In this episode, Radio LUMI will explore the theme of “Archives” as part of Luminato 2023.
In “Grounding Conversations, Part 6: Archives as Storytelling,” Dev travels to the future in an audio adaptation of a short documentary they created with Helen Lee with production assistance from the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers Toronto (LIFT).
Then Ramya Amuthan sits down with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt to discuss audio storytelling and archives and Luminato 2023 prepares for Aalaapi, presented by Native Earth Performing Arts and Le Théâtre français de Toronto, in association with Luminato Festival Toronto.
Audiobooks, podcasts, audio dramas, YouTube videos, TikTok, libraries, spoken word, how do you engage with audio storytelling? What's the difference of impact between in-person storytelling and listening without the speaker present? How do we discover our engagements to the stories that we hear the tellers of those stories ourselves through those stories? When are we too distracted for stories, too stimulated? You're listening to episode six of the Luminato Toronto podcast series. This one titled Archives. I'm your host, Ramya Amuthan. Joining me for this conversation ahead are Christine Malec and audio describer JJ Hunt.
This is Grounding Conversations with Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI. This six-part segment series will lay the groundwork for the conversations that'll be happening on our broadcast during Luminato 2023 and provide a background on the frameworks with which our audio experiences attempt to engage. Many performance shows and arts festivals begin their programming with your typical land acknowledgement. However, many indigenous peoples have criticized the practice for relegating their relationship with the land to the past, which does more to alleviate settler guilt and discomfort than to demonstrate real solidarity and progressive action.
In my relationship to Radio LUMI, I want to acknowledge these criticisms as a way to use my platform responsibly. I don't want to just acknowledge the trauma indigenous peoples from all over have had inflicted on them, but to address how our society collectively is hurt by the mechanics of colonialism. I want to try to offer a demonstration of ways to actively engage with decolonial concepts in a practice to move forward on an interconnected journey towards collective liberation.
In Grounding Conversations, I reveal myself as a time traveler, as I embark on a journey that weaves in and out of the past, presents and futures that are rooted in the festival's programming and our city's arts culture tying them to the themes that the host here at Radio LUMI will be addressing from their own perspectives. This journey will be created using excerpts from my body of work to address the ongoing impacts of colonialism on our collective society and the underlying principles of disability justice that the San Francisco-based disabled arts collective, Sins Invalid, imbued into the term when they coined it in 2005 in order to teach us how to resist our interlocking systems of oppression.
It's now time to embark on the final part of our journey, Archives: A Storytelling. The following segment is an audio adaptation of a short documentary written, directed, and produced by Dev Ramsawakh and Helen Lee, which was produced with the assistance of the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto or LIFT as part of transformations across generational commissioning project.
I've traveled to the future for the final stop on our journey together. I walk along a dimly lit concrete hallway passing through the threshold of a hulking ominous black metal door until I arrive outside of the underground bunker that I'm making into my new home. The bunker has dim overhead lighting, but there's a soft pink glow emanating from thin, bright lights brightly juxtaposed against the rest of the muted room. It's sparsely furnished with a small desk and office chair, a floor lamp with small shelves spotlit with pink light and a small daybed. There are plants growing out of the walls from futuristic planters that glow with teal light.
On the daybed, a small purple suitcase lays open already half unpacked with a black suit bag strewn over it. I remove my respirator with a sigh and discard the mask onto the desk with a thunk. I peel off my thick protective jacket and hang it on the back of the chair.
As a storyteller, the stories I collect are what I carry with me into the future. My memories, conversations I've had what I've heard and seen and felt, even the things I've tasted, both sweet and gut-wrenchingly bitter. To have a history we can recall, recount, recite is a privilege that so many of our ancestors and ourselves have fought to hang on to even a few threads of. Our histories give us more than just roots to ground ourselves in and learn from, but brings proof to our existence. Our impacts will always be felt, but to cite our knowledges back to the perspectives that were repeatedly attempted to be erased from our collective memories is a radical tool of potential transformation.
