virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Goggling Welcome to Pine Point

"Welcome to Pine Point", innovative digital storytelling by The Goggles

Welcome to Pine Point, innovative digital storytelling by The Goggles

Much of the innovation driving digital storytelling is still half-baked. Most storytellers are just beginning to fathom the riches of this new frontier, and for many of us it means learning (and inventing) new storytelling techniques to effectively leverage the cross-platform capabilities of digital storytelling.

And yet inspiration is every day more abundant. Recently I discovered a digital story so innovative and compelling that I looped it as soon as it ended. Even though the subject interested me very little (at least at first), I dove in again and again devouring the recipe and savoring the experience.

Welcome to Pine Point by Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons (aka The Goggles) is an interactive, short format documentary about an erased industry town in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It’s incredibly clever, all the more so because it conjures a compelling, captivating narrative experience out of rather grotty 1970s and 1980s miscellanea.

I’ll pass the baton off to Dan Blank (@DanBlank) who already reviewed “Welcome to Pine Point” nimbly on his business blog, We Grow Media back in March 2011. (Yes, I’m late to the Pine Point party!)

The documentary tells the story of this town – through photos, interviews, videos. How it came to be, what it was like to live there, and how it came to its demise. Literally, the town was torn down, and left as a barren wasteland with no signs of its previous existence except for some crumbling pavement. Wiped from the planet.

This film came about when it was discovered that a former town resident, Richard Cloutier, had created a website where he was cataloging the world that was Pine Point. He was collecting and sharing photos, stories and other updates. It is called Pine Point Revisited. (We Grow Media)

Welcome to Pine Point is an illuminating example of digital storytelling’s potential. I take notes each time I wander through its nostalgic messiness. A truly enticing messiness, I should add.

It’s part film, part photo album, and completely fascinating. (Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn)

They’ve made an homage to memory, at once linear and exploratory, unraveling through a poetic collage of writing, image, video, sound, voice and music, all in service of a story. (transom.org)

Despite the rough, hand-animated photo-collages and humble lettering, Welcome to Pine Point achieves sophisticated and haunting effects as it chronicles a small Canadian town that was literally wiped off the map… (Scott McCloud)

Mike Dormuth and Richard Cloutier

Mike Dormuth and Richard Cloutier

But no matter how much Webby-winning awesomeness is packed into Welcome to Pine Point, it would not (and could not) exist but for Richard Cloutier’s Pine Point Revisited. While Cloutier’s Pine Point memorial/tribute is basic — its vintage turn-of-the-century navigation and style emphasize content, not aesthetics — it is a deep, dusty archive. It’s a museum. Or a warehouse. It’s a digital reunion for neighbors, friends and colleagues torn apart by time and chance. It’s a surrogate or a facsimile for a place that no longer exists.

But Pine Point Revisited also offers the inspiration, the skeleton and much of the source material for Welcome to Pine Point. In a sense, the documentary is a remix of Cloutier’s website permitting him to play one of the starring leads, though you don’t fully appreciate this until the end of the video.

While accolades aplenty have rightfully rained upon Shoebridge and Simons for their groundbreaking digital storytelling, Cloutier’s digital storytelling is the underlying source and inspiration for The Goggles’ mashup. While recognizing and celebrating this does not diminish Shoebridge’s and Simons’ accomplishments, it does award Cloutier for his less flashy, but hard earned accomplishment. I tip my hat to all three!

Adirondack Memoir Retreat

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!

Coudal’s Adirondack Memoir Retreat took place in an amazing location, but I’ll let the video images speak for themselves. If you’d like a first hand experience, you can rent or buy this childhood homestead of playwright Robert Sherwood, or—with a little luck—Coudal will host another writers’ retreat before the property is sold. Stay tuned…

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!

Storytelling: From Ira Glass to Benedictine Monks

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.

And then this timely smoke signal from Linda Hollier (@lindahollier).

Six  monks get their Gregorian groove on? That could only mean one thing!

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)

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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.

All the more so when Hollier directed me to Abbot Philips notebook/newsletter yesterday. I’d like to share a few excerpts that rhyme with yesterday’s post about the wonder of storytelling.

