(this is based on an excerpt from my new book – in process – GIRL IN THE SKY – to be published by Sentient Books)
I was telling stories to a group of children in a private school in Harlem, yesterday. They were breathing in a fairytale retelling of a Yugoslav version of THE PIGEON’S BRIDE. It is one of the stories I am including in a new book. GIRL IN THE SKY is a guide to telling stories for young women who have been abused or demeaned.
The children at the school are are great listeners. Most of them bundle under small rugs to listen; while a few stand – moving, arms waving or leaning in with intelligent engrossment able to leap or turn at will. In the middle of the story an image appears that is totally unexpected beyond the usual turn of events of a story unfolding.
In the story of The Pigeon’s Bride a young woman refuses conventional marriage. She wants to embroider. Her father and mother, King and Queen, attempt to dissuade her, but she insists and begins a kind of intense artist retreat in a tower. She observes and draws, sews with many colors and creates landscapes with needle and thread. Until, one day a pigeon flies into the room. It reveals that he is actually an enchanted man. The story is replete with transformations and magic. My listeners easily accepted the plight of the bird; the love between the man and the woman; and, the secret that she must keep so that he can continue to return to her room during the day as a man, and fly away as a bird when the sun goes down. Of course, a secret in a story is always a warning to listeners and characters in the tale that inevitably it will be spoken. We find out the consequences. The loss results and the hero or heroine has an opportunity to become more conscious and compassionate. That happened to us. The girl told her mother the secret under pressure and threats. Our princess left home with two pairs of iron shoes. She crossed the world to find her beloved. On return. she surrendered to her parents wishes. But, just as she was about to choose a suitor, she thought of another (last) plan: “Build me a bathhouse. I will sit on the threshold. I ask if anyone has the most unusual story to tell. If it is completely rare and strange and marvelous, I will reward them. Give me three more days.” She listened to interesting stories, but nothing that truly interested the seeking princess. When a poor girl told her a story it finally awakened her true interest.
We had been coursing through the normal delight of a fairy tale with all of its shape -shifting and longings, when suddenly we were taken by total surprise. The story that the girl told began with her seeing a rooster with wooden shoes carrying a bucket at a well.
The surprise appearance of the rooster brought great excitement. We had moved from the imaginable to the inconceivable. Yet, our minds, pliant and accustomed to making gossamer pictures in space between, brought into being for each of us the oddity of the rooster. This harbinger of morning wearing shoes and carrying a bucket was peculiar. That moment took us further than expected expanding our capacity to become alive with becoming. We crossed a line into a more timeless vivid zone with no lines. Everyone paused for an instant as we savored our sense of mischief. Then we plunged back into the story. We wanted to know that the princess would (hopefully) find her pigeon beloved. Everything that happened for the rest of the story was unusual. It was a pleasure to stay with the deep sense of longing, regret, delight and love arising between us. The surprise was an island in the middle of a mysterious sea not to be foundon any map. Perhaps only to be felt and seen in the gossamer space between us vibrating with all of our images surfacing. Setting foot on groundless territory is the gift of storytelling. To find within ourselves a depth of feeling and complexity of longing is the bait hooked. The joy of release into the listening more marvelously – created in collusion – propels us naturally to let go of any preoccupation, lingering.
In my chapter what I emphasize is the way that a story keeps us engaged more and more in our own response, and release from concerns and hurt. While not fully lost in the story since we are dependent on listening, we can even pop up from immersion to ask questions or make comments and then quickly return. We are practicing wakefulness and non grasping, and pliability of mind, in this process of involvement. Words become images immediately, felt and vivid; not ttached to meanings and interpretations that lift us back into thinking and having to make sense. They are happening experiences; taking place on many levels at once. This is the virtue of the Island without boundaries.
The Secret Island is always present.
The beauty of arriving is not stopping
to announce “We have arrived.”