Am I a Writer? - Payton

What defines “a writer”?  I've always wanted to be one, but what is the criteria?  Is it getting paid, being published, writing consistently, or just state of mind?

Mark Twain, my 4th cousin, 4 times removed

Mark Twain, my 4th cousin, 4 times removed

 

When I was in elementary school, my best friend Ellen and I wrote a book about our beloved hand-sewn red stuffed cats, Hermingal and Teddy, and their imaginary adventures.  We paved the way for Calvin and Hobbes.  When I was in junior high, my friend Lauren and I wrote and illustrated an ongoing comic strip about our superhero alter-egos, the Super Watashettes (inspired by our math teacher), and their battles against the evil Dr. Cleverly.  The spine-tingling saga frequently included pop idols of the day, especially the Bee Gees.  Not even their terrible remake of Sgt. Pepper could dim our enthusiasm.

 

As I grew up, so did my aspirations of being a novelist.  When I was fresh out of college and working at my first science job in California, my plan was to write a sweeping historical based on genealogical research into the life of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who lost two children to illness in Ramsgate, England and promptly got on a boat and emigrated to the whaling port of Sag Harbor, New York, in the 1840s. When I was in graduate school, I thought about chronicling the romantic adventures of my fellow students under the title “Graduate Affairs,” but in actuality I published several scientific papers about the regulation of muscle cells and a Ph.D. thesis.  As my frustration grew in my post-doctoral research job after graduate school, my hypothetical novel became a murder mystery – who pushed my boss over the 5th floor railing onto the pink marble floor of the atrium of our building, and why?  There were too many suspects.


Writing for science for several years seems to have dulled my creative juices, and taken all the imagery out of my writing.  It's hard to train my brain away from making all my writing to be dry, succinct and in the passive voice.  We are on the cusp of another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I still don't quite have my act (and courage) together enough to jump in an try, even if it stinks.  But I did write a digital story, and my friends liked it.  So although I know I am a good scientific writer, I'm still not sure about whether I can consider myself “a writer”, but I am on the path to discovering my voice. Practice makes progress.

Coming Back for More - Jessