virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Hannah Brencher on Letters, Strangers and Love

“I posed a kind of crazy promise to the Internet: that if you asked me for a hand-written letter, I would write you one, no questions asked.” ~ Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher‘s (@hannahbrencher) phrasing, and the idea it sums up, struck home. First, there’s that opening phrase.  The Internet for those who’ve grown up with it is an entity. A being. Like the universe. Or a god.

More Love LettersFor me — and I suspect for many others too who watched the Internet’s birth, that first spank on its still wet posterior, that first gasp of air followed by a global yowl — the Internet is a communication infrastructure, a virtual web connecting beings and entities. But I find Brechner’s notion immensely appealing. And accurate. The idea that I could make a promise to the Internet might have seemed trite in another time, another context. But Brencher’s story and her promise kept, More Love Letters, is proof positive that the Internet is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. The Internet is a being. A universe. A god.

And then there’s the tribute to handwritten correspondence.

Many of you who know me personally (and even some who don’t) have received a handwritten note from me at one time or another. Usually written with green ink and barely legible handwriting. For no reason other than that I love green ink, and — though my penmanship is poor — I wanted to share some words with you. Smudges and all. Don’t get me wrong, voice mail and email and text messages and social media updates and pokes and tweets all have their important roles to play, but increasingly rare handwritten notes are special. They are real and enduring and intimate in a way that digital notes are not.

Last but not least there’s that exciting gulp feeling you get when you watch Brencher’s TED Talk. Maybe even a joyful tear. And it’s not because she kept her promise or the Internet’s a god or you’re getting sepia-toned nostalgic about paper and ink. It’s a gulp because what she’s built is good. Really good. So good that it’s gone viral and created a global tribe of benevolent love letter planters.

I tip my proverbial hat (or fountain pen?) to friend and frequent inspiration, Athena Roth (Pinterest) who shared Hannah Brencher’s “Love letters to strangers” with me. Roth’s song and aesthetic sensibilities are gifts not altogether unlike Brencher’s love letters.

Victor Kossakovsky’s Lullaby

Dare to start your day with a lullaby? Good luck!

Victor Kossakovsky’s poignant three minute documentary about homelessness strips away all but the most most critical narrative elements: several simple shots of vagrants sleeping in a bank’s ATM foyer, three brief scenarios with ATM clients, ambient urban street noise, and an evocative “lullaby” which simultaneously soothes and mocks. The result is subtle, disturbing and captivating. I’ve already watched Lullaby twice this morning. I’ll watch it again.

Victor Kossakovsky

Victor Kossakovsky (Photo: Bert Kommerij)

The film poem’s location (Berlin) and music (sung by Nadezhda Utkina, an ethnic Udmurt) are foreign, but the theme is universal. Unlike the preachy, precious and shock mongering poverty diatribes with which we’re familiar,  Kossakovsky’s Lullaby offers a more complex snapshot of the problem.

I biked around my neighborhood and started filming. In one of my favorite moments, a woman opened a door leading to the A.T.M.’s and, when she realized that there were people sleeping inside, slowly closed the door and tiptoed away, saying, “Sleep well!” ~ Victor Kossakovsky (NYTimes.com)

Seen through the eye of the camera we don’t initially know why the woman stalls. I imagined her deliberating, calculating the risks of entering. Is she in danger? Will she be mugged? And then she turns slowly, quietly and leaves without using the ATM out of deference to the sleeping homeless people.

Victor Kossakovsky’s nuanced approach, enhanced by coupling a gritty urban scenario with a tender and innocent lullaby, leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. No tidy takeaway here. The mark of a gifted storyteller.

Victor Kossakovsky Update:

Returning to the NYTimes.com post I was surprised to discover no comments about Lullaby. I’ve primed the pump with the hope that it will prompt deserved praise for Victor Kossakovsky and perhaps prompt some debate among viewers less smitten. My comments won’t appear until moderated, so here’s what I wrote:

Subtle, poignant and haunting. I’ve watched the video twice driven by the same instinct that often compels me to read a poem twice, to perpetuate the experience and to swim deeper into its message. Victor Kossakovsky’s “Lullaby” offers a fresh (and overdue) look at the complexity of homelessness without preaching or reducing his message to a precious Helvetica slogan. Bravo!

Perhaps you’d like to share your reaction with Kossakovsky too? Let’s jumpstart the discourse!

Power of Story

About a month and a half ago I received a wonderful gift from my friend and research/editorial/blogging assistant, Katie Shepard. Before the hubbub of the 84th Academy Awards; before this fourteen minute long cartoon about the enchanting power of stories, reading and books won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film; before I would have comfortably volunteered that I loved watching an animated film, Katie sent me a microscopic email.

