5 Ways to Survive a Trexit Winter

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It’s been a tough old year. As we face up to the double jeopardy of Trump and Brexit (Can we be punished twice for the same crime?) it’s hard to know how to comfort each other, to step up and do what’s right when we feel demoralised and silenced. How can we use the winter months to recover?

  1. Zone out the Noise.  Reading my social media feeds, I feel like a horse grazing in a field of rubble, stubbing my nose on shards of opinion, starved of real information or cheer. While it’s important to question untruths, we use a lot of energy consuming and reposting the same news or venting our (understandable) anger. Yes we have to grieve but then we have to get on – with the work. Take time out to recover, take stock, reflect. So we can hear our own voices again.
  2. Trust yourself.  After Brexit I felt I had got something very wrong, safe in my online bubble, sharing my values with my friends, unaware or dismissive that others felt differently. After the result I felt my voice didn’t matter, had no effect. Now I know it does but that I need to do more.
  3. Get Active. Donate, Promote, Engage. It’s relatively easy to sign an online petition, but more rewarding to volunteer time or support. Help Refugees are looking for help right now. We’re all busy but doing something yourself breaks the cycle of helplessness. Positive action is worth a thousand words.  And yet –

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  4. Keep writing. We need voices to articulate what is happening. To challenge the bluster of the far right. To expose simplistic arguments and reach people with stories that move and engage them. To give us comfort and hope, to reaffirm our true values.
  5. Support each other. Organise. Vote. Plan for a future without Trump, connected to Europe and the wider world, where prosperity for all, not fear, is what drives us. Set up an action group  like House of Cards writer @BeauWillimon if you don’t like what’s on offer. Protest in all ways, and don’t forget your greatest weapon- your heart and mind – your words and actions matter.

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Take heart. You’re not alone.  And don’t forget. There’s always chocolate…

 

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The Road We Travel

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I woke up feeling militant today. When it comes to my film career, have I taken The Road Less Travelled? But if so, why do I meet so many Fellow Travellers? Today it feels more like The Road We Travel. Here’s where we’re going and why:

In Search of Alternative Structures. After years of riding those two horses of being inner-directed as a writer and yet respecting the market, I believe there is a third way – to build your audience as you write and make your film – and create an alternative distribution path. The internet has made this real, but it also builds on a far older model where stories rise up to meet the needs of the community – we seek out the stories that help us understand our universe and survive it, maybe even transcend it for a few moments.

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Away from Predictability and Routine. It is not our job to sell the old paradigms of existing shows and tried and tested formats. It’s our job to originate new ones. No one under 20 admits to watching TV. Yet they do watch heavily authored and beautifully crafted series that speak to their own tastes and values. Nothing is ever truly new of course and those shows stand on the shoulders of others and have their own ritualistic formats and tropes. But at least for the moment they feel box-set fresh, a story we want to collect, like golden breadcrumbs.

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To Meet Fellow Travellers and Collaborate. Communities of filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians and other creatives are getting together online and in the real world to create, distribute and cross-promote each others’ work. The freelancers have got together and as Billy Bragg would say, ‘there is power in our union’. Our manifesto is simple:

This is What We Want to Make. This is What We Need to Say.  Choose your dream project and make it happen. ‘I want to invite you to join me in making a story I care about.’ Few can resist those words and so artist speaks to artist directly without mediation or need of cumbersome management structures that falter at the first hurdle of making a decision.

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Make a Choice. Stand up for the stories you want to tell, the people you want to work with and the causes you believe in. Build value into your movies – not just monetary (though that would be nice) – but true value that supports our community and makes us stronger.

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Diversity is Who We Are. It is not a special interest group or a catch-all phrase for troublesome outsiders. We are a truly diverse nation and we have the opportunity like never before to reach a global audience by writing, making and distributing our own stories. There is a huge pool of talent already trained and ready to be a part of this– don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

May Your God Go With You. All belief systems are valid, even those we despise have a function for those who hold to them. To contemplate a network of stories and storytellers that span this incredible world of ideas, to connect emotionally to even one human being is extraordinary. How much greater is it to connect to millions with our words, our images, our lives?

Let’s Get Together. And make something great.

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I’m in the usual places – @emlin32, and right here. Leave a message. x

True Stories

Live storytelling is an art.  It’s also terrifying – until you try it…!

The email from my friend Stephanie read ‘Fancy a weekend in Norfolk?’  I was tempted.

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Someone had dropped out of a Spark storytelling evening and her friend needed someone who could tell a short tale.  I had told a story once before – to seven people in a pub – so thought I could handle it.  I cautiously said yes.  Huge excitement from Stephanie and thanks from Jonothan, the organiser.  ‘What’s the format?’ I asked.  Sixty people at a sit-down dinner in a huge barn, with a platform to perform on.  ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have a mike.  ‘Bloody hell’, I thought.  And then – ‘I can’t back out now.’

I had thought I’d wing it, just tell an anecdote, but I was one of seven performers at this rather formal sounding event.  I’d better prepare something more structured.  But should I write it in full and then memorise it?  Or make speaker’s notes to prompt me if I got stuck?  I have lectured before but that was on a topic I knew about.  This felt different.  I had to be Entertaining. And I didn’t have long to prepare.

