story travels 2013: Prague, and a different kind of conference

In February, I wrote about how 2013 seems to be the year for sarah tells stories, with acceptance to present at an international, inter-disciplinary conference on narrative, to publish my poetry collection and to finish the day at TEDxAdelaide. At times, it has been overwhelming, all these opportunities, and the work that goes with them, not to mention the emotional highs and coming back down to earth. But it is so worth it.

Last month, after months of planning and waiting, I finally set off on a two week trip to the Czeck republic and UK. Prague was the setting for the conference on narrative, and in the UK I was exploring some further opportunities for sarah tells stories.
I was intrigued to have not blogged as I went this time - on other trips I seem to reasonably regularly share the story here as it unfolds. This time, I seemed to not have the words so readily for publicly recording the experiences (I kept a journal for myself, writing just about every day). Perhaps it is because of what I've just said - the overwhelming nature of the many opportunities I have had in the early part of 2013 - and I only had the energy to immerse myself in these ones, leaving the reflecting private until it was ready for sharing.

Well, so much for psychoanalysing myself - shall I get on with it, then? Let's start with that conference.

As we received information about the conference in the months leading up to it, we were clearly informed of the expectations on participants and the atmosphere the Inter-Disciplinary.Net team seek to foster at their gatherings.
Deliberately unlike the usual academic conference, Inter-Disciplinary.Net conferences seek to facilitate networking and the sharing of ideas (a similar ethos to TED, it seems to me, and as an aside, I am interested in these movements to connect and create community ... ). Titles are not used anywhere, not on your papers or your name tag - so we're all on an even footing when we meet each other and when we present our ideas. Participants are expected to stay all day, every day, and with no evening program, are encouraged to dine together to keep the conversations going.
This is very much about hearing from each other, contributing the things we're wondering, exploring, discovering, in an atmosphere of mutuality of humanness and learning. And we know that this is the expectation before we arrive. And we feel excited that we might receive this gift from others. And we are enthusiastic about offering that gift to each other. The first question, just about, we were asking each other as we arrived and registered and enjoyed a coffee, was, 'when are you presenting, and what are you talking about? oh, yes, I saw that, and am interested to hear about that ...' so different from this is my position in the pecking order, and these are the points I want to earn for myself as I climb up the ladder. and so very refreshing.

Whether it was this ethos, or the fact that this was a conference on storytelling, the presentations themselves were innovative and extraordinary. In the very first session, Paraone, from Aotearoa New Zealand talked about hearing the stories of his Maori people at the feet of his elders, and as he did, he sang: an incantation of blessing on the land, and our gathering; story-songs. As he sang, he invited us to  break out of the mould and experiment with our own presentations, push boundaries, embrace the stories.
He and Hawira, in their Maori songs and blessings, caused me to wonder: what, from my tradition might I bring by way of humble blessing as I offer stories in various settings. Rather than simply standing up and speaking, how can I express simply my gratitude to Spirit and place and people ...?? This is a question I have yet to answer, but am watching my wondering with interest to see where it takes me.

Other gifts I received included the idea of gift theory from Jackie - something I had intuitively pondered, but had affirmed in the similar thinking of others; inspiration in two presentations that wove academic inquiry with storytelling so superbly and profoundly I can't explain it adequately; friends - actually it is the friends I think of when I think of that week, from Israel, USA, England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia ... and other places; delight at the way story is bringing life in so many circumstances - conflict resolution, therapy, cancer, disability, organisations, education, justice, reconciliation; stories - many people offered their own story and their self with that combination of humility and courage, vulnerability and strength, that shines the best of humanness; belonging - in a community of storytellers and academics, learners and teachers, creative, spiritual, caring folk, a different community to the church community in which I am usually so deeply immersed.

I was pleased to offer the story I had to tell for others, the learning I have been doing as I reflect on my storytelling with audiences; I was humbled to be invited to offer myself, storyteller, poet and minister, Australian, teacher and learner.

And I haven't even told you about Prague ... here's a photo or two (before the river swelled).

with Charles Bridge in the background

The courtyard of Michna Palace, conference venue

from the top of St Nicholas' bell tower, looking back down the street I walked every day from hotel (off a street to the right) to Michna Palace 


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