ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Essex Family Transforms Tragedy

When Louis Comeau headed into work April 8, 2003, he had no idea his life was about to take a tragic turn. As the accomplished attorney rounded a bend on Route 22, a large block of ice flew off a passing truck and slammed into his car. He didn’t have time to react. “It went through the windshield and shattered his skull,” Comeau’s wife, Jani Spurgeon, recalled… (Press-Republican)

This was one of the stories that my wife and I learned early on after arriving in Essex. Even before meeting Mr. Comeau I heard the story from others. I also heard how the community had pulled together to support the family during the darkest weeks after the accident. I was impressed with the depth of empathy among neighbors, the sense of responsibility, the sense of extended family. I remembered the small, tight-knit community where I had spent four years of boarding school.

I’ve only glimpsed faint shades of this since, while teaching at Santa Fe Preparatory School in New Mexico, for example. Living in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome I belonged to looser, more fluid and transient communities. Perhaps it was the places I lived or the people I associated with. Perhaps it was me, my age, my preference. But the idea of community had grown abstract and peripheral for me.

I met Mr. Comeau in person several months after we started renovating a house in Essex. At first we simply exchanged casual greetings passing on the street or when he walked his dog past our front porch. And then one summer afternoon our neighbor invited me up on to her front porch for a cool beer and to get to know Mr. Comeau. He was smiling. He’s always smiling. He told me that he had known my father, that they had overlapped as lawyers a couple of decades prior. He entertained us with anecdotes. He was charming and complimentary. He laughed. We all laughed. It was easy to understand the community’s embrace when his luck faltered in 2003. It was easy to accept that I wanted to be a part of this community.

Reading the article, “Family pushes for proposed snow-removal law“, this morning reminded me that support and nurturing are only one part of a tight-knit community. Maybe they are the easy part. It’s human to reach out and help those we know personally, those we care about. But it’s also easy to stop there, to nourish our immediate community and stop there.

Almost eight years after Mr. Comeau’s life-altering accident, his wife, Jani Spurgeon is transforming his tragedy into a common good. This is more than a close-to-home illustration of civic responsibility. Ms. Spurgeon is transcending loss and hurt and suffering in an effort to help others far beyond Essex, far beyond the community who reached out to her. She is distilling value from devastation. And she is inspiring all of us in the process!

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The Monti and The Moth

The Monti is my kind of place. Well, almost. They’re all about live storytelling and they’re all about community. So why almost? Because they aren’t a short walk away. They aren’t even in my community…

The Monti is an organization that invites people from the community to tell personal stories without the use of notes.  It’s just simple storytelling.  Each month, events are held around the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area and as far away as Greensboro.  The goal is to create an intimate, open, and fun atmosphere where people can relate their personal experiences to one another through narrative… by inviting interesting people with amazing stories that amuse and compel.

And for two and a half years they’ve been selling out their shows. In fact, they’ve grown so popular that they’ve launched The Monti StorySLAM during which audience members are invited to tell 5 minute stories on a specific theme.

Each night promises an unexpected and refreshing night of provocative entertainment.

This sounds like The Moth, another storytelling institution that intrigues me. I discovered both via NPR and have wiled away way too much time on their websites plotting participation… and imitation!

The Moth… is an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling… The Moth has presented more than three thousand stories, told live and without notes, by people from all walks of life to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Each show features simple, old-fashioned storytelling on thoroughly modern themes by wildly divergent raconteurs who develop and shape their stories with The Moth’s directors.

I believe that storytelling is the glue of community. No, not just the glue. Storytelling is the lubrication of community. No, not just that either. Glue and lube? And lately I’ve been wondering if Essex, if the Champlain Valley is ready to plunge into our collective narratives. I believe (and hope) so!

Update: I’ve created a related oral storytelling mashup called Storytelling Unplugged for further information, and I’ve received a few notable additions from @TheMonti that I’d like to pass along (first four), and in the process of exploring these, I’ve stumbled on to some others. What am I missing? Please contact me via Twitter (@virtualDavis) or use the contact form on the the virtualDavis website. Thanks!

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Storytelling Is Just the Beginning

Talk about the future of journalism often takes on a victim-istic tenor. [But] there’s poetic sensibility in his [David Schlesinger’s] words:

Knowing the story is not enough. Telling the story is only the beginning. The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.

[…] Along this line, he clearly sees Reuters embracing social media:

What is great about 2010 is that technology has created a completely new concept of community. And it has given that community new powers to inform and connect.

[…] Schlesinger goes on to say the Reuters model will combine the best of both worlds, “the professionalism of the journalist and the power of the community.” Underpinning the Reuters approach, storytelling remains a core tenant as Schlesinger shares:

If we have learned anything from these past two years, it has been that pure facts are not enough. Pure facts don’t tell enough of the story; pure facts won’t earn their way… We’ve been drowning in facts, and that deluge continues to threaten.

[…] What Schlesinger has written is more than an insider’s look at Reuters adjusting to a digital world that puts the consumer in charge.It’s a manifesto for news organizations around the world.(Ishmael’s Corner)

Lou Hoffman’s post about the merits of storytelling communities (ie. nexus of conversations provoked by a story) is a thoughtful and refreshing counterpoint to the woe-is-me grumbling we hear so much lately.

He is reacting to David Schlesinger’s post, “Changing Journalism; Changing Reuters”, and I’ve excerpted some of the most compelling thoughts from both of them above. (Note: I’ve condenced their paragraphs to simplify the layout.)

This notion that the future of journalism — and to a large degree, storytelling, in general — lies in sharing, interaction and community is thrilling. And it’s totally accurate. One-way information is dying. Journalism and storytelling will become more democratic in the process, allowing a much broader conversation to replace the top-down approach that has long prevailed. Citizen participation. Citizen journalism. Open source journalism! It’s exciting. And it poses all sorts of new challenges. Fact checking, for example. And curatorship. As more and more content is generated and aggregated from increasingly diverse sources, it will become more and more inportant to sort, organize and filter the flow if information. This challenge of curatorship will be one of the critical areas of innovation over the next decade.

And last but not least, Schlesinger’s comment about the limitations of facts, reminded me of that old story about two beautiful young maidens, Truth and Story… Let’s see if I can find it!

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A Little Peace

“Peace is most likely to happen when we are able to drop our notions of defending our own, separate ‘selves’ and can release into trusting the interconnected nature of life.” (Integral Buddha)

Letting go. Laying aside our egos and self interests and defences. Trusting is of course the most difficult part for many of us. Fear. Experience. Caution. Stand in the way. But going deeper, a memory of the connectedness, of the shared humanity. Part of all that. A different sort of trust. But the wariness still tickles my sensitive underbelly…

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