Colonialism has worked relentlessly to try to discredit our history and experiences from the ways we've been taught to care for the land we subsist off of to the ways we relate and love and care for each other. It attempted to restrict knowledge sharing through colonial institutions while trivializing pre-colonial methods like the oral tradition as anecdotal gossip and hearsay. But the breadth and depth of my knowledge didn't come from professors and textbooks. They came from earnestly asking questions and both making and consuming art. This is why I began to refer to myself as a living archive or an aggregator of knowledge.
As Alice Wong wrote in her anthology Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century, "Storytelling can be more than a blog post, essay or book. It can be an emoji, a meme, a selfie or a tweet. It can become a movement for social change." So before I left the present one final time, I returned to the source of my stories, my community, to ask them what they would carry into the future as I prepared for my own journey.
Theodore Walker Robinson:
I'd have to bring with me a helmet mask. It would be an item of protection for myself going to the future. I wouldn't know what to expect, whoever I'm meeting, whatever I'm doing. That's just like a totem, a representation of who I am, my culture, about representations of ourselves that can't always be seen. It represents transformation and the ability to always change one state no matter what it is.
In West African tradition, masks, especially helmet masks not only are they used to represent warriors and warriorship, but also in ceremonies and rites of passage where an individual is going through a state of change or transformation.
Theodore Walker Robinson is both a Radio LUMI host and the executive director of Lakeshore Arts. I met them during my first year producing Radio LUMI when I interviewed them for a disability spotlight on their work featured in the third issue of CRIP COLLAB. While Theo and I share a Caribbean background, we don't share the same ancestors, so instead of a tribal mask, I unzip the suit bag on the daybed to reveal a black and red contemporary Indian outfit I've worn a few times over the last few years.
Theodore Walker Robinson:
Definitely hope for healing for my community, especially coming from a black trans disabled community, I see us going through so much right now, the throes of it, of this pandemic, which is still not over, and we're feeling the financial and economic fallout of all of that. And everyone is so unsettled right now and going through a lot of health issues on top of the complications of COVID, and so I just want to see folks get what they need to live so that they can be free in other ways as well.
I pull the shawl off the hanger and drape it across my shoulders as I think about Theo's words.
Theodore Walker Robinson:
I think we need to realize that we have the ability to change and sort of transform the situation in our system and how we distribute resources to one another. There's more than enough for everyone to make sure that everyone eats every day as they require to at least survive. How do we do that in a creative way, in a transformative way, using our power, using our resources to help distribute something that helps people feel inspired to think about what the future can look like if we each use our own potential power to transform? And I think a lot of us haven't had that realization that everyone has some kind of potential for power to change. I guess I'm one of those hopeless romantic optimists for social change.
I hear a small mewl cry out from the corner of the room and see my black cat named Shiva still waiting to be released from her carrier. As I go to open the small crate door for her, I think of Kate Welsh, the other co-founder of our collective named Chris.
If I could take anything into the future with me, I think I would take my dog. He gives me so much love and support, but one of the best things he does is he's like an ableism deterrent because people come up to me and they don't say, "Why are you in a wheelchair," or, "Why do you use a walker?" They just talk to me about my dog.
I sit on the hard dark floor and pull Shiva into my lap to gently pet her.
We know that disability is becoming more and more common because of how the world is working, climate change, the pandemic. So I'm really hopeful that there is more disability community things, more disability dance parties and more disability gatherings and more disability craft nights and more disability peer support lines. Like other marginalized groups like shared experience of oppression, which doesn't sound great, but I think that there's something really special about the shared experience of how we navigate the world together especially as a young, queer, disabled person. It's hard to find other people like us. I'm very glad that I've been able to find people like me and it's really changed my life in a really validating way.
I let Shiva slip out of my lap and slink off to explore her new environment.