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! :-)

Rosslyn Redux: May Update

I’ve been a little more quiet than usual during the last month, and I hope that you’ll forgive the frequent ellipses. I’ve shifted gears to focus on a steady stream of Rosslyn programming over at the Rosslyn Redux blog. This has been a great way to funnel my blogging energy during the revision process…

Sally Lesh & Hyde Gate “One of the unanticipated joys of living at Rosslyn (aka Hyde Gate) has been discovering the property’s legacy… One recent reminder was the first chapter of All My Houses in which octogenarian Sally Lesh chronicles her itinerant life story by way of the many homes in which she has resided… Lesh opens the memoir with her birth on Janurary 19, 1921 in Boston, but the title of her first chapter and the origin of the journey she intends to chronicle is Hyde Gate, Essex, New York…”

Hail Storm & Apple Tree “An ancient and neglected apple tree… For six years I pruned and nourished the crab apple tree back to health… then the clouds erupted in a short but angry tantrum of driving rain, mothball-sized hail and driving wind. When the hail and rain stopped and the fog cleared, the crooked fruit tree had fallen, snapped off at her stem.” (video eulogy)

2011 Lake Champlain Flood Retrospective “Rosslyn boathouse is dry. Lake Champlain water levels are low. Our waterfront weathered winter — what winter there was — and spring without incurring the destructive flooding which tormented us a year ago… But all is not forgotten. Fully half of Rosslyn’s waterfront, maybe more, remains a boulder piled mess. Thousands of pounds of stone rip-rap installed last spring to stabilize NYS Rt. 22 buried two hundred year old cut stone retaining walls.”

Mary Wade’s Rosslyn “Each winter Essex residents celebrate the holidays early during a weekend-long event called Christmas in Essex. It was this tradition which connected me to Mary Wade, a folk artist who lives in Willsboro but runs a seasonal gallery in Essex each summer. She creates painted wooden models, silhouettes and paintings of historic buildings in Essex that are collected by her fans all around the world.”

Rosslyn Unplugged “Yesterday, Thursday, May 15, 2009 was windier than a subway median at rush hour. Lake Champlain wind blasts reached 50 mph. The forecast had threatened gusts up to 90 mph. The rain drizzled off and on all day, but the fellow building the stone wall near the mud room stuck it out and got the job done.”

Just Google it! “I collaborated with John Brookhouse of 1o’Clock Multimedia on this “long winded” but amusing Google Search vignette which was part of Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 at The Depot Theatrein Westport, New York in August 2011. Although I concepted the content and story arc, and even most of the search queries, Brookhouse was the video maestro who morphed my vision into a far more creative story than I could have managed on my own.

Fox & Squirrel Revisited “At the end of April I posted about a fox that was frequenting Rosslyn to grab a quick squirrel breakfast or supper whenever the urge struck him… Although the fox seems to have moved on, his apex predator slot was quickly filled by an always hungry hawk who’s dietary preferences run to dove rather than squirrel…”

Just Google it? “This video is one of several exploratory forays into the Google Search vignette I included in my Redacting Rosslyn v1.0 performance last August at The Depot Theatre in Westport, New York. Blending readings from my Rosslyn Redux manuscript with oral and digital storytelling, the event was a collaborative attempt to animate type, words and documents into interactive narrative.”

Rifle & Eggs “‘Mornin’,’ Wes said as he pulled the pantry door shut behind him and greeted Griffin with a scratch behind the ears. ‘Good morning,’ I called back from the kitchen where I was scrambling eggs. ‘You don’t want me to run that thing on the tennis court, do ya?’ he asked…”

Excavating Rosslyn “‘I look at it as an excavation, if you will,’ says the architect… Pete Lackey of Charles Myer and Partners in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is referring to “taking the long view” on renovation, specifically to reawakening the heart and soul of a building instead of willfully or inadvertently altering it… In our case, understanding Rosslyn involved literally and figuratively excavating the historic home.”

Rosslyn Roundup, May 4 “It’s time… to share everything Rosslyn-related that I didn’t get a chance to post over the last few weeks. Champlain Valley springs are unpredictable and exciting, sometimes arriving early (this year) and other times hiding behind rain, rain, rain (last year)…”

Rosslyn Rattlesnake “Have you ever ever heard of an Eastern massasauga rattlesnake? Or a Sistrurus catenatus? … As unlikely as it may seem, I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes.”

