Types of Stories

I’ve been thinking about storytelling lately – to the point that I’m ready to commit to writing a NaNoWriMo novel in November (although who knows how committed I’ll be by the time November actually rolls around). So, I was especially interested when a conversation with an accomplished film-maker turned to story archetypes.

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Another poem from The Writer’s Almanac really struck me a few weeks ago, Durum Wheat by Lisa Martin-Demoor. I find that I am reading these on a regular basis during natural breaks in the day. It doesn’t take long, and you sometimes find great gems, like the closing lines of this poem.

Durum wheat

by Lisa Martin-Demoor

Memory at its finest lacks corroboration
—no photographs, no diaries—
nothing to pin the past on the present with, to make it stick.
Just because you’ve got this idea
of red fields stretching along the tertiary roads
of Saskatchewan, like blazing, contained fires —
just because somewhere in your memory
there’s a rust-coloured pulse
taking its place among canola yellow
and flax fields the huddled blue of morning azures—
just because you want to
doesn’t mean you can
build a home for that old, peculiar ghost.

Someone tells you you’ve imagined it,
that gash across the ripe belly of summer,
and for a year, maybe two, you believe them.
Maybe you did invent it, maybe as you leaned,
to escape the heat, out the Pontiac’s backseat window
you just remembered it that way
because you preferred the better version.

Someone tells you this.
But what can they know of faith?
To ask you to leave behind this insignificance.
This innocence that can’t be proved: what the child saw
of the fields as she passed by, expecting nothing.

You have to go there while there’s still time.
Back to the red flag of that field, blazing in the wind.
While you’re still young enough to remember
a flame planted along a road. While you’re still
seeing more than there is to see.

“Durum wheat” by Lisa Martin-Demoor, from One Crow Sorrow. © Brindle & Glass, 2008.

Sick Day

Ugh. Sick. I’ve taken a sick day from work and spent most of the day in bed. Thank goodness for nasal decongestants. At least it’s been a rainy inside sort of weekend. although Tom has managed a couple of day hikes with our guests while I slept and hid from the weather. Lots of down time means time to gather together a few loose ends over the last week.

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Daemons and Geniuses

There are a lot of amazing TED talks out there at this point, but this has got to be one of my favorites. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love, shares a new perspective on the creative process that goes back to the Greeks and Romans. It’s the idea that the creative energy comes from Somewhere Else – a creative daemon or genius that comes to work with the artist on her projects. She talks about how this idea helps her to approach her writing with a more positive and healthy mental outlook and tells us incredible stories of the creative process of the poet Ruth Stone. It’s only 18 minutes long. Watch it.

Least Crowded Channel

A while back, Tom turned me on to some great interviews on Mixergy.com, and in particular an interview with Tim Ferris – the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. One of the many great ideas that came out of that interview (just go listen to it), was the idea of exploring and using the least crowded channel for communication. Tim figured out that if he wanted someone’s attention, the best way to do that was to use a channel of communication that wasn’t already crowded and noisy. For example, if you want to establish a relationship with an A-list blogger, the easiest way to actually get on their radar is not by sending them an email. These people are getting tons of email. Instead, Tim made a point of attending conferences where there were a more limited number of interactions.

Of course, that doesn’t just apply to people on the A-list, or even the B, C, or D-list. And it also isn’t just that face-to-face meetings are better. If you’re meeting people constantly in real life, but you have a new account on Twitter, maybe that is the best way to approach you. I wonder if that is/was part of the beauty of Twitter – especially at the beginning. There weren’t that many people on it, and so it was an uncrowded channel.

Today, I had my own little Least Crowded Channel experience. I’m online. There’s Twitter and email and Facebook, and a woman today took the time to find my phone number. Huh. It’s not exactly like a face-to-face meeting, but I get fewer phone calls than I get emails, so it worked. She wanted to submit a testimonial to YosemitePark.com about her family’s long-standing relationship with Yosemite to celebrate her parents’ 69th anniversary (they honeymooned in Yosemite in 1940). Today. And she called me at 4:30 as I was starting to think about winding down for the day. But, she had such a sweet and beautiful story, that I couldn’t resist. If she’d sent me an email – I may have skimmed it before I left. Maybe. But I’m sure I would not have felt as compelled to stay a little late to put her testimonial up today – much less give it front-page billing.


