Mary Beth Coudal is hosting a 3-day memoir writing retreat from October 25 to 28 at Skenewood, an historic Georgian manor house in Westport, New York. Participants in Coudal’s Adirondack Memoir Retreat will complete a publishable story from their lives, discover the next steps in their memoir process, and connect with a community of memoir writers to share and support their journey. (Essex on Lake Champlain)
Hats off (and a deep, balance-testing bow) to Mary Beth Coudal for organizing and hosting an inspirational long-weekend on Lake Champlain for a group of inspiring memoirists. I was fortunate to lead a pair of workshops with Coudal and to present on the importance of storytelling in the digital age. But my favorite part of the weekend was connecting with great storytellers forging new paths in this wild and wooly world of publishing. Readers, you are in for a treat once these stories are ready for you!
Although I was only able to participate in the first day and a half due to conflicts, I spoke with many of the writers on their last night and they offered glowing reviews. I wish I’d been able to attend the final reading!
At its best life rhymes. Like yesterday. While tuning up for a pair of Storytelling in the Digital Age workshops, two rhymes tumbled out of the interwebs and landed at my feet. More accurately, kindred souls reached across space and time to help me prepare for my storytelling workshops.
Yesterday I gushed about the wonder of storytelling, courtesy of Bob Davidson and Ira Glass. Though I’ve never met either of them in the conventional handshake “Let’s have coffee” manner, I consider them friends, inspirations, mentors. I might miss either of them in passing on the street, but I know Ira Glass’ storytelling voice, cadence and delivery instantly. And Davidson, though a newer “acquaintance” is familiar too. We share the same penchant and respect for wonder, as if our inner compasses orients to W instead of magnetic north.
A group of six monks stop by Studio 1A, proving that they don’t just spend their time reading and praying. They perform the song “Alleluia Lustus Germinabit” off of their new album, “Monks in the Desert.” (NBCNews.com)
Aside from the unlikely venue, it was the most welcome of surprises to see (and hear) Abbot Philip and Brother Christian, Brother Caedmon, Prior Joseph Gabriel, Brother Pierre and Brother Francis chanting on the Today Show. I think the chant is actually “Alleluia Justus Germinabit” which the Abbot translates in the video as “The Just will Flourish”.
Although I’ve returned from Christ in the Desert with a stash of CDs after each visit, hearing the monks chanting on national television—and receiving the heads-up from a friend who knows my connection to the monastery—resonated deeply.
In New York, one of the insights that came to me one morning was the absolutely necessity of knowing how to be still inside oneself and to be aware of God’s presence. Life can become so very hectic and full of movement that we can forget what it is to be still and have nothing to do except to be still. Wherever we are and in whatever situation, we can move to this inner space of peace and quiet and refreshment. It takes a discipline to be able to do this… I also begin to consciously relax my whole body. I do this by being aware that I want to do nothing other than relax and still be alert… (Abbot’s Notebook)
The singing underneath. Storytelling springs from silence. This is more important than ever amidst the digital din. And good stories are likewise all the more powerful when they take us by the hand and lead us away from the digital din. Even when they leverage digital storytelling tools to connect with their audience.
Last but not least, I’d like to close by asking you to consider the monks’ exemplary storytelling. Despite the irony of monastics deploying effective transmedia storytelling, the Christ in the Desert monks are master storytellers. Even Ira Glass might be able to learn a thing or two! :-)
A week ago Bob Davidson (@bob_davidson) asked, “What makes good story?” on my new favorite blog, rednow. Davidson is the creative producer for Rule29 and co-founder of rednow, where the art of wonder is practiced, romanced and encouraged.
Wonder makes good story. And, like Davidson, I’m happy to reward storytelling MVP status to Ira Glass and This American Life. Though I’m not certain I could have teased out the reason(s) why… Not so simply. Nor so elegantly.
I decided to… listen to the entire collection of This American Life… [So far I] have listened to over 250 episodes. I’ve subsequently determined the TAL team are arguably the best storytellers in the business today. Primarily, because they get this:
Great storytellers are made by great listeners. Great listeners understand how to ask and identify the right question. The right questions beckons the story.
And while this is the basic framework of all great storytelling, the real brilliance of the TAL team and what arguably sets them apart is their ability to unpack a narrative in its purest form – a focus on the sequence of actions, or the “anecdote”, as Ira Glass deems it… the audience has no other choice but to begin visualizing the narrative… a space for wonder is created. (rednow)
Over the next few days I’ll be talking to two different groups about Storytelling in the Digital Age, a familiar (and favorite) topic explored with memoir writers on Friday and artists on Saturday. I have high hopes for both workshops, especially now that I can cite Davidson’s post to help incubate reflection on what makes good storytelling.
Ira Glass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I couldn’t agree more with his first assertion that great storytellers are first and foremost great listeners, but I think it’s even more fundamental than identifying the right question. Before you can identify the right question, you have to quiet your own voices enough to hear the singing underneath. Instead of imposing your story/ies, you need to open up, to become receptive and unjudging. To listen, I mean really listen, you have to be curious. To listen deeply, you have to suspend your own assumptions and convictions.
Questions help, and I agree that they’ll help beckon the stories, but even before you start to identify and ask questions you need to listen with patience and curiosity.
Above all, I tip my hat to Davidson for this: unpack a narrative in its purest form. Period. If only it were as easily executed as repeated!