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

30 September 2019

Day 3: Burlington's Culture Days and Hamilton's Grandmothers for Africa

Day 3: Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of performing twice with other members of the Burlington Storytellers Guild. Our first event was as part of Burlington’s celebration of Culture Days at the Burlington Art Gallery. The Gallery provided space for a number of local artists, crafts people, dancers, musicians, and storytellers. There had been a number of children in the morning but by the time we took the stage in the afternoon, the audience consisted mostly of adults, proving once again that they need the nourishment of story as much as the kids do. We heard tales from Brenda Byers, Sue Ramsay, Barb Vollick, Suzanne Burchell, and yours truly.
Barb Vollick
Later, in the evening, we regrouped for another performance - a fundraising event for the Grandmothers of Africa, held at the Unitarian Church on Dundurn Street in Hamilton Ontario (www.bloomsforafrica.org). The organization raises funds to provide grandmothers in Africa with assistance, including assistance with food costs, school fees for grandchildren, income-generating projects, counselling and social support, and burial costs for loved ones. Storytellers included Suzanne Burchell (who also acted as host), Brenda Byers, Barb Vollick, John Wesselson, and myself. Stories and songs were African in origin including that crowd favourite — “A Lion Sleeps Tonight”. I also took the opportunity to teach the audience a Cameroon chant “Bele Mama”, traditionally sung when a woman goes into labour — it’s a call to the mothers and grandmothers to come and help and keep vigil.
Suzanne Burchell

It was a truly a joy and a privilege to support such a project and the appreciations were accepted with heartfelt gratitude. It’s in moments like these when I feel at home in my passion for what I love and am truly grateful for the gift of story that I have been given.

Day 2: McDougall Cottage, Cambridge Ontario

McDougall Cottage, Cambridge Ontario
Day 2: Last week, I travelled to Cambridge Ontario to perform an evening of storytelling and music at the historic McDougall Cottage. The Cottage is an 1858 granite and limestone labourer’s cottage in Cambridge’s historic factory district. It celebrates a number of events, mostly of Scottish heritage, like ceilidhs, art exhibitions, musical concerts, and storytelling.

This year’s Musician-in-Residence is John Harris, an accomplished composer, teacher, guitarist and singer. He is also an old high school friend. Stories and music have been part of our lives for a long time. I programmed the evening around stories with a Scottish connection. Given that I lived in Scotland for 30 years, it only seemed natural. John and I arranged the songs between the stories, finishing, of course, in Scottish style with “Auld Lang Syne”.

The evening evoked both laugher and tears — from tongue-in-cheek tales of Jack to my own poignant account of how I came by and delivered a letter written by my grandfather more than a 100 years ago while he was in the trenches in northern France.

John Harris (l) and Michael Williams (r)
As stories so often do, at the end of the evening several folk approached and shared their appreciation and offered glimpses into their own lives through anecdotes and memories that had been triggered by the stories they heard. I heard about grandparents and Scottish ancestors and memories of childhood. I was also particularly touched with gratitude by a visiting friend who hails from Newfoundland. Given that I (and most folk) consider Newfoundlanders some of the best storytellers around — and my friend is certainly one of them in addition to being a cracking good musician — I accepted his praise with great humility indeed.

And I am also grateful to my friend John (who originally hails from Nova Scotia) for his musical and humorous support. Our friendship has seen its shares of ups and downs and separations but at the end of the day, it’s always been the music and the stories that are the glue of our friendship.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable night in an intimate and warm setting of historical importance. Check out McDougall Cottage if you’re in the area.