I think that we need to learn that disabled people are valuable, that we have things to offer, that our lived experience matters, that having different bodies and minds is part of diversity. If I'm really dreaming, dismantle capitalism and get rid of the medical model and have ways to participate and be with each other in community that are not production based or exploitative. And my dog teaches me, he doesn't need to be working or earning his value in order for me to want to give him food and water and housing. Just by being his little cuddly self, he has value. Yeah, I feel like pets can teach us a lot about compassion, empathy, community.
I turn to the desk to find my green satchel sitting on the chair and begin to rummage inside it. I start to pull out a collection of different kinds of art like prints, scenes, knickknacks and graphic tees, organizing them onto the desk and chair as I do. Many of them were given to me by Sherry Austin Null, whom I also met through the Radio LUMI disability spotlight series.
Sherry Austin Null:
I would bring bead work. I was thinking of why I want to bring bead work to the future and bring it with me rather than in a museum or something is because that's the way that bead work didn't get to come to the present from a hundred or 150 years ago. So a lot of that's in museums and away from community right now, and I want it to be with us, on our being, in our families and treasured.
I pull on a black sweatshirt as I think about them. It's my own design with simple purple texts that reads, "We're already surviving our dystopias".
Sherry Austin Null:
I think I hope to see community in general more than anything, people being present and caring for each other. I think we've been so disconnected from that through capitalism and colonialism and that folks are really pushing right back right now and I'm glad.
I take some of the prints and walk over to a bare wall of the bunker and start to arrange and stick them on in a grid-like collage.
Sherry Austin Null:
I think the biggest focal values for me are care and care that extends across species and beings and entities that have being, whether they're something western mainstream society perceives as living or something that's kind of otherwise like a piece of bead work can be an entity and a being that we care for and either way. A plastic cup in some ways should be because then we react to it in a way that makes us want to enact responsibility, and so care toward all of the beings around us, I think is how that could be achieved.
Returning back to my bag and reaching inside, I pull out a thin orange envelope of photos. On top is a selfie with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jasmine Patterson, who's been guiding teaching and learning with me for as long as I can remember.
We've been friends for 22 years, something like that. It would be my photos, whether I've taken them myself or the people have, they are very important to me. They're a means of storytelling and sharing who I love, what I love, things I find interesting or funny with those I may meet in the future, and also to look back on my life.
I begin to flip through the photos. They're in different sizes, some of them small Polaroid strips from photo booths, old film photographs from my childhood, and some even printed on paper now wrinkled and creased with age.
I hope for Toronto community does become more important. That caring becomes more, I guess regular people think caring is just, oh, buying your friend a thing or whatever, but showing care for a community, those who are struggling or marginalized. I really think that when there's a little more care and love, it's just benefits everyone. And when everyone is benefiting, they feel better. Things are better. Just want everyone to be happy and good. That's what I want. No more stress and sadness about people having to go through tough things on their own, essentially.
I gather up the photos again and slide them back into their envelope and leave it on the desk to come back to later.
I think there needs to be a lot of structural changes and a lot less focus on the individual and lining big business pockets. A lot of the way that everything is built and how it goes on is not focusing on the collective. It's focusing on the individuals. And so we need to get rid of systems that benefit those above where those below can work their asses off and still might even have half the things that those few at the top have. And that's a very hard thing to change when so many of those people who have the most are the ones in power. So that's kind of the tough part.
Reaching into my bag one last time, I begin to pull out different sized and colored journals, their covers worn and pages bloated to stack them on the desk. Documenting ourselves isn't an act of vanity. Our histories don't just legitimize us, but value us and learn from us and ground our future and our very beings.
I hope to see a future in which we can all be chasing dreams and soulmates and passions instead of grinding ourselves back to the dirt we came from just to survive, many of us questioning why we even want to survive. I want to live in a future where we flourish and thrive rather than wondering if we'll make it to the end of the year, the month, the week, the day.
I want to live in a future Toronto that's as diverse as we claim we are, and we care for each other unquestioningly, one where we carry the weight of our failures with us to remind ourselves why we do it when things aren't easy or simple or unilaterally consistent.
