Kind, still, loving, generous, curious, open, hungry, expansive, brave, emotionally intelligent, empathetic, thought provoking, clever, vulnerable, remembers everything, sensitive, compassionate, funny, and beautiful though she will not thank you for saying so.
In March, funded through our support from Lankelly Chase Michelle and Christina attended a writing Master Class at the Guardian hosted by Gary Younge. In developing our network we have been encouraging a wide range of people to find and speak in their own voices and tell their own stories. If we could learn to do that better ourselves from a master craftsman we could, we hoped, pass those insights and that inspiration to others.
After attending a writing masterclass hosted by The Guardians Gary Younge, this seemed to be the question that lingered most. Held in London with around a hundred participants we anticipated the teachings of a passionate and talented writer. The objective was to assist us in how to ‘Find your own voice ’. An expectation met, albeit by alternative means.
The session lasted for three and a half hours. It delivered around thirty minutes of useful tips on how to write more effectively and authentically . The remaining time was spent in what seemed to be an abstract conversation missing a common purpose. The skills of a man who could write so effectively seemed to predetermine the way in which the class was delivered. It came across as if it were to be consumed. There was no assistance in helping us to engage authentically. The contract between the people in the room felt on par with the contract of a writer and their readers. Something I felt didn’t quite work in this context. There was something missing. An energy needed for this particular art to be inspiring. An image of how the brain connects itself kept popping into my head and it got me to thinking…what invites effective learning and why is this important to our practice at Tree house? A voice came out of the echo of a misfire: Connection: To each other or to a clear unifying common purpose is essential for effective engagement. It needs to feel welcoming. Authenticity: Being present and mindful in every moment; what am I picking up here? Am I attending to it all? To be seen: To be brought into a space and be appreciated as an equal and an important part of a bigger picture. To allow with an open mind: To tolerate uncertainty and trust in the process. This creates a place in which most things are enabled to grow. We do all of this. We do all of this, well. This experience was an example of something that affirmed our current practice and philosophy and has helped in our endeavour to articulate it. Curiosity might not have been what killed the cat. Maybe it was a fur ball from all the incessant grooming. It struck me that in an observed life there is always something that can be taken from a situation and utilised. Maybe this is the basis of growth. How much of what is effective is only affirmed by what isn’t? Does this not put into question, everything? Does learning and progress lie parallel to an acceptance of anomalies and mistakes? Is it essential to the process of it? And Is the precursor to learning, having the environment to first become awake? If learning isn’t retainment, or regurgitation, perhaps it is something fluid? Something which is truly enabled through practices that allow people to more personally connect to it through a common purpose? Perhaps, this is exactly why the question that needs to be asked, and with more assertion, is:
What is your motivation?
Christina’s perspective : Finding your Voice with Gary Younge
I have to confess, that I approached the prospect of going down to London to hear Gary Younge speak about writing and authenticity in a star struck manner. I admire his writing, I admire his perspective, I admire the fact that his years in the Guardian and his recent responsibilities have done nothing to weaken the feeling that, when you read him, you are hearing through a man’s heart and vitals. This rather than through a head which has worked out what you expect, or what are the easiest words. to hear. The phrase that caught my eye is that you should write “like you should dance – as if no one is watching”.
I also had reasons for wanting to go to the Guardian. We live in interesting times. A decade ago Sundays were still dedicated to reading the newspapers. A train journey not complete without one. A decade before that and it was the Guardian everyday and the Observer once a week at the very least. I spent a childhood in Africa where copies of these and other papers, weeks old, were treated with reverence and past around from house to house. And yet we stand here at a point in history where in a couple of years we might have marked the ending of the print media. It is the Guardian who are attempting to step into this breech. So to participate in some way in their attempt to diversify their sources of income seemed in itself a worthwhile thing to do. After all the prospect of living in a country where there is no one left reporting on our world with integrity, rather than to the agenda set by a pay master, is one that should keep us awake in our beds at night.
So there we were. Excited we arrived early and retired to a pub to make our entrance again at a more rationale hour. We sat in our seats and the man himself arrived. I had heard him speak before a number of times including once at the slavery Museum in Liverpool. There he had seemed completely at home. At ease with himself, relaxed and present. He spoke with a quiet passion, feeling, wit and insight. His observations about the Obama election grounded in experience and the issues of race and identity he explored so heightened by the setting. Therefore so strange to feel him somehow less at ease in the very place where we assumed that he would feel most at home.
And so we began…
And what did we learn? That you should start with yourself. That each of us has a story to tell, a perspective through which to engage with the world that is unique to us and we should trust ourselves and seek to hone our own sensibilities and find the words to tell our story of the world. The way in which we should seek to do that is less clear in my mind. The message seemed to be that we would need to find our own way. And that in doing so we would need to be guided by that which motivates us to write and the impact we wanted to have. But what that was for him was unclear nor how he distinguishes himself what he regards as good writing, worth defending, to that which he is open to rethinking or reworking. He didn’t give us insight into his own experience of writing, what keeps him going, how he interprets feedback or what gives him satisfaction. Nor did he demonstrate any of his passion in the room, he did not connect with us and we didn’t, by his presence, feel encouraged, or motivated or emboldened.
Perhaps we asked too much?
So what is motivation for writing this? In part if I am honest because we committed to it by accepting funding for which we agreed to seek to learn in this way. This is a motivation which is akin to a deadline in bringing the discipline of time as well as an external provocation or expectation. However as Gary told us that is insufficient. The motivation has to have a higher purpose. That must be to learn and we did. Our learning came mostly from what did not happen rather than what did. We learnt that as soon as you elevate something or make someone your hero then you place them in a position where they are bound to disappoint. You also discount your own gifts. A man who is good and writing, and speaking and knowing his own voice should not be expected to be a man who is good at starting a conversation and getting others to participate. What it also showed us is how good we are at these things. How much of our time and attention is placed in creating the right conditions to foster learning. What we experienced was a lecture with some opportunities for questions. Gary Younge does have both the status, skill and the right to invite us to hear him speak. His experience entitles him to claim our attention. He might have been more comfortable if that was what he had set out to do. We would then have come with the expectation that we would listen. As it is he offered us a workshop which suggests that we were there to participate, to be coached, to see him and be seen. It is a higher ambition than a lecture and has greater potential impact. But to really engage we needed at the very least to know what he were trying to do with us and we needed a space safe enough into which to step.
All learning is about the quality of the conduit between all those engaged in a moment in fostering it. It is experiential it needs to be felt and spoken as well as heard. We need to be invited into presence, we need to be welcomed and connection fostered. We need to be recognised and heard. We need it to be experienced and felt as well as seen or understood. Otherwise all we recall is something that could have been bullet pointed in 15 minutes rather than a vivid experience, as some moments of learning are, that might stay in the heart and the mind for a life time.
I met her in the park. She didn’t know of me, but I hadn’t forgotten her.
We spoke for a while. I listened to her apologetic confessions of where her young mind was up to, as if it was the very first time anyone had asked her. There was a huge, hungry spirit in such a small skeletal body. She looked like she was frozen, as if someone had pressed pause and she hadn’t quite figured out why yet. I hoped for her sake, that she would never lose whatever was the driving force, behind the diligent attempt to express the veracity of her being, even if for this moment, it was killing her.