Michael Williams (l) and John Harris (r)

Day 1: Flying Moon Farm

Night of Grief and Mystery
Day 1: My upcoming storytelling tour to Scotland seems to have begun even before I’ve left Canada. What I mean is that I felt the journey began last week when I attended “The Night of Grief and Mystery” in Renfrew, Ontario. The “Night” is the creative expression of Stephen Jenkinson and Gregory Hoskins and his band. Stephen is a theologian, poet, and storyteller. The “Night” focuses on Stephen’s writings on death, dying, ageing and elderhood such as you’ll find in his books “Die Wise” and “Come of Age”. Gregory is a Toronto-based singer-songwriter who has collaborated with Stephen and written songs that poignantly reflect and interpret the themes of Stephen’s writing. The “Night of Grief and Mystery” has been called a “concert for turbulent times.” As a storyteller who is likewise becoming an elder and has had to befriend death, the concert left me feeling very alive and inspired. Death seems to be the perfect beginning to going out to share my stories. It seems to be aligned with my work as a storyteller and as an end-of-life planning facilitator.

Several days after the concert, I was honoured to welcome about 40 folks to the Flying Moon Farm near Carleton Place, a small town lying west of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. The farm is owned by Christina Turner and home to the Courage Herd, a unique herd of horses, a donkey, and several sheep who were rescued by Tina and who work with her in providing valuable, therapeutic lessons in boundary-setting, leadership, overcoming fear and helping with self-confidence. Tina is a leadership consultant of international reputation and experience but it is her sensitivity to the animals and to the land and the natural elements that impresses me the most. Before the storytelling, we venture into the woods where she introduces me to Grandmother Oak and her family. Around this magnificent tree crowd young cedars and Tina chooses one of them, speaking softly and reverently before asking for a few clippings of its tender shoots, which she wants to use to make cedar water. In exchange, she asks me to offer a story. I thank the cedar and Grandmother Oak and share my story which I call “Basket of Stories” about the importance of listening and immersing yourself in the “river of voices” — all voices, human and non-human alike.
Flying Moon Farm, home of the Courage Herd

Tina has helped me feel re-connected to something much bigger than myself. It’s something that I felt earlier in the summer while house-sitting for friends at their home in the country. Again, it was the surrounding forest, trees looming over me, protecting me, that made me feel a part of something divine and elemental. I recall feeling this connection when I was a child playing in the fields behind my house. Everything I value now was, I believe, learned in those fields. And here on the Flying Moon Farm, it comes back to me. Even as my “midnight” approaches, I feel alive.

Whisper and Michael
In the afternoon, children, their parents, young couples, and older folk bring their lawn chairs and blankets and gather around me on the lawn beside the barn and paddock. The horses watch from the railing. No sooner do I begin telling stories when Whisper the Donkey trots carefully into the audience to see what the fuss is all about. Amazingly, as I’m telling a Jack story, Whisper appears from behind me just as i come to the part about Jack and the Donkey. I couldn’t have arranged that in a million years. Everyone is laughing. The sheep, Dolly, Dharma, and Oliver, come over to get into the action too. I continue as if it’s all part of the story — because I know it is. This is exactly what the story spirits have deemed to happen and I’m completely open to it.

After the storytelling, we break for a pot-luck dinner. People have brought lots of food and drink to share. We meet the newest neighbours on the road. The next-door neighbours have only been here two months, having immigrated — in their 60s — from Switzerland to be nearer their children. I meet some of Tina’s relatives, her daughter, and many of their friends. Children run about enjoying the lovely warm evening, the animals, and the fresh air.

Telling tales around the fire
A couple of the younger boys prepare a fire and we gradually move to sit around the fire pit. It’s dusk. The sun is setting against the backdrop of reds, oranges, ochres, and purple. The sky is slowly transforming to day-blue to indigo. Sparks from the fire shoot upwards to the heavens. Men, women, and children circle around me.

This time, I share much older stories, stories of creation, Coyote stories, stories of how the stars came to be. Just as I finish a story about the Big Dipper constellation, someone exclaims, “There it is.” I turn and there’s the Big Dipper just rising above my right shoulder. This leads me to ask who knows of other constellations and their stories. Someone mentions Orion the Hunter. Then someone remarks on how living in the city, they don’t get the opportunity to see so many stars. We sit, heads tilted back to take it all in. That’s when I notice the creamy flowing of the Milky Way across the night sky. If this were the last storytelling session I ever offered, I would die happy.

Testimonials

"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

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