In order for us to get there, we have to seek out storytellers and stargazers and find where we fit in the middle. We all exist as multiplicities, and the truths we can honestly claim can only be derived from exchanging our perspectives until we can understand it from every dimension.
That was the final part of the six-part segment series, Grounding Conversations: Archives as Storytelling. This segment was produced by Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI as part of Luminato 2023, adapted from their short documentary film What We Carry, which they wrote, directed and produced with Helen Lee, featuring interviews with Theodore Walker Robinson, Kate Welsh, Sherry Austin Null, and Jasmine Patterson. Links to other resources for those interested in expanding their own research into these topics will be available in the show notes for this episode of the podcast, as well as through the Access Hub, which is available on the Luminato website. That's LuminataFestival.com. The music used in the segment is by G.R. Gritt. Sound effects were fully produced by Dev Ramsawakh, but don't turn us off yet. We've got lots more conversations between our hosts and describers coming up on Radio LUMI.
Let's get into the first part of our discussion together, which we're calling the Art of Storytelling. Let's start with how we engage with audio storytelling specifically, and we'll get into all kinds of storytelling, but maybe we can go around the table and discuss what we enjoy about audio storytelling, what we even consider to be audio storytelling. JJ, you want to start?
The kind of audio storytelling that I typically listen to, I mean, OTR, Old Time Radio is a kind of very pure audio storytelling that I still engage in. I love it. It's kind of my napping thing. When I go to have a nap, I turn on a Rocky Jordan, Rocky Jordan, and I get to hear someone tell me a story, and I get so into it. I am so attuned to those stories, the format of that particular story, the music that comes with those stories that I fall asleep very, very quickly and I wake up with the end theme song. It's just like Pavlovian. I am so attuned to that story. So that's a big way for me.
I mean I tell description rich stories as part of my work. So I do, I'm trying to find ways to combine traditional storytelling with audio description, and so I do these mashed up description rich stories of things like ghost stories. So I do a ghost walk. I think both of you guys have been on a ghost walk that I've done or other kinds of walks.
I love that kind of storytelling, and I'm also just a big day-to-day storyteller. I mean, for better and worse, my family has things to say about this. But at the dinner table, as far as I'm concerned, their how-is-your-day question is really just an invitation to tell a story. It's not, "Give me the laundry list of things that you did today." It's like, "What interesting thing? What kind of story can you tell from your day?"
And this has been a big part of my kids' lives, the telling stories. I used to, when I would walk my kids to school when they were little, I would tell them a story every day, and we had a set of characters as they were younger and got older these characters changed, but it's like, "Do you want a Lizzie in the magic mask story or do you want a Yuccan Jack story or is this a red rocket day?" And the kids would tell me, "Today, I want a red rocket story." I was like, "Okay."
So now we started our walk to school. I got to come up with a story based on characters that we all share, and I got to wrap it up just as you're getting in the door at school. And so that was my challenge as a storyteller. And as they got older, I had to figure out ways to create chapters basically. So they were into more adventure stories. So we had the Bookman family, the family of treasure hunting librarians, explorers. And so one day, Monday would be chapter one, Tuesday would be chapter two, and every day I just make it up. So the storytelling is a big, big part of my daily life with my family.
And it's cool to hear it from the storyteller. In these examples, aside from you listening to Old Time Radio, you're the one creating the stories, developing a collaborating to make this tradition go. And I especially love the part about how is your day is an invitation to really tell stories.
Some of us in our family are totally into it. My mother and I can converse for hours on end, telling stories back and forth, mostly me listening because she has a lot of stories to tell. But that kind of thing, when I compare it to my younger brother's response to how was your day? "It was fine." There's no ... Dead end. There's no real story here. We're not going to take the opportunity to spin this into something worth listening to. But Chris, are any parts of this relatable for you or feel personally connected?
