We Are Storytellers

When I tell my story with boldness and honesty, I add value to the life of the one who listens.

Louise Bennett, affectionately known as Miss Lou, Jamaican storyteller.

Each of us is a compulsive storyteller. We tell each other stories every day, recount details of our lives to anyone who would listen, and urge others to tell us their stories.

When geologists study rock formations and document what they find, they tell the story of the planet. When astronomers probe space with ultra-powerful telescopes and try to explain what they discover, they tell the story of the heavens.

Through their research and the publication of their findings, sociologists, historians, archaeologists and political scientists tell the stories of communities, villages, towns, regions and nations. Biographers tell the stories of extraordinary people doing ordinary things and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Priests and evangelists of all religions tell the stories of the gods and their exploits among humanity. Musicians tell stories in song, artists tell stories on canvas, dancers tell stories in movement. Even an object as mundane and utilitarian as the balance sheet tells the story of a company.

Above: Barbadian storytellers, Icil Phillips and the Mighty Gabby

We’re born to tell stories, to listen to stories and to crave stories. That’s pretty much all we do, and may very well be the only thing we do, as if every action in which we engage results in a story. If an action does not result in an actual story, it seems to remain a story in potential, to be told, maybe centuries later, by another storyteller.

We tell the stories of our own lives, our families, our communities, our nations, cultures, planet, the heavens. The story is a medium of transmission. The transmission device is the storyteller.

When we tell our own stories we’re being self-aware. We’re reflecting upon our lives. The more critical our self-reflection – the more honestly we’re able to gaze into our own mirror – the more valuable our story will be. When I tell my own story with boldness and honesty, I add value to the life of the one who listens.

Storytelling is the way in which we are connected; it’s fundamental to the concept of humanity. In the twenty-first century, stories reach their audiences through multi-media digital channels and are stored simultaneously in multiple devices in much the same way they are stored within the collective unconscious. In our digital economy, storytelling occurs at the speed of light.

*Excerpt from The Digital Storyteller: Philosophy and Practice of Publishing a Book.


 The Concept of Mastery*

Though our [writing] skill is the beginning of mastery, we actually begin to practice mastery in our minds…

I’d like to talk a bit about mastery. Let’s start with the dictionary definition. Mastery is comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment; it is control or superiority over something. Our skill is the beginning of mastery, but not the end of it.

Mastery includes the continual development of our sphere of knowledge, the continual development of our insights into the environment, our continual improvement of the tools by which we reach and touch the minds and hearts of our audience. Mastery is also being self-aware. It’s a specific mindset which has to do with why we write in the first place.

I’ve always considered writing a means to liberation – of ourselves as writers, and of others. Writing is a means to liberation because it’s a means of spreading knowledge. If knowledge is power – and I’ve never stopped believing that it is – then spreading it is one of the means by which we empower our people. And we have a large arsenal of tools which help us do just that.

But knowledge is also a weapon, and the storyteller’s skill in wielding her knowledge through mastery of her language and her business process is her fighting skill, the skill with which she wields her weapon of knowledge. Because – let’s face it – no one can or will succeed in the disruptive digital marketplace unless she is a skilled and aggressive fighter with well-sharpened knowledge. This means, of course, that we must conceptualize knowledge in a finely-tuned manner, and we must be like surgeons in deploying it, and so we must not only seek to know, we should also seek to know what to know and how to know it. And we have a large arsenal of tools which help us do just that.

The key to mastery of author entrepreneurship in the twenty-first century begins with a clear purpose for writing and a sense of the importance of that purpose, couched in compelling, unique and original statements, followed by the diffusion of our statements to our audiences by use of the technologies of our choice. Though our skill is the beginning of mastery, we actually begin to practice mastery in our minds when we engage in power thinking.

American choreographer, Alvin Ailey, on stage with two of his dancers in 1975. Their consummate skill epitomises power thinking.

