One Big Story Part II

As a partial explanation of my failure to maintain this blog for the last few months, here’s one of the things I’ve been up to:

 

Creativity and the Edge Effect or “Yo-Yo Ma and Monkeys”

Earlier this week (8th April), Yo-Yo Ma delivered the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy the Kennedy Centre in Washington.

He called it “Art for Life’s Sake: A Roadmap from One Citizen Musician”, and it is well worth reading the transcript or watching the talk. As he champions the cultivation of collaboration, flexibility, imagination, and innovation, his vision of the future workforce is neatly echoed by a new study from Wikia and Ipsos MediaCT called “GenZ: The Limitless Generation”, which suggests these are the very strengths that Generation Z will bring to the table.

However, when Yo-Yo Ma articulates how a biological phenomenon, “the edge effect”, applies to the arts, you can hear the rubber biting the tarmac. This is not new, but he puts it well:

“In ecology, where two ecosystems meet, such as the forest and the savannah, the point of intersection is the site of “edge effect.” In that transition zone, because of the influence the two ecological communities have on each other, you find the greatest diversity of life, as well as the greatest number of new life forms.”

In my final year as an undergraduate in Anthropology, an interest in the edge effect drove me to spend five weeks studying Cercopithecus aethiops (the vervet monkey) in the wild.

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey (Via Wikipedia)

This primate is virtually ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa, having even adapted to urban settings in some cases. They also have one of the most complex documented “languages” or systems of calls and vocalisations of any species. I had an inkling that, in some way, the complexity of their language would be matched by a fluidity in social organisation and driven by their occupation of marginal environments (edges) and, ultimately, the physical distribution of their food.

Without boring you with the details, in grossly simplified terms, a gorilla sits around and grunts a lot because most of his food is the same and in the same place. He also has a rigid social structure that has to do with who gets to sit in the middle, eat the good stuff and who defends the territory. The vervet, on the other hand, exploits a huge variety of foods, distributed almost randomly in a marginal environment with lots of space in between. He has to have a language to talk to his tribe fifty meters away and tell them where the good stuff is (or the bad stuff, like predators or anthropologists). He also doesn’t benefit hugely from eating in the same tree as everyone else, so social structure is more “easy-come-easy-go”.

Why does this matter? I asked myself that a few hundred times as I tried to follow the critters for hours through dense bush on mosquito-bitten legs. But it seems likely that innovations, such as language and walking upright, happened under very similar circumstances in the mysterious pre-prehistory of our own species.

Back to the Kennedy centre …

Ma brings on a series of artistes to illustrate the edge effect. What does it look like, for instance, when Lil’ Buck performs his own street-forged dance moves to “The Swan” by Saint-Saens?

He then points out that the pianist on stage with him, Cristina Pato, is also Cristina Pato the bagpipe player from Galicia, a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, who just released her first jazz CD.

“One might say she is an artist who creates her own edge effect!”

That fascinates me!

I don’t think we are particularly comfortable with polymaths these days. Fame, success means being the biggest fish in one pond, not the second biggest in two, or the third biggest in three ponds.

I’m not a Leonardo da Vinci and nor are you (probably), but what can I do to be less of a gorilla: to occupy and exploit the fringes where linguistic innovation flourishes and social interaction is open and uncharted?

Firstly, as someone who primarily wordsmiths, I don’t hang out much with other writers. I love you guys (and gals), hugely, but sometimes I feel mildly threatened because we are grazing the same patch. Hooking me up with a muso, thesp, calligrapher, or chef is more likely to bring out the best in me (with the exception of a mime, perhaps).

Secondly, I hate it when people wibble on about “getting out of your comfort zone”. This is probably because I’m very happy in my comfort zone, thank you, but I’m also very tired of the cliché. Is there a better way to put it?

  • Induce a creative crisis (go analogue for a week).
  • Go on an artist date (indulge in thrill-seeking).
  • Study a parallel discipline (photographers, pick up a paint brush).
  • Throw away the dummy (burn those notebooks, there are plenty of fresh ideas where those ones came from).
  • Move the furniture around (sit next to someone different at the next meeting).
  • Get into your collaboration zone (thanks to one of my favourite collaborators, noahsapprentice, for this suggestion)

Whatever it takes …

How might you create your own edge effect?