Oh, totally. And even an uncommunicative younger brother, you get him at a party. And that's what people do at parties is we're always telling stories-
Telling stories. Yes.
... to each other, and they're funny or they're poignant, or they're the classic JJ's example, the end of the day you're talking with your family or your partner if something strange happened on the subway, of course you're sharing that. And so we're telling stories all the time, all the time. And first of all, I just want to say I wish that in an alternate universe, you and Lewis, JJ could be my parents because I didn't have any of that at all. And I'm just like, "Wow! That's top-notch for kids."
I've recently started delving into, I'm making air quotes here, "the art of storytelling". So sitting in front of a group of people with the intention that I'm going to tell you all a story and you are going to listen, so you hold the talking stick and you tell the story, and that is incredibly arc-full. There's a big arc in me learning how to do it.
And one of the things that I'm thinking about as a storyteller now is if I screw up and I miss a detail at the beginning that is important later on, I'm not writing it. I don't get to go back and edit. I have to think while I keep talking without the telltale pause and the crunched up face like, "Uh-oh, I screwed up." Without doing that, my brain has to be in high gear figuring out how to pick that up.
So the advantage is that the people who are listening to me don't know the story, so I can do whatever I want with it, but still in the moment, I need that skill of thinking it through while continuing to maintain my composure and talk and restructure the story so that that detail can be worked in or eliminated or whatever I decide to do with it.
And so those, there's kind of hard skills, and they're things that, for me, I'm a chronic under rehearser, so I don't rehearse enough. So I find myself in the moment of telling a story and realizing that, oh, yeah, this is a skill I need right now. And so I'm developing those.
And of course, I read audiobooks as a blind person and not a braille reader, not a braille reader for pleasure anyway. Obviously, audiobooks is how I get a lot of stories. So that is audio storytelling. There can be some artistry to how a narrator reads a book.
But my biggest interest at the moment in storytelling is how to tell it out loud. But in a broader way, how to tell the same story in different media. This is something I'm super interested in, is like there's ballets of Cinderella, and if I've written a story, the stories I tell are generally things I've written. And so to write a story and to tell a story, radically different, and again, I didn't know it till I sat in front of a group and tried to tell one of my stories. And I was both 30 seconds in and went, "Ooh, this is not going to work." Because when you write, you got these gorgeously crafted sentences that are perfectly balanced, and when you're speaking them, not reading them, when you're speaking them aloud, the vibe is totally different.
When it comes to audio storytelling at this moment in my life as a creator, that's what I'm thinking about is how to tell a story in real-time, whether it's mostly one of my own, but how to tell it in a way that's engaging that is totally different from how I wrote it.
Yeah, you know I think one of the things that helped me get into theater school way back in the day was I remember mentioning to the panel that was interviewing me that I had been listening to Old Time Radio Sherlock Holmes, reading Sherlock Holmes and watching Sherlock Holmes on TV. And at the time, I was fascinated by how those stories, this, because the identical stories get done in each medium, and I was just trying to piece it all together, but God, it made me look a lot smarter as an 18-year-old high school student than I actually was.
It's a fascinating question in comparison because sometimes I think, is it the vocabulary? Is it that if you are superb at thinking of beautiful descriptions on the spot, then does that make your story more interesting, or is it just the way that somebody would connect to hearing a story rather than reading it?
And at times, I can tell, for example, as a screen reader user, I'm having audio in my ear all the time except when I'm sleeping. And so having voiceover or other screen readers read an article to me is still not the same as, or even reading a blog, let's say a firsthand account, a written story is still not the same as someone telling you a story in-person or listening to someone tell you a story and if not fumble through it, even if it's very well performed, just the fact that it's happening out loud and it's not something that somebody wrote down for you to read aloud.
And that comparison, I think is about the connection, the connectivity you feel to the storyteller. And often I wonder with the media and how things have drastically changed, I can go on TikTok and find trillions of stories. People are telling their stories to the camera. I'm digesting it from my home. How is that different? Exploring that and how that's different from sitting around with my family, with people at a party, as you said, Chris, or day to day on the bus listening to someone tell me a story. There's a difference in engagement, right?
