Tag Archives: Storytelling

The blog was process, the book was conclusion

One smart friend who has read both [blog and book] said she thought the blog was process, the book was conclusion. The ideas in the book are presented in a more distilled, thoughtful way, and the book framework allows me to tell longer stories and explain more complicated ideas. I’m able to show how different ideas fit together, which can be tough to do in one blog post. The book goes deeper.

Gretchen Rubin

Sharing Stories

People I know who don’t read my blog often ask me what it’s about, and why do I blog. But since you’re here, you likely already have a good understanding of the answer to those two questions. What it really comes down to is that blogging allows me to observe the human experience — in ways that I will never experience personally. There is simply no way that I can experience everything in my life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to soak it up and explore it a bit anyhow. And I think that’s why so many bloggers are avid blog readers. It’s all about sharing stories. Giving stories a voice.

Julie Harrison

Regardless of what story you believe

Personality is not who you think you are, it’s who you are. Some people think by definition that we are the experts on our personality because we get to write the story, but personality is not the story – it’s the reality. So, you do get to write your own story about how you think you are, and what you tell people about yourself, but there still is reality out there, and, guess what? Other people are going to see the reality, regardless of what story you believe.

Simine Vazire

Fragments of Things

I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could. And I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it.

—Georgia O’Keeffe
in Georgia O’Keeffe (1976)

Subjective Truth

No matter how much we want it to be, no story, no story, can be rock-solid “true,” in the sense that it can relate events in the only possible way those events can be related. There’s always another way to look at things. There’s always another perspective.

By freeing ourselves from the belief that what we’re reading “happened just this way,” we free ourselves to see that every story is telling us “a truth” instead of “the truth.” We free ourselves to realize that objective truth may be impossible to find but that subjective truth is just as valuable.

Mark Blankenship

No one really cares about your beaten-down, introspective, whiney, sensitive … little guy with a problem

The start of a story requires three elements which begin with the letter “P.” Give me a Person in a Place with an intriguing Problem, as soon as you can, and I’m in.  Until these three elements are clearly in place, your story will stumble around going nowhere.  Though even then, you don’t really have a story.  Only when you add the fourth “P”—a Plan—does your story begin to take shape.

Why?  Because no one really cares about your beaten-down, introspective, whiney, sensitive—albeit fully drawn, provocative, nuanced, and eccentric—little guy with a problem until we find out what the guy plans to do about it.

Still, even at this point—often three or four chapters into the book—you have no story.  Not yet.  What we, as readers, need now is to see the character put the Plan into action, i.e., to launch the Quest. Then, and only then, do you have the primordial stew of a story.

John H. Ritter

A circle that returns on itself

In the non-Aboriginal tradition, at least until recently, the purpose of historical study has often been the analysis of particular events in an effort to establish what ‘really’ happened as a matter of objective historical truth or, more modestly, to marshal facts in support of a particular interpretation of past events.

While interpretations may vary with the historian, the goal has been to come up with an account that best describes all the events under study. Moreover, underlying the western humanist intellectual tradition in the writing of history is a focus on human beings as the centrepiece of history, including the notion of the march of progress and the inevitability of societal evolution. This historical tradition is also secular and distinguishes what is scientific from what is religious or spiritual, on the assumption that these are two different and separable aspects of the human experience.

The Aboriginal tradition in the recording of history is neither linear nor steeped in the same notions of social progress and evolution. Nor is it usually human-centred in the same way as the western scientific tradition, for it does not assume that human beings are anything more than one — and not necessarily the most important — element of the natural order of the universe. Moreover, the Aboriginal historical tradition is an oral one, involving legends, stories and accounts handed down through the generations in oral form. It is less focused on establishing objective truth and assumes that the teller of the story is so much a part of the event being described that it would be arrogant to presume to classify or categorize the event exactly or for all time.

In the Aboriginal tradition the purpose of repeating oral accounts from the past is broader than the role of written history in western societies. It may be to educate the listener, to communicate aspects of culture, to socialize people into a cultural tradition, or to validate the claims of a particular family to authority and prestige. Those who hear the oral accounts draw their own conclusions from what they have heard, and they do so in the particular context (time, place and situation) of the telling. Thus the meaning to be drawn from an oral account depends on who is telling it, the circumstances in which the account is told, and the interpretation the listener gives to what has been heard.

Oral accounts of the past include a good deal of subjective experience. They are not simply a detached recounting of factual events but, rather, are “facts enmeshed in the stories of a lifetime”. They are also likely to be rooted in particular locations, making reference to particular families and communities. This contributes to a sense that there are many histories, each characterized in part by how a people see themselves, how they define their identity in relation to their environment, and how they express their uniqueness as a people.

