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Here we are and it is almost Christmas. Indeed, many of you who are friends on Facebook will already have been subjected to some element of the Andrews-Cayley household’s version of good cheer. (You can always see more of what I’m talking about on my Facebook page if you happened to have missed out.)

Consider this gang of ridiculous animated whatevers. They’re silly. They’re certainly tasteless, lacking in artistic merit, crass, commercial. And yet…their annual FB appearance is actually requested, looked for and I have to admit to a considerable amount of pleasure in opening the box in which they are stored and taking them out each year.

They remind me of my childhood when, at Christmas, in our family silliness reigned supreme. Oddly too, they have a sort of sacredness to them. They reinforce in me the need to celebrate—not in ignorance of the fact that terrible things are happening; that we may be entering dark and difficult times. Rather because of that.

The times of my childhood were not easy. The threat of nuclear disaster was real; there was rationing of food, coal, clothing. World War II seemed still to hang over everything. Memories of loss and battle, bombing and devastation were strong in everyone’s minds. That’s what made Christmas so important. Somehow the coming of Christmas meant that the grey, cold cloud would one day be lifted. The coming of Christmas meant that there was hope.

I know that for many this is a time of anxiety and loneliness. I wish that I could change that but I can’t. All I can do is what I know how to. To take in the season with joy. To send out good wishes to all who might like to have them. To rejoice with dedication and commitment in my own odd and peculiar way.

One more thing: if you live around Ottawa and didn't get an invitation to Stories from the Ages: Redux. Four Sunday Evenings of Wonder Tales, know we want you. Further details: click here




Saturday was a great day. One of those times spent in easy joy with friends. A time that began with waking from an adult version of a pajama party (wine, cheese etc. after Come Sing the Messiah); moved on into a breakfast that morphed into lunch. A time when four o’clock in the afternoon quite suddenly seemed to come upon us out of nowhere. A time filled with good talk, ranging from discussions of children’s literature, to the vagaries of parenting, to first hand experiences of the role of the CIA in Latin America with all sorts of joking in between.

It was a great day but not all days are like that, some of them are downright bad. I note this because later on I met another friend who asked me how I was doing and who, when I told her, came up with the oft repeated mantra about how I should be living in the moment, one day at a time.

She’s a friend. She meant well but, as they do each time I hear them, her words caused a small spurt of anger in my veins. The truth is I don’t actually want to live in such a manner. I don’t believe we’re meant to. I believe we’re supposed to have dreams and schemes for the future, dates on our calendars; we’re supposed to plant seeds with thoughts of harvest--all of which means we will have hopes and fears.

The need for those hopes and fears doesn’t change in the face of a life threatening diagnosis of cancer (or any other disease for that matter). Yes, we may all step off the curb and get hit by a bus tomorrow but living with the fact of my own mortality two inches from my nose makes for an awareness that is way more immediate and compelling. That awareness is always with me, entwined inextricably with every minute of every day.

Acknowledging this is crucial to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t do things. Watch this space if you want assurance on that score. It doesn’t mean I’m in a constant state of angst and misery. Anyone who knows me even vaguely will attest to that. It just that whatever I do, I do it with the knowledge of cancer in my life.

So why does the “one day at a time” mantra make me angry? Because it’s glib, because it’s easy. Because it holds no recognition of what is actually being asked for. Above all, because I need my times of worry. I need my times of grief. They’re part of my humanity. If they’re lost, so am I.

A small rant but heartfelt. Fear not though, the Two Women are working busily on the Stories from the Ages: REDUX series scheduled for Peter Devine’s in Ottawa’s market area on Sunday nights throughout January. The tellers are chosen. They should have their stories picked by the middle of this week. Publicity is set to start going out soon after. We’re also getting ready for Christmas. Why not it's definitely going to happen!










It’s a long time since I wrote anything in this blog. Truth to tell, I thought I was done. It’s four years now since I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer—prognosis that I would possibly be dead in months. I’m alive simply because I have a mutation that’s only found in 11% of white non-smoking women (the percentage going up to 40 if you’re a female Asian non-smoker). The mutation makes me more responsive to treatment, of which I have had plenty. I kept working but somehow always with a sense of finishing things off. I’m still in a place of “who the hell knows?” but I keep failing at dying. Exciting things are happening. My job entails getting the word out. So, here we go again.

 And what is the cause of all the excitement? First, any day now, a contract for a new book will appear in the mail. The contract will be with Running the Goat Books and Broadsides located in Tors Bay, Newfoundland. The book will, I think, be called To See the Stars. It’s a collection of five short stories, linked by the central character, a young woman named Edie Murphy. She starts out little more than a child, living in an outport, in 1906. Life takes her first to St. John’s and then to the garment industry in Lower Eastside New York City. She’s caught up in some major events of the era--the first ever strike of women, a terrible factory fire. She goes places I haven’t but I know her, not just because I’ve created her but because she was born of my family’s history, far off in England but feeling so much the same.

Second, there’s Written in the Body. That's the CD I recorded earlier this year for Storytellers of Canada’s StorySave program. You can see the stunning cover image, designed by Annette Hegel and featuring me in a school play at the age of ten, above. The CD itself works through the interweaving of a literary story by the English writer Sara Maitland about a ritual in which a young man must dress as a woman to hunt seal and the tale of my own childhood longing to be a boy. Written in the Body has sparked big dreams within me. More to come on that. In the meanwhile—purchases: Digital  downloads:

Finally (for now anyway), Jennifer and I are busily planning Stories from the Ages: REDUX. Sunday evenings in January, there will be Wonder Tales, told at Peter Devine’s, a lovely pub in Ottawa’s market area. At the moment we’re in the process of lining up the tellers. More to come on that as well.