Yeah, and it's about feeling to me, and this is one of the things I'm figuring out between writing a story and telling a story. With the writing, it's word choice, it's sentence structure, it's the balance, it's lovely. It's picking the exact word that you want, and having that command of the English vocabulary is so satisfying when you're sitting in front of people. The word choice doesn't matter so much. I find what matters is the feeling and the intonation, and are you telling it in a way that is not robotic, but that has a dynamic quality?
And I guess someone like JJ who's been through theater school, this is second nature, but as someone, I'm learning this kind of later in my life, and so the other night I was telling a story that I had radically under-rehearsed, and what I found was that I couldn't remember all of the great vocabulary that I had. But it didn't matter that much because I could just repeat a phrase such as, "And still she said nothing." And in the written word, I had all these ways of explaining how she didn't say anything. But when you're telling the story, you can just use your voice and your command of the room if you have it, and your presence and your breath to just say something that's much simpler, "Again, still, she said nothing." And that has a power that the written word doesn't have. The written word has different power.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. This idea of telling versus reading is fundamental to storytelling. They are in the same family, but they're very different.
There was a storytelling circle that was going on in Toronto a long time ago, probably still some version of it going on, and there weren't a lot of rules. It was just a group of storytellers, mostly amateurs who would meet in a church basement and share bad coffee, and literally, as Chris says, "Pass around the talking stick." And when you got the talking stick, you could tell your story. And the only rule was no reading. That was it.
You had to stand there or sit at the front of the room and tell your story. You could not read because it's a different muscle. You're flexing different muscles. And some of these pros, some of these storytellers were just incredible. And you could tell a story that was fascinating, that would have been dull as dish water if they had written it down, but just not an interesting story. But because they were expert storytellers, they could just pull you along.
I remember one guy went up there and it was basically, it was a middle-aged guy's version of a flex, but he went up there and he's like, his story was, "I'm going to tell you the story of how a pencil is made." There was no plot. He didn't turn the pencil into a character. He just told the story of how a pencil became a pencil, and it was purely just using vocal technique and getting the audience to lean in and using their own fascination with this to pull us into the fascination.
If the person who's telling you the story is genuinely fascinated, you're probably going to be fascinated as a listener too. Again, that doesn't come ... You couldn't write that down. If I was reading, like, "Yeah, oh my God, how a pencil is made? Oh my God." It was all about the telling. Such a different art form, and yet it's same, same but different, right?
And there's such an important component that I'm learning of, I think I used the phrase earlier, having command of the room, and it has to do with your confidence and without training, which I haven't had, I don't think I could have done it earlier in my life. I just don't think I had the confidence to just sit there and go, "Okay, I'm going to breathe slowly. I'm going to talk at my own pace that I choose, because I know everyone's listening to me right now." And so there's this confidence that's required to sit there with that and be with it, and even to allow silences, which are very awkward, but really powerful. And those are some of the techniques that I'm sure you're taught in theater school that I'm sort of learning on the fly in my unrehearsed performances of storytelling.
You're tuned in to the Luminato Toronto original podcast series, and I'm your host, Ramya Amuthan. The title of this podcast, Archives, and me for this conversation is JJ Hunt and Christine Malec.
Let's continue on the topic of archives. During the next part of our conversation, we're sharing how archives can be powerful tools for us to connect with our past, how the way that we've connected with our histories have changed and still continue to change. The mediums are changing, and how we consume is very different today than it was yesterday. How do we create that mental space to digest what we're hearing and take it all in?
The conversation at hand is around audio storytelling, storytelling in general. We're really going everywhere with it. Let's get into archives because I think we can get into some interesting things around here, history, memory, exploring ourselves, connecting with others. So to go there, I'm curious about generally speaking, how you connect with your past, and you can kind of take this wherever you want, but your history, your genes, your people, your culture, your anything, your place. How do you connect this way through archives? Chris, I'll let you go first.
