Archive for April, 2008

“Houston, we have a problem.”

I’m starting to sort out some ideas about this project. Unfortunately they’re falling into two distinct, different branches-ideas/creativity and the act of storytelling. Somewhere along the line I learned about a psychological study whose hypothesis stated that when presented with options that are equally attractive human beings ability to make a choice will become paralyzed.

I’m paralyzed. 

Initially, I thought about looking into both, but it’s just too far out of my league to try to study two topics whose scope is so massive. Then, I considered putting off one of the branches until I could pick it up again later-but that’s just the same nasty little cycle of making a decision and I couldn’t choose which branch to save for later. So, now I’m wrestling with just not doing anything significant with either one and remaining in a state of mental limbo where I’m reading and not absorbing much of it into long-term memory. Which, in it’s own way is making a decision for the third choice: “give up.”

I’m not there yet but I’ve stalled for the moment. I have a couple things to blog about, and after those I’ll have to make a real decision or figure out a way to handle them both.


Where’s the trash can?

When a journalist reports a story, they are tasked with finding out the facts to be sure the whole story is told. That’s their job-find the story and report it as completely as possible. This is not the goal of a storyteller. A Storyteller has different task. A story does not have to be true as far as the facts go. Stories deal with the truth of human existence. In order to do get at that they cannot give voice to all the facts. If anything, a story requires irrelevant facts to be left out; it requires silence or “white space” for mulling over.

That’s a hard thing to swallow. We want to fill up the silence with noise, the white space with words. Awkward silences are rarely left alone to become comfortable. We work at the speed of light in order to fill every opportunity for reflection and insight to the brim. And so, there’s no reflection or insight but there is an awful lot of useless junk floating around our lives.

At the time, though, all those irrelevant facts all seem so urgent. What determines the line between urgent and important? Relevant, necessary elements of a good story and the useless junk that we should throw away? If the details don’t forward the character or themes, they’re unnecessary. Determining what to throw out is as much or more a priority for a storyteller than trying to tell what happens in a story.

first couple of steps

Last weekend I went with a bunch of women from my local church for a “day of personal retreat”. It worked out pretty well. Personally, I love to be alone. I found out from the women at the retreat that this is not completely normal-especially a woman. I didn’t officially survey them; this is my not-reliable-eavesdropping-didn’t-know-you-were-being-quoted observation and opinion. From what they said, it’s just plain weird to like being alone for an extended time. I gathered from them that a person is supposed to be nervous or anxious, possibly even afriad and, at the very least, bored after an hour or two alone. I grew up alone and I am far more comfortable with myself than I am with most other people. Don’t get me wrong, I like people-they fascinate me. This weekend was cool though because it was like being alone with a bunch of people. Not in an emo-pop song way. It was just the opposite. Anyone could be with others if they chose but there was no pressure to stay with everyone else. It was an easy, relaxed, welcome solitude. Loneliness wasn’t part of the equation at all-It was a great way to blow off a birthday.

I promised myself that this weekend would be the kick-off of my project on storytelling. I still don’t have much more than a hazy idea of where this is headed. The only really clear direction I have is a desire to improve my storytelling skills. But then I start reading about imagination, and metanarrative and “stealing past watchful dragons” (thank you C.S.Lewis!) And there’s so much more coming out of this Story project idea that I want to explore. This started out as a year long project- HA! My mental picture of it now is a hill that, just when you think you’re about to reach the top, you see that it’s really just rolling into more climbing.

Some ideas came out of the reading I did last weekend. I’m posting them each sperately, but this is fair warning that the next few posts hinge together to some extent.

Why does the History Channel know so much?

