Tag Archives: blogging

The joy of listening to stories

Image by Kev Howlett
Image by Kev Howlett

My love of stories started when I was young, living in the bush. My mum would read aloud to us, or tell us stories, then encourage us to write and draw. Once I became a proficient reader, I would read Enid Blyton to my brothers – that was about all we had access to. Of course, it was the 70s and we didn’t have television, so it was our form of entertainment. We had a small radio that could pick up BBC radio on a good day and if we were lucky there would be serial readings of a book or play. Watership Down is one that has stayed with me.

Storytelling is an ancient art form. Listening to a story is very different than reading it in your head because the reader will choose what to emphasise, adding light and shade to what might already have light and shade. The sound of the storytellers voice will also add rhythm and lyricism to a story.

Oral stories have been passed down the generations, especially in cultures that do not rely on the written word to record their history, and for many people with low literacy levels, these stories are what binds them to their community. Certainly in a western culture before printed books were the norm, stories were told around the fire connecting us to each other while imparting wisdom to our young.

Years ago when I worked in the library system, we organised for an oral storyteller to appear at a library, offered comfy chairs, wine and crackers and a warm fire. The event was booked out (I like to think it wasn’t because of the wine) and the attendees loved it. They were engaged – laughing, sniffling and cheering along – with the stories. The storyteller was so engaging and she brought fairy tales, fables and contemporary stories to life. It felt like the whole room was part of it, as if she was talking to each of us, making the event feel intimate and indulgent.

Maybe that’s the key? To be made to feel intimate with another person, to feel indulged to be able to sit back and absorb the story without having to work for it? It’s not something that I really want to figure out or analyse (there is most likely a thesis written on the topic somewhere), rather to seek out the pleasure of it and share it with other humans.

Busybird Publishing has been running a monthly open mic night for a few years now. Writers, poets, lyricists come to share their work. And it is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure to hear their work and a pleasure to see them enjoy themselves as they offer their stories to the audience. It’s also an automatic payoff that as people get in front of an audience more, their work improves as does their oral presentation. I encourage anyone who is writing in any form to seek out live readings, such as our open mic night (or check out these guys http://www.storytellingvic.org.au) and see where it takes them.

Blaise, the book chick

The Tree

Image by Kev Howlett
Image by Kev Howlett

Amanda was a domestic goddess. She loved order. She adored her weatherboard house, painted in heritage colours, and the lovely garden that flanked it. Her daughter was pretty and sweet, her son a karate champion. Her handsome husband was the owner of a successful printing business. The family dog, Misha, was the best behaved on the street. All this was neatly contained within a quarter acre block just eighteen minutes from the city.

Domestic bliss came easily to Amanda. She swept through her days with efficiency and grace; the tiled surfaces of the bathroom always shone. The little house was the family palace and the proudest achievement was the immaculate green lawn.

It was on a Tuesday that Amanda sat at her kitchen table looking out at the garden. Hugging a hot mug of tea, she squinted at the back corner, past the bungalow, at the golden oak tree. She was surprised at how tall it had grown. In the autumn afternoon, she realised that it was now blocking the sun, despite the fact that it’s yellow leaves had begun to fall. She muttered about raking up the leaves – her work was never done.

‘That tree has got to go,’ she said with conviction, immediately opening up the yellow pages at T. Her fingers traced the lines of ink until she found a suitable business: Tree Felling and/or removal, no job too big or too small.

On the hour, the next Friday, as arranged, the tree men arrived. Amanda had never experienced such punctuality from tradesmen before; she nodded her approval from behind the kitchen windows.

Through the side gate came four robust men in overalls, brandishing ropes, axes and chainsaws. Amanda watched in awe as they scaled the golden oak tree. Serpent-like ropes held branches then limbs fell to the ground in rapid succession. The chainsaw roared filling the yard with moans and squeals. Neat round logs of wood marched out through the side gate. Mounds of fresh sawdust carpeted the ground like ash and suddenly, the tree was gone.

In the silence, Amanda gasped. She turned towards the retreating men but they had already hurled the wood into the back of the truck and rumbled away. Approaching the barren place, shielding her eyes from the light, Amanda was shocked.

The afternoon sun streamed into the garden. The smell of oak permeated the air with a pungent fragrance that made Amanda take a deep breath. With her eyes closed, she felt a cool draught curl about her ankles and heard a very faint groan – or was it a whisper?

Why have you forsaken me?

Amanda’s body felt rooted to the earth. She could not open her eyes.

Why did you slay me?

‘No, please, I only wanted more light…’ Amanda whispered.

Fleeing inside to the safety of the kitchen, she looked out at the backyard with trepidation. The sun blazed through the garden, heating the glass in the kitchen windows. When she looked at where the tree had been, she imagined a ghostly image, shimmering in the heat. She frowned at it, willing it to go away.

That night, the family felt like they were in a different house. Everything seemed to be normal. Dinner was on the table; the children had their baths and did their homework. But Amanda carried an anxious face with her from room to room, causing everyone to talk in whispers.

The next day, Amanda rose from a sleepless night. Her world seemed re-arranged. What was normally important to her, such as the styling of her daughter’s curly hair, was now trivial because her mind was focused on the world outside the walls. She stood in the garden and felt an emptiness not known to her.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispered tearfully. ‘How can I make this up to you?’

A stiff breeze rose before her, disturbing the remnants of leaves and sawdust and already she knew what needed to be done.

***

Amanda is no longer a domestic goddess. She still loves her little weatherboard cottage and it is tidy enough. The floors are clean but not sparkling. Her family go about in clean clothes, slightly wrinkled. She is still proud of her children’s achievements and her handsome husband and Misha, the dog, is still well behaved. Actually, Misha is happy because Amanda is outside in the garden all the time. You will find Amanda now, if you visit her today, out in the garden with fresh dirt up to her elbows, planting something and talking to the trees.

[inspired by winter]
Blaise