The Single Story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction.  The “single story” is a term she coined in reference to the generalizations and stereotypes that we make in regards to cultural, racial, gender, creed, etc. identity.  I cannot say this in any better way than she does in this Ted Talk.

Please make yourself a cup of tea, light a candle and sit for twenty minutes to learn from a fine teacher.

“The Danger of a Single Story” Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Contemplation:
Consider the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as you go about your day, encountering others.  Gently notice those times when you classify someone according to first impressions or any other “single story” responses.  This is an exercise in self-observation.

Naming Your Ancestors (part one)

In a previous blog, I discussed having discretion when writing about family members especially if publication is the plan.  I also mentioned the value of doing your personal groundwork in order to lend credibility and depth to whatever you are writing.  And then, the disclaimer–don’t proceed with this if it is too tender of an area for you; and do have support in place (whether professional or a trusted friend). Depending on one’s family history, there are areas where we face challenges–sometimes we aren’t ready for this type of exploration.  Be self-wise in this regard. There is never force when we pursue our own growth.  Take small steps and lots of pauses and retreats when necessary.
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Following is an exercise I’ve borrowed from Barbara G. Walker’s book entitled, Women’s Rituals.   I’ve used this exercise in a creative writing workshop and found it to be deeply grounding.  It is called NAMING. Conducting this exercise outdoors in nature would be conducive, though not necessary, to this experience.

Depending on if you are female or male, follow the lineage of your same sex ancestors to create a list of names.

Women:  List the first names of your mother and your sister(s); going back as far as you remember, list the first names only of your mother’s lineage–grandmother, great- grandmother, your aunts–grand and great aunts.

When you have finished with this list, do the same with your father’s side starting with his mother, your paternal aunts,  great grandmother and go back as far as you know.

Next list any elder women who influenced you, besides your named relatives, when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, soccer coaches, Girl Scout leaders, whomever.  Be as thorough as you can in your listing.

Finally, were there any historical women, public figures or even actresses whom you particularly admired as a girl or young woman.  List their first names also.

Men:  Using the same listing technique, begin with your father’s lineage and write down the first names of the males in that lineage.  Your father’s first name, your brother(s); your grandfather, great-grandfather, great or grand uncles going back as far as you remember.

Then list the first names of the males in your mother’s lineage, as far back as you can remember.

Continue with the first names of any elder men who have influenced you when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, sports coaches, Boy Scout leaders, etc.

Finish your list with the first names of any historical men, public figures or actors whom you looked up to as a boy or young man.

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When you feel satisfied that your list is complete, stand, take a few deep breaths and read the names aloud, slowly.

Be present with these names for a few minutes.

(When I did this exercise with a group, the energy of these names was palpable.)

Recognizing that these are your female or male ancestors with their multitude of personalities and stories, do you feel their presence, their aliveness, their connection to you?  All of this through the act of naming them.  Does this feel like a place of power?

WRITING PROMPT:
Write about this experience of naming.

ancestors2

 

 

Remember Your Body (part one)

Today, let’s begin with a…

WRITING PROMPT (1):
Sheila Bender, poet and writer, reminds us that “The body is the starting place for what we know.”

How do you interpret this quote (from Sheila Bender’s book, Writing Personal Poetry)? Write for twenty minutes. When you feel satisfied with your first writing, ask yourself “Is there anything else that wants to be said?”  If so, write some more.

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In our times, we hear talk of “cellular memory” or “body memory”.  Some say this is fictitious, an unproved theory.  My body has proven itself to be a wise guide. My body brought the awareness of early trauma to the surface of my psyche before I was cognitively conscious of it.  Then the work of healing began.  In laywoman’s terms, “body memory” acknowledges that the body has stored life experiences in its organs, bones, tissues and cells.  It can also refer to generational trauma that our ancestors carried in their cells which was passed onto us as their children. Without getting scientific (I don’t have that background), I’ve found that my body holds many stories and memories along with the old trauma. Something that many can identify with is when you get goose bumps or when suddenly you have an upset stomach in a tense situation. The body recognizes something and reacts.

In this regard then, the body is a field to be mined, a point of entry for your writing. Over the years, I have mined my body as a means to understand and heal myself and to integrate what has, in some way, been disowned.

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WRITING PROMPT (2):

Try this if you like, choose one part of your body (women sometimes choose their hips)–and give it a voice to tell its story.

Poem by Lucille Clifton entitled Homage to My Hips

“These hips are big hips.

they need space to 

move around in.

They don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

They don’t like to be held back.

These hips have never been enslaved,

they go where they want to go 

They do what they want to do. 

These hips are mighty hips.

These hips are magic hips. 

I have known them

to put a spell on a man and 

spin him like a top.”

Today, thank your body.