My Journey of Storytelling for Social Change

My blog, Storytelling for Social Change, is marking six years since its conception. I planned and gave the first storytelling for social change workshop nine years ago, but my path as a storyteller for social change began many years before that.
So, in honor of the sixth or ninth or fifty-sixth birthday, I sat down to write about some of the stops along my journey, which traces the connections between stories and action for social change. It’s made up of family and work, studies, research and contemplation, activism and action. It’s a voyage being written as one moves forward, with many stops still waiting to be discovered.

First stop: “Until lions have their historians”

I was twenty-six, very much pregnant and severely unemployed. A human resources agency sent me to a temp job as an administrative assistant and language editor for Shatil – The New Israel Fund Initiative for Social Change. Hanging on a wall in the office, which then resided in an apartment on Ramban Street in Jerusalem, was a poster that read:

That poster was one of the reasons I stayed on and became a full-fledged staff member for eighteen years. The proverb summarizes in simple words the importance of stories in shaping public perception, and the influence chroniclers of history have on political power dynamics.
When my personal life capsized, tossing me into a pit to wrestle my demons, I learned the significance of stories in the process of healing and empowering oneself. My pain taught that I am not defined by the searing memories, but by the stories I create from them.

Second stop: Fairy tales

I started my Bachelor studies in the mid-eighties. Dropping out of school became a story of failure. I felt like a woman lost in a crowded train station in which everyone is coming and going at a frantic pace like they know exactly where they're going, and only I was stranded in place. It wasn’t before 2003 that I returned to the Hebrew University to complete my bachelor’s degree in English literature and Interdisciplinary Studies.
I went back to school with the decision to tell a new story, one of completion and coming full circle. One of the first courses I took was in feminist theories on folklore and fairy tales. I immersed myself in ancient tales handed down by oral tradition to alert from danger, prepare for rites of passage and preserve great moments of bravery and wisdom. Many of these stories, whose documentation is often attributed to the brothers Grimm, were told about and by women as part of a tradition of initiation. During my research I found this one from Marina Warner’s book :
"While a poor man’s wife in the village thrives, the Sultana in the palace grows thinner and scrappier by the minute. The Sultan summons the poor man and demands to know the secret of his wife’s happiness. ‘Very simple,’ he replies. ‘I feed her meat of the tongue.’ The Sultan sends out for all the tongues money can buy – ox tongues and lambs’ tongues and larks’ tongues; still his sad Sultana withers away. He orders his litter, makes her change places with the poor man’s wife; she immediately starts to thrive, becoming the picture of health, plumper, rosier, gayer. Meanwhile, in the palace, her replacement languishes, and soon has become as scrawny and miserable as the former queen. For the tongue meats that the poor man feeds the women are not material, of course. They are fairy tales, stories, jokes, songs; he nourishes them on talk, he wraps them in language; he banishes melancholy by refusing silence".

This story, much like the proverb about the lions and their historians, became formative in my life. To this day, whenever I tell it, I feel it is also about me and my struggle to “refuse silence" . I have a fervent need to believe that healing and change begin when the silence is broken. When we take command of the right to tell our own story, to instill it and then release it so it may subvert the stories told about us without us.

"Bluebeard" by Daniel Gouri De Lima

Third stop: The lions’ smile

In 2009, I travelled in my capacity as a consultant to an "Art of Leadership" seminar of the Rockwood Institute for Leadership and Social Change in California. On the first evening, after several introduction rounds, we were asked to stand in a circle and to say, in one sentence, without prior preparation, our statement of purpose. And so, in faraway California, standing in a circle with people I had just met, I heard myself say: “My purpose to tell that which is left untold, to help unheard voices be present and heard.” Those historians-deprived lions, who entered my life some twenty years earlier, must have smiled to themselves a little smile.
In California, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I too, felt mostly out of place. Too big or too small, a stranger to the language and rules of engagement. Different, even to myself. And perhaps it was being so way out of my comfort zone that allowed me to learn so much. When I returned to Israel, I printed out a new business card which said: Storyteller, adviser and group moderator for social change.

Fourth stop: Your voice can change the story

In the lead-up to the elections for the nineteenth Knesset, in 2012, I started Facebook blog called Your Voice, Your Story. The aim was to use social media to call out people to take responsibility and exact their power to influence the course and result of the elections. This time, the inspiration came from Christopher Booker's "Seven Basic Plots: Why People Tell Stories". Booker's claim is that any story ever told and any story to be told – from folk tales, through literature and poetry, action films and romantic comedies, classical plays to bedtime stories – is shaped by one (or more) of seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth.
Each day, I shared one story under the title of one of the seven basic plots. This was a way to create for the readers a connection between their personal stories and the inherent themes of these plots and to the political realities of our lives. The goal was to give a name to their struggles for social change, to expose the deep narratives acting to weaken or dismantle these struggles.
And so Shakespeare’s “Othello” became an example for how the prime minister of Israel operates, and the infamous folk tale “Blue Beard” was a starting point for a discussion on sexual violence and silencing practices. These stories evolved into tools for interpreting and acting within the political realm.