It's funny you ask this because I've had this preoccupation in the background for the last couple of years, and it has to do with my dad. He played the piano almost every day, almost every night, and he sang. And he was a troubled guy and not a good parent, but that part of our home life was good. And I know that for him, it was therapeutic. It was one of the best things he did to just take care of himself. It was to play music.
And so I'm incredibly grateful that I had real music in my home growing up, and that influenced my life in huge, profound, and good ways. However, he died when I was 14, and I can't remember what he sounded like. And I wish so much so often that I had a recording of him playing and singing just to know, because I know that that affected me hugely and it's one of the good, like one of the few good parts about his parenting that I can think back on and think that really affected my life in a good way, but I can't remember what it sounded like.
And it's kind of a first world, 21st, 20th century problem to think, "Oh, I don't know what he sounded like." Of course, through most of human history, people have lived that way without that kind of record of their past. So I have a lot of written, I always kept a journal and stuff, but I don't have very much audio archive of my past. But that's one thing that I think about a really a surprising number of times in a week is, "Oh, I wish I had an audio of that," just to hear it, just to know what it actually sounded like.
So relatable. Anytime you lose something, for you, this is a very deep point, but I wanted to make the comparison of how much I hold audio dear to my heart, and that is, I love going through voice memos and videos and just listening back and memory laying that way. And then more often than I'd like to talk about, I've deleted things that were so important to me and just absolutely can't get over it. It's like, "My God! A piece of my heart has been deleted forever, and how am I going to recall these memories without that audio jogging it back?" JJ, how about for you?
Yeah, it's interesting. Stories are, guys, it's probably clear, a big part of me. It's a big part of my family life. It's a big part of my way of interpreting the world, and it's a big part of the way I interpret my past too. I tell stories about my past. I want my family to tell stories about their past. I want to hear those stories. That's the way I understand the world and my place in it.
But what I'm learning as I get older is that we aren't always reliable narrators of our own stories. And that can be, it can lead to hilarity, it can lead to a misunderstanding, but it can also be genuinely problematic if you lock yourself into truths that you think you have in your life, things that, oh, this is how I was. This is whatever. This is what Christmas morning looked like in my house. And it's like, maybe something happened once, and you've told that story over and over and over again. So now it's become so important that that's the only way it ever was, and that's maybe not necessarily true.
So this idea of using those stories to build your own history, I think is incredibly important. It certainly is to me, but I'm learning that I have to be a little bit careful with that. I have to provide room for the story to grow and room for that story to change over time, because I'm constantly getting new information, and the story has to change as the storyteller changes, as my understanding of my life changes, as my understanding of the world changes. The stories from my past are going to change too, and that's okay. That doesn't mean that I'm a bad storyteller who can't remember, or that I was a liar back then, and I'm telling the truth now. It's just an evolution. I think that's okay.
Yeah, adding pieces as a puzzle, and we can instantly, just based on this point, make this a bigger picture conversation for what's going on in society, in the country, culturally, all these different things, but smaller scale or bigger scale, it's a point of curiosity for me.
Sometimes, I have this sneaky little fun, my parents who've known each other forever, even before they got married, one of them would start telling a story, and then the other would interject and say, "That's not how it happened," and then start telling their version of it. And then my mom would go, "No, no, no, no, you're remembering it wrong." And I'm like, "Huh, this is going to be a lot of fun." But it's kind of like that where sometimes there's friction, there's restriction in understanding a scenario, a story differently. And really, if we were all able to say, "Yeah, I'm okay with my story changing," or, "I'm okay with others, adding pieces that I hadn't come to terms with at some point, but now can understand." Wow! Wouldn't that be just so easy?
It's one of the great things about having really old friends too, is that you might talk about, "Oh, that time when we you know the," and, "Oh, and do you remember how you," and then you, "What? Nope, I don't remember that at all." Totally gone.