Sunday night I visited one of our high school small groups. They have been talking about ancient texts that aren’t in the Bible. That night they were watching a History channel show about it, to spark the conversation. One of the stories on the show was about Solomon. Apparently, there’s a text that says Solomon could control demons and that he had such control over them that he commanded them as they built the foundation of the Temple. That text was well known enough, or was traditional enough, to be common knowledge back in Jesus’ day. He makes reference to Solomon’s demon controlling skill. It was really interesting; the guys in the group were engaged and it sparked a bit of excitment about Solomon.

Cool moment by itself but not particularly noteworthy. Yet.

One of the books I’m reading a little at a time is The Arabian Nights. There’s a story in there that’s one of the premier stories Scheherazade told the Sultan-The History of the Fisherman. The fisherman happens to be having a really lousy day at the shore. Every time he throws his nets in he gets a heavy load and is excited that he may have a great haul of fish this time. Each time he’s let down. There’s always something there but it’s the carcass of an ass or a basket full of mud. Never anything of worth. On the fourth try, his last try of the day, just after sunrise he hauls in a big vase with a lead stopper in the top that has a seal on it. He’s interested because it just might have something in it that he can sell to buy some corn for his family. Since it’s sealed, he doesn’t know if what’s there is valuable. He shakes the vase (what all good gift guessers do), and hears nothing. The Fisherman decides he has to pry off the lead stopper and try to dump out whatever is in this vase. The stopper comes out easily and he turns the vase upside down. Still nothing. So, he flips it back over and sets it down. A dark smoke begins to rise out of the vase. So dark that the Fisherman takes a few steps back. The smoke continues to rise and then collects itself into a form- a huge genie twice the size of a giant. The Fisherman is so terrified that he is frozen to the spot. The Genie speaks:

“‘Solomon, Solomon’ cried the Genie, ‘great prophet of Allah, pardon, I beseech thee. I will never more oppose thy will but will obey all thy commands.'”


So, it’s Biblical and Islamic tradition that Solomon was a maestro of demons. Regardless of what the reality was for Solomon, it confirms that this background story/myth/legend was common knowledge and commonly believed to be possible. Although, maybe they would be superstitious enough to half-believe it?

The whole thing leaves me wondering about who Solomon was, how much of this backstory is true, how much is worth retelling, why it would have surfaced at this time and, ultimately, why it is that the History Channel can make us think and wonder about our Bible and our faith, when our churches are struggling to do the same.

mind mapping

There’s this guy- an older English gentleman. Wears a bow tie, and navy blue blazer. The epitome of an English professor at a pub near Cambridge or Oxford. Well, he’s the epitome of what we Americans who have never been to a pub near Cambridge or Oxford think of when we think of an older Enlgish professor at the pub following a lecture. And he’s selling the crap out of this idea he has and probably making millions on it. I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea but it’s definitely a fun idea and it sounds like it might work.

Here’s the gist of it- human minds are not linear so trying to force your mind to work in a linear way is counterproductive. If you’re working to remember something or to generate ideas, then you need to work in an organic way, more Tree-like (think Ent), so you’re not sabotaging yourself. Or, even closer to the mark might be a root system. There’s a tangled ball of roots in the center. More roots radiate out from there nad grow branches off each other. In Mind Mapping, the mapper starts in the center of a paper with an idea and the associations flow outward from that central point, branching off into sections of ideas. Then new association branches come from each prior set of associations.

The best part: it’s all done in color. You get to use Sharpies to draw this thing! Or there’s software, of course. (Yes, I have tried it- iMindMap.) A small group of my students have tried it on BIG sheets of paper and seemed to have some success with it. More of them will be experimenting with it next week.

I’m thinking seriously about using this mind map idea to help me make some progress on the Story project. I’m practicing on another, smaller project for work before I get consumed by fumes from the Sharpies.

And here’s Tony Buzan-the English guy- talking about his MInd Mapping technique:

thanks to Dave 

Reading List

I’m putting up another page in the next few days- a reading list. It should help me stay on track with the books I want to read or reread for the Story project. I should have the beginning of a list up by the end of the week but I’ll keep adding on to it throughout the project.