Fifth stop: "Can the Subalterns Speak"

My Master's’ studies, though they lasted eight whole guilt-ridden years – towards my job, my family, and school itself – were one of the spaces that allowed to explore, discover and merge different types of knowledge.
In those years, I was the Executive Director of the Dafna Fund, the first and only feminist fund in Israel. It is doubtless that the spirit of Prof. Dafna Izraeli, its founder, was with me. Dafna was an activist, a lecturer, a mentor and feminist thinker, one who always believed in the importance of combining the practical with the theoretical. That which is born in the field and that which coalesces in the library. To me, that union was natural and necessary. Twenty-five years of boots-on-the-ground experience in social change gave depth and meaning to critical theories I was exposed to. On the other hand, the theories provided name and context to the power dynamics in our society, and the injustices that stem from them.
But along with the mutual insemination, I was constantly minding the gap between the potential for liberation found in feminist and post-colonial thought, and their accessibility to those out in the field day by day. Stories for Social Change were decanted from me into that gaping space. They were an attempt to build a bridge between the complicated texts of critical theories and the injustices transpiring around us day and night. Thus came about posts such as Were I human and Redirecting the Gaze

Sixth stop: "Nation of poetry" and the commitment to decipher

In recent years, I am researching the political agency of poetry. There are those who would ponder and say, “But poetry has been used a tool for political propaganda and protest for years,” and this is of course true. But my research didn’t deal with “political poetry,” but the possible contribution poetry could have for creating a nuanced, complex, ambivalent and diverse discourse in the toxic political climate of our times, which flattens every discussion into a rhetorical battle and zero-sum game.
Poetry is a form of highly self-aware literary expression, one that urges us to take greater note of the way language operates. It tugs at the hem of our garment and demands we pay attention to words and the meanings they create, each separately and as they stand together. Interestingly, the common language in our political discourse often acts in the exact opposite way, wearing words out so they are paper thin, until they and what they represent lose almost all meaning.
The most important role of poetry is to grant words their profound purpose, to invite us to stop and linger, be mindful, to feel empathy and compassion. To look inward, at the way life in an impossible political reality has eroded us as well, our ability to feel the world around us, and mostly, the belief in the power to act and make a change.

Epilogue

I was born into poetry, to a poet father, Haim Gouri z"l, whose name often comes up along with the expression “national poet,” an expression which symbolizes his stature within the canon of Hebrew poetry, a spokesman for a generation, of an era. But what I saw, beyond the definitions and the titles, was a man who couldn’t help but write. Writing came from a necessity. It was a mission. I was born and raised into “the personal is the political,” as well as the edict to preserve all of my identities, even when they are in internal contradiction and perhaps at war with each other.
Naturally, my wars were different than his and the course of my life included a willful exile into the fringes, into feminist action for social change and the minor analysis of politics through stories for social change. But the deep root at which our political differences always merged was the agreement to strive for the founding of a society committed to include all of the identities that comprise it.
Poetry was always there and it always mattered. I am profoundly thankful to my father and all the poets whose work has stirred and moved me. That made me stop, linger and marvel at words, and the many meanings they hold within.

 

 

One Poem. One Resisted Temptation

 

On December 31st, 2014, I submitted my thesis on the political agency of poetry. This date marked the conclusion of a long journey towards a Graduate Degree in Cultural Studies. It was a journey, a quest, in search of the deep connections between the daily practices of social change and the transformative power of literary texts. It was a journey seeking to bring together my practical knowledge as a social change activist, and my evolving knowledge as cultural critic. It was a journey in search of theoretical grounding to what I always knew to be true; that poetry matters. That poetry is important to our lives as individuals and as a society.

I love poetry for its complexity; for its ability to spark conversations. I love it for its integrity and illusiveness. The first encounter with a poem I love is like is like a gift; when you can't wait to untangle it. This is how I felt when Marzuq Al-Halabi, a dear friend, a poet, scholar and activist, sent me his poem Deceit!

I placed the poem close to me and let it breathe. I waited for the moment when I will have time to write about it in peace and quiet. But these are not peaceful nor quiet time, so the poem lingered with me. Until now.

