A Great Time To Be Heard By All

Jim Coyle

June 14, 2007

If, as the saying goes, God made man because he so loves stories, the next few days in our town ought to win a good deal of heavenly favour for tales heartbreaking, conscience-stirring, rib-tickling, spirit-lifting and just about everything in between.

From Pat Capponi, a celebrated Toronto yarn-spinner and a well-known story in herself, comes word of a special event hosted tomorrow by Voices from the Street at the Malcolmson Theatre at 1001 Queen St. W.

Voices offers a 12-week course in leadership, policy development and story-telling to those knocked around by life, circumstance or injustice, folks who’ve known poverty, homelessness, addiction or mental illness.

“You will be entertained and moved,” by the graduates’ accounts, Capponi promises No one knows like those who’ve been there. Even the well-meaning can’t fully appreciate paths they haven’t walked. Voices hopes to give those who’ve been on the receiving end of social services a chance to showcase the vast difference between “theory and practice, academic and direct experience, middle class and poverty.” An Aboriginal woman lost to drugs and alcohol. A Ugandan come to a country he thinks is paradise only to find his credentials are worthless. A Somalian handed over to Children’s Aid not long after arriving in this country. All are on the bill.

“It’s hard to talk from a position of dependence, of powerlessness,” the invitation from Voices says. “These men and women are ready to voice their stories, ideas and perspectives. Are you ready to hear?”

Readiness is all, in a world of distraction. “Stories become ‘new’ to us when something in our own experience makes us ready to hear them,” wrote Katherine Ketcham and Ernest Kurtz in The Spirituality of Imperfection Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness.

Of course, there are all kinds of stories, some factual, some merely full of truth, and Paul Farrelly has passed along word of a lighter hearted bit of ear-bending set for Saturday – which as the cognoscenti of things Hibernian know is Bloomsday, the annual commemoration of Leopold Bloom’s epic perambulation around Dublin in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

“Will anybody remember this date?” Joyce apparently fretted in his diary about what would become, thanks to the power of a story, the most famous day in fiction.

And 103 years on, the St. Joseph Street Fair, off Yonge north of Wellesley, promises “books, blarney, buskers and bonhomie, a movable feast of storytelling, literary readings and entertainment, featuring literary rambles around the restaurants of the neighbourhood.”

At 2 30 p.m., there is even to be a guest appearance by Leopold and Molly Bloom – all in aid of St. Joseph House, a resource centre for those in vulnerable circumstances to practise creative arts while providing a social and cultural hub for the neighbourhood.

“St. Joseph Street is at the centre of Postal Code M4Y, stretching from Bloor-Yorkville to Church and Wellesley,” organizers said. “The area is the heart of Toronto’s ‘creative city,’ that combination of liveability, enterprise and services that thrives in the contemporary knowledge economy.”

At the best of times, stories can help us see with new eyes, hear with new ears. But somewhere along the way – swamped by modernity’s incoherent information avalanche – “our ability to tell (and to listen to) stories was lost,” said Kurtz and Ketcham.

Perhaps, as Capponi and Farrelly hope, it’s just been misplaced. And they think they know where we can find it.

Credit: Toronto Star

Dawnmarie Harriott