Passing Through: Weekly Photo Challenge

In,

over,

through,

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(Oops! Missed some.)

and out.

Read this many years ago. Presume it’s from the Sufi tradition of teaching stories.

Years ago, a young backpacker set off travelling to new places.

Arriving in an distant city, he learned that a famous sage was speaking that night in the great hall. The young man decided to go along. An audience of over a thousand people heard the sage talk and many were as inspired as he was. They gathered outside in the square to talk late into the night about what they had heard and to plan their future.

Over the next two days, the traveller asked everyone he met how he might meet the sage in person. Three days later, he was taken to the place where the man had lived all his life. He rang the bell tentatively.

Stepping in the doorway, the young man noticed the home’s bare walls and basic furniture. The sage came forward and greeted him warmly. Together they sat by the fire to drink tea and talk.

After some hours, the traveller stood to thank his elder and bid him farewell. His host was curious to know what was had surprised him the most.

“You are so famous. People shower you with gifts. I expected you to live in grand style. ”

“You arrived with only a backpack!” retorted the sage.

“Yes, but I am only passing through,” muttered the young man.

“So am I,” replied his host.

Transient
All text and photos © Meg Philp are protected by Australian Copyright Law. If you wish to use any images. Please contact me thru Comments. Pass the story on. Thanks.

PS. And then there’s the song a Canadian teacher sang to me on the verandah of the Migrant Hostel in 1975 – the chorus is stuck in my mind.

 “Passing through, Passing through, … Glad that I ran into you, Tell the people that you saw me passing through.”

Google now tells me it was written by Richard Blakeslee and sung by Pete Seeger! … Learn something new every day!

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Stories in disguise: Hodja No.3

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Why do I notice somethings more than others. Of all I choose to see on my daily walks, why do I register particular images. Is it the clash of messages that interrupts my day dreaming? Does it remind me of something new? Is it the shock of the unexpected?

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 This caught my eye and made me react from “Oh” to “Ah” to “Aha” to “Haha” and then, “Nah!”  I took the photo from the road, outside a large army barracks.

The story,  that popped into my head at the time,  ran from “lamentations of swans” in my last post, to love, to loss, to funerals, to escape,and finally to how soldiers might feel driving past and looking up at this sign!

Other signs evoke memories.

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 For a few years I used to run miles in a country town with the Hash House Harriers on a Monday night. Arrows marked the route we had to follow.

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I was stopped in my tracks recently when I spied this source of a shrill, chirping sound. I never knew cicadas had such big eyes!

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Sometimes, one glance and I’m transported into a story I have told over the years. This is the red earth of Africa under the ” Udala Tree” in a story of that name in a collection by Margaret Read Macdonald.

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Sometimes what I see raises questions I can’t answer. It’s not my question. Whose is it? Who is she?

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And I can’t help wondering why they painted this here. Who did? What does it mean?

Perhaps Nasrudin Hodja can throw some light on this …

Late one night, Hodja was slowly walking back to his village. Suddenly, he was aware of the sound of galloping horses. When the moon came out from behind a cloud,  He saw a troop of horsemen heading towards him at speed. As he stood there, he saw himself, in a flash, being captured by slave traders, sold in a land faraway … never to see his family again.

Turning swiftly, he clambered up and over the nearest wall. Finding himself in a graveyard, he ran up to the nearest hole and lay in it very still … hardly breathing.

The men, who’d seen him bolt, were puzzled by this and came to find him. As they peered down at him, they saw Hodja was shaking.

“Are you alright?” they asked. “Do you need help?” No reply. “What are you what doing in that grave?”

“Just because you ask a question,” stammered Hodja, “doesn’t mean there’s a straight-forward answer!”

Realising they were honourable men, and that he had been a bit over-dramatic, he added that a answer depended on how you looked at the question.

The real truth, he explained, was simply this. “I am here because you are, and you are here because I am.” (Adapted from Shah 1996:16)

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All text, except those so marked, and photos by Meg

MacDONALD, Margaret Read. Twenty tellable tales: audience participation folktales for the beginning storyteller. H.W. Wilson, 1986.

SHAH, Idries. The Exploits of the incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. London, Pan, 1966.

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Characters: play with the details! Hodja No. 2

“In traditional tales like “The Enormous Turnip” from Russian folklore, we’re introduced to settings and characters through the barest of details. Often the characters are nameless.

Once upon a time, an old man planted a turnip..

I wonder what he looked like and what his wife called him – “Husband,” “Dearie,” or “Thomas?”

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© Meg Philp

What was he wearing? Did he have a favourite shirt that he wore all week?

What was he good at? What other hobbies did he have?