When writing about political agency of poetry one must resist the temptation not to enlist the poem for a specific political cause. I promised myself to resist. Not to speak too much about or for the poem. I wanted to let each reader find him or herself between the lines. So I will only say this: I love this poem because it looks the reader in the eye; because it endows the words with their deep meaning.

The original poem was written in Arabic. My dear friend, Rachel Tzvia Back, a wonderful poet and most gifted translator of poetry, made it possible for me to share this poem in English.

DECEIT! / Marzuk Alhalabi

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Deceit! 1

Not a single one will go to hell

Or burn

Not a single one will go to heaven

And not one will return

No beautiful woman waits

No grace will reign

The entire thing is language's deceit.

Deceit! 2

Not a single one rose into the sky

Not a single one flew swiftly in the night

Not a single one walked on water

Not a single one returned from beyond.

The whole thing is deceit of grammar rules

In the naming of active subject and verbs!

Deceit! 3

Not a single one is pleasing his god

Not a single one disobeys him

Not a single one will earn his favor

Not a single one will forget him

The entire thing is mind deceit

Trickery of spirits weak!

Deceit! 4

Not a single one is martyred

All are murdered

There is no beautiful death

Every death is ugly

There is no heroism in this death

It is the ruse of words on this death in vain.

Deceit! 5

Not a single one is marking the borders

Not a single one will set up the scales

Not one will be just toward you,

Not a single one will determine your end

The entire affair is a decrepit old clock

From which time has run out.

The Naked King

The Naked King*

Would I do it all over again? I would like to say yes, of course! But when I think of the price I paid, that my family paid, I have to say, I do not know. If I knew then what the future held for my family, and me, perhaps I would have kept silent like everybody else did.

Those were my five minutes of claim to fame. And why? For screaming at the top of my lungs that which no one else dared to say, because they were afraid everyone will think they were stupid. Yoy will not believe what fear does to people. I remember it like it was yesterday; I was sitting on my father's shoulders to see our king showing off his new clothes. Surrounded by horses and trumpets, he walked, his head upright, and waved majestically at the crowd, with only his throne on his head, and his underwear. I remember my father's shoulders shivering under my weight. Now I know that he was swallowing his laughter; trying hard not to giggle. And everyone kept waving their flags and calling "Hail King!" as if nothing unusual or out of the ordinary was going on; as if our king, a chubby little man, was NOT walking the main street in his underwear.

So I sat there, on my father's shivering shoulders, and I just could not understand why none of the grownups around us – including my own father – said nothing; is it possible that they did not see what I saw? Finally, I could not hold it in anymore and I yelled, "The king is naked! And suddenly there was a terrible silence, and the band stopped playing, and everyone looked at me with tremendous relief and great horror; relief, because they realized they were not stupid for not seeing the king's new clothes; and horror, because they knew what will ensue.

I was only five years old at the time, so they could not really do anything to me, but the Crown charged my father with for high treason, libel and defamation. This broke him completely; it broke all of us. He spent a fortune on legal defense fees, and eventually they settled out of court. My father pleaded guilty for failing to educate me and instill the fear of King in me. This whole story destroyed our family. My father went bankrupt, and he and my mother fought ceaselessly; he blamed her for spoiling ne rotten, and she claimed that I inherited all my bad habits from him, including his big mouth. Truth is, they both blamed me; for seeing and speaking truth to power.

So all I had left were my five minutes of fame for that brief moment when I released everyone from the big lie and for the terrible fear of being stupid. However, when they saw when happened to my father, they went being to being mute and afraid. Truth is, I do not blame them.

They did blame me, though, because everything went from bad to worse afterwards. The story tells us that the king was thrown from the throne, and that the lying, thieving tailors fled the city. But it wasn't like that. The king fired a minister or two and waged war on the neighboring city, and everyone forgot all about him being naked, because he was really good at waging wars. And at times of war everyone keep silent, because wars are really scary.

So you are asking me if I would have done it again. Well, I guess I did inherit my father's big mouth, but yes, I would have yelled that the king is naked; but I would make sure that I was not alone. I would have made everyone yell at the top of their lungs together; because a king can terrorize one kid and his family, but not a whole city.

*Dedicated with love to the boy who yelled, "The King is Naked"!

המלך עירום

Illustration by: Daniel Gouri De Lima

Growing up, I was like that boy in Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Emperor's New Clothes". I was honest, straightforward, and said things as they were, through the eyes of a child. Over the years, I learned that sometimes there is a price to be paid for being honest. Thing is, I am bad liar. I think I became an artist of words and stories so that I could speak my mind in a way that would make people listen. Because the art of storytelling is about making people listen, and share, and think and feel, and shake the dust off the shelves of their hearts.