Orchard Rumination “Lately I’ve been reflecting on all the trees I wish I’d planted in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007. We’ve been adding new trees for a year now — a half dozen or so each spring and fall — and yet I can’t help but imagine what might be today if I’d started earlier. Fruit trees ten or twelve feet tall would still be blooming. We would have been harvesting apples and pears and plums and apricots and peaches for a couple of seasons by now…”

Reawakening Rosslyn “‘Rather than trying to coerce the house to do something new, we tried to reawaken it.” In Taking the Long View Paula M. Bodah refers to the renovation of a Victorian house near Boston, Massachusetts in unusually anthropomorphic terms… Despite the unfamiliar reference, Bodah’s terminology is precise, accurate and familiar. In the case of Rosslyn, reawakening is precisely how I describe our renovation process, though I didn’t understand this at the outset.”

In been a prolific blogging stretch at Rosslyn Redux and a meager stretch here. Sorry. Perhaps I’ll do a better job of balancing in the future?

The technology of storytelling

I mutter on and on about storytelling in the digital age, but storyteller Joe Sabia (tumblr/facebook) whips out his iPad and geeky glasses for a waltz with Lothar Meggendorfer. Sabia’s quirky narrative quickly, deftly demonstrates how storytellers have always leveraged innovative technologies to improve their craft.

No doubt Meggendorfer shook up the book world when he launched his storytelling technology, the pop-up book. Bibliophiles, teachers and book printers/publishers/retailers must have ranted and raved. “Three dimensional images? Are you crazy. That’ll be the death of imagination! That’ll be the end of reading…”

But his history-altering technology was a hit. It still is today. And yet we’re still imagining, still reading. Bravo, Lothar!

Sabia’s TEDTalk, “The technology of storytelling” reminds us that technology — from the walls of caves to projected iPads — have long served creative storytellers. Bravo, Joe!

I’m curious what you think of this video. Several commenters on the YouTube video have suggested that Sabia’s performance wasn’t TED caliber. I disagree, but I’m a storytelling pushover obsessed with digital storytelling. What’s your opinion?

Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire

Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire

Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire (image by virtualDavis)

Isn’t digital storytelling just enhanced storytelling? It’s just the newest chapter in humanity’s quest to improve the way we tell stories. We instinctively yearn for better communication, for storytelling innovation. And yet digital books, audio books, multimedia books tend to meet resistance despite their obvious appeal.

New scares old. Old doesn’t quite understand new. Or doesn’t want to…

In “Is It A Book, Is It A Movie…No, It’s Movie-Book!” we get a glimpse at the book world’s awkward response to digitally enhanced storytelling.

Many eBook writers shy away from multimedia publishing, preferring instead to stay with straight text… An eBook that features multimedia is not an eBook, they say. It’s… an app… What IS an eBook with multimedia? Can we continue to call an eBook an eBook knowing that now it may feature multimedia? … What about audio books? … [Or] movie-books… (Technorati Entertainment)

Let’s call it digital storytelling. Or storytelling in the digital age. Maybe we should just call it storytelling, because — no matter how resistant the publishing industry and book critics and schools and libraries may be — the public is embracing (and will continue to embrace) storytelling in all of its innovative new forms.

Let us imagine the first time a storyteller added innovative new technologies to their bag of tricks. Picture the proverbial caveman standing by the bonfire with his family, talking about the hunt from which he’s returned with a week’s food. In telling the story of creeping up on his prey, he describes his cautious steps, following the fierce Bigmacosaurus, slowly, quietly all afternoon. Until afternoon turned into evening. As daddy caveman describes the fall of night he slowly extinguishes the campfire leaving his wife and children sitting in the dark around the glowing embers. They pull closer together, absorbed in the story. Now dad begins to pace around them in the dark as he speaks, so that they are never quite sure where he is, and he begins to breath deeply, hoarsely, imitating the sounds of the Bigmacosaurus. And suddenly he leaps across the embers and pretends to drive his spear into the Bigmacosaurus, just barely illuminated as he writhes on the ground, bathed in the dull red glow of the embers.

