by Debora Zachariasse
In The Netherlands, every year the same discussion seems to rise anew. Last year, it it was an enthusiastic youth of somewhat Eastern background, judging from the name, protesting that the storytelling scene is dominated by Native White Dutch telling boring old myths and faerytales. Where were the new stories, the ones that related to our lives today?
This year, the theme props up again, just as fresh as it did 12 months ago, in a large meeting where storytellers discuss the current status of their art.
Last year I missed the Dutch Storytelling Federation event for an equally NWD Cultural happening: iceskating and wrote a reply, since I admired the young man for braving the settled bravado, for infusing some of the spirit of youth, savoir vivre and internationality to the perceived NWD stuffiness of our Storytelling Federation. In this light, his sweep-of-arm judgment may be readily forgiven because your outspoken point sings not just of youth but of truth. I gathered my thoughts, which, in retrospect, may be of interest to other storylovers, too which is why I publish it here, in English, accessible for all.
For obvious reasons, being an over 50 NWD, and female, does not necessarily make one a knitting granny. When I do knit – and its all the current thing – more stories than socks come off the needles.
Knitting is a weaving together of differences, turning longwinding yarn into useful or beautiful creations. To do this meaningfully, we need sharp needles like the cultural stimulants this young man offers, we need these clashes in the field, even if they are sharp, for each fresh approach brings in new slants, new riches of the mind and community. Some ideas may be embraced, some meekly accepted, some abhorred. We all need a Taliesin sometimes, someone very different, someone like you, or me, to make us realise the blrp blrp drooling from our set and senile thinking – and make us reconsider. We are all in a sense, Sir Gawain, shocked by the Lady Ragnel whose glory lies hidden behind a veil of infamiliarity; prejudice and disgust doing the rest of their destructive work. Its an old, old tale all over again.
See, this is where old tales come in useful. For knitting, we don’t just need needles. We need yarn.
The Grimm tales are simply some of the many dresses of the One Tale. In Grimm’s case, the dress may be unflatteringly draped over the sturdy, stuffy, corseted, overly romanticised framework of the 19th century, when Grimm Brothers wrote them all down, ready for the Adepts of Fear to freeze them into canon and kill the life out of them. Fair enough. Still, as all living things do, the stories use what they can to survive. In a time when knowledge of the One Tale was as life-endangering as any practice hinting of esotericism, the nursery and knitting needles were the one safe haven to hide the jewelled brilliance and the beautiful sorrow of the One Tale. Stories can’t help what we do to them, just like we can’t help aging, or being white, or female, or foreign.
Should we dump the sorry Grimm tales in exchange for the self-exposures readily found at any open podium or tv show worldwide, with loud boisterous young males of all ages and genders displaying their brilliant verbal feathers for all to admire? Think again.
Perhaps, we might find value in the sturdy, time-tested lock, stock and barrel stuff of old classic tales, that provide such a strong basis for storytelling. New dresses can always be made.
The only thing we can and must do, is keep lively minds and hearts. Especially our hearts, (body too, occasionally choosing iceskating over stories ). As storytellers, we must forever continue the embracing and chasing and telling of the One Story on and on and on in its myriad beautiful, mind-baffling, irritating and illuminating forms to all who want to listen.
And perhaps, occasionally, to some, who don’t.
Tell me about it. Do post your comment below!