A woman's prayer

I will fast on Yom Kippur again this year. Not because I have to, but because I choose so. It is a family tradition since the passing of my maternal grandfather, Shaul Beker z"l.

I will fast and pray at the Dror Reform congregation in my neighborhood, and my daughter, Na'ama, will join me. No, she doesn't have to, but she, like me, appreciates being part of a community that prays and chants and sings, women and men together, on this day. After the prayers, her father will take her to join her friends to play and ride her bike. And next year she will be free to choose where she wants to be.

I will prepare food for those in my family who do not fast, because a shared family space means each and every one has the right to live and be as they choose.

I will, again, shed tears during the Avinu Malkenu prayer, because 20 years ago this prayer pulled me out from an abyss of pain.

And I will dwell and reflect on what I have done, or didn't, or should have done differently. I will mind, time and again, the gaps between who I wish to be and how I am, especially towards those I love the most. And I will mind, time again, the gaps between my values and my practices.

And I will break the fast, time and again, with my parents, in their home, and the first thing that will receive me at the door will be the light in my mother's eyes and her warm "G'mar Hatima Tova" embrace.

I make a personal choice, time and again, how my Yom Kippur will be.

woman-praying-425

I will pray this year, time and again, in my own way, not to the Almighty, but to a private and very personal presence of spirituality and compassion, of deep humanity that is in the soul.

And this year, when Yom Kippur and Eid al Adha are celebrated on the same day, I will wish all my Jewish and Muslim friends who observe a meaningful holiday, one to be shared with family, friends and community.

And I will ponder on the proximity between the sacrifice of Ishma'el and that of Issac, and how we, the humans of this world, are obligated to celebrate the sanctity of life, and challenge the culture that sanctifies the sword.

G'mar Hatima Tova and a blessed Eid al Adha.

To Hagar. To Hijer.

To Hagar. Hijer. My sister.

After many years, I am once again reading about you and your story.  It is good that I am doing this, my dear one.  It reminds me how important you are in our history.  And the more I read, the more my soul is bound with yours.

You, Abraham's concubine, were passed on to Sarah, who passed you back to Abraham so that you would provide him with a son. Back and forth.  You were persecuted because you were a stranger, because you were loved and loving, because you didn't belong.

You were made up of all possible contradictions, in your life and after your death:  Royalty and slavery; a symbol of supreme maternal devotion but also of obedience to the patriarchal, economic, and class structure; the mother of Ishma'el, the founder of the Arab nation, the source of inspiration for religious texts but also the symbol of expulsion, of otherness.  So many words have been written about you, and I search for you in the mounds of interpretations, appropriations and sophisticated debates.

Your story is composed of infinite materials.  It is not one story, but rather, many.  And from these many, I sit and pull out the threads, one by one.  First, the thread of you and Sarah.  The woman who must have felt very ambivalent about you, burning with intimacy and jealousy.  I find myself angry with Sarah.  After all, you, the handmaiden, were the victim of a social and economic order that placed the will of your master above your own.  Perhaps both of you – you and Sarah – were victims of the patriarchal order that measured and valued women according to their ability to give birth, to produce heirs (preferably male, of course).  That same order that did not allow Sarah to create a close, loving relationship with you.

And then I pull out the thread of motherhood.  The thread that turned you into a model of devotion and grace.  When you put Ishma'el your son down, and went off to seek water and to spare him the sight of his mother weeping over his bitter fate. The fate that awaited both of you.  In the end, you were both saved.  Thanks either to your resourcefulness and tenacity or to the hand of God. The Bible tells us that God revealed himself to you.  At that moment, were you overcome with awe, or simply tremendously relieved that your life and the life of your son had been spared?

Expulsion_of_Ishmael_and_His_Mother

What did you want, Hagar?  Did anyone ever ask you what you wanted? You – who refused to sacrifice your only son whom you loved.  You – who withstood all of the tests.  What did you want?  What were you thinking about, as you sat in the desert, crying bitterly over your son?  Did you know then, as your were banished a second time, that your son would become a great nation?  That your banishment from the home of Abraham and Sarah would lead to one of the most bitter and harsh conflicts in history, a conflict that eats away at our hearts to this very day?

I cannot but think about what would be if Sarah had not demanded that you be sent away.  If Abraham had not given in, without even protesting.  Perhaps Isaac and Ishma'el would have grown up together as brothers, despite the age difference between them?  Our history in this space – as Arabs and Jews – would be very different.  And in these difficult times, I think about what we women – mothers, sisters, friends – can do to help to heal this open wound, to right the terrible historical wrong of your banishment.

