Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Moving on

2012 was, well, quite the year.

I faced my fears:
 - I spoke out in more conversations.
 - I presented at BarCamp.
 - I started my own company.
 - I created an Etsy store and sold at my first few craft shows.

Obstacles materialized.  Stress mounted.  That's not all over.  2012 was not a year for security.

I learned some lessons and failed a bit. I would not have failed if I had not made things. Failure is a step, not an endpoint.

My themes for 2012 were:
  • Creativity
  • Conversation
  • Discipline
I don't think I did too bad there, really.  Now, we move on.


I think my themes sum it up pretty well:
  • Wonder
    • Losing the ability to see what is wondrous about our existence is what turns us into mindless drones (or zombies, if you prefer).  Running through life mindless screws a lot of things in our world up.  We need to mark the wonder - to take a moment to spot the dew on the spiderweb. To let what we choose to believe in amaze us.  To let people do the same.  In 2013, I will make sure that I mark the wonder around me - and help others to do the same.
  • Drive
    • It would be so easy to give in to defeat, despair, exhaustion.  Easy but not right.  Giving up is not allowed.  Neither is slowing down because that could jeopardize the work done to date.  2013 is going to have some gangbuster pushes and I need to keep it up.
  • Community
    • There are two key elements to this.  First, I need to continue to get closer to and strengthen the community of good thinkers, artists, and generally cool people - in ROC and beyond that I'm building around myself.  They're important.  Second, the key focus for Storychick in 2013 needs to be growing a community of supporters/believers - the rest will stem from there.
So, that's how I'm looking at the year.  On Storychick, I'll have some news soon about things I am working on to kick off the year big time, starting with the first Icarus session - Wednesday 1/2, 7pm at Spot Coffee.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Twitter storytelling

A newsletter from Michael Margolis last week showcased the @NotTildaSwinton twitter craze as an example that stories can be told on Twitter.

What came to mind as soon as I saw Twitter and storytelling together was an entirely different example.  That of @AngelaShelton's Twitter stories of sexual abuse from April 2010.

I'm surprised that I haven't blogged about this before, it was so powerful.

Stories have been told on Twitter in several ways.  I know I have bookmarks of @NeilHimself and other authors telling stories 140 characters at a time.  It's a new version of the serial - a story spaced out over a given period in bursts of just a tweet.

As part of her efforts to raise awareness of abuse and its impact on the lives of more around us than most would realize, Angela told 3 victim stories over a week: a teen who survived abuse by her father and attempted murder by his friend and testified against both, a man finally coming to terms with a childhood rape kept silent for years, and a young woman still trapped by a father who trafficked her.

The stories were incredibly powerful.  The community that sprang up around them was amazing - fellow survivors who identified with each piece shared, supporting each other through tough moments.  I made friends with people in this community who I'm still connected to today.

Here's a presentation done about 6 months after the stories were tweeted where Angela talks about some truly exciting connections made during the event:

As I told Michael, 140 characters can force you to strip away any preamble.

And the connections enabled by Twitter stories are just as strong as elsewhere.

(Two years later, I'm having problems finding the actual tweets - here's the speech that kicked it off at #140Conf NYC)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lesson learned

I have had copied a story out of The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness
by Joel Ben Izzy hanging in my study for a while:
The Secret of Happiness
Nasrudin is known as much for his wisdom as his foolishness, and many are those who have sought out his teaching.
One devotee tracked him down for many years before finding him in the marketplace sitting atop a pile of banana peels - no one knows why.
"Oh great sage, Nasrudin," said the eager student.  "I must ask you a very important question, the answer to which we all seek: What is the secret to attaining happiness?"
Nasrudin thought for a time, then responded. "The secret of happiness is good judgement."
"Ah," said the student. "But how do we attain good judgement?"
"From experience," answered Nasrudin.
"Yes," said the student. "But how do we attain experience?"
"Bad judgement." 

I should have known, but guess I'm that much closer to happiness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Patient stories

I'm a total sap.  Stories of struggle tug at my heartstrings.  People achieving dreams they've worked their butts off to reach sends tears streaming down my face.  Ask J, he's found me nearly sobbing over the last month.  The Olympics.  Prime sap material.

And then there are certain commercials during the games that are just so well done and touching.  They pull you in to a story and you forget you're watching an ad.  I got hit with those a few times during the off and on bits of the games I actually watched - and every time they were for the same place.

Our hospital.

I was starting this post in my head and referred to it that way.  As a University of Rochester alum who worked at the med center and bought a house nearby, I tend to think of it that way.  I know a bunch of  people who work there now.   It's where multiple family members have wound up in times of crisis.  And where I was raced the night of my episode.

Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester.

Their new ads lead you to a site  - URMC Stories, a highly visual gathering of detailed patient stories that also includes a submission form for more patients to share their stories.

It's where I found the story of a work acquaintance's bout with cancer.  It's where I found the story of Cameron, a kid whose family went through an episode worse than mine that got them to the same place - Long QT and an ICD.

I'm tempted to share my story, though I'll have to check with J, because he's a big part and it impacts him when I tell it.  I also feel a little ... intimidated, I guess ... since there's already a Long QT case and he's a bit more media-worthy as a young kid.

Whether I do or not, I do plan to return to the site and I love that they have it.  Sharing stories is so important to healing and such an awesome way to convey appreciation for those who save lives every day.  Job well done.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Stories for GOOD - a hindsight review

...or, as I'm calling it, a post-mortem.

First off, thanks to all who voted for the Neighborhood Stories idea. I greatly appreciate your support and the feedback that I received in the comments.