The end.

“Time for bed, cave kiddies!” he bellows. But they don’t move. They cling to their mother, scared to death.

So dad adds kindling and blows on the embers, resuscitating the fire. Within a few minutes the interior of the cave is once again illuminated. The children are less afraid, but still too nervous for bed.

“But what if the other Bigmacosauri followed you home?”

“Yes, what if they come and get us tonight while we sleep?”

Dad takes a charred branch from the fire and proceeds to draw a picture on the cave wall. In the crude illustration a hunter with a spear crouches in tall grass beside a herd of Bigmacosauri. He explains to his children that he discovered the heard around mid-day, far away. He draws the sun directly overhead, and adds wavy water to portray the lake located half a day’s journey from the cave. Then he moves down the wall and draws himself in the mountains pursuing a single Bigmacosaurus, the sun much lower to the horizon now. He explains to his children that he successfully split the heard, forcing the biggest Bigmacosaurus to run toward the mountains which lay between their cave and the lake. He draws a herd of stampeding Bigmacosauri running off into the distance where the sun sets on the far side of the lake. His next drawing is of the the hunter right next to the Bigmacosaurus, spear high in the air about to plunge. A crescent moon is high overhead. He explains to his children that he wanted to drive the Bigmacosaurus as close as possible to home so that he could minimize the distance he would need to carry the meat. He explains how hard it was because wild Bigmacosauri are scared of cave men and don’t like to come near them. But daddy cave man succeeded, and now they have plenty of food. But the next time he wants to hunt a Bigmacosaurus, he will have to go all away around the lake to the far side where the sun sets. He draws one last picture, looking across the vast lake at tiny Bigmacosauri no larger than ants speckling the horizon beneath the setting sun.

The children have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, so the parents carry them to their beds and tuck them in.

So far, nothing’s unusual about this, right? Just another evening at the cave.

But when the parents tuck themselves in, the cave man’s wife rolls over to her husband to whisper.

“I don’t know what you thought you were doing tonight, extinguishing the fire, making all those beastly noises, reenacting the hunt, drawing on the walls. Look how much you scared the children.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare them so much. I always tell them stories…”

“I know. Stories are good. But all that other stuff, it’s just, I don’t know. Not right. Can you just stick with storytelling? Just words?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Thank you. Good night.”

“Good night.”

But the next day the cave kiddies beg for a story. “Like last night, daddy. Not the boring old way.”

“Yes, like last night. Pleeease?”

Mother grimaces.

Father looks at mother and shrugs.

Fast forward. YouTube, Audible, Vook, iPad, Storify and SoundCloud blur past. From cave fire to Kindle Fire… Onward!

Digital You

“Like it or not, a digital you is out there.”
Lawrence Joseph

Lawrence Joseph’s latter day truism is sandwiched between layers of post-9/11 offal like a slather of mustard or a thin slice of onion, a piquant but ancillary ingredient trying to mask the repugnant meat of the poem.

Digital display 2

Digital display 2 (Image via Wikipedia)

It fails. The poem “So Where Are We?” (Granta, Issue 116) and most of the other sketches and reflections in Granta’s Ten Years Later, edited byJohn Freeman, are deeply disturbing. But that’s the point, I suppose, looking back on a decade that scrambled and irreversably transformed much of the free world.

And yet Joseph’s assertion about digital redundancy clung to me. The notion of digital clones has become ubiquitous. It needs no explanation. It is a contextualizing, familiar point of reference that justifies the grotesque world conjured in this collection.

Like it or not, there’s a digital you out there. In fact almost every aspect of your life is probably reflected in some computer somewhere. You could say that information, that data, has a life of its own. If you have anything to do with modern society, you are no longer a purely biological, analog being. (New York Times)

I’m not altogether uncomfortable with this idea as the name of my blog plainly suggests, but I am fascinated with the implications of this analog/digital duality. I’ve said before that we’re living through a storytelling renaissance. Though we don’t always see it that way (teachers lament ever shortening attention spans for reading and literature; publishing executives panic as books become ebooks become Vooks become…), the proliferation of digital selves and the near universal acceptance of digital identities suggests a convergence of real world and narrative world. We are becoming our stories. Or vice versa.

