Student story tellers

This year, my students have been working to learn stories related to our Sundance School story by digging into the artifacts housed in our building and working closely with Elder Saa’kokoto. Now at the end of April, we come to the point where it’s time to put finishing touches on the work.

Students have been working on orally telling the stories to buddy classes for months and have become quite good and they are now ready to record them and pay them forward to our community of learners. Our initial set of four stories will be shared as podcasts. Students have already recorded pre-assessment versions of these stories and are now working to share a polished version.

The next set of three stories (Beeta, The Wee Mouse, Thunder) will be shared as shadow puppet plays.

I had the good fortune to participate in a writing workshop with writing teacher Robert McKee some time ago, which I used to develop a script writing workshop to include in our weekly writer’s workshop sessions. Students are in the midst of writing scripts now. These will be the “shooting scripts” they use when it comes time to record.

The shadow plays, will be presented using wire sculpture characters created with talented sculpture artist Diana Hume, who works in Paverpol but will be guiding us in making far simpler works of art.

cowgirl
Art by Diana Hume
It has been amazing watching these storytellers working with such a sense of purpose. There is still so much work to be done, but I am very much looking forward to sharing their final projects!

Still Stalked by Stories 

At the end of a long day of gathering stories and packages of knowing, a circle under baking sun and beside wind-whispered stories: “Don’t leave your spirit out there,” he said, affably, one eye on the eagle floating in the distance. “Sometimes we leave our spirit behind.” And a girl seeking home for years finally understood where she had left her spirit years past and would need to go collect it in order to move on.

They say stories stalk us:

Maybe twenty two when I confessed to my Uncle Charlie that I wasn’t really answering my calling, and he said, “So why aren’t you?” And I couldn’t answer. Really.

Twenty years later, an Elder who adopted me into his circle told a story of his Charlie, and said, “The ancestors are there when we ask them to be.” I looked for my Charlie, but he wasn’t in the chokecherries. Nor was he on the steep hill out of the valley where I huffed for breath and laughed with neighbors about maybe needing to pick that old fitness regime back up again. He wasn’t floating on the wind with the eagle who came to visit out our final circle. But he sure was on the bus on the way home, and nudged me gently, “Are you answering your call?”

That uncle who first showed me how to not get lost in the woods. The uncle who passed before I got to know him as a grown up, who saved a thousand lives, judging by the former students who attended the memorial service. My Charlie sure did meet me on the sunbaked prairie, and nudged me toward my north.

It takes a lot sometimes to move off what we think we know and for years I found home in pushing back on impossible. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s stories, stalking, but I find myself pushed off what I knew to be true. The stories have always been there, calling. I just couldn’t hear them. Really. “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” But sometimes they’re carried by the wind that blows hard for six hours under prairie sky and leaves my skin pink in spite of SPF60. The stories are stalking if one just sits still long enough to listen.

What I learned from thirty days of poetry

Well, it looks like I’ll be ending my poetry month experiment with 19 out of 30 poems written. In no particular order, my learnings from this project:

1. It’s hard to be creative on demand. For me creative work comes, unbidden, while my hands are busy with other things. Riding bikes. Wandering.

2. Judgment hurts.

3. It’s hard to take risks in front of peers.

4. Writing every day kept it at the forefront of my mind. Publish even when the poem feels a little weak.

5. Mentor texts are so necessary! We learn by reading a thousand examples and studying a few in depth.

6. Poetry lives between the lines. It takes patience to read and write.

7. The speed of writing poetry is liberating for kids (and me)… they can draft, revise, and edit in a single period.

8. Fatigue makes it hard to be creative. When every minute is full there’s no time for thoughts to bubble up.

9. The deadline of a poem a day was tough for me. I like that I can whip off a poem in a few minutes of writing, but the poems that actually meant something to me took many days to wrangle onto a page. Sometimes the wrangling lead me back towards my preferred genre of narrative fiction. So, while I didn’t meet my goal of 30 poems in 30 days, I did dust off a couple of short stories and found the courage to hit submit and another is simmering on the back burner.

I think this year’s iteration of poetry month was probably one of the most rewarding for me as I jumped right in and took risks alongside my students. I’m proud of the work they created (and a little proud of the work I created beside them).

18/30 gifts

My hair smells of sweetgrass 

And my belly is full with tea, and berry soup, stew and bannock

My feet remember the rhythm of the round dance drum

Even if it took all day to find it

And I am grateful for the gifts of stories and opportunity

This girl away from home, always seeking, embraced by a new circle and Elders willing to claim her and teach her