And not for a bad reason. It's just that we all remember different parts because they matter differently to us. And so, one of the true gifts of having very old friends is that moment where someone reminds you, "Oh, my gosh, I totally forgot about that." You have a good laugh. And yeah.
Yeah, creating that mental space, I think to be able to digest a story is part of that experience. And I wanted to ask you guys, because this concept is a really incredible idea of human libraries where people go and share their stories, and everybody sits around and listens. I always thought of it as a brilliant way to connect, and especially in the world of what we talked about earlier, TikTok and easy digestion. I only have two minutes for this story carry on, that kind of thing. I love just being able to sit with someone who wants to share their story. And you've both talked about this kind of thing in different capacities, but how curious are you to get to know people's stories who are potentially in no way connected to your own?
Personally, I'm fascinated by this idea. I mean, I think a lot of us do a very casual version of this. As we've said, you're at the party, everyone's telling stories. That's kind of a human library. It's just very casual. There're no parameters that are set up at the beginning of that party that says, "Okay, everyone's going to tell stories from this date to this date and whatever. Here are the themes."
When you take that same kind of concept and you move it to a little bit of a formalized setting, we're going to be interviewing all the people who lived through this cultural experience, and everyone shares their story, their personal take on what happened in their own personal throughline, through that moment in history. I mean, that is fascinating. And there have been some amazing academic works that have been composed using these kinds of personal stories, recorded stories, museums that you can go to where you can just literally plug in your headphones and listen and go through one story after another another, and find the common threads and find the outliers.
I am truly fascinated by this, and I am someone who, when I get to a museum or gallery or exhibition or art piece that has this, I plug in until someone makes me unplug. I really love these things.
That's amazing. Chris, does the environment make a difference for you? JJ was talking a lot about where and the place, and that really sets a vibe.
Yeah, it really does. And I'm thinking about the idea of knowing what to expect and how long is this person going to talk for? And I got to say, that factors in for me. And I'm thinking about, I think about this idea of how curious am I about other people's stories in the context of living in such a multicultural city because people who are new to Canada, they've got a story. I mean a capital S story, and that's completely out of my experience.
And so, for a volunteer gig, I am a tutor for English conversation for New Canadians, and one of my favorite things to do, it might be a group of just say four or five people online, so it's controlled. We know it's going to be 90 minutes. There's four of us, so we all know how much time we should talk.
So I'll say, "Tell me a story about your experience of the end of summer, or I don't know, pick a something." And so I get to hear these stories from someone who grew up in a completely different place and completely different culture, and it's in a digestible bite-sized piece that I know I'm comfortable in my chair, and I know roughly how long it's going to be. So for me, there's a really avid curiosity, and there's also a desire for a bit of knowing what the context is and how long the story will be and what it might contain.
Yeah, I mean, for me, it's just being able to say, "Yes. Yes, I want to hear about this," and if I'm able to do that, and minus all the reasons why not to and we talked about all the different reasons, at least for me. But if there's that genuine curiosity of, I want to know what you're about or what you're about to tell or why, what's the intention behind you wanting to share this? Then I think that that's just a brilliant place to start with the listening to stories, engaging with it, and even back to storytelling yourself and being confident, comfortable sharing parts of your story and how you can do that. Guys, JJ, Chris, thank you so much.
During this chat with Christine and JJ, I discovered how stories live differently in each of us, and yet connect us so deeply to each other. The short productions, the loud, long interactions with people on the street, the listening ear to a stranger, the familiar check-ins with our friends and our family, each story means something to somebody, and more often than not, we gain something so valuable just from listening to what someone else has to share.
Subscribe for more Luminato Festival Toronto podcasts for your listening, leading up to the 2023 Festival in June. During this year's Luminato Festival, we have live Radio LUMI broadcasts for you, including conversations with festival artists, live, audio described art and performances, music and more so stay tuned.