Story and community

I read in the Guardian the other day about Happy Sheffield. It’s a project as part of their upcoming Festival of the Mind, which starts today.

Passersby in Sheffield will be able to see projected onto the City Hall or on the website Happy Sheffield a moment by moment analysis of the city’s tweets. The Guardian called it a ‘happiness clock’ and looking at the website, Sheffield cycles fairly rapidly between a series of emotions. Sheffield has a reputation to maintain. In 2013 it was named as the UK’s happiest city.

You can also compare the constantly shifting emoticons of the city with an analysis of your own twitter feed on the Happy Sheffield website. It is interesting to see where you tend to sit in the public face that you project to the world. It set me thinking about the story telling residency I’m about to host at Dragon Cafe for the month of October, ‘Story telling in Space and Time’. The first part of the month is story telling in space, the second, story telling in time. We’re going to do a whole load of workshops and events themed around reclaiming stories of mental health and reconnecting with our stories, whether they are those of hallucinations, or of events that have shaped us.

Dragon cafe is a community, and a very safe and welcoming one. I feel comfortable sharing there. The first monday in October I open with my audio recording of my hallucination, in which I was blasted into space, and invite us to consider how we connect with things that didn’t really happen, but are as real to us as if they did. We will have stories from the audience on the second monday, told against a projection of spaces, urban, nature, and asylum images. Throughout the days we will be doing storytelling workshops and exploring the spaces of our stories, whether they are bodily or external to us. The whole thing will be supported by an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) practitioner, and will be aimed at shifting us through negative emotions through exploring the medium of story.

The thing about story is that it can be a pleasurable experience, like telling the story of something that you have harvested from your life experience. It can also be a painful one, one in which you retell something to yourself that you are stuck in. We want to move people through stuckness and into a space where they can see their storytelling as fluid material. We will be encouraging people to imaginatively recreate memories using their present selves as guides and wise attendees to their younger entities who went through the experience.

But it is the third monday of the month that I am most excited and nervous about. In week three, we will be taking twitter style stories that people feel stuck in – 140 characters of something that you want to shift in your life – and putting them on stage spotlit as if to tell the story. But it is reverse storytelling – the audience reads out the story to the teller. We’ll try it a number of different ways, high energy, low energy, women do this, men do that, faster, slower, emphasise this word or that, and so on. And at the end of the telling, we’ll ask the teller how they feel now, if it has shifted anything for them, and what they’re going to do with that material now.

Moving beyond ‘stuckness’ and into freedom and increased sense of choice through story is something that I am passionate about and I think that by using forms of recording, whether film, writing or performance, one can lodge things in the emotional bank, create markers, and move on. Often our stories are those we re-tell again and again. Each time they have a different life.

And maybe the constantly shifting emoticons that come out of Sheffield is a representation of how we can shift ourselves through an emotional cycle and onwards in life. Just as the twitter feed here represents a communal thought life, I hope at Dragon Cafe we can create community round the individual and their story in that moment, and in that sharing, we can move on together.

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