I don’t know what you would have wanted.  They have all taken ownership of you.  Judaism. Islam.  Even Christian scholars have made their interpretations on your back.  I don't want to appropriate you, or your story, or your life.  But every so often, I would like to have another conversation with you.  If I may.

Written in 2010, for a special exhibition by feminist Mizrahi artist and leader, Shula Keshet, on Biblical Heroines

The Power of Stories

The power of stories and storytelling

Stories are a powerful thing. Stories evoke strong emotional reactions: fascination, enchantment, laughter, fear, indignation. Stories have power over us because they are made of the raw materials of our lives as human beings: love, hate, passion, conflict, competition, adventures, cruelty and kindness, overcoming obstacles and challenges, the victory of the mind and soul over matter and coercion, resourcefulness and wisdom, stupidity and innocence, faith, and more. Stories can helps us grapple with the darker corners of our being and celebrate the greatness of our human spirit.

Stories can remind us who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go. Consider for example the Odyssey, possibly the most famous tale of personal journey. After years and years of wondering and endless obstacles, adventures and temptations, Odysseus is finally able to find his way home after telling his story to others and to himself. Stories help us preserve our past, so that we may shape our own future.

Stories are not merely about facts, but are not the opposite of facts, either. Rather, they are an effective way of conveying information, in a more dramatic, picturesque, concise and inspiring manner. In that sense, stories can be a powerful tool in an organization's social marketing efforts.

A story well-told can unleash the power of other stories: it can help us tell owr own stories and elicit stories from others. Individual stories can then be woven together to tell a collective one: a community's, an organizations, a people.

To read more about the power of stories click here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxoYW11dGFsZ291cmljb25zdWx0NGdvb2R8Z3g6N2E3MDU3MmUzZmM3YzhhYg

If you want to learn more on how storytelling can benefit your group, your community, your organization, please wonder the pages of this blog, and then contact me at: consult4good@gmail.com or call: 972-52-5601859

My People

The plane finally landed at Oakland Airport. Only a short trip from there to the home of Akaya Windwood, the President of Rockwood Leadership Institute. I traveled all the way to California to participate in a Rockwood Art of Leadership Seminar, as part of a process of exploring the idea to bring the program to Israel. .
I have never met Akaya before. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and exchanged e-mails, and she invited me to stay with her over the weekend, before the seminar. The taxi drove up a peaceful street, and pulled over just as Akaya came out of the house to greet me, a tall, beautiful woman. I was so happy to finally meet her, and we embraced as if we were long time friends. I felt like I was home away from home.
The Art of Leadership seminar started on Monday afternoon. I was the oldest participant in the room, and the only one from Israel. It was March 2009. America was in love with its new black President, while in Israel; Benjamin Netanyahu was putting together another coalition. On that first evening, we stood in a circle, 24 people from different places, races, religions and genders, and with endless stories to share. Our two amazing trainers, Helen Kim and Toby Herzlich, asked us to say: who are my people?
– My people are my family…
– My people are my family and friends…
– My people are my friends and colleagues who are working to end racism and prejudice…
– My people are all those fighting for justice and equality…
The seminar was a truly transformative experience. I experienced a whole spectrum of emotions; I felt the pain of revelation, I shed some tears, and was inspired, and curious; I learned a great deal about my own leadership, my privilege, my responsibility. I discovered myself through the eyes of people I have just met, but I had to trust them to share their wisdom with me, and let me share mine with them. For four intense days they were “My People”, as we all shared in an experience of learning and discovery. It’s been five years since then, and what I learned there about myself, about leadership and about social change is still alive within me, like a potent “suspended release” medicine, that runs through my veins, through my system of values and beliefs.
And the learning and revelation continued, in the four years in which I was the program Director for the Rockwood Art of Collaborative Leadership for Social Change in Israel, thanks to the generous support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Social Justice Fund. I met amazing people, our participants; so dedicated and passionate about their work, even when it gets so frustrating, challenging and downright unthankful. I met people who represent such a rich diversity of ethnic, national, gender, cultural and political identities. Each and every single one of them holds a special place in my heart. Our alumni in Israel, along with many other remarkable people I met during my 25 years in working for social change, are “My People”. I wish I could name each and every one of them, but the list will so long. My people are the feminist activists and professionals who never take a break to breath; my people are the human rights and peace people; the environmentalists, and those working to keep Judaism pluralistic and inclusive, and those fighting against racism and injustice, and all of those who insist to end the occupation. My people are kind. They are my kind of people.
And each and every one of them has a voice, loud and clear, complex and fascinating; a voice that holds a richness of identities, of stories, of affiliations. My people give me hope, despite the ill winds that keep blowing in our country, despite legislation initiatives that threaten to deepen the rifts between Jews and Palestinians. They give me hope, because I know that there are people, amazing people, who work to bring people together, to create circles of conversations, to create spaces for shared living.
It gives me great pleasure to host my people on my blog. And this time, I invite you to gather around an imagined fire place, or an imagined town hall, and listen to two of our Rockwood graduates in Israel: Shahad Abu-Hamad, a Palestinian pre-school teacher, a special education fairy godmother, and Prof. Daphna Golan. A Jewish scholar and educator, a magician in her own way, and the founder of the Academy-Community Partnership.