Yes, I have reduced energy. Yes, I have some pain. But life is life. It keeps on keeping on. Maybe I’ve had to learn to adjust my sights. Maybe there is grieving but grieving never will be all of everything. There are simply too many interesting things to be doing.

I guess I never got out of the game, not really. I just stopped blogging. REDUX for that also. REDUX, REDUX, REDUX!


Future Dreams and Present Undertakings 

Good news for the Two Women. All of a sudden, it’s all set. We are going to the annual FEST (the Federation of European Storytellers) gathering in Rome in June and have then been invited to present The Book of Spells at the International Festival of Storytelling Raccontamiunastoria

in that ancient city. All this on top of also voyaging to England for a performance of The Book of Spells in Brighton along with a chance for me to present Who Wants the Dress? in Surrey and Sun Horse Moon Horse in Yorkshire. Trust me, more details will follow!

In the meanwhile, of course, we’re focusing on our upcoming 2wp performances of The Odyssey with Ottawa tellers Gail Anglin and Ellis Lynn Duschenes -- the close-out to our third full season. What a success this season’s been. One more spur to our desire to bring the best that storytelling can offer to an ever-widening range of audiences. Indeed, we even have plans for the “ever-widening” part. More to follow on that too.

For the four of us, coming back to The Odyssey is almost like coming home. It’s hard to believe but this great epic has been in our lives for almost twenty years now. How good it feels to speak once more of the wine dark sea and dawn with her rosy fingers; to bring to our listeners the terrible struggle to overcome the Cyclops, the delights of Circe, the ferocious battle Odysseus must take on to rid his home of Penelope’s suitors, the tender reunion the two share. That’s my section and I have always loved it for its humanness, its clear evocation of how difficult it is for two people to come together after long separation no matter how much they love each other; how much they have yearned for just this time. 

Work with other storytellers goes on too. I wrote a blog not so long ago about the frequent need to let go of ideas and phrases, structures and images we’d thought essential in the creation of some piece. This week brought us the opposite – a portion of a planned performance that had hit the cutting room floor but which now had to be re-instated; a portion which had moved from being a pleasant but unneeded diversion to becoming an absolute necessity.

How could that happen? It happened because it had to. Because originally that portion had been pushing the whole in some direction that left too much of what was going to be important out. The teller had to get rid of it so she herself could see more clearly what her story really is.

It might easily have happened that that portion needed to stay gone but, as the teller edged up on what she hadn’t even known she wanted to be saying and discovered the means to take hold of it, the piece began to find its true voice and shape. That shape called back what had had to be omitted. As I said before, the process of creation is a mystery, a fluidity, an ever-moving target. We simply cannot afford to forget that.

The news today is still all of the Boston Marathon. How could it possibly be anything else? I’m not exactly an athlete but I do know the joys of competing, the delights of being a spectator. I’ve lived with athletes. I know their commitment, the exhilaration the rest of us get from watching them give their all. The Olympics last summer were for me a lifeline in a hard time. I watched every minute I could manage, not just for the distraction but because the beauty of the body’s strength that was made so visible gave me a touch of faith in my own. I grieve for the hideous loss of all those who have suffered but also I grieve for the marring of this wondrous event. I think we need to let ourselves feel the pain before we give any thought to powers of healing. Feeling the pain is one more way of recognizing just what has been taken from us. 

Love to each and every, Jan



Adventures Old and New

Going to the Dominican was perfect. Warm sea, wind in the palm trees, snorkeling, strolling along the beaches, riding the waves in small boats. Coming back in a snowstorm made for just the right amount of exhilaration. And we’ve had more snow and I am reveling in it. Three cross country skis now – a grand boost to my morale.

The Toronto Storytelling Festival is coming up this weekend. Jennifer is working on a new piece about nineteenth century women who longed for the exotic, the adventurous, then went out to live their dreams. It’s a show that highlights the differences between us for, although I find it fascinating, it’s not something I would have been drawn to on my own account.

I do, however, see its importance for what these women really wanted was to reach higher, to go beyond the life that was prescribed for them. Also as I listen to the rehearsals I realize that when I was a kid all the adventurers I ever heard of were men. Women who risked and dared were usually mocked in some way or other, much as the suffragettes were – chaining themselves to railings, going on hunger strikes and other footling activities!

Once more, I’m reminded of the need to get all of the stories out there, especially the ones that call to us, the ones that are particularly ours to tell.

Right now, of course, The Odyssey is also calling to us again – the last show for the 2wp 2012/2013 season. As I began to work on some of the promos, it came as something of a shock to realize that Gail, Ellis Lynn, Jennifer and I have been working on this great epic now for almost twenty years. We have it in our souls.

Always when we come back to it, there’s a freshness; always a deep feeling of satisfaction and delight. Always it strikes a strong chord with our audiences. When I mentioned that The Odyssey was upcoming in my close-out remarks to Jan Gregory’s show, I heard little sighs of anticipation and saw faces light up all around.

Yes, this is very much a man’s story. But what a story. It seems to have all of everything within it. It’s such a human tale. I have never even come close to regretting that we took it on. The resonances are for all of us. I remember after one performance talking to two women about the terrible battle of homecoming – a gut wrenching event if ever there was one, no holds barred. “We don’t like it but we do have to admit, there will be a time of ruthlessness for all of us,” one of the women said to me. “Better to face it,” the other woman agreed.

Stories of men, stories of women – always so much to think about. Another of the great joys of our lives.