Power Thinking. Power thinking is conscious thinking. It is thinking for a purpose and with a purpose. Power thinking is particularly important now because of an emerging notion which appears to challenge the ascendancy of the human mind, a notion reaching us through the purveyors of the technology, and which is part of the very construct within which the technology operates. I can’t help but be somewhat amused at the idea being put about that a human construct such as artificial intelligence and its various mutations may be thought to be greater than the human mind which created it. But that’s what the capitalists are trying to sell us. The extent to which we buy into that notion is equal to the extent to which we achieve mastery or not.

There’s a reason I engage in power thinking, and that is because there’s a goal I want to achieve, therefore all areas of my being have to be poured into this goal. Power thinking is the overarching activity in which I engage at higher-level areas of my being, and which influences every aspect of my experience. Power thinking enables me to power through mental obstacles, as well as obstacles in the environment. Actually,  it’s an entire cluster of thinking habits. There are four levels of power thinking that are important to the storyteller, and they are prayer, focus, knowledge and creativity.

Power Thinking – Prayer. Those areas of thinking at the top tier of power thinking are a particular type. One of them which comes to mind is prayer.

When I pray, my mind becomes filled with brilliant ideas

Prayer is a way of anchoring my thoughts and desires; of deeply connecting with the Great Creatrix, my source, the beginning of my being; of flowing within my unique purpose; of accessing truth and wisdom; of allowing my power, purpose, truth and wisdom to pour into my environment; of being a creatrix in my own right. I think prayer is the means by which I can write righteously, that is, authentically and truthfully, and for a purpose that transcends my own little vanities.

Prayer enables me to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that my words are crafted for a significant purpose, and will achieve that purpose. Through prayer, my mind becomes filled with brilliant ideas.

Creative thinking is a connection with the deepest aspects of my being

Power Thinking – Creativity. Creative thinking is an authentic connection with the deepest aspects of your own being, and a connection with your vision and your truth. I think that whatever you put your mind to do, if you do it with your fullest truthfulness, it will be unique, and will bear much fruit.

Power Thinking – Knowledge. There are many areas in which you need to be knowledgeable, the most important being yourself, in as many aspects as you can access. It’s important to know where your intelligence lies and what kind of intelligence it is, or gift or talent, as some people call it.

The most important area in which I need to be knowledgeable is myself

It’s important to be aware of your current thinking habits. I’ve spent a long time thinking about my own thinking. I have been self-reflexive, and I think that’s another attribute of power thinking – being able to reflect upon your own thinking and your own thought processes. It requires a willingness to look into your own mind and into your own soul, and the reward is the cultivation of self-awareness.

Being introspective is a prerequisite to power thinking simply because it’s a conscious way of thinking. It is the opposite of allowing your thoughts to just go all over the place. Power thinking is continuing to cultivate a way of thinking with clarity. I see that as a very practical thing.

Power Thinking – Focus. When I engage in focused thinking I’m contemplating my own strengths, those aspects of my personality that are genuinely mine, that define who I truly am.

Because I believe I possess these attributes, I am able to speak convincingly to myself.  So when I say I am tenacious, I know it to be true. When I say I am persistent, I know that to be true. When I say I am determined, that also is true. I think the basis of power thinking is the truthfulness of my thinking. It’s me knowing who I am. It is therefore important to take an inventory of those things we know ourselves to be. 

When I engage in focused thinking, I activate my strengths.

When your thinking is focused, you become incredibly hooked into what you are doing and are able to pursue what you’re doing over a long period of time. I consider this mental stamina to be a kind of renewable energy, energy which renews itself, meaning that you don’t actually run out of it, and even if you become a bit physically or mentally tired, you don’t lose momentum because the activity itself generates the energy you need to carry on. Your engagement with that activity generates the energy you need because you’re operating authentically in the area of your ability and intelligence, and that’s why it’s so important to live authentically. 

*Excerpt from The Digital Storyteller: Philosophy and Practice of Publishing a Book.


 Book Review: Stepping Inside One’s Opponent’s Sense of Time

Invisibility…occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom you come in contact; it’s a matter of the construction of their inner eyes…

Invisibility is the status you claim when you decide you will no longer succumb to the spells of the purveyors of false consciousness; the consequence of making a decision to think about reality for yourself with clarity.