Other notes:

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“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

-Friedrich Froebel, the man who invented the concept of kindergarten with the understanding that activity and play were an essential part of early learning.

Play courtesy Strocchi on Flicker
Play courtesy Strocchi on Flicker

Today is Friedrich Forebel’s birthday, and I guess this quote struck me because the benefit and importance of playing has cropped up repeatedly in the last week or so, and has become my new fixation du jour.

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Travel Notes

We’ve arrived safe and sound in Stowe, and have been spending a relaxing morning with family. The trip went very smoothly, no delays and no surprises – except that the San Francisco to Chicago flight got in about 20 minutes early.

The Fresno Airport has started putting their Giant Sequoia displays in. The California tree replica is already in place, and just needs some patching to get the joints together.

On the airplane from SF to Chicago I was seated next to a guy who was watching old episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and giggling so hard that it made the bench shake.

I spent most of the trip reading from an old book of classic short stories that was published in 1941. There are some great stories in that book, and so far my favorite has got to be the one called “A Municipal Report” by O. Henry, the penname for William Sydney Porter. Not only is it a great story with compelling characters, as many of the stories in this book are, but the story is just so tight – all the elements circling back around in importance in the end. In the story the narrator stops in Nashville to engage a writer for a literary magazine. He meets Uncle Caesar, the clever, and kingly old black man that drives the coach and Major Caswell, the boisterous drunk, and finally the author herself Azalea Adair, the wise long-suffering writer and learns of the relationships between the three. It’s the kind of story that I could really see the benefit of going back to study to see how the whole thing is put together. Will definitely be checking out more of his short stories.

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson is the next book on the list for Book Club, and I finished it during a wonderfully decadent Monday. Sometimes the best thing to do with a day off is lie around inside reading, and I took advantage of some time off to do just that. I had been really excited to read another book by Bill Bryson, because, lets face it, a writer that is able to make a story about failing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail really fascinating, is an incredibly talented writer.

Bryson did a great job of bringing the 50s to life for someone who had never experienced it – a time of great optimism and wonder, and also a time of great fear and suspicion. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed to find out that the book was so much about the “Life and Times” – and so little about the “Thunderbolt Kid”. I’d expected more childish tales of fanciful and heroic deeds. But when the Thunderbolt Kid persona was mentioned, it was mostly just in passing – exercising some minor revenge by using his amazing powers of ThunderVision. Bryson stayed mostly focused on things that actually happened, either to him or in the world at large. Which is not to say that I didn’t laugh out loud at some of the things that he describes. The book is similar to the tone and style of A Walk in the Woods, and I’m not sure where I got my weird expectations from, but there they are. It was a more serious book than I imagined.

One Sentence Journal

Sometimes, change comes in small packages. A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step – and all that. Another little gem from The Happiness Project author, Gretchen Rubin – the idea of a One-Sentence Journal. Keeping a journal, or a blog, sometimes seems like it would take too much energy, but Gretchen came up with the idea of just doing one sentence each day. That’s not too much – a single sentence. And then, if you feel it, when you sit down to write, you may find that you have two, three or four sentences in there just waiting to come out. If not, at least you made the beginning.

There was a writer for Runner’s World, many years ago, who suggested a similar strategy for running workouts. He would force himself to run the first mile – and then if he wasn’t feeling it that day, he would feel content with just calling it a day. But there ended up being many days, when the hardest part was getting started, and convincing himself to take the first few steps led to a productive and rewarding run.

I wonder what the equivalent of a One Sentence Journal is for goal-setting, weight loss/fitness, playing the piano, drawing, or any other thing that I aspire to do.