storyteller2The Storyteller, Illustration by Daniel Gouri de Lima

Power Failure/Shahad Abu-Hamad

Power failure
Darkness
Waiting for the light
Power failure
Painful memories
And people’s stories

System overload
Power failure
Pouring rain
Thunders roaring
The voices of whole nations
System overload
Power failure
Paralyzing thunders
And the rain washes away painful memories
Feeds a new scent of hope
A scent of love

Power failure
Darkness
Hot and cold
Will you make up your mind already…
Don’t say it’s impossible
We are out of words
Silence
Power failure.

This powerful poem was written at the end of a whirlwind week of the Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day that were followed by a rain storm, in early May.

Learning with students, Acting for Change: a TED talk by Prof. Daphna Golan, Founding Director, Academy-Community Partnership

http://youtu.be/uvEwl2PHDgE

On Motherhood and Leadership

The maternity ward at the old hospital was full, so they put me in the corridor, not quite sure what to do with me. The corridor was dark and silent, and I was left alone, caught in a web of emotions. “Miscarriage in 1st trimester”, was the dry, clinical diagnosis. “Don’t worry, it happens to one in every 7 women”, said the well intentioned nurse, “everything will be just fine”.

Morning came, and they brought the newborn babies to their mothers, to suckle. I lay in my hospital bed and was just very, very sad. The tears came pouring down when  I saw my mother’s tall and graceful figure coming towards me in the long corridor She held me and shed a tear with me. I was so very very sad and her embrace made room for my sadness.

Motherhood is about making room for sadness until it goes away by itself. And sometimes it is simply about making room.

25 years after that grim morning in the corridor, I read in a book “Fairytales of the Reversible Death” by Simona Matzliah-Hanoch (available in Hebrew), the story of her miscarriage; my story, and that of so many women. I had goose bumps all over. I can’t even find the words to describe the feeling of reading my own story told by another woman I never met.

Motherhood is about breaking the silence for others.

“Mom, am I assertive?”, Na’ama, my almost 8 year old asks me, as we’re strolling down the street. And while my mind races in a maze of feminism and language, wondering if I like this word, mostly used to describe women, comes the next question: “What is assertive, anyway?”

“It means holding your ground, standing up for what you believe in”.

“And is that a good thing”?

“Of course. And yes, you’re assertive”.

Motherhood is about saying the right thing. Telling your daughter what she needs to hear.

And motherhood is also about holding them to the highest standards, even if it makes you feel like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. And it’s about inspiring them to harbor high expectations, but at the same time, to remember that they should pursue their own dreams, not yours.

Motherhood is about letting go when you need to, and enfold them back into your embrace when they need you to.

It is about enabling separation and autonomy without conflict.

And motherhood is knowing that we all screw this up sometimes, but we usually get a chance to make it right.

Motherhood is not a physical or biological action; nor is it gender specific. It is a position, a way of being in the world; a commitment to the growth and well being of those around us and those who will come after us.

Yes, it is a commitment to the growth of others.

cropped-d79cd799d793d794-d79ed797d793d7a91.jpg

And now, to Dana’s poem.

Sometimes, the way to foster a leader is to enable one to see oneself in that image. Dana Myrtenbaum, a cause lawyer and a dear friend, says t so beautifully in her poem

Leadership

It's a big word, riddled with cliché

But it encases within

Myself – and other women and girls

Of all, it empowers

The strength within me

The voices inside me

The ones that leap and shatter,

Like in a dance

How do we "construct leadership"?

A wise woman once told me

"We say to you, time and again

You are bright and amazing, with a gospel of your own –

And a leader you are".

We tell you, time and again

That a leader you are

And already you are bright and amazing, with a gospel of your own.

More than anything,

In the voyages of life I see

That both our hands

Must grasp others,

Seeing eyes,

In endless circles entwined,

For there is no singular leadership

There are many

And me?

