Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Showing Up

While I'm on vacation/holiday/family visit, I went to a Rally for Science. (The days are warm in Tucson, so we rallied instead of marching.) And it was great!

I haven't attended rallies or other events at home in Canada, for various reasons. For one thing, although I'm a U.S. citizen with family in the country and I and vote, I do intend to live in Canada for-you-know-ever. For another, we live in the country, so rallying with others (or even attending evening functions) is a commitment--planning, leaving early, weather, the usual.

(So maybe they weren't so much reasons as excuses.)

In any case: I went to this. I'm on vacation, so I have no "opportunity cost" calculations (if I spend all morning at THIS event, I can't be working on THAT project). The place was relatively convenient, since my sister was driving, we're mobile and could park far away without consequence, and we agreed that we could leave any time we became uncomfortable. (Sometimes I don't do well in hot weather.)

I hadn't thought I'd missed anything by eschewing protests and rallies. I had.

My big takeaway: showing up shows you that you're not alone. 

It was energizing to see a diverse group of people talking about projects that interest them. About a legacy they wish to leave to children or grandchildren. About solving problems that plague our planet. About contributing, sharing their gifts, working hard.

It was also a fabulous opportunity to listen to others who are more knowledgeable, who are curious, who are unsure of their way forward but remain determined to help others.

So I'm glad I showed up.

Does "showing up" work as well when you "show up" to the page? I suspect so. There, you're also not alone, though you may be the only person in the room. You have as company everything you've read, noticed, heard, felt, thought, perceived, talked through, received, ignored. You sit in infinite possibility--you can continue a project already begun or start something new.

But you have to show up.

And by "you," I mean me.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Words Mean Things

Consider the following labels for ways one can spend time:



Family visit.

Their meanings overlap but are not identical. 

I am currently experiencing at least one of them. By the time I get home, I will have cycled through all three, individually and all together, and no doubt all possible combinations of any two. 

While I'm away, I plan to do loads of nothing, though I am taking notebooks (of course) (yes, plural) and my sister has assured me she will share art supplies. Sort of an R&R Boot Camp. 

Once I go, I'll be happy about it. And also happy once I'm back home. 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Yes! and No!

From time to time, I get great satisfaction from cooking up the carcass of the holiday turkey. Broth! Soup! Good smells! Competence! Thrift! Say YES to actions that expand your skill set!

Today, I'm throwing away something that I think was the carcass of a holiday turkey. It might be something else--I'm really not sure at this point. And at the moment, I just don't have what it takes to investigate, even if it means I'm missing out on all the things in the previous paragraph. Say NO to actions that don't bring you joy!

In light of that particular experience, I was amused to read this essay at Brevity this morning. By Shawna Kenney, the essay's entitled, "Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing." It's awesome.

My favourite excerpt: "Say this writing mantra every day: I am my own mantra." Your mileage may vary, and rightly so--the essay is full of fun.

Sometimes the right answer is "yes," sometimes it's "no," sometimes it's "both," sometimes it's "neither," sometimes it's "maybe," and sometimes it's "salted caramel mocha, no whip."
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Tapestry of a Story

Over the weekend, I sampled the S-Town podcast while I was on the treadmill.

Aaaaaand THERE went the rest of the weekend.

Sure, I ate and drank and went outdoors and got the newspaper and did the Sunday crossword. But I also listened.

Here's some background.

A. It's produced by those who brought the Serial podcast to the world, which in turn was made by experienced folks from This American Life, and focuses on the life of a character in a small town in the southern U.S.

B. It's in a significantly different format (aside from being a story told by voices on the radio): all seven episodes were released at once. It thus lacks the "simultaneous reporting" feature of the two seasons of Serial and other true-crime or investigative journalism podcasts, when attention to the initial story brings forward information that can shed light on or solve the initial mystery.

The fact of A made me, frankly, a little leery. I liked Serial, but I've heard storytellers on This American Life cross the line from an "Oh really? That's interesting; I'm listening" question to a "I'll let you keep talking while I snicker at your ignorance" question. Especially when it comes to people and places in the southern U.S. (I'm not pointing fingers at anyone or any story in particular. Your mileage my vary. I've been told I'm over-sensitive and I may well be so.)

Still, I heard NONE of that in S-Town. Brian Reed, the host, is open about the times he's unfamiliar with cultural issues and the times he's in uncomfortable situations. He does a great job of asking for explanations, of allowing people to speak for themselves, of calling people on it when he thinks their story is self-serving, of running difficult truths past interview subjects--in short, of standing in for a reader. I felt no disrespect, either from him or from the editing process, for the people he talks to or the culture they came from.

Still, I think it's the B element that makes the podcast so compelling--and yes, controversial. Questions have come up regarding the ability for interview subjects to consent, the possibility of identifying people who might like to remain anonymous, the framing of some sexual practices and types of relationships, and other concerns that are discussed and illuminated in this article by Aja Romano on Vox.

But S-Town is worth listening to if only in relation to storytelling. It provides lots of food for thought and discussion:

* The difference between content being released serially (Dickens) vs. all at once (Eliot and most novels). What type of content works well for serial release and how are those individual epidodes structured? What type of content works better for "all at once" release, and how are those episodes structured differently? How do podcasts like Serial create themes that make it easy for a listener to follow, while also allowing room for new information and updates?

* The ability, with an "all at once" release, to craft the total content in a way a writer can't predict when you begin to write the story. In S-Town, themes--identity and belonging, intelligence vs. education, regrets and sacrifices, clockmaking and life directions--all wind and turn and support the individual episodes. Symbols recur: gardens, fertility, growing things that take on a life of their own; mazes, puzzles, the final unknowability of another person. Some of this might have been predictable from Reed's first visit to S-Town, but most couldn't have been.

Neither type of storytelling is superior to another.

Some stories benefit from close attention to each procedure. A needle pulls thread through canvas. One stitch leads to another, some stitches require skipping ahead and filling in backwards, a stitch goes in a slightly different direction, one leads to another. Meanwhile, across a swath of blank canvas, someone else is stitching, too.

Another type of storytelling benefits by being crafted before any of it is exposed. A tapestry can contain repeating elements--gold threads can appear in a sunrise, in the reflection of life from a glass in a bar, in a mirror. A shape (pear) can appear literally, in a fruit bowl, in rising smoke (inverted), in human figures. Et cetera.

It's Wednesday and I'm still scrambling to catch up from the time I spent listening to the podcast instead of finishing paperwork and paying attention to deadlines. But my time in S-Town was worth it. I highly recommend it.