Unlike the western scientific tradition, which creates a sense of distance in time between the listener or reader and the events being described, the tendency of Aboriginal perspectives is to create a sense of immediacy by encouraging listeners to imagine that they are participating in the past event being recounted. Ideas about how the universe was created offer a particularly compelling example of differences in approach to interpreting the past. In the western intellectual tradition, the origin of the world, whether in an act of creation or a cosmic big bang, is something that occurred once and for all in a far distant past remote from the present except in a religious or scientific sense. In Aboriginal historical traditions, the
particular creation story of each people, although it finds its origins in the past, also, and more importantly, speaks to the present. It invites listeners to participate in the cycle of creation through their understanding that, as parts of a world that is born, dies and is reborn in the observable cycle of days and seasons, they too are part of a natural order, members of a distinct people who share in that order.

As the example of creation stories has begun to suggest, conceptions of history or visions of the future can be expressed in different ways, which in turn involve different ways of representing time. The first portrays time as an arrow moving from the past into the unknown future; this is a linear perspective. The second portrays time as a circle that returns on itself and repeats fundamental aspects of experience. This is a cyclic point of view.

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996)
via Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (SCC 1997)

5: Legends of Vancouver

Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Legends of Vancouver

Pauline Johnson was from Six Nations in Ontario (her father was a Mohawk chief). After a career performing her poetry on stage, she ended up in Vancouver. The legends (with one exception) are Squamish and were told to Johnson by Chief Joe Capilano (also with a few exceptions). Most of the stories consist of a present-day (her time, of course; about 100 years ago now) framework where Johnson sets herself up as a listener, followed by the legend. At the end of legend, she brings the reader back to the present with a closing thought.

Johnson was clearly a gifted storyteller, and I think a good part of the reason people continue to find the stories so compelling is the way she tells them. However, I think the way the stories came about and are credited brings up some interesting questions/issues with respect to written vs. oral storytelling, as well as the weight we place on the importance of the book. None of the oral storytellers are given co-author credit, and while Joe Capilano is at least mentioned by name, some of the stories are told to Johnson by a woman (or women? it’s unclear whether it’s the same woman or different ones) who isn’t identified. Of note:

  • The legends included in the book are actually just a few of the ones Johnson wrote up; many more were published in newspapers/magazines. One early version of the book includes three additional legends.
  • In some cases, the person who Johnson attributes the story to changes from the original periodical version to the one published in the book.
  • The book was compiled by a group of Vancouverites in order to raise money to provide for Johnson when she was dying. It’s unclear who chose the stories or what order they would appear in.

Johnson is always respectful of the oral storytellers, and, of course, legends are meant to be shaped and adapted with each re-telling, but it does make you think about what responsibilities a person has when they put someone else’s story into print. Print solidifies things, especially when it’s in book form. We like books in part because they’re finite and it’s possible to get a grasp on the whole thing. Thus, book versions end up being thought of as definitive, which may or may not be true, and may or may not be a good thing.

(I think this can be related to the blog to book trend. It’s hard/impossible to to feel like you’ve finished reading a blog in its entirety; even if you’re an avid long-term reader, it’s unlikely you read every comment or follow every link.  Hence, the book. The book cuts out all the tangents and turns the blog into a comfortable narrative that allows the reader the satisfaction of reaching the last page and closing the book.)

Links:

2: Ricochet River

Ricochet River by Robin Cody

Ricochet River

I heard about this book when there was a controversy over the author rewriting certain passages so the book banning crowd would stop trying to prevent its use in schools. I wrote about it here. Now, I can understand the author wanting his book to be picked up for school reading lists. This is a first novel with regional appeal published by a small press in the early ’90s. If schools hadn’t taken an interest in it, it would almost certainly be long out of print.

I, of course, read the original version, not the revised version. Every summer we go to Penticton where there is this great used bookstore called The Book Shop. So many books. You should go! Anyhow, last summer I ran across this book at The Book Shop and I had to get it, if only to see what was so controversial about it.

Sigh. Yeah, I don’t know. People are whack when it comes to sex. There are two sexual passages in this 266-page book. Both are appropriate to the context of this story and these characters and would be perfectly fine for high schoolers to read. As for the drinking & driving and language choices—it’s a period piece. I think all too often people forget how things were in the not-so-distant past. Would be better to use these things as points for discussion rather than getting all revisionist and sweeping them under the carpet.

This is a coming-of-age story set in 1959-60 in a small Oregon town. I liked the West Coasty-ness of it; the setting was very authentic. The narrative voice was engaging. Storytelling (i.e. the characters telling stories to each other) plays a significant role in the book and this is, I think, what sets this story apart from others in its genre, but at times this device bogs the story down. The story itself is a quiet one with no dramatic plot developments—except for the ending. On the one hand, an ending in this vein was inevitable. On the other hand, what happens is perhaps a bit too surreal. But perhaps not. I think the author was going for a sort of magical realism thing, tying the events of the story to the myths & legends of the storytelling. If there had been a tighter linking between the two streams all along it would have both evened out the pacing and made the ending a better fit. Nevertheless, it was a pretty good first novel.