Paralympians, musicians, writers, artists, performers. They have the best stories, and I had the great privilege to shepherd a few dozen of them into the wider world recently. I pitched a Story Telling booth the conference committee of the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability. Their tagline is ‘research to practice’ and they involve people with lived experience of intellectual disability in research as much as is possible.
I focused on Self Advocates, but the amazing Sophia Tipping gathered vox pops, and talked to keynote speakers. It will all be going into the ASID podcast (subscribe anywhere you find good podcasts).
It was a lot of work, but very good fun, the ASID board were super supportive and I would do it again at the drop of a hat.
Someone gave me cause to think about how I would teach what I know about grant writing today. I’ve sat on the other side of the desk plenty of times and been given lots to think about by some great teacher. I also think I have an approach that can help your application stand out. Make a case and leave a mark.
The people in the class have to be prompted to think through the problems from their own point of view. I’m not sure how you would do that just yet. It could be through some grant giver/grant seeker role play, a dragon’s den pitch session, all verbal probably. If you can say it, you can write it. And it would help get away from ten dollar words that are dull and boring to read.
Obviously, you need to do some work on the donor knowledge gap and opening your eyes to the assumptions we all make when we tell our own stories.
After that it’s just decoding inputs, outputs, outcomes and budgets.
My paternal Grandfather was a conscientious objector during the war, my maternal Grandfather a decorated war hero. Neither of them spoke about their experiences. To my mind either course of action takes courage.
My paternal Grandfather, John, was good with his hands, and wore brylcreem. He spent the war hiding in the hills of the Yorkshire dales, away from his wife and young family. He worked at a bakery making bread in the early hours to get by. He phoned my Grandmother through a friendly telephone exchange operator to keep in touch. After the war he worked in quarries, handling dynamite. He was a health and safety inspector in a paper factory. He never talked about having friends, or his time during the war. I learnt about it from my parents.
John also cycled a lot, with a group of Yorkshire dales riders. Weekend long trips among the hills, out to a B&B and back again on Sunday. Over a hundred miles sometimes. Wool trousers and leather boots to ride in, cagoules when they became cheap enough to buy.
I like to think my grandfather found refuge in a group of people who didn’t judge him for his actions during the war and found quiet peace in nature and the shared achievement of cycling a hundred miles in a day. I admire the resolve he had in staying where people knew him and working the jobs he did. It can’t have been easy, and makes every smile I saw him crack that much more precious.
When I’m out with my cycling friends that’s what I think about. Courage, sacrifice and doing just enough for yourself to make the rest of life bearable.
When I found out my own father cycled 100 miles from Grimsby to Keighley during the courtship of my mother, I had to try and continue the legacy. Took a while to get there, but I did it last year. Thanks go to Chris at Bike Craft Edinburgh for helping out.
Not super clear, but the digits at the bottom are that trip in miles, it reads 100!
I had bought the t-shirt months earlier, I took it out of it’s packagin and I swear I had not worn it before I did the distance.
me, wearing a t-shirt that says “100 miles done” because I did.
I saw an interesting TED talk yesterday, Tyler Cowen of the blog Marginal Revolution among many other perhaps more important things. Cautioning against trusting simple stories, that complexity is our nature especially in this world. This made me think about some of the stories the non profits I’ve worked for have to tell. They are complex stories, and in making them simple you definitely have to leave things out, important things. But when it comes down to the problems we as a sector have they are nearly always problems with human faces and solutions of all kinds. Problems and solutions.
If you focus on the human face of the problem that whatever complex set of social, natural political has created you focus on the effect, neatly sidestepping the need for the complex circumstances that created that human problem.
The solution on the other hand can be complex, and will probably be hard. But the outcome, the change you want to see in the world, again will probably be simple. More of this, better that, less occurrence of something. If you can establish legitimacy and expertise in the solution, you can leave that ‘black box’ or point to a theme, or a risk area, or a pilot that worked well, and shortcut to the human face of the problem and the human face of the solution. Our stories need to be simple to be memorable, but stick to the problem and outcomes and we can avoid the need to confuse our audience with the complexities that take us most of our work.
So you do something you are passionate about. Congrats. Getting there probably taught you that very little gets done on your own. So how do you get others onto your train? Telling your own story so others see your passion is a vital skill for every artist, maker and person who needs to work with others. Dictators, Cult leaders, Non profit CEO’s etc.
This was the draw for the artists, makers and creative professionals who work in the Edinburgh Palette building to come to a workshop I organised in December last year (2014). I work charities, one at a time, in jobs. I get in depth with all the aspects of an organisation; projects, services, people and above all the changes that group of people want to see in the world. But that’s one story per job, so helping more people with their story was my motivation.
In the end three professionals, David, Vittoria and Jan spent a day with me pinning down the specifics of their stories that they could use in their work. In the morning we went through the basics of story, why it’s so powerful, why, when told right, it sticks with people through their whole lives and some of the secrets to powerful stories.
Then all three workshop participants talked about themselves at length, what torture. Together we came up with the short version of what they do and an arresting reason why. Three images stick with me:
David playing in his fathers glass shop, hiding in the inverted V between the stacks of blue green glass, looking into the infinite reflections.
Vittoria and her collections of objects, 3 dozen brass candlesticks and hundreds of other multiples stacked in piles around her seaside home.
Jan talking about felt, has to be seen to be remembered.
I made them practice telling their story to me, repeatedly. I asked them to tell it like they meant it, so it sounded natural. It wasn’t easy and it will take practice, but they will be better able to convincingly portray their vision and where it came from. The next step is finding the right people to tell those convincing stories to. I wish I could help with that.
Just four people getting to the bottom of the puzzling mysteries of story!
Because we have lost the understanding of how powerful stories are. And we’re afraid of being vulnerable, and afraid of sharing the connectedness that telling stories exposes us to.
Let me explain, with a story.
What did your father do in the war has, for my generation, been replaced with what did your Grandfather do in the war. Like most people I’ve got two, both now deceased. They both had two very different war stories, one hated publicly one not given the heroes welcome he was expecting. Much to my disappointment I never heard their stories from them, I gleaned little pieces of history from other family members.
Stories from our family give us meaning, help figure out who we are and where we come from. Maybe we don’t share them often, and especially publicly, because they are precious and important to us, how long do you have know someone before you tell them about the patent fraud criminal in the family (I’ve still not told many people that one).
her’s hoping I can help people reassess the value of their stories, for themselves and for others. When you share something like that you create a bond that is not easily broken.