Monday, March 29, 2010

it is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are...


I was reading the lovely blog of Pia Jane Bijkerk this morning and under library found this image and notes here. It sent my thoughts back to the time I finally worked out (aged 30 something)  the name of a  book that had haunted my memories  years after a library teacher read it to my class in primary school. The slimmest of images kept floating back and so the discovery of the book years later was almost a shock, albeit a pleasant one. No wonder it had long haunted my memory... such a poignant tale of things being reborn - all centred around the discovery of the secret garden. Children it would seem need to be saturated in deep story, in stories that can live in them and work their way though their hearts and minds, soulfully, imaginatively.
Nigerian writer Ben Okri, winner of the 1991 Booker prize for literature, wrote in a small text The joys of Story-telling "stories are as ubiquitous as water or air, and as essential. There is not a single person who is not touched by the silent presence of stories".

Another book I must share in case you have not come across it is The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. I was reminded of this book late last year when for the first time visiting the blog Four Season's in a Life of blogosphere friend Egmont Van Dyck. He wrote a wonderful post on this book (click here  for the post and overview!) which allowed me to track down somewhere to read this wonderful fable on the internet in case I could not find my own copy packed away!

This story I then read to an Art class of 12 yr olds girls one afternoon late last year. It was condensed into about 12 A4 pages - so quite a long tale, maybe a reading of about 20 minutes or more. They drew from this reading as the images came to them. Gestural representations of the ideas that seeped into their imaginations. Okri writes of stories "they can be either bacteria or light: they can infect a system, or illuminate a world." In discussing their drawings the girls commented they were fascinated that one person could make such a huge difference - this man who planted trees in the fable had gathered all the seeds( acorns) himself, and over years and years had regenerated forests in France - a country twice deeply marked by war in the 20th century. Not only did the forests come to life but streams and rivers came to life and villages began to flourish and people were enlivened. Giono's fable held great symbolic resonance for many in France, and the light from its story spread across the globe slowly but surely. This writer asked that the story never be sold but remain available for all to read freely! Many people have been inspired by this tale of great nobility to make a similar gesture, even if on a small scale.... a garden plot or abandoned land.

The title of this post also comes from Ben Okri:
                'Its easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell: subtly at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.'
And a last word form Okri:
                'Stories are one of the highest and most invisible forms of human creativity'


Four Seasons in a Life said...

Dear Sophie,

The Secret Garden is another favorite childhood story of mine but The Man Who Planted Seeds shared the feelings about an American Indian I met when I was eight, who instructed me that if I take from Mother Earth, so I must also return.

Now that we own a house, I have been raising trees from seeds and just last week received a package of red Japanese maple seeds that I hope to raise.

Your quote from Ben Okri rings true in every form.

I thank you for sharing your experiences with us and thank you for the mention and link.

Wishing you all the very best,

sophie munns said...

Dear Egmont,

how amazing that you met this man with that huge teaching so young - and that you remembered his words!

Can I just say THAT is why I believe as adults we must seed children's imaginations with good stories and powerful wisdom teachings. Grandparents have long played this important role for children, a sadly interrupted aspect of contemporary life.

But the passing on of story as you infer need not come from family alone. The teachers, care givers, and volunteers in communities that make time for story - deep story - are giving incredible nourishment that who knows what may transpire from that over a lifetime.

I hope your red japanese maple seeds take Egmont and prosper along with your other trees planted from seed! I'm very pleased that you posted on the Giono book last year when you did and I was able to reconnect with that story - very timely given this homage project!

When you get to the truth of things with people, whether in good interviews, biographies or literature - or perhaps the occasional revelations people share - it's often little more than the quality of story one holds to that sustains humans through enormously painful and challenging circumstances. One hears that over and over!

May we never forget to give children access to the deep sustaining stories reminding ourselves at the same time of what is central to human nourishment!

Thank you Egmont,

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