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What was his favourite food? Was he fond of cooking?

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Did he have a favoured pet? What was its name?

Up until the turnip appeared, what was he most proud of in his garden?

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© Meg Philp

Did he talk to the plants, or sing to them all? (Did they talk back?) Did he have a favourite garden song? He did? He taught it … to a friend?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u90qRE2F7CM

Answers to questions like these make characters real. All those kinds of details add up. These invented answers don’t go into my telling of the story. While I may have them in my mind’s eye and in my looking out into the audience … I try to hold a sense of that personality there. As I begin to tell, they’re there, ready for the story, as large as life.

Of course, Nasreddin Hodja (a tricky character to understand, I’ve found) had heard the story of The Enormous Turnip. He liked to tell it dramatically in the school playground, extolling the virtues of vegetables, and engaging the audience in the action. The children re-enacted the tale over and over again. One afternoon, after one such telling, he went home for a sack. Then he climbed over a neighbour’s wall, for he’d seen into their abundant home garden, with its row upon row of leafy greens – beets, cabbage, kale.

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“Come to me, my beauties!” he cried, as he started filling the sack he’d brought with him. As he bent over the stalks, his neighbour suddenly appeared at his back door shouting,  “What are you doing here!”

“That Shamal blew me here!” protested Hodja, holding his sides as he straightened up.

“I hear or see no wind! And who pulled up my vegetables?”

“Didn’t I have to grab what I could … to stop me from being blown away?”

“Oh yes? So how do you account for your sack being full of my vegetables?”

“Funny you should ask that. I was just pondering that myself … when you startled me by shouting so loudly.”

All of a sudden, Hodja took to his heels and vaulted over the wall – no mean feat for a man of his age. He looked back at the wall in amazement, unable to move.

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One of the children walking home from school, spied him lying there and ran up, calling, “Hodja! Here! Give me your hand and let us pull you up!”

[Adapted from Strange you should ask …  In Shah, Idries. The Pleasantries of the incredible Mulla Nasreddin. Picador. 1975: 44.]

Shamal: a summer northwesterly wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf, often strong during the day, but decreasing at night. http://windlegends.org/windnames.htm

All other text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

What Motivates Characters ?

As a storyteller I imagine that the characters in the story I am telling are real. I can see them in my mind’s eye. They have human qualities. As I prepare a story for retelling, I’m often stopped in my tracks wondering “Why did they do this  … and not that?

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There’s a Sufi story Idriess Shah retells about a group of villagers discovering something they’d never seen before in the middle of their wheat field. They thought it was a monster and ran for their lives. 

Life does bring the unexpected. Wandering in a garden, I  wondered what made gardeners do this?

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Then one day, a knowing stranger came along. When he crept up to investigate the monster he saw it was a watermelon. But pretending he was a brave warrior, he jumped up and killed it : chopped it to pieces. The villagers were amazed. When he then began to eat it noisily, they were horrified and feared they might be next! So they chased him out of the area.

This world is full of differences; new; strange; unfamiliar.

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There are sights that can arouse assumptions. Who are the flowers for … and why?
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Why did they leave these behind? Did they have fun stomping on the cans?

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“What possessed the makers to dye these cheeses?

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Recently, my sister told me she’d watched the completion of beautiful mural near the Paris flat where we were staying. Next day, what I saw wasn’t what I expected. Why did he do this?

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Some days later another traveller walked into the village and heard about their monster in the wheat field. When he saw how frightened they were, he crept to the field alongside them and having seen the watermelon, said they were right to be afraid and together they ran back to the village. He stayed with them for a while and every day, bit by bit, he told them all the facts that he knew about watermelons … until the time came when the villagers were no longer afraid and they started cultivating those strange fruits themselves.  

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© Meg Philp

Thankfully, characters’ motives in folktales are made really obvious.  Balance must be restored and problems solved in a shortened space of time . Each character’s desires are made clear from the beginning. They want to change, to go out and seek their fortune :  to move from ill fortune to good fortune,  from fear to confidence, from doubt to trust. They want to live well.

When observing people’s actions in real life, their motivation is not easy to fathom.

Perhaps that’s why people tell stories. By learning from a safe distance what others feel like –  through the story’s characters, their choices and possibilities for action – we are learning how to live well, together, before any “monsters” appear.

I can learn about myself and others by putting myself in the character’s place. As the poet W.H Auden once said,

The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.

What do you think?

All text and photos by Meg

NB. I read this Idries Shah’s story recently but I can’t remember where. You can find Sufi stories in his collections like –

Tales of the Dervishes: teaching-stories of the Sufi Master over the past thousand years, London, Octagon Press, 1982

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.