The Soultribe Practitioner Interviews: Melissa Lindgren and the Knitta's

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A few months ago I listened to a TAL episode entitled The Giant Pool of Money. It’s an excellent explanation of the mortgage crises that is sweeping the nation – but for right now that’s neither here nor there. The reason I mention it is that the title burrowed its way into my brain, and now all I can think of is the phrase “A Giant Pool of Wisdom.”  It’s a good phrase, don’t you think? And I am confident that we – you, and I, and all the lurkers out here (Hi lurkers! I love ya!) -can form such a pool. In fact, I know that we already have enough wisdom to fill that pool to overflowing. We’ve just got to share it.

melissa-lingren1So in our on-going efforts to figure out how to create our own Soultribes, I’m dipping into the pool and bringing up refreshing goodness one ladle at a time. To begin, I’m happy to introduce the very sassy, very funny friend Melissa Lindgren as our first guest in the Soultribe Practitioner Interview Series.  (I know, she’s so fun right? Already you want to be her friend!)

Melissa and I met at our former Soultribe, Monkfish Abbey.  Now she is a Soultribe facilitator hosting a knitting and storytelling group in Seattle, Washington. In this interview she talks about gathering her tribe, adjusting expectations, and figuring out what she values in a Soultribe.

Mis, Could you tell us what kind of Soultribe you belong to: What do you call it? How big is it? How often do you meet? How long have you been together as a group?

For the last 8 months a group of friends and I have come together to knit. We calling it “The Knitting Group” or simply ”Knitting” (I tried “The Knitstas” and “The Knitta’s” but they really didn’t take) It started out with about 15 of us and has shrunk to about 8.  

What was it about story that made you want to form a group around storytelling? What do you think is valuable in sharing our stories?

My University of Washington research has centered on knitting and storytelling as tools to form community. As I’ve drifted further and further away from concrete concepts of spirituality, and even further from conventional forms of church, I was in need of a weekly group that could give my life more rhythm and community. So I started a knitting group and began researching how telling stories and knitting together can form a powerful community.

 I wanted to add stories to a knitting circle, because I’m in the business of stories. It’s what I do. I think there are a lot of things we do that are instinctive to us. And some of us are lucky when our interests also have a long history of being important, as it gives us meaning and a certain sense of legitimacy.

Stories are something so very basically human–they are a way of being remembered, remembering, owning, teaching, loving, laughing, being known…And I am drawn to stories for all of those reasons. But the real reason I included stories in my knitting group is because I love to hear a good story, I’m good at telling my own, and that’s how I wanted to wile the Seattle evenings away.

 It is in no way lost on me that I chose a traditionally women-oriented craft (knitting) with another craft that has a somewhat complicated relationship with women (story-telling/having a voice). My group was really intentioned to be a space that glorified the story more than the storyteller–I wanted to hear well-crafted stories–stories that had a lot of depth, intrigue, humor, and suspense.

What does your typical evening together look like? Who decides what you will do together? Who facilitates?

 I’m the facilitator, I decide. :-) I started this group as a way to get together with my friends and as an independent study for my B.A. in English. The goal was to come together and knit and tell stories. I sent out emails every week telling people the topic of the stories and re-iterating the location (my living room). 

 Though people participated in the story-telling it really wasn’t what was driving the group. So I backed off with the stories and just sort of let the group chit and chat where it wanted. These were decisions i more or less made on my own, but were usually bounced off of a friend or two in the group.

 What kind of people attend? How did you initially find and gather these folks? How do people find you now that you’ve been around for a while?

The kind of people who attend are the out-going-est of my friends who are interested in knitting. I initially invited everyone I wanted to see on a weekly basis, but it has shrunk to people who need some sort of weekly outside social group. Though it sometimes feels like we are cousins with lives completely known to each other, often someone in the group will invite an unknown visitor who we all smother and gawk over. :-) Some people just want a lesson in knitting or are stuck in a project and come to get help and then fade back into their normal Wednesday night routines without us.

 How long did it take your group to gel? What was that process like? If you got to a sticky point where you weren’t sure it was working out, how did you know to press on? When did you know you had “clicked” together?

Hmm. There was a core group that already knew and liked each other. If other people were uncomfortable or weren’t having fun, they just didn’t come back. I often tried to bribe them back because my core group needs to expand itself a little more. My bribes weren’t very bribe-y though.

I had a couple people who came who were young, loud, and didn’t listen to other people’s stories. It was greatly irritating and slightly amusing. But the point, at least at first, was to knit and learn to tell great stories. So the next week, I added that after each story 3 questions would have to be asked to the teller before we could move on to the next story. This was to help our listening skills and our story telling skills (it’s a good practice to examine why we include or exclude certain parts of a story). But the noisy youngin’s didn’t come back. And I eventually took them off the email list. I have to admit I felt relieved when they didn’t come back, but I also felt old. Very very old.  (Rachelle says: I would like to insert here, that Melissa is in her twenties and one of my youngest friends, so the old things is kind of cracking me up.)

Why do you think people come to your group? What does being together do for you? What are the benefits of belonging to this kind of Soultribe?

Right now, people come to hang out. But there were a couple months in there that people came to connect in a soft comfortable way.