Let’s break down the concept of invisibility: In 1952, Ralph Ellison published his first novel, Invisible Man, in which he set up his main character, a painfully young, nameless black man, to clash with the major social and political forces arrayed against blacks in America. Half a century later, I find this work still relevant, still fresh. It’s a great read. I give it five stars, and recommend it to everybody, whatever their race, gender or nationality.

A significant point in the novel is that the protagonist clashes with forces which were indifferent at the least, virulently hostile most of the time and death-dealing at their most intense.

The young man – let’s call him “I”, since that’s how he referred to himself, never by his name; in effect, he was nameless – did not set out to clash with socio-political forces. In fact, his unambiguous intention to was co-operate with them. He wanted to be a good citizen. He wanted to do what was right. He wanted to fit in. But he unwittingly ended up in head-on collisions with authority figures precisely because he wanted to do what was right, and precisely because in everything he set out to do, he meticulously tried to do the right thing according to the conditioning inflicted upon him by his parents and teachers.

This in itself is an interesting comment on the corrupt nature of social conditioning, because in order for “I” not to have clashed with society, he would have had to have been a hypocrite. He would have had to become a habitual liar, both to himself and to others, but most intensely and consistently to himself. In fact, everyone who had a hand in “I”s conditioning explicitly instructed him to lie.

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At the height of the “Jim Crow” era in the USA, the fight between John Arthur “Jack” Johnson (left) and James A. Jeffries (right) was dubbed “The Fight of the Century” because of the open racism of the era. Johnson’s spectacular win caused rioting in the streets, and made him “the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.” In Invisible Man, Ellison used a boxing match as a metaphor to explain the concept of stepping inside one’s opponent’s sense of time, or defeating one’s adversary when the odds seem overwhelming.

But “I” was a young man of integrity, thus, he reeled from betrayal to betrayal at the hands of the very people and institutions that should have protected him, but who actually sold him out, like his parents, his teachers at college, the folks who preached to him in church, who all lent a hand in trussing his body and mind, as if he were a hapless chicken, expertly preparing him for a lifetime of exploitation.

And he should have remained exploit-able, ever ready, ever willing to be picked clean by any roving exploiter until there was nothing left of him but the bleached bones of his skeleton and his forever-grinning skull.

But by some fortuitous kink in his personality, he cognized his situation, his faculty of cognition becoming clearer and clearer with each bitter betrayal, until finally, to save himself, he stepped out of the system, becoming like a cockroach in the interstices of the social structure, becoming invisible. Ellison called it stepping inside one’s opponents’ sense of time and being able to see and hear around corners. To truly embrace invisibility and liberate himself from his oppressors, even the well-meaning ones, “I” had to seperate himself from them painfully and completely.

Although Ellison’s story was specific in time and place, and alluded to specific historical personalities and conditions, its template could be applied to anyone, anywhere; so that his Invisible Man does not necessarily need to be a black man: he could also be a Caucasian, or a Chinese buddist monk. “He” could be a woman of any persuasion.

Invisibility, as Ellison defines it in his superbly enunciated Prologue, occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom you come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality… when they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.

But invisibility is also the condition you claim when you come to the realisation that it’s impossible to live your life according to a received reality, that is, a second-hand reality, or a reality handed down to you by your mother, or father, or priest, or teacher, or lover, or “God,” or anybody who set themselves up as an authority in your life. Invisibility is the condition you claim when you begin to act upon that realisation with clarity.

Refusing to live according to a received reality means thinking about reality, understanding reality for what it is, and deciding not to become subject to certain ubiquitous, subtle and highly effective methods of collective mind control, or false consciousness.

Many may say that this is an entirely subjective exercise, and that there is no one reality, but many – as many as there are people to perceive it. I would respond by saying that reality is not just about perception, and that there is a material, objective aspect to reality many people experience simultaneously.

For example, if me and my friends stand outside under a dark cloud, chances are that all of us will get wet when the rain falls. There is nothing subjective about getting wet, but there is a subjectivity about how each of us responds to getting wet.