I think you would like this video… http://vimeo.com/35404908

Since then the video has become password protected at Vimeo, but The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is viewable on YouTube and you can download the short film at Moonbot Studios website.

If you’re a “book cynic”, then I join Bookigee in challenging you not to be inspired by Morris Lessmore. This bibliophiles fantasy was co-directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg in Shreveport, Louisiana. Here’s what they have to say about this tidy little masterpiece.

Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. (MorrisLessmore.com)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a timely reminder wrapped up in a “poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.” Thanks, Katie, for bringing it to my attention (and for scooping the Academy Awards!) Everyone else, please accept my apologies for failing to share Mr. Lessmore sooner.

No Pants Subway Ride

On Sunday, January 8th, 2012 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in 59 cities in 27 countries around the world. In New York, our 11th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had nearly 4,000 participants, spread out over six meeting points and ten subway lines… If you’re unfamiliar with this event, you might want to first read our history of The No Pants Subway Ride. Since this is the 11th year we’ve done this, there’s not too much to report other than it was another awesome time. (Improv Everywhere)

You’ve gotta love Improv Everywhere and their annual No Pants Subway Ride. Unless you’re too stiff to drop your trousers in public without blinking an eye. Unless you’re too uptight to smile and laugh when the fellow next to you drops his trousers in public without blinking and eye. Spontaneous acts of generosity and hilarity resuscitate levity which is darned near as important as nourishment, respiration and sleep. So say I.

Can you recommend another upbeat improv video or post?

If you’re in need of a wee bit more shake-of-the-blues improv happiness, check out “Black Tie Beach“, “Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer? and/or “Welcome To Heathrow Airport“. Bet your day’s going better already!

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?

Dream. Share. Live.

My friend Mia Starr (@fourdaysaweek) just shared her dream with me. Via Twitter. Via a comment on her blog. Via this video. Via the Holstee Manifesto which has inspired many, been shared by hundreds of thousands and will make you happier, healthier, wiser, sexier, funnier, calmer (and did I mention happier?) if you take a few seconds to read it. And then reread it. And then smile. Out loud. With friends.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, STOP. They will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over analyzing. All emotions are beautiful. When you eat, appreciate life is simple. Every last bite. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people. We are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is. And share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often. Getting lost will help you find yourself. SOME OPPORTUNITIES ONLY COME ONCE, SEIZE THEM. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating. LIFE IS SHORT. LIVE YOUR DREAM. AND SHARE YOUR PASSION. (FOUR DAYS A WEEK)

Did you reread it? I did. Did you feel like you could have written those words? I did. Maybe that’s why it’s so compelling. Familiar. As if we’ve been reminded of something that we already knew but maybe had forgotten about. Temporarily misplaced. Recovered. What a way to start the new year!

I couldn’t resist adding a comment. A goofy-but-sincere comment…

I dream. Aloud. Every day. Because I can. And because I can’t help it. I dream of telling stories and discovering new stories, of hearing the singing underneath, of gardening more and shopping less, of flanerie and adventure, of windy sailing and still sunrises, of continuing to fall in love with my bride after six years of marriage and a decade together, of stretching boundaries and nourishing imaginations, of giving back as much as I receive. This is my dream. This is my life. Thanks for asking, Mia!

Do what you love. Risk. Adventure. Create. Share. Inspire. Here’s to a reinvigorated life!

Surrounded By Books


Surrounded by Books: 10 Second Pause

A publishing world evolution. Print. Digital. Books. Gadgets. We’re bombarded with speculation, doomsday nay-saying and snake oil promises. Exciting. Exhausting. Time to take a rest. Just for a moment. A short rest. Here. On this bookshelf… Aaahhh.

Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer?

Does your Monday morning need a booster shot? The latest public improv mission by Improv Everywhere will smear a grin across your mug. I promise.

Produced in collaboration with Ice Theatre of New York, “Worst ice skater ever?” opens with an apparently novice ice skater stranded alone on the rink at New York’s Bryant Park. His transformation from clutz to expert is funny, yes, but also beautiful in that way you’ll find hard to explain to your colleagues at work…

Debbie Stier: Book Publishing as I See It

Debbie Stier speaking at BookExpo America 2009

Debbie Stier (@debbiestier) first came across my radar when HarperStudio was born… A book publishing outlet that made sense in the 21st century! Publishers who understood (or wanted to understand) the digital migration. Unfortunately bravery and vision weren’t sufficient, and HarperStudio was recycled. (Read the HarperCollins explanation memo to employees.) I was disappointed that the project was abbreviated, but proud of HarperCollins for taking the risk in the first place.