The places from which I've fled,

That beckon my return

Yearning to create,

Reeling fantasies in reprise

The strumming of leadership

On the strings of life

And simply put,

The man I loved and realized I could not change

Children I have birthed and guided

Women that were swept away with me

From words to cries into deafening silence

Towards action, and words, many more words

Friends that uplifted me

And another project born out of the first breath of the day

After the dream

And the elders that mentored me, now I care for  them

The endearing pauses,

The gift that I cherished,

Heeding the reading,

Comfort in another task, half a breath

My tempestuous laughter,

A gaze of love,

A dawn's embrace – in the warmth of the bed

Poem translated to English by Daniel Gouri de Lima

Oedipus Shmedipus

Oedipus Shmedipus

Mix the flour and butter until they form a coarse mill…

She had started and stopped writing about them several times, going off to bake scones.

Fold in the chopped cranberries, pour one cup of heavy cream…

The dough is a little sticky now, and she finds joy in kneading it; knowing how to be patient, not to add too much flour. Soon she will flatten it to a big circle, and chip away little round shapes with curly edges.

She had begun writing about them several times, and stopped in the midst. It is much simpler to bake scones. Soon she will slide them into the oven, for the soft smells of foreign pastries to spread across and fill the air.

Bake the scones until lightly brown, careful not to overdo it. That's it. There are no more excuses left for her now.

So many times she began writing about them, of Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and every time she stopped. For who is she, this softening woman, to write of these men whose works shape our lives to this very day in a preordained, never ending cycle of violence.

It was in Tu B'shvat (the Jewish celebration of trees) that she was playing with the idea of writing in a humorous spirit about how she is going to cling to high trees… and write about Oedipus and Freud. She ended up baking scones with dried fruits, because that also something to do with Tu B'shvat.

And the scones are ready, sprinkled with powdered sugar and their stories, in all their founding and shaping glory, are still there. You can talk and knead for as long as you like, but no new knowledge will be born here, until you kill someone.

Sophocles wrote the Tragedy of Oedipus nearly 2450 years ago; in which the titular prince was born prophesized to commit Patricide, wed his mother and bring pestilence, woe and sorrows to his people. He wrote a tragedy about blindness and predetermined rivalry. He probably did not foresee a Jewish Austrian Psychiatrist building an entire theory based upon it, about parent/child relationships, human evolution and the society we live in, 2400 years into the future. And then along came Harold Bloom – Another important Jewish fellow – and wrote about the "Anxiety of Influence" and how new knowledge is formed, how creation is born, in the world we live in.

She's meant to write a chapter about this subject in her ever elusive, prolonged Masters Thesis. Instead she bakes scones and writes ambiguous stories. They trouble her mind far too long now, these Men with their Oedipus and repression. Their disinheritance and sublimation of Patricide and all this to create something, that for one passing moment, you feel like maybe had never been written before.

There's something so real about the sticky feel of this dough. You have to be gentle with it, so it won't break, so the butter won't dissolve too much. So the scones will come out equally soft and delicate. There's a recipe, and as long as you follow it everything will be just fine. You can decide to be bold and add pecans. It is better to quell you rebellious streak when it comes to foreign pastry recipes and to heed the instructions. This is not the time to be creative or break new grounds. Save your insurgence for other things.

Coward. You're a coward, she reproaches herself as she removes the broken egg shells from the sink to the trash can. What the hell are you so afraid of? I don't know. Maybe that they won't understand. Think it's rubbish. Fearful that she doesn't have that flare in her, to write until she collapses, to leap and fly. Freud would have had a field day with her.

But the story these men tell bothers her. It is so powerful that for nearly 2500 years no one told another one, as powerful and formative. Every birth, every creation calls for a battle, a disownment, a demonization of what came before it. "This old world to it's foundations we will crumble", because there's no point in anything else.

She misses her grandmother. The tempestuous, and sometimes lost. The one who wrote that art and motherhood share the ability to give unconditionally. Even after there's none but a crumb of the scones she made, her grandmother's words keep striding with her.

She doesn't know how to write without the recipes yet. The stories help her. Guide her. In them she finds wisdom, and comfort.

And there are the stories that haunt her. Like the one about Oedipus being told for 2500 years, on top of which Freud constructed entire theories of penis envy and the drive that turns into sublimation to slay the "Father Figure" and become the Alpha Male. To take what you want and repress the fact that someone was here before you, and that he might have been more eloquent in expressing that which you wish to say. These stories concern her because they clear room in the pages of history for men who took those theories to the extreme. One of which passed away around these very parts just a few weeks ago (former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). He created and destroyed, built and mostly demolished again. And with his passing, from every corner of the political spectrum people rose to proclaim that many a day shall pass before we witness a leader such as this in our lands. A true Alpha Male.