Ironically, the theme was ‘Time.’   I could think of moments about measuring time – a New Year’s Eve party, the fact my mother always bought me watches for my birthday which I never wore – but none of these tales had an ending or a big event– so to my mind they were not stories, just memories. I  started to lay down the rules for a good yarn.  It was harder than it looked.   I decided to tell a story about growing up in a hippie house-share.  But the night before the event I still hadn’t written anything down…

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It was dark and drizzly as my friend greeted me at the station in Norfolk.  We drove through the strikingly flat landscape, the big sky full of lowering clouds.

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The venue was ‘Back to the Garden’, a warm, open-bricked space, an organic restaurant in a converted barn – big but not cavernous.

Gigi checks out the venue

Gigi checks out the venue

The lighting was going to be low – another plus!  We were going to have radio mikes set up by a professional sound guy– which meant no awkward feedback as I mishandled the microphone.  It was starting to feel less like un-funny stand-up.  I even had a vision of myself as Amanda Palmer, giving a Ted talk into my headset, striding around stage spreading the word (A girl can dream).

Back in the car and another speaker, the lovely Gigi from San Francisco, was pulling out her story notes to re-read. I asked Stephanie if she was reading her piece – she’d written it in full and memorised it.  I pulled out my phone and started making quick notes – they were meant to be bullet points but somehow they rambled into phrases and images – not anything I could read out loud but a sketching out of the story shape.  I’d better get it right I thought.  These girls were good.

Gigi and the gig

Gigi and the gig

Changed and back at the venue, our host Jonothan  welcomed the audience as they drifted in.  I eyed the crowd –  they seemed relaxed, couples dining and a couple of groups.  We met the other storytellers around our table who were all charming.  I was starting to enjoy myself.

ElsingHallStories 110-1We went through the running order which was designed around breaks in a three course meal.  Stephanie was opening.  Followed by Starters.  Then Simon, and his dog Stanley were up.  Then me.  I was following a dog.  A beautiful blond labrador – you can’t top that.  I took a swig of wine.

Stephanie was brilliant.  Dark and dramatic though her story was – the death of a close relative in a car crash – she told it expertly, hooking the audience in with the first line, and connecting emotionally with them at all the right moments.  It was a moving tale and made a real impact. We were off.

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Stephanie

Simon’s tale was equally moving. How he had saved and been saved by a wounded Labrador, Stanley, while travelling in Africa. He spoke with sensitivity and grace while his dog Stanley won hearts by wandering around oblivious to the story being told around her.

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Simon

I was listening but nervous, aware I was up next. Then suddenly I felt the blessed calm descend as I converted all that adrenalin into performance mode.  This was it.

I bounced up to the sound man and in seconds my mike was on.

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Me

I stepped onto the tiny stage and my inner Amanda Palmer took over.  I made a joke about following a dog.  I went for laughs  – my story was not as dramatic as the others but it had good characters so I sketched them out, feeling the audience response to each revelation.  I tried to join the dots – to connect the moments to weave a narrative, to move the audience on to the next beat and to explain how I felt without slowing things down.  I was writing it as I went along.  And yet it was not imagining from scratch because this story, like all of the stories that night, was true.  It was my childhood write large.  It was my story and no one else’s and so I knew it and could tell it.

The story climax was dark, a down beat – so I had built in a new grace note, of how my mother met my stepfather, her fate decided by the toss of a coin. What had I learned from living in this house with all these characters? That it had made me who I am today – a writer and director who creates extended families based on the one I lived with all those years ago.  And so I ended. And raced off the stage and people seemed to like it and it was done.

The rest of the stories flew by.  Jonothan’s story hung on a vision of an archer by a Norman Church, an image so compelling it  led him to move to Norfolk.

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Jonothan

Nigel showed how even an old car speedometer had a tale to tell, while Glynn shared the stories of folk he’d helped trace their family line.

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Glynn

Gigi told witty tales of the great San Francisco earthquake and how it brought people together.

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Gigi

Although we hadn’t rehearsed the connections  as the evening played out they became clear.  I realised that everyone in that audience had a fantastic story they could tell.  That storytelling is structure.  It’s timing and taking the audience with you.  It’s knowing your context – who’s come before you – and who’s coming on next. It’s knowing your place in time.

If you can tell a story, you can write your own script, real or imaginary, in life and art, and long may that continue. Many of the storytellers had changed their lives as a result of that one moment they’d described.  I read recently that we tell stories to make sense  – of our world, our own lives, the lives of others.  I’d like to think that’s true. We can’t change our past, but we can re-imagine it, writing it as we go so that it makes sense to us and making connections with other people to find common stories we can share.

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To find out more about about Spark storytelling events in London and beyond contact  Spark London or follow them on twitter at @SparkLDN

To read real-life tales from Stephanie Young visit her blog.

Gigi Hanna can be found at londonstorycircle

As always, you can talk to me in the comments below or find me at http://www.emmalindley.net or @emlin32 on twitter.