One of her homeruns with HarperStudio was Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchukwhich I’ve “read” three times (the print edition, the audio edition and the Vook edition) as much for Vaynerchuk’s energy, self-confidence and optimism as for the opportunity to compare assets distinct to each platform. I imagine Vaynerchuk has been a good fit for Publishing’s Optimist Prime. In an interview with Marian Schembari last June Stier conveyed unabashed enthusiasm for the future of publishing.

“I love that word-of-mouth is scalable. I love that anybody can share, and connect, and spread the word about great books and ideas without ever having to get permission… I’m allergic to bureaucracy. Publishing is full of protocols; I find it frustrating when people see their role as putting up barriers and looking for problems. I’d rather make something great happen… It’s liberating to know that you are in control of your own destiny and don’t have to hope that the gatekeepers allow you to be recognized.” (Digital Book World)

Stier’s perspective has encouraged and reassured me during my foray into the book publishing jungle. And it’s not all bluster and bravado. Stier’s track record speaks for itself. And she’s EVERYwhere! (I have a hunch that she may secretly have invented the social web between book launches.) The other day I was speaking to my wife’s cousin, Cali Williams Yost (@caliyost) about her experience publishing Work + Life and now working on her second book, and Stier’s name inevitably popped up: “She is wonderful and amazing!” Scanning some of the titles Stier has worked on I realized that my mother-in-law’s friend, Dotty Frank, has also been touched by Stier. The Stier Factor! And when I registered to attend MediaBistro‘s eBook Summit I discovered that she was slated to be one of the panelists. (Did I mention that Debbie Stier is EVERYwhere?)

During her eBook Summit presentation she announced that she’s departed HarperCollins, and that she hasn’t yet announced her next plan. She did mention that it is somewhat unrelated to book publishing but will draw upon her publishing experience. Hmmm… Perhaps something to do with the SATs?

As for promotion strategies in the publishing industry Stier articulated in no uncertain terms that

“everybody should have a digital presence… You’ve got to be part of it to understand, or else you’re not feeling the culture of it.”

She also skimmed over relevant tech/communication trends that she sees emerging. Mobile, mobile, mobile. There’s an adavantage to early adopters. If you use an iPhone, try out Instagram. In publishing, she explained, mobile strategy is mostly tied to apps (location-based and otherwise), etc. In other industries texting and QR codes are making major inroads, but publishing lags behind! This is an opportunity. First mover advantage. She touched on Foursquare and mused on behaviour changes like the gym rat badge. If you are writing nonfiction, Stier said, think of ways that FourSquare could overlap. Tips are key! And many other smart uses too. Leave breadcrumbs where you wrote the book, ate a meal, had a drink, etc.

Stier also emphasized the importance of “caring”. Adopt the Zappos strategy as DELL has recently learned. Care. Gary Vaynerchuck’s new book, The Thank You Economy, is precisely about this. In only a few short minutes Debbie Stier had nailed it. Boom, boom, boom.

Unfortunately she had to depart earlier than anticipated and we didn’t connect aside from a few tweets and this sad image but kind message on Tumbler. Soon, I hope, to meet the legendary Debbier Stier in person.

Welcome to Heathrow Airport

“Life’s for sharing” (T-Mobile advertisement)

Powerful, poignant and totally innovative storytelling! And a bit of a tear-jerker (of the happy variety) too… Long live the flashmob! Echoes of Improv Everywhere, don’t you think? Tell me you didn’t find yourself longing for this emotional welcome the next time you land at an airport?!?! Kudos to T-Mobile for super innovative storytelling.

Aside from the emotionally charged experience and story, the underlying idea that life is for sharing is compelling, timely and powerful. We live in the digital age when it is easier than ever before to share an event like this “spontaneous” welcome home concert in Heathrow airport. Indeed the video cuts repeatedly to travelers recording the event on their mobiles. Photos, videos, phone calls… this is the age of immediate, virtually universal sharing. And the powerful message underlying this advertisement for T-Mobile is that connecting with others to share beauty, to share happiness is magical and humanizing. It’s a universal desire. Too often we all fall into ruts of isolation passing through each others’ lives like ghosts, like passengers in an airport. But moments when our isolated, insulated bubbles pop and we are connected, even temporarily to others is what makes life worth living. We are inherently social creatures, but we’ve been socialized to wear blinders, to limit connection with those around us. Storytelling — and, in this case, T-Mobiles communication tools and network — bridge the divide between us. Okay, time to lay off! I’ve become gushy and repetitive. (The sign of an effective advertisement!)

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