ones. After all, if you don’t tell your story, who will?

© Michael Williams 2017

10 January 2017

SISF Ghost Story Competition: A Winter Visitor by Joel Pierce

Storyteller Michael Williams tells the story of "A Winter Visitor", written by Joel Pierce for the "Ghostly Tales" competition, part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. The performance was held at the National Library of Scotland on 31 October 2016.


"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

"Michael's understanding of storytelling within a leadership and business context has helped us provide a great service in helping leaders determine their personal and organisational destiny and legacy. Working with Michael is inspiring and fun; and pulls you to be fully engaged from start to finish." Norton Bertram-Smith, Managing Director and Leadership Consultant for On Purpose.

Kamink: the little boy who grew into a giant of a man

Blues and Roots Radio

Blues and Roots Radio
Check out my weekly storytelling radio show, The Teller and the Tale on bluesandrootsradio.com.

Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland
I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for its support.