Early in the contest, my idea was in the middle of the pack and it pretty much stayed there. I ended up at rank #41 of 82, with 24 votes. I'm not happy with the number of votes that I received, but I also have learned a lot and am using this as a learning experience and springboard to move forward and use other venues to get this project off of the ground.

So, what did I learn from the process?

  1. Stick to the theme of the contest.  This was a local contest.  My idea starts local, but can scale, so I initially tried to sell it as a broad solution.  I think this diluted its power.  This was especially true for the project name - Mine was very generic and I think got lost in the mix amidst some creative names and others that had specific ties to places with stories of their own.
  2. Make the initial content more compelling.  I chose video because I could get more of the story across in it, as I knew I was limited for what I could submit officially for the contest.  J pointed out after the fact that the video insert made the entry look like the posts he specifically ignores on Facebook.  The video did get 72 views - more than I got votes, but many people may not have wanted to take even a few minutes to get the initial point.  Late in the contest Jenny and I returned to an initial sketch idea that I had had, but that didn't get posted.
  3. Amplify with supporting materials outside the contest bounds/ as the vote period progresses.  I did post a couple of posts here that I thought would supplement the contest entry materials, but I think I could have done more.  The video could have been on the blog, instead, and I could have pulled in some starter stories and testimonials to show community support.
  4. Rally more local support early and often.  Midstream I reached out to some media contacts locally and a couple of organizations, but I didn't make a strong enough push.  I also need to think of a creative way to break something seeking support into the mainstream media, as that always seems to happen after the fact here. I could take more advantage of clubs, grassroots orgs, neighborhood merchants associations, and the neighborhoods themselves.
  5. Go grassroots for a local effort.  Late in the game, Jenny and I came up with a gorilla idea that was really fun, but it didn't get fully implemented (ran out of time to post) and I think it could have gone further.  Flyers, stickers, being at big events.  All may have helped.
I'm not done with the idea.  I still would like to start local and then scale it for other locations and scenarios.  I have new ideas on ways to spread and share the stories after they are gathered.  And to get some initial stories out there to kick off the gathering effort and grow interest in the launch event.  This still can be very cool.

Thank you for helping me to learn, for the supportive comments, and for the votes that did come.

Watch for Round 2 in the ROC - before the end of summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Using location to mark a story

My husband, J, is currently reading on storytelling as he works on his Industrial Design thesis. The other day, he told me of an essay on Apache storytelling.

There's a certain type of Apache story that deals with morality lessons. Each of these stories starts and ends with a place name - so envision the story opening and closing with "This happened at White Pine Ridge". The places in the stories are from nearby, ones that the audience - and the intended recipient of the lesson - know well.

By marking the story with a place, it is locked in memory. The story and the place become intertwined, so that whenever someone goes by the place, the story comes to mind.

I had not thought of this when first developing my story idea, at least not consciously, but tagging the stories to the neighborhoods they come from will do more than help people to understand they have common threads across different parts of the city. It will provide an identity for that place, a tie to it. People could get more vested in community efforts that cross neighborhood lines, and then perhaps more stories will be shared and more bonds formed, all categorized by a place.

When my brothers and I were younger, we moved several times. Since then, we've often used the house we were in as a reference point for placing a story in time. J and I also do that with our past apartments. Place as a means to mark story then isn't hugely new, but formalizing it might be, and using it to help people in the community connect could be a whole new adventure.

***Don't forget to VOTE for Neighborhood Stories in the Stories for GOOD contest so that I can bring these connections to Rochester!***

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Neighborhood Stories

I promised more details on Focus #2, connecting people through story, so here it is:

GOOD magazine is running a grant contest called: Stories for GOOD (!) Here's the description:

Stories unite. Stories educate. Stories inspire. GOOD wants to know how you would use storytelling to unite your community and bring people together.

With 2 hours of submission time left, mine is one of 60 ideas vying for the $3,000 grant prize. You can check out my video and contest entry (and vote, if you so please ;) )here.

As I've said before - the truly awesome aspect of stories is their ability to make connections. I thought about what I could do with a grant to make connections here in Rochester - in a concept format that could potentially expand in scale.

It struck me that people from different parts of the city do not always have a way to connect (or see a need to) - that there are biases about people from Pittsford vs the ABCs, Browncroft or the 19th Ward that may keep people from truly hearing their stories and thus that may keep potential connections from forming.

Knowing that story can tear down these walls, I want to gather stories at the neighborhood level. Each neighborhood has plenty of stories of its own that are often trapped in the heads of the neighborhood association members - so I want to create an outlet at the neighborhood level, to paint a portrait of Swillburg or Charlotte...

Through the members of the neighborhood associations, I plan to reach out to people from each area willing to tell a story of their own. Ultimately, a web site may be constructed for submission of stories, for now it will be mainly in-person, perhaps via email.

These stories will be printed next to silhouette portraits of the tellers and displayed in a local studio setting, with an opening on the First Friday circuit of art events and running for a month. People can come and read the stories in a way that does not automatically reveal the identity or neighborhood of the teller. After the stories have a chance to sink in, the answer will be revealed. Tellers and audience will now have the common threads of story as a means to connect and overcome any neighborhood walls.

Along with the exhibit will also be a short run of soft-cover photo books.

The more I think on this, the more I like it. Largely focused on in-person and print narrative for the local scale and budget, I can see how it could grow across various media and cover much larger geographies - it could also focus on particular topics and themes. Working off of ideas spurred by Elif Shafak and Jeff Gomez, we can bring people together based on the common themes their stories share. It's a smaller world each and every day and if we don't do anything, the walls between us could pen us in. Let's knock them down using one of the oldest tools in our arsenal - story.

What do you think? Comment here or on my idea page - and vote if you think it's cool! - A