Extracting the story

I stumbled upon a website that details storytelling exercises developed by storyteller/author Heather Forest


Here is one of the exercises from that page:

Puzzle Tale: Putting the Pieces Together
Copy a folktale from a printed anthology and cut it up into sections or scenes. Paste each section on a separate page. Give out the sheets to students who each prepare to retell their small piece of the whole story. Assemble the story by having each student retell his or her part in the plot’s sequence. Have students keep the flow going as the story is told so that the performance moves along as though one person were telling it. Do a second round by giving students different sections to retell. Notice how differently students retell the same sections!

Aside from sounding like fun, this exercise seems relevant to the book. For our book project  I am suggesting that individuals take a little section of their cancer story and expand it to become its own story, expressed in a creative manner. It would be fascinating to write out one’s own story and then do this exercise with friends and family to get their versions of the different parts.

Here’s a possible way to develop an entry for the book, whether you are patient, family member, health care provider or some other connection to someone with cancer.  Start by writing out all of the details of your  illness experience in point form, from diagnosis to present. Make the list as detailed as possible, including characters that were introduced, particular events that happened, and feelings at different points in the process.

Look over the list and find a point that jumps out at you. Was there a particular moment/character/event that inspired strong feelings in you? Extract that item out of the story and start digging. What would be the best way to convey the feelings that were evoked? What would be be the best medium for conveying those feelings?  What can you craft from putting the magnifying glass on that particular moment/event/character?

A little piece of my story is that every Tuesday I walk through Chinatown in Toronto to get to Princess Margaret Hospital for my treatment. This weekly walk led to the following poem:

Tuesdays in Chinatown in July

Every Tuesday

the journey through Chinatown

to the chemo unit at Princess Margaret Hospital.

The stench of garbage day, heightened in July,

threatens to overwhelm me

on those days when my stomach roils

with the effect of the drugs.

I pass front yards that are seeded with concrete

and porches of dilapidated student housing

that sprout old couches and beer bottles.

Tennis shoes drape from power lines,

the decorations provided by

drug dealers marking their territories like dogs.

I pass through all of this urban grit

with a mixture of fascination and revulsion.

Then I stumble upon them

and catch my breath with the deep green lushness

of the postage stamp gardens.

Bok choi, tat soi, guy lan,

peppers. eggplant and kohl rabi.

Vegetables that I can’t identify,

but which make me feel as if I am in a foreign, tropical  land.

These plants, growing so fervently from among the grit,

growing up, down, and out

to take advantage of every inch of space,

make me feel alive and supremely optimistic

as I leave Chinatown behind

and climb the four flights of stairs to my inevitable appointment.


July 2011




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