Similarly, if a bomb is dropped from a plane nearby, everyone in the vicinity will know that a bomb has been dropped, although everyone will probably have a different experience of the event. It is the getting wet, the bomb falling, those concrete, material and objective aspects of reality to which I refer, and which we should grab hold of and hold on to as if for dear life when the ideology becomes so dense that we become blind and lose our way.

Everyone is responsible for their own lives. Since you are responsible for your own life, don’t you think you should also be responsible for thinking about it for yourself with clarity and honesty?


 The Storytellers’ Culture of Warfare: Part 1

I define culture as the specific manner in which communities and individuals struggle against the peculiar form in which war is waged against them.

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South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela, was renowned for his uncompromising stand for justice and freedom.

CULTURE is a way people understand and respond to the statements and actions put out by a dominant power seeking to force allegiance to itself. The word culture is often associated with the arts, and according to most definitions I’ve read, is assumed to refer to a shared system of values.

For example, the West Indian historian and poet, Kamau Brathwaite, who is Barbadian, conceptualized a definition of culture which he prefaced with a definition of the poet. He said the poet

is a craftsprson, oral or literary, ideally both, who deal in metrical

and/or rhymical – sometimes riddmical – wordsongs, wordsounds,

wordwounds & meanings, within a certain code of order or dis/order –

what Antonio Benítez-Rojo calls creative chaos  These word/sound/

meanings are caught out of the mind or moment’s sky as it were & et-

ched into the ground and underdrone of the poet’s/ of the artist’s cult-

ure. And from the ground of that culture is he/ she grown// is he/she

known// is he. she be/come

Having defined the poet, Brathwaite then defined the culture within which the poet works. Culture, he said,

is what the poet comes from and returns to over & over again &

in the end.   It is his home, it is his drum, it is his dream: the shared

collective conscious (and unconscious) xperience of a people, with submer

ged underdrones – ghosts, spirits,  sky-juices, ancestors, immemorial

memories…

Barbadian novelist, George Lamming, makes a link between culture as agriculture and culture as art, and defines culture as

the variety of ways in which men and women interpret and translate, through the imagination, the meaning of that material existence in the light of their experience: religion, philosophy, art and the institutions which mediate their daily lives.

I agree with both definitions of culture. I particularly like the subtlety and complexity of Brathwaite’s definition of the poet, specifically, his reference to the “wordwound” and the “code of order or dis/order.” I think they provide an excellent conceptual framework within which to begin a discussion about culture, one which can help us understand some of the phenomena which occurs in our communities today, including artistic expression.

Mexico City Summer Olympics 1968: Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise their fists in protest against the intellectual, social and economic warfare of racism in the USA.

Culture, however, is a concept which goes way beyond artistic expression. I define culture as the specific manner in which communities and individuals struggle against the inequitable power relations in force as a result of the impositions of a dominant socio-political power. The struggle can occur in response to military warfare (as in many parts of the so-called Middle East), economic warfare (as is happening in many countries in Africa), through economic and political oppression (as happens in communities in industrialized countries such as the USA) in addition to intellectual and artistic hegemony (as happens most noticeably in the West Indies). The manner in which the several aspects of hegemony or dominance impinge upon individuals and their communities and they manner in which people collectively deal with that struggle becomes the culture of those communities.

When culture is understood in diasporic terms – that is, when we understand that our culture stretches beyond our community or nation and resonates with cultures throughout the planet – establishing social and intellectual interfaces with and among diasporic communities may offer deeper and broader understanding of the many dimensions of this struggle.

For example, Black communities and nations throughout the world suffer from very similar maladies, and these maladies all have similar foundations in economic dispossession. There is a prevailing narrative which gives a name to economic dispossession. The name is “poverty,” and the narrative presents poverty as a naturally occurring, organic phenomenon. However, a closer look at some of these “poor” nations reveals that some of them are actually resource rich, whether the resource be oil, diamonds, gold, or food. To be continued…


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