This past week I attended the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference and Policy Symposium in New Orleans. I had the great fortune to share a room with a friend of a friend, a stranger who became my roommate and has ended up feeling like a kindred spirit and a long-lost friend. And she makes me very proud to be a community/public health nurse.
Catherine (Caitlin) Margaret May is a family nurse practitioner who works at Providence Community Health Centers (Rhode Island), providing care to people experiencing homelessness. Caitlin and I were both at the conference to present our work related to health and homelessness during the poster sessions. Caitlin’s nontraditional, non-stuffy/academic poster rocked the conference! She used the (new to me) format of cantastoria to tell/sing the story and history of homelessness in the United States. Caitlin did an excellent job channeling the spirit of anarchist and radical nurse Emma Goldman. And she dramatized something that our keynote speaker, Bechara Choucair, MD (Chicago Department of Public Health) said in his eloquent speech: “We created the policies that got them there” (referring to people experiencing homelessness).
Another conference presenter was social media guru Mark Horvath, founder of InvisiblePeople.tv, who spoke about his use of social media for his advocacy work with homeless people. His talk was a bit too Hollywood glam and ego for my taste, but it did help to push me further into the social media advocacy fray by filming Caitlin’s performance with my iphone, editing it, and uploading it to YouTube for your viewing pleasure. In the video Caitlin is teaching the words to two friends/colleagues, Seth Ammerman, MD and Ivan Wolfson, MD.
According to the Museum of Everyday Life (a delightful place whose Chief Operating Philosopher and creator is Clare Dolan, RN), “Cantastoria is an Italian word for the ancient performance form of picture-story recitation, which involves sung narration accompanied by reference to painted banners, scrolls, or placards. It is a tradition belonging to the underdog, to chronically itinerant people of low social status, yet also inextricably linked to the sacred. It is a practice very much alive today, existing in a wide variety of incarnations around the world, and fulfilling very diverse functions for different populations.”
I doubt I’ll start taking singing and dancing and painting lessons, but Caitlin’s poster presentation/cantastoria has added a new dimension to my understanding of narrative advocacy and of radical nursing.