Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins is an ongoing writing, photography, sound recording, and digital storytelling (DS) project I am currently working on. Soul Stories is an exploration of the boundaries of narrative within health and healing in the context of trauma and homelessness.
It is informed by my thirty years’ experience as a nurse providing health care to people marginalized by homelessness and poverty, by my personal journey through homelessness as a young adult, and by my experience teaching critical reflective practice to health science students.
Soul Stories deepens our understanding of homelessness; trauma and resilience; gender-based violence; the role of narrative in health and healing; and ways in which we can humanize health care for patients, providers, and communities. My aim is to have Soul Stories used as a resource for policy makers, students, teachers, health care providers, and the general public interested in health and homelessness, and in a more critical approach to narrative medicine.
DS refers to short video segments (typically 3-5 minutes in length) personal narratives that incorporate digital images, music, and voice-over narration by the person making the video. They are typically created within a workshop-based process that includes a Story Circle to share, critique, and refine stories-in-progress. Developed in the early 1990s by media/theater artists Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert and promoted through their Center for Digital Storytelling/Story Center, DS has been used for public health research, training, and policy campaigns (such as the Silence Speaks campaign); community building (such as the BBC Capture Wales program); literacy programs; and reflective practice with health science students. DS is increasingly used as an innovative community-based participatory method that is especially effective at informing program planners and policy makers about the lived experiences of marginalized people. A brief overview of some of the ethical issues with DS is included on the Story Center website under “Ethical Practice in Digital Storytelling.” And here is an excellent overview by Kelsen Caldwell (formerly in the University of Washington School of Medicine, Health Sciences Service Learning and Advocacy group) of ethical considerations of storytelling in health advocacy work with communities: “The Ethics of Storytelling.”
“Soul Stories: Homeless Journeys Told Through Feet” is a brief DS video I made to accompany a show of my photographs and poems/prose. “Homeless Professor” digital storytelling video with excerpt/adaptation from Catching Homelessness is linked here.
I am working with groups of people experiencing homelessness, as well as with health science students working on community-based service-learning projects that include homeless people, and I am helping them to make some of their own videos (and with their permission I will post their DS videos on this site). I completed a participatory digital storytelling video workshop in August, 2015 with a group of homeless youth through the Zine Project Seattle. With their permission I share links to two of their videos here: “Harm Reduction is Good” and “Tug of War.”
The following DS videos (not made for the Soul Stories project), are good examples of personal stories of people positively impacted by service-learning and by meaningful community service: “Knowing” by Mai Vang; “Finding” by Darius Gray; “Sankofa” by Jemila Sequeira; and “My Food Justice Story Starts Here” by Daryl Marshall. And here is one of my favorite DS videos about homelessness by Wayne Richard: “Sofas.”
Way Out; Way Home/The Meaning of Home:
As part of my Soul Stories project I am doing a public art project, “Way Out; Way Home.” Here is a short spoken word video performance of “Way Out; Way Home” using a haibun (poetry and prose) I wrote in conjunction with a series of mixed-media pieces and photographs I made to accompany the haibun.
As a component of “Way Out; Way Home” I am facilitating workshops with groups of people with a final reflective exercise on the meaning of home. I invite them to write or draw their own answer to the question, “What does home mean to you?” on strips of colored paper. With their permission, I am adding their responses to a Community Blue Tarp Tapestry, which will be displayed in a variety of locations throughout Seattle, as well as displayed/added to through photographs on this website page. In addition, in some workshops I have asked people to then write an American Sentence (a type of haiku with 17 syllables) based on their top response to the meaning of home.
Here are links to terrific Seattle-area homeless shelters/agencies I work with. Your donations to them will be well spent!
- ROOTS Young Adult Shelter in the University District
- Mary’s Place shelter and services for homeless and marginalized women and children–in downtown Seattle
- Downtown Emergency Services Center shelter (DESC) and services for homeless adults/Seattle
Here are links to recent publications of my essays (and a fiction piece) from the Soul Stories collection (a work in progress):
- Ensign, J. (November 2016) “Listen, Carefully” in Electric Literature/Okey-Panky.
- Ensign, J. (Fall 2016) “Way Out; Way Home” in Raven Chronicles Journal vol. 23: Jack Straw Writers Program, 1997-2016. Link to essay: ensign-proofs-copy
- Ensign, J. (Spring 2016) “Medical Maze” in Columbia University’s Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (Winter 2015). “Listen Carefully” 55-word story included in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Special Issue: Diagnosis, Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 32.
- Ensign, J. (June 19, 2014) “It Was Time to Proclaim Myself a Wounded Healer” (repost of essay below). KevinMD.
- Ensign, J. (May 30, 2014) “No Place Like Home(less)” essay published in Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine. Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Reprinted on KevinMD
- Ensign, J. (Spring 2014) “Steps to Footcare” (fiction) published in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. Columbia University Program of Narrative Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (May 17, 2013) “On the Road” essay published in Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine. Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
- Ensign, J. (May 2013) “Soul Story” essay published in Jack Straw Writers Anthology, volume 17. Jack Straw interview and reading here.
This project was supported, in part, by an award from 4Culture. Additional support for the audio portion of the DS videos comes from Jack Straw Productions. My Soul Stories project is also funded, in part, by the University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities, the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.