I once asked the group what kind of stories they loved to hear and it was always stories that were personal, stories the teller had connected to. When I asked what kind of listener they liked to tell stories to, they described someone who could enjoy the details and the setup, feel sad at the sad parts, feel tense at the build-up, and laugh at the jokes (even if they weren’t the best of jokes).  Basically they not only described themselves, they described someone who could connect to their stories. And that’s why we met for awhile–to connect to each other through our stories.

What did you think your group would be like? How did it actually turn out? What’s that like for you?

I thought all sorts of different friends would come together and eventually we would be the group that when it was your turn to tell a story, you put your knitting down and walked around the room telling these grand stories (and the group size would be about 10-15 of the closest wisest and funniest people).

But really we just sort of sat in our chairs unless getting a snack or asking for help and told stories that almost always started out with “Heh, that reminds me of this one time…”

It was a little sad for me at first. And it made my research project a little harder. But there were several meetings that were exactly what I wanted, which felt great. But it takes a surprising amount of planning, creativity, intentionality and tenacity to get a group of people to willingly do what you want. It’s like herding kittens-or worse, herding children. I mean, most people don’t naturally want to do what you want them to, and this is something worth grappling with. And drinking about.

 What would you have done differently in the early days of your Soultribe? What did you do that worked well in the early days of your Soultribe’s development?

I think I would have been more specific in wanting it to center around stories more. I thought that I could just sort of sneak them in and people would automatically respond with great stories and accolades of “I HAVE FOUND MY VOICE!”  I think I lacked a certain confidence in my desire.

What did work were comfy chairs and snacks. Everytime. And good snacks too. Also, re-assuring people many, many times that it was ok if they didn’t know how, they could learn to knit. Many people learned to knit for the first time, or learned something new.

What other tidbits would you like to add to our giant pool of wisdom?

One thing I wish I would have been told as a kid, was that there is no way one person was going to be everything you needed. Oh the agonizing conversations in my head, “My partner makes me laugh and treats me with so much respect and love…but he doesn’t know how to talk about books…we’re probably not meant to be together!”  I have learned to include more people in my interaction needs. And it has made my relationships so much richer now that the pressure is off.

The same, I think, could be said of Soultribes. I think they are capable of being a central community for people but most likely not the ONLY community–which is something probably more obvious to the group than the facilitator.

Okay now readers, your turn! What ideas and inspirations grabbed you after hearing Melissa’s story? What questions do you have for one another? What are you taking away (or putting in to) the Giant Pool fo Wisdom today? Feel free to muse away in the comments below….

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

kazari April 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

oh, oh, oh!
I will especially remember this bit:
“Soultribes. I think they are capable of being a central community for people but most likely not the ONLY community”
And I completely get the bit about how when people come together, they don’t always interact or do what you hoped they would.
I love the idea of connecting through stories – I wonder how best to intentionalise that?
thankyou!

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Jennifer/The Word Cellar April 23, 2009 at 3:09 am

I’m in love with this idea of creating community through storytelling. I went to The Moth (www.themoth.org) when i was in NYC, which is a public event that seems to contain various communities of regulars. It’s like a loose collection of soultribes in a way. I must admit that I’m intrigued and intimidated by the thought of trying to create my own local community centered on telling stories. It feels so…risky. And yet stories are so basic and intimate. Maybe that’s why it feels risky? Stories make people vulnerable, make them come undone, and then knit them back together again. You need to be in a safe place to allow that to happen. I’m not sure exactly what to do with all of these thoughts, but I’m glad to hear Melissa’s experience. I will keep mulling this over….

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Rebecca Dallin April 23, 2009 at 3:45 am

This was a great interview! I only came to knitting a couple of times (once or twice early on, once recently) because I don’t really knit, but I think you hit the nail on the head, Melissa, when you said the stories flow more naturally from the “…that reminds me of this one time.”

And yes, snacks are bonding. Always, always always have food.

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Jen April 24, 2009 at 5:55 am

The thing I loved most about the knitting group (as the proud sister of the sassy one being interviewed) was that I wasn’t the leader and that we all had something to do with our hands which eased my anxious anxious mind about who was going to talk and who was going to keep the conversation going. :) Also, I loved learning to knit, so much.

The storytelling… yes, you’re right, it didn’t go quite like imagined. There was a lot of storytelling in a subtle casual sense. I remember having to put my knitting down in order to tell a real story. I wonder if that was some of it for those of us who were new to knitting… our focus was really on learning a new craft.

Great interview both of you. :)

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Monica April 25, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Great interview.
I have a little, little church that is my soultribe. One of my favorite gatherings was one centered on telling our favourite stories. We’ve referenced that gathering many times since then, “Remember G’s story of running away (and hiding in the grave yard) from her sisters who wanted to cast demons out of her? What a great story!” I think we need to make it an annual or semi annual gathering focus.

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Kathryn - Collage Diva May 11, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Great interview! It is so true that, “there is no way one person was going to be everything you needed.” This is not only true of our spouses but also of our parents, friends, etc.

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Jen April 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Sounds like a plain old clique to me…likes the old friends, doesn’t want the new ones ruining the vibe…

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