The one big idea from the original “Tron” that maintained relevance was that some binary version of you is running around out there in all those ones and zeros, to a certain extent under your control but also, in a profound way, forever beyond your reach. Now we can all have multiple identities all the time: just make another user name, and you’re someone else, right? That conceit is not always accurate… (New York Times)

Are you keeping track of your digital selves? Are they still in your story, or have they defected? I’ve seen a few new faces wandering around in my own stories lately after all.

Storytelling in the Digital Age

Storytelling in the Digital Age. It should have have an acronym, but SDA sounds like a medical device. StoDA?

Or, maybe it’s time to drop the “Digital Age” reference and remember that storytelling, in any age, is storytelling.

No matter what you dub it, it’s a sizzling time to be a storyteller! Powerful new storytelling platforms, tools and communities are being invented every day, empowering storytellers and audiences but simultaneously introducing new challenges. As a writer, storyteller and teacher, I’m a bit obsessed with the evolution of author/audience relationships. Storytelling in the Digital Age is redefining this timeless relationship in exciting and unpredictable ways; empowering raconteurs of all stripes to explore new narrative vernaculars; unshackling indie creators from yesterday’s gatekeepers and referees; and enhancing audiences’ appetites for stories and previously unimaginable story interfaces.

But Storytelling in the Digital Age isn’t all noontime massages and dark chocolate. The proliferation of sexy media tempts creators to swap good narrative craft for snazzy special effects. Critics worry that audiences are becoming lazier, more passive even as increasingly interactive storytelling is possible.

What follows is a digital scrapbook of interesting tidbits about Storytelling in the Digital Age for you to check out. I’ll add and subtract as inspiration (and time) permit. Don’t hesitate to recommend juicy material that I’ve overlooked!

It’s a sizzling time to be a storyteller! New, powerful platforms and tools are invented every day. And storytelling communities are coalescing where and when they never existed before. Here’s a digital scrapbook of interesting tidbits for you to check out.


Kindle Library Lending & Marginalia

Holy mackerel! Amazon is closing the marginalia gap that I’ve fretted over and soapboxed/dreamed about. With “Library Lending for Kindle Books” Amazon is partnering with OverDrive to offer the next big leap in digital books: library-ification of ebooks. But hidden in this evolution is the top item on my wish list, ebook marginalia.

“We’re doing a little something extra here,” Marine continued. “Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library. Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced.” (Kindle Nation Daily)

As Mike Cane opines, “Well, if there was any doubt Amazon has totally vanquished everyone else, there’s no doubt now.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the marginalia is user specific, so the next borrower won’t be able sift through your clever comments. But wouldn’t it be nice/handy if we could give others access to our marginalia? It should be quick, easy and fun to share my marginalia with others!

Digital storytelling must develop the potential for annotation and marginalia that print books permit. And it will be important to devise innovative ways for readers/consumers to share this marginalia. I know this sounds scary, and it poses real challenges (intellectual property rights, etc.), but it is inevitable and good. And it will unleash a viral potential heretofore unfathomable, not to mention the pedagogical implications.

Think, for example, of a teacher who lets students see/use her margin notes, etc. Or imagine the voyeuristic pleasure of observing the notes, doodles and underlining of an admired thinker or writer…

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Storytelling Unplugged

This oral storytelling mashup germinated from “The Monti and The Moth” and was initially intended as a scrapbook of storytelling venues around the United States. It has evolved to include rumination on traditional storytelling versus digital storytelling. Never mind the irony of non-digital oral storytelling being filmed, shared and enjoyed digitally!

Amidst the buzz and clang of digital storytelling, there are still those who practice the simpler, “purer” art of oral storytelling unfettered by connectivity, bandwidth, electricity… Whether by preference or as one of many modes of sharing a narrative Storytelling Unplugged aims to explore the enduring art of oral recounting. Less manifesto; more rumination. (And yes, I realize that the title is a bit of a misnomer since microphones are largely ubiquitous in the venues included below,)


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