Monthly Archives: May 2013

All Trees Are NOT The Same ~ Truth in Storytelling


I’m a Storyteller, sometimes through acting and sometimes through writing.  It’s both my vocation and my occupation, so I take it very seriously in a not so serious way.  After all, I’m not a brain surgeon.  No one will live or die by my words, but sometimes those words, either through my pen or through my body, will bring the beginning of a healing.

I’m also a voracious reader.  I think it’s a requirement of my vocation and occupation.  If the only thing around to read is a cereal box, I’ll read that…often while pretending to film a commercial at the same time (that’s where the line between acting/reading/writing often blurs)

Another word for my vocation might be Truth Teller.  This is where the ‘serious’ part of being a Storyteller comes into play.  “Play.”  I don’t use serious to mean ‘severe’ or ‘humourless’; I use it to mean ‘with conscious intent.’  We build a world with our words, and our trust and believability is built on a foundation of truth.

I’ve written before about a ritual I have as I wait in the darkened wings to go onstage when I’m acting.  “I close my eyes and go within.  I ask to be used as an agent of healing and to honour the words of the playwright.  May I dwell in the breath of the Truth.  May my healed wounds touch one within you and so begin your own healing.”

Before my fingers touch the keyboard of my laptop I sit quietly with my intention.  May I dwell in the breath of Truth and write without shame, blame or guilt.

State of WonderI’ve just finished A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, one of my favourite authors.  The vast majority of the book takes place in Manaus and then the jungle along the banks of the Rio Negro in Brazil.  The setting is one of the major characters of the book and the only non-fictional element.

I’ve recently returned from a pilgrimage in Brazil, where I spent magical days on a small boat cruising the Rio Negro and I was excited to be immersing myself once more in the sublime peace that washed over me there.

But the Rio Negro that I experienced is not Patchett’s Rio Negro.  In fact, it is so far from my experience that I wondered which one of us had gotten it so wrong.

Before I left on my journey I did a bit of research, reading the requisite guide-books and getting advice and inoculations from the travel clinic.  “Take lots of mosquito repellant, with the highest concentration of DEET possible!”  And so my suitcase was weighed down with numerous bottles of DEET packed neatly beside an equal amount of sunscreen, just waiting to ward off the hoards of mosquitoes and other winged annoyances that promised to surround my every moment in the Amazon.

I used the sunscreen liberally and often but squirted myself with DEET just once, a precautionary covering my first evening on the river in advance of the swarms of mosquitoes and bugs that never did materialize.  I asked our guide, Luiz, “Where are all the mosquitoes?”

Sunset boat on Rio Negro

Sunset boat on Rio Negro

It turns out that the Rio Negro (the largest left tributary of the Amazon), unlike her more famous sister, the Amazon River, rarely has a problem with mosquitoes.  The river gets her rusty black appearance and name from the biodegradation of the surrounding jungle, and that biodegradation of the dead organic matter also makes the river very acidic, something the mosquitoes and other pesky insects don’t like.

The meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon

The meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon

This is where Truth comes to play in the fiction sandbox.  If an author, such as Ann Patchett, chooses to set her story in a location that actually exists, then she is beholden to use that location truthfully, most especially if that location is so central to the story that it becomes a leading character.  You can’t insert constant swarms of mosquitoes and insects into a story just because you want to if doing so means lying.  Either change the location or change the elements of the story to maintain integrity and truth.  Believability and trust.

It turns out that Ann has never been to Brazil and certainly has never set foot in the jungle along the banks of the Rio Negro.  She decided to do her research along the Peruvian Amazon.

When asked if she visited the jungle about which she writes so extensively, she replies in part, “I wound up going to Peru instead of Brazil because I wanted to go on a boat trip and I wanted a certain type of boat. I didn’t want to go on a cruise ship or on some nasty little raft with cockroaches.  In Peru, I found a boat which was so perfect. I thought the Amazon in Peru is the same as the Amazon in Brazil. A tree is a tree, a snake is a snake.

(read the entire interview here.)

She thought wrong.  She lost my respect when she said, “A tree is a tree, a snake is a snake.”

One tree....

One tree….

One tree is as different from…

High water mark from record flood in 2012

High water mark from record flood in 2012

…another tree….

A buttress rooted canopy tree

A buttress rooted canopy tree

….as another tree.

She also gets her snakes wrong in State of Wonder, giving the anaconda the characteristics of a python in one crucial scene.  How could Ann Patchett, who writes with such beauty and such power, get it so wrong?  I sit in sadness when I think how cavalier she seems.

The job of a storyteller is not simply to tell stories and entertain. We are Truth Tellers.  It is our responsibility to weave our tapestry of tales using the strong threads of truth.  To do otherwise does us all a disservice.

What do you think?

my hand outstretched over a background of summer grass, the word truth written in red inside a red heart



Filed under Brazil, Writing

Celebrating Mothers

My mom, my daughter and me - three generations!

My mom, my daughter and me – three generations!

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table with my first born eating a grilled cheese sandwich beside me and my mom at the stove cooking up a big batch of her famous stew.  Outside waits a flat of perennials to transplant into my patio pots when the rain lets up.  This is Mother’s Day at her best!

photo (11)

This weekend we’ve been celebrating the life of my sister-in-law’s mother, who passed from this life just over a week ago.  I’ve known and loved her for as long as I’ve known and loved my sister-in-law and will miss her grand, elegant, yet irreverent presence in our lives.  So many relatives and friends gathered in Danny and Jane’s back yard, under the sun and then under tents when the rain began, talking, laughing and crying as we connected and shared stories.  A slide show of pictures looped continuously just inside off the deck and a “Best Mom in the World” book lay on a table, full of more pictures of Judy.  More laughter and memories.  Love.




I’m so grateful to have my mother in my life and to live close enough to come visit.  To laugh and talk and share stories of her life growing up; of my life growing up.  I think of other mothers who are no longer here with us, who are still loved and still present in our minds.

Every day is Mother’s Day, but today is so much more than a day to buy flowers and cards.  It’s a powerful reminder of love and gratitude.  Of the essential import of the sustenance of the feminine.  We are reminded that “mother” is a verb, not a noun.

My favourite quote from my mom is: “Oh, forever more!” Because that is the core essence of a mother….forever more hugs, forever more love, forever more forgiveness….

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.  ~Honoré de Balzac


Filed under Mothers Day

Pilgrimage Into Mystery



I’ve just returned from a long planned and anticipated pilgrimage through Brazil. 



From the Amazon….


…to Iguassu Falls



…to Rio de Janeiro (yes, one can pilgrimage in a city)


…to a tiny town in the interior for two weeks of healing and intense meditation.  A month of limited internet access, of relaxing into new experiences, of concentrated time for contemplation, introspection, meditation and prayer.

I’m still steeping in the changes.  Consciously calling to mind and body the knowing of peace and joy.  Slipping, always, back into allowance without grasping.  I’m fortunate to be able to ignore for a while longer what the clocks are ticking, and to step out into the morning and inhale the dawn with gratitude.


My pilgrimage is ever onward…..

“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.” ~ A. C. Benson


Filed under Uncategorized