One Man’s Trash…

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Rather than dig for one last idea for a story, I decided to look at other classmates stories this week.  I love seeing what my classmates come up with the little window it opens into our lives.  I think there are some good things here–even if the original poster wasn’t so sure.
The first idea was about the poster’s 20 year old car the memories it contains.  I was struck by how each previous commenter told their own story about a car–usually their first car.  Cars as inanimate objects are probably the closest “things” we have relationships with.  We spend so much time in them, they are so integral to many memories- vacations, high school (or whenever you first learned to drive), bringing home baby from the hospital, etc. I think they are also about the American dream.  In front of every house with a white Pickett fence there is a car!

The next story idea was about the different pedals that go along with playing an electric guitar.  This post very much illustrates how many technical concepts are out there that may or may not lend themselves to storifying.  This story would definetely be for a limited audience (those who play guitar), but there could be something there if the poster can find the right angle.

The final blog I looked at had this story idea about fonts.   This one could be a good one in that fonts are something most of us don’t’ give much thought to even though if you work a 9-5 you are working with them all the time.   The story could be a history of fonts/typography or best practices in using fonts.

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Week 5 comment round up (belated)

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I think I may have found my final project story this week, based upon comments alone.  The comments on my Public Health story idea seemed to coalesce around the idea of a public health super hero-type character- I really appreciated the different layers the commenters added to my original thoughts.

I also learned via comments two things this week:  1) it pays off to actually review the tutorial items posted for us and 2) layering is actually easier than copy + paste in Audacity.

I have been falling down a bit on the job lately when it comes to getting out there and commenting on others’ posts, but the blog I did visit and comment on (the remaining member of my blog “team”) helped me see how to potentially approach the Chaplin Foley assignment (even though I ended up not doing it) as well as potential challenges.  I almost enjoy reading about the challenges as much as I do the final product- it helps me see I’m not the only one with (usually momentary) struggles!

 

A 3-point story for Week 3

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I have to be honest–I am really struggling with coming up with ideas. My classmates have some great ideas so I know it can be done…I find myself either shooting ideas down because they are too boring or because they have already been “told”. At one point during the week I had a few ideas, wrote them down, and now can’t find them–arg!!

My pledge for the upcoming week is to think of three ideas a day and by the end of the week I should have at least one usable one, yes? and I will submit one of my rejects because it’s all I can think of at the moment.  I went to the University of Virginia- great school, great college environment. Good at the “preppy” sports like lacrosse, field hockey, crew etc.  UVA spends a lot of money on the big-ticket sports, namely football and basketball but historically that spending has not paid off in terms of championships or bowl or NCAA tournament apprearances. A few years ago UVA hired a basketball coach from Washington State- a good coach named Tony Bennett who had success there, but Washington State is a long, long way away from central Virginia and from ACC hoops. Every year Bennett has coached at Virginia, the team has gotten better, bit by bit. This year, with only 2 of the original 6 in his first recruiting class—to include another Washington state kid who came to UVA on a promise from Bennett that he would be part of something—the Cavaliers won the ACC title, the ACC tournament, and reached the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

I like sports, and I like college basketball but this team this year has been the most fun I’ve ever had following a sports team. The scrappiness, enthusiasm, underdog nature of this team that most folks thought would be good but not THIS good has been really fun to watch and has brought hope back to this Cavalier fan.

There’s a few angles you could do- that of a disenchanted fan who believes again, the player who decides to go all in with an untested coach, a coach put in the national spotlight.

A Divinely Inspired (?) Story Idea

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This past weekend I was at a retreat at a Monastery- 48 hours of silence and sitting in the abbey 7 times a day for prayers.   This little retreat took place at a Trappist Monastery about 45 minutes from Atlanta (where I live).  I joined a much more spiritually enlightened friend there last year and had to come back again this year.  They have a non-denominational retreat house where anyone can stay and live in silence while you are there- I’m not Catholic (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and not even religious, but the benefit of dropping out for two days a year to get quiet and just be is immense.

This is their church.  They built it themselves!

This is their church. They built it themselves!

Now that I’ve convinced you I’m a complete weirdo, let me get to my idea.  As I was sitting there at 4am listening to the monks sing their prayers–and trying not to nod off–I thought to myself “these men do this day after day, year after year…”  Seasons change, natural disasters, new presidents ushered into office–in essence, the world turns and these men are here doing their thing just as they have for almost a thousand years (65 years in Georgia).  But I know almost nothing about them.  What brought them here?  What were they like as kids?  Do they get bored?  Do they miss “normal” life?  How does one BECOME a monk anyway?

There are a couple weaknesses here: 1)  there probably isn’t a NEED to tell this story.  We are looking at a very very small population that the vast majority of people have no interaction with.  2) getting my questions answered might prove difficult.  Monks tend to be pretty soft-spoken folks and any information would probably have to come from secondary sources like memoirs, etc. 3) if I put my work hat on, this wouldn’t necessarily be a topic on which to train–the purpose would be to inform or enlighten but not necessarily prep anyone to do anything.

