Tag Archives: workshops

The winging of workshops

While I did sit down and write a proper talk for TDN back last November, generally my preference is to wing things. Rituals, novels, talks… there’s something about going into it less than perfectly prepared and being open to what happens in the moment. Having a script is like having a safety net, or a comfort blanket, and I have no problem with other people choosing that. However, what you don’t get to do is respond to the mood on the day, reliably. Having less prepared can mean having a lot more freedom to follow the awen.

It probably isn’t entirely reassuring to get the sense that booking me means I float in with no plan. So, I should probably mention that isn’t it either. I tend to know where I’m going to start. For a book, that means the set up at the start is clear in my head – I know who the main characters are, their backgrounds and motivations, and I know how the setting works. In a workshop I’ll have figured out some core activities and the gist of an open speel, and perhaps three or four threads of ideas that I might go with depending on how things work out. I don’t always end up doing any of them. It can be quite exciting to find that ideas generated within a workshop develop a life of their own. At this point my role is less that of leading, more of some kind of herding/midwifery combo that enables people to do things.
For preference, facilitating people in doing stuff is what calls to me most.

I like workshops more than straight talks, from a delivery perspective, because of the interactive nature of the beast. Standing at the front dishing out words can be an odd business, during which it is alarmingly hard to tell whether people are politely sitting it out and desperate for it to be over, or actually a bit interested. With a workshop, it’s easier to get a sense of when, or if, people are engaging, and that is a great comfort improver for me.

There’s also the whole authority thing of standing up front and lecturing. It can be the case that, due to research, experiment or hard thinking, I know more about a given subject than my audience but often that’s not the case. Druids, and for that matter Pagans, tend to read widely, live creatively and grow ideas. I’ve yet to be in a space where people didn’t have fascinating insights and alternative takes to offer on whatever I’ve come up with. It’s something I love about blogging, too. I float out a handful of thoughts, and then all manner of things come back in the form of comments. I like the fluid shifting between being the teacher and being the student. I like not holding authority.

If I don’t plan too heavily, then each time I take a workshop out, or a subject to talk about, it comes out slightly different. That’s a real joy as well. It reduces the risk of me getting bored, and it means that if you turn up to something I’m doing, you can be reasonably confident that you won’t have heard it before. There’s also an evolution element, as feedback and suggestions sneak into the mix. At Druid camp, Nick pointed out that we have a wealth of traditional music and we don’t base our chants on it. So I’m figuring out how to get more folk into the chanting, and that will be fun, and connects my Druidry more to the folk heritage I hold dear.

If you’re coming to the talk in Scarborough on Friday, expect to join in. I am planning on taking this one other places, too, just figuring out likely venues. Rest assured that I do have a plan, kind of, but if you come along with some wild ideas that could totally de-rail the whole thing, that’s fine. De-railing is a whole new adventure.


Messing up, with your community

It’s vitally important to be able to make mistakes. It’s very hard to be functional, alive and active without that possibility and virtually impossible to learn if you aren’t allowed to get it dreadfully wrong now and then. However, fear of making mistakes can make a lot of us unwilling to step into the swirling currents of life and have a try. In staying safely on the edges, we miss out.

One of the things I do with workshops, is make a space in which there is no ’wrong’. Doing harmony and chanting last week, I explained that there are soft, melodious harmonies, and there are crunchy, edgy exciting harmonies. There are no ‘bum’ notes. Not really. It’s a good deal easier to open your mouth when the sound emerging will be acceptable. I run bad poetry for the same reason. One can be naturally bad, or hone it as a comedy skill, either way it’s safe to have a giggle. Worst case scenario, someone accidently writes a good poem. That’s not a disaster.

It’s easy, in a workshop space, to create some room for people to play, and for the messing up to not even feel that way. That’s a really happy thing for me, and generally people seem to enjoy it.
A lot of how we feel about failure depends on our community. If the people around you will respond by helping you stand up again, pointing out the bits that were promising, or improving, if they commend you for having a go, and help you feel brave rather than stupid, you’ll do it again. Eventually, the odds are you will get somewhere. If, on the other and, your community is standing around waiting to score points off your failure, to ridicule, and discourage, then you’ll not risk it, try to hide it and generally feel bloody miserable about it. I know what sort of space I want to be in, and what I want to give to those around me, and it is permission to have another go.

Slaughter a song in public, and nobody actually dies. However, there are situations when our messing up matters a lot more. When we go as professionals into life and death situations, when we make choices that shape other people’s futures. Messing up a relationship and accidentally breaking another person’s heart is not so simply resolved as a burned attempt at cooking a meal, or a picture with some really dodgy perspective. There are things we should be afraid to fail at, and things we need to feel shame over getting wrong. So often in my experience, this has not been the case. Professional image is more important to many people who have one, than actually doing the right thing. Holding on to status, importance and self-belief is more valuable to many of us than compassion. Jo over at Octopus Dance has been pondering this one too – http://octopusdance.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/namaste/#comment-888 why are we so unkind to each other? Because so often we are afraid of our own failures and shortcomings being exposed. Rather than put effort into not messing up, we put effort into justifying ourselves and blaming others, and when we do that, our communities suffer.

And then there is the not rejecting entirely the people who fail us. I do not advocate forgiving those who deliberately abuse, but recognising the humanity of those around us. Giving second chances. Holding spaces in which it is possible to relinquish pain and move on. Several of the relationships I hold most dear have been tested to nearly breaking point by circumstance and error, and it was what happened in the depth of crisis that really defined trust and connection for me. The easy option is to walk away. I do that sometimes too, when I hurt too much, or when I have no reason to think there is any point trying.

It takes courage to own our mistakes. I’m so very glad of the people kind enough not to blame me for mine, and who were there to try again, and who listened to explanations and helped me learn how to do better. I am a very flawed and sometimes failing thing. Many of us are, but sometimes when we put those clashing, wounded notes together we end up with something that sounds like a very powerful kind of music.


From Pooka’s Pageant

I’m in Ipswitch, Tom the Tigerboy and I having spent the day at a Polytheist/bardic event called Pooka’s Pageant, which raises money for animal charities. It’s been a blast, and also a very important day for us.

This was the first event Tom and I have done together. We’ve both done events before, he in America, doing talks, panels, workshops and selling arts, me gigging various places, public speaking and whatnot. I’ve never done a whole set of storytelling before. And, for added drama of art without a safety net, Tom spent that set drawing accompanying picture on big sheets of paper. We were jamming on things from www.hopelessmaine.com and stories from today will go up there soon. We also did a workshop together, another first which was an absolute joy due to the fabulous creativity of all the folk we were workshopping.

It was a lovely day, inspiring and interesting, and if you happen to be in the Ipswitch area next year when it runs, I can heartily recommend coming along.

I’ve been to so few events in the last two years. It’s the first gig I’ve had since leaving my old life behind, and this marks the turning of a corner of me, with events lined up at a rate of one a month, for the coming months, and potentially at a higher frequency beyond then. I’ve missed being on stage, connecting with people, sharing inspiration in this way. I’ll admit that until I stood up this afternoon, I had no idea if I still could. I can. People laughed. It was a good sort of afternoon. Time to fall over now.

All kudos to Robin Herne for running such a fab day.