So it's decided. Each afternoon we shall all meet in a cafe to complain about writing, yes? (Note: to earn your right to complain, you must, in fact, do your writing :-) We'll change the location daily. Today was Morocco -- sorry if you missed it. The coffee was very, very dark, the tea was fragrant, and afterwards we all went and bought carpets and caftans in the souk. Splendid! Lucky me, I selected my carpet because it was pretty, but it turned out to be a flying carpet, and everyone was jealous and spat cherry pits at me as I gained altitude and left them behind with the donkeys.
Sigh. Wouldn't it be nice, if we far-flung writerly peoples could gather for the purpose of complaining about how hard writing is? What could be better? I'll tell you what could be better. Doing so in a castle in Ireland as some other crafty writers have just cooked up amongst themselves. I know: brilliant and totally jealous-making, noh? I emailed Stephanie the link, and she read it and I think it lit her brain on fire because she started castle-shopping at once. Behold this link she found. Behold and drool.
This is a very, very good idea, this exotic writers' retreat.
Of course, my mind these days has fastened itself on Morocco, and I would so love to convene there for the very important purposes of writing and drinking coffee and tea and shopping and of course, not to be left out: complaining about writing.
And I'll add another thing to the list: storytelling.
Isn't "story" a beautiful word? I think it likely that some day I will get it tattooed somewhere on my body. I like the idea of it on my wrist, like a bracelet. I've been thinking a lot about stories the past few days, not writing them, or reading them, which is where my mind usually goes when I think of stories, but telling them. Out loud. How magical! I come from a post-storytelling culture; my great-grandfather, as I understand it, was a storyteller, but he died when I was a toddler, and his stories -- tall tales from a genuine cowboy -- weren't really handed down. It's a shame.
I want campfires and ululating gypsies, guitar strummings and throat clearing and the jangle of a tambourine being tossed aside. A camel lazily listening from beyond the circle of the firelight as someone says, "Once upon a time," or "Maybe there was and maybe there wasn't," or otherwise opens some gateway into the world of stories. I want to lean back on my elbows on my magic carpet -- which maybe is hovering softly a few inches off the ground, to keep off the sand fleas -- and listen. Better yet, I want to be able to tell stories.
Do you remember Out of Africa at all? The only thing I remember about it -- and this is fuzzy and possibly recollected wrongly -- is that Meryl Streep asks someone to give her the starting points of a story, and someone does (Robert Redford?) -- just simple elements, and she takes them and, virtually without pause, spins them into a magical tale that holds everyone rapt. To be able to do that!!! Even to be able to recite tales from memory would be marvelous. To make people lean forward slightly, you know?
I've been reading Tahir Shah's In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams, the follow-up to The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca which I read recently and loved, part of my Morocco binge. The Caliph's House is a classic expat-buying-a-house-in-a-foreign-land book, with the added bonus of jinn and exorcisms and all kinds of wonderful superstitions. In Arabian Nights is a paean to storytelling. (I recommend reading them both, in order.) I'm only halfway through it, but it is making me tingle to tell stories and not just write them. Not that I want to become a performer, just that . . . I want to have children and tell them stories, by firelight, with camels and carpets, with flocks of colored birds swooping overhead. Pointing up at the stars and telling stories about them, too.
In the book, Tahir Shah tells of a story so powerful that, once you hear it, you are obliged to repeat it every Thursday night for the rest of your life or risk bringing terrible bad fortune on yourself (also, it can only be told on Thursdays). He also tells how his father gave him a beautiful mosaic box for his fifth birthday, but told him that the box itself was nothing; it was what was inside that was the treasure -- and inside was a story. When his own daughter turned five, he had a box handmade for her, and handed down the same story for her to cherish and keep safe. Isn't that beautiful? He writes about the Berber tradition of searching for the story in your heart, and he writes about how television is wiping out story culture.
I have a line in Blackbringer that goes like this: "So much has gone beyond retrieval. Memories have gone slack. Young minstrels disdain to learn the old songs and the notes pass away with the last old ears to hear them. So much has been forgotten." I feel so sad right now, thinking about it.
I don't have my own tradition of stories to pass on, but right now I'm just in love with the whole idea of storytelling. I have a thing for folklore books -- I buy them like candy. Perhaps I need to start selecting some favorite stories and learning them, in preparation for someday telling them to wee ones? I know it's not like keeping a particular tradition alive or anything, but it could be a family tradition at least. And then, I may like to make up my own too, because, you know, I can! And they will be full of lutes and saddled alligators and girl archers and shapeshifting and little meanies who gallop about on cats. Bareback, of course.
Any thoughts on storytelling?
[note: sometimes I have the best of intentions when it comes to reading nonfiction but find it hard to finish, but these two Tahir Shah books read like novels; they're marvelous. I will definitely be reading more of his books.]
UPDATE: Shelli has found us some properties in Morocco to rent. Thanks, Shelli! See you there later today?
This one's in Essaouira at the sea:
And this one is in Marrakesh: