Saturday, May 22, 2010

Episodic stories

My favorite TV shows are enhanced by sharing with people who love them [almost] as much as I. With Mom over the phone, with friends at work. Heroes was that much better for the Tuesday Heroes review lunches at work. We shared our favorite details, theories, I shared the scoop on the graphic novel backstories - alas, no more :(.

This is also enhanced by getting the story in bits & bites. It gives you enough to talk about but not so much that details are forgotten in favor of the overall gist.

I'm noticing the importance of this as I participate in #1b1t (One Book, One Twitter) - a twitter-wide bookclub started by @Crowdsourcing. We are reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods - there's a reading schedule that the general conversation (using the hashtag #1b1t) follows. Chapter-level discussions allow those who are reading faster to still talk about details without spoiling for others (hashtags #1b1t_1c, _2c, etc).
Because of this setup, I find myself pausing after I finish each chapter to spend some time in the discussion for that chapter, before moving on.

I've been in a bookclub before, where we'd read a book over a month (or a couple of months) and discuss it when everyone had completed the whole book. I'm afraid I wasn't a great bookclub member. When I read a book straight through, I'm finding that what I get from it is mostly gist of plot. I focus on language and tone and style of storytelling, rather than absorbing details about characters, placenames, and whatnot. (I also tended to take a much more critical view than others - sorry I just don't find Mitch Albom's style compelling)

In an episodic construct, however, the Heroes fan comes to the fore. I'm tracking conversations, doing a bit of research on my own, keeping threads at hand for when the story weaves them back in. Part of this could be that it's my second time through the book, but I really think it's the way #1b1t is running. The book is striking home more.

And it follows me around, so that I look at things through the lens of the book's premise of the gods we bring with us from our countries of origin - and what happens when those beliefs and traditions are left by the wayside.

It's those bits & bobs - the bite size story consumption rather than a massive binge. Hmmmm - Twitter-style storytelling (like the stories told by @AngelaShelton a few weeks ago to showcase abuse) is a bit like this - although it needs a bit more structure to accommodate varied paces and thread conversations a bit more clearly. Potential, potential.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Ecstatic truths" and everyday stories - some thoughts from 140

Returning from 140Conference, I got hit with a massive cold and slept two days then continued in misery several more. When that was over my parents moved. So now, here I am, finally able to share some of my thinking following the mega-meetup...

The night before the conference I shared the seed of an idea from Jonathan Harris - contrasting "accountant" and "ecstatic" truths and the type of stories that emerge. How the truly powerful and amazing stories are the ones full of emotion, the "ecstatic" stories that require something more than our day-to-day status updates. I headed into the sessions thinking about how to make the stories we share in social places more powerful, or how to transfer them to a place where the power could be put back in.

And then 140Conference happened and the wonderful people that took the stage had me hollering, wiping my eyes, laughing, and yes, making farm noises. The stories they told in the brief moments they took the stage ranged across a wide spectrum, but there was one huge point - Twitter and other networks & spaces provide a tool to share big emotions, too. To rally people to a cause. To save lives. To give voice to the voiceless. Pretty darn emotional.

I realized, too, that the day-to-day does not lack value. I skimmed an article recently on the similarity of tweets to diary entries from the 1800's (or earlier, I don't exactly recall), when ink, paper, and time were in short supply and people just conveyed quickly (in, oh, 140 characters or less) what they were up to. But imagine finding such a diary from an ancestor. It wouldn't be like reading American Gods for plot, but you'd find it fascinating to get the view on their life.
"Accountant's truths", the every day flow of life, have value, too.

There are so many stories we can tell and each day brings new ways to tell them. This is an awesome space!

The stories of objects

During each of the last couple of moves I've helped with, I've found areas of surprise & delight. Themes that keep popping up and bring a smile and giggle each time they do. Giggles that can be shared with the others in the house because the themes are so universal for that particular case. For dear Jenny, it was marveling at the sheer number & variety of her collections :).

At my parents, it was Dad's paystubs. For the past 20 years or so, he would collect his weekly paystub at the store, bring it home, and tuck it away somewhere "safe". We found them EVERYwhere, tucked into drawers, corners, shoeboxes... We took a paper-box of them out to a burn barrel in the backyard and fed them in bit by bit. And still found more.

I find it exciting that even such simple things can generate a story. Mom and I will be able to giggle about this months from now as we recall the move.

My parents move brought a lot more stories to light, especially because we had a little more time to pack than expected... The outfit I wore in kindergarten that our neighbors, the Goebbels had given me. Dad's Boy Scout uniform. Strange things from Danny's closet, like art projects none of us had ever seen before.

I think that's part of where I got my appreciation for story. When we were kids, we moved several times - the longest in one place was 4 years (until the house my parents just moved out of, where they had stayed for 20+). Mom asked this time why it was so much harder than when they had kids to herd and our stuff to deal with. I think the relatively frequent moves forced us to create a system. Each kid had a paper box of their important stuff. Each kid knew their room & stuff. There was a tomato box of pictures. As part of this system, we reviewed the contents of these boxes. We shared the stories of what was in them and why it was moving with us. All very informal, of course, and I probably see more of a pattern than my brothers might.

But I appreciate it, these stories of objects - important and trivial - in our lives. I'm adding them to the pile of story types that I want to explore further.