I’m just kidding about the mime, by the way.

One Big Story … Part I

This month, I have the joy of working with 300 year five and six pupils from Durham City schools  to turn their ideas into One Big Story: an epic and imaginative tale that will be published in paperback in October.

Scary? No, this is just my storytelling face (Photo: Robyn Trainer 2012)

This one of the most exciting things I have done for a while; it ticks about a hundred boxes for the things I love doing: creative writing, stimulating other people’s imaginations and helping them to realise their creative ideas, being able to say the magical word “story” about 50 times a day and share my passion for the written word.

I’m working as part of a team alongside Christina Maiden (Off The Page Drama) and Robyn Trainer (Floral Footsteps), running whole day workshops in primary schools, getting children to invent and develop ideas for stories and working collaboratively to forge them into a coherent narrative.

Remarkably, it turns out to be quite possible to take the ideas of 30-40 children at a time and guide them into creating a story together as long as you think on your feet and prepare yourself for almost anything to happen. Not to give too much away, but we are half way through the project already and have five out of ten chapters mapped out. The children have taken us beyond our own imaginations into their own world where there are a lot of fights involving food and an awful lot of ghoulish characters in which the malevolent and comedic are theatrically blended.

It has been very encouraging to see that literacy is alive and kicking in every school we have visited so far; I’m the one getting educated.

In less than a month, we will be holding the book in our hands and you, too, will be able to read what happens when children create the sort of story that they would like to read … watch this space …

This screen …

Dear friends,

It kills me that we can’t hang out together in real life.  I’m tired of reading your blogs; I want to spend these long summer days being where you are and talking to your faces. Offline life is quite absorbing at the moment and I feel as if some subtle re-consecrating and rearranging is going on that is really hard to articulate in pithy 500-word posts. In a roundabout way, I’m trying to say that I miss my blogospheric community and apologise for my recent lack of participation; you know who you are and I think of you often. I reckon I’ll find my groove again in the near future and look forward to picking up some trailing threads …

 

 

You Could Stay In and Watch Eurovision or You Could Come Out Dancing

Ceilidh in aid of "Handcrafted" Durham Town Hall 26th May 2012 with the Scrumpy Badgers

http://handcraftedproject.com/

Lucky Seven Meme: I got tagged …

manuscript

Photo credit: El Chupacabrito

So I got tagged by Gillian of skybluepinkish …

She’s posted 7 sentences from her current manuscript, “The Dorothy Summer” (check it out), and now it’s my turn:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

Most of my stuff is less than seven pages (I put up a fresh short story nearly every week at “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“). However, with minimal preamble, here are the seven sentences beginning from the seventh line from the seventh page of my most advanced work-in-progress, a phantasy novelette entitled, “The Coat and Ring”.

Like a man who has been in the sun all day and who through the night gives off the radiance of what he has absorbed, I felt a strong glow from him. It was impossible to tell his age for his skin was well weathered by the elements rather than age, and he gave off an air of rude health. As he looked at me, I also had the impression that he was about to pounce on me and overpower me in a playful attack, like a young cub intent on tussling one of his brothers into submission.

I introduced myself and asked how he came to be there at Terence’s table on this particular night. I wished to discover if Terence had a continuous traffic of guests to whom the same attentive hospitality was shown or if I had stumbled into some sort of occasional celebration.

Selwyn looked at me with slight amusement under his moustache once again and took a few moments to answer me, as if he was weighing whether to play a joke on me or not.

Delightfully random …

So I’m handing the baton on to a few of my favourite writer bloggers (who may or may not appreciate being tagged), but I recommend you check them out anyway:

Valerie Storey at http://valeriestorey.blogspot.co.uk

James Tallet at http://thefourpartland.com

Rolando Garcia at http://phantomimic.weebly.com

Mandy Eve Barnett at http://mandyevebarnett.wordpress.com

Curtiss Ann Matlock at http://curtissannmatlock.com

Marly Youmans at http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.co.uk

Lisa Wright at http://wrightales.com

Amberr Meadows at http://www.amberrisme.com

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