So What Does Storytelling Mean Anyway?

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Four settings come to mind when I think of “storytelling”

  1. Being read to as a child by my parents at night before bed.
  2. Library time at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna, VA.  The smell of books, of the cedar chips the house guinea pig had in his cage.
  3. Around the campfire at scouts- hearing ghost stories about the Scarly Yow (or the Snarly Yow) a terrifying black dog-like monster wandering the foothills of the blue ridge in Virginia and Maryland.
  4. Later in my mid-twenties, at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia of all places, listening to the tour guide tell the story of how the constitution was written in the punishing summer heat and how agreement was finally made among all the individual drafters.  Standing in the hall on that fall day, through the guide’s story, I could imagine the pressure these men were under, the airless feel that room must have had in pre-air conditioning days.

Storytelling is to me:

  • A live, person-to-person activity- with my parents, it meant time just for the two of us (I’m guessing the other parent was savoring the first moments alone all day while I was being read to by their spouse!) It wouldn’t be the same if it was over the phone, via Skype or Facetime, for example.  Story telling isn’t watching a movie either—you need to be able to look the person in the eyes and share the same space with them.
  • An opportunity to connect with someone.
  • To believe something maybe unbelievable—that through story you and the storyteller can suspend disbelief for just that moment when the story is being told and believe the tale at hand.
  • Stories bring the audience together emotionally.  After the story is over, we can talk about it: “wow, the ending to that movie was a real tear-jerker” or “I can’t believe she ended up with him! What a jerk”.

To describe storytelling to someone else: Storytelling is when one person recounts a tale-true or fiction-to another person or to a group of people.  It usually takes more than a few minutes—it’s not just telling an anecdote at the dinner table—but not too, too long.  The story may have actually happened to the person telling it, but in my mind, the tale being told is usually at least 2nd hand; a father telling his child about her grandfather, the story teller’s father, for instance.

The story teller is knowledgeable-they add their own flair or asides to the narrative.  Yet they keep a certain distance.   For example, they may not tell you if the story is true or not—they leave you guessing.   Or they may not tell you what happens after the story ends; you will want to know more than what they can tell you.

For digital storytelling to work, it has to keep that same sense of connection and intimacy as person-to-person storytelling.  If I add “digital” to the mix, I suppose the narrative stays the same, but the story teller disappears- or at least, isn’t a human sitting next to me.  The narrator is more detached and as a result, I think harder to trust.  The storyteller is much more likely to be a “stranger”.  “Digital” doesn’t conjure up the same warm, fuzzy feeling as sitting around the campfire, for instance.  That being said, digital storytelling can bring more to the table than “traditional” storytelling—it’s just different.

I originally read the New York Times piece  on the Avalanche at Tunnel Creek in print when it was first published.  It’s a fascinating, terrifying story.  The digital edition of the piece added so much more- the photos that make you feel like you are on the mountain, the audio/video pieces with the persons involved, the sidebars that explain an element of the story. In that respect, digital media made the story more real and more compelling and strengthened my connection with the story.  So I guess digital storytelling isn’t as cold and impersonal as maybe I’m thinking.  I’ve already disagreed with myself!

I had been told in the various public speaking classes at school and at work that you need to have a “hook” to grab the attention of your audience, but I have never given much thought to “elements” of a story.  In some way it sounds calculating to create a story that has “bait”, that makes the audience “work for its food”, but Finding Nemo and Toy Story are beloved worldwide because they draw you in and make you care for a toy cowboy and a clown fish.  So bait and making the audience “work” by coming to its own conclusions, which move the story along, aren’t so bad after all.

I liked Andrew Stanton talking about the spines of characters and the idea that it’s the absence of information that draws us in, which is similar to Ira Glass talking about “the bait” and the moment of reflection.  Characters need to have something that drives them, a value system that makes them operate the way they do.  If we can’t figure out why Michael Corleone acts the way he does—or we don’t feel the need to figure it out—then the Godfather is a movie about a bunch of bad guys who do bad things.

Three movies I loved this year—American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club and Saving Mr. Banks—were great in part because of the questions they raised and leave you to answer.  Was Amy Adams’ character really stringing along Bradley Cooper the entire time?  Why would a homophobe work so tirelessly to help AIDS patients get treatment like Matthew McConaughey’s character does?  And why was it really so hard for P.L. Travers to let go of her story so Walt Disney could make it into a movie?

The “negative space” in a story—the bits that go unsaid, whether for you to answer or to remain a mystery—are just as important as the known plot points.  I don’t know if digital media can specifically address this point, but to the extent that it can make a story richer and more compelling, it can absolutely enrich the experience of telling and listening/watching/experiencing stories.