But she digresses again. Quick to write a parable, to draw the lines between the dots she scattered on the page. She must have "Misunderstanding Anxiety", it's hard for her to be incomprehensible sometimes, and even more to abandon these wanderings among her private memories and associations.

The end is nigh and she decides to emerge from behind the character she's been hiding in. She's just like her anyway. In the language of stories she will say that writing helped her  appear out of this character, because sometimes it's a place to hide and at other a place to be exposed.

This week a dear friend told me that my insistence on interlocking my stories with social change is a kind of burden. That my attempts at connecting the stories with the ever so real world of working for social change  is holding me back from soaring. She's correct, of course. The truth shall set you free, but it's also a bitch. And maybe I do shackle myself to this encumbering anvil, of saying something about social justice, because I am afraid – or worse, can't – Spread my wings and fly. Maybe.

But that is only one part of the story. The other is that I am tenacious. I believe that this connection between stories and social change, is alive and vibrant. It needs to exist.

I started with Oedipus, Freud and Harold Bloom and the story they tell about how the world behaves and how new knowledge, life and creation are born. These tales bother me because I realize I am also bound to them. I doubt myself when I think that there are other ways to be and create in the world, even though it has already been said before my time.

And I'm restraining myself now. Holding back from weaving these threads that are strewn about the page. If I could paint, maybe I would create something with these strands in front of me. But as always, I will let Daniel draw the story of this tale. And he will do something a little different of his own, that will entwine with my own, which is already knotted with the living and the dead. And maybe that is enough of a statement about the processes of creation.

 001

 Illustration and English translation: Daniel Gouri de Lima

Dripping

On Dripping

This blog post was inspired by a great storyteller/blogger: http://astorytellerinistanbul.blogspot.de/

 I wish to thank her for bringing the story about the cracked pot to life in such a relevant and resonant way. I also want to thank John Rogers for sharing the blog post.

The story of the cracked pot

Once upon a time there was a water bearer, who had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

Why?" asked the bearer. What are you ashamed of?

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return home, house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers, grass and vegetables  along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, the green grass and the ripe, delicious looking vegetables, and this cheered it some.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers, grass and vegetables only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?

“That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower and vegetable seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them.

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers and delicious, nutritious vegetables to share them with my family and neighbors and make them very happy… "

cracked pot 001

Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

I'll be 51 in two weeks. I, too, am a cracked pot. I've earned my cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work, by taking the long road, often the road untaken, with very little shortcuts and magic solutions. I earned them with every time my heart broke and healed, with my body transformed by the years and bearing my children, with the silly things and bitter mistakes that I made. I, too, like the cracked pot, often wonder if I'm doing my job in the most effective and efficient manner; I too "drip" and only get some of the tasks done by the end of the day, and I have reminders on my google calendar to remind me of my tasks, because I forget…

But the story of the cracked pot invites us to think of this dripping not as a waste of time and resources. In this story, the water dripping from the cracked pot, in cooperation with the seeds and the soil, brings flowers and vegetables into life; creating nourishment and beauty. Yes, I, too, am dripping. When I postpone doing the laundry or writing that report, do tell my daughter a bed time story and cuddle next to her until she falls asleep; when I shut down the computer and decide not to read my e-mails late at night, so I could spend a few moments of grace with my partner, or watch a film with my son. I am dripping when I spent a few minutes at the beginning of each conference call to chat with my colleagues and ask them how they're doing; or when I say to myself this writing block is not going anywhere, and I may as well take a long walk to clear my head; or put the phone on silent and make cranberry scones.

I share this story here because it is simple and beautiful; there's a lot we can learn from it, as we strive to bring about social change. This story is an invitation to ponder about "dripping" in the context of working for social change as an investment in processes that will eventually yield sustainable impact; dripping in the sense of investing in deconstructing and redefining limits, power-relations, strategies; dripping in the sense of drawing wisdom from different types of knowledge.

Working for social and political change is a goal, but it is also a way of life, a way if being in the world; just as a story about content as much as it is about form. So, with your permission, let me linger a bit longer on this metaphor of dripping as we go along. Let me suggest that dripping, in the context of working for social change is:

To invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with our partners;

To remember that when we make the shared space unsafe for the other, we make the shared space unsafe for everyone

To recognize that silencing, intimidation, patronizing, belittling, coercion, are the "master's tools"

To care for ourselves and for others. Because as Audre Lorde said: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

To take a step back and make space for someone else, and stepping forward when necessary

To listen to stories, to share stories

To appreciate others and give credit

To explore ways to dismantle the paralyzing dichotomy of victim-aggressor

And, to remember that we are all cracked pots. We've earned our cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work; by taking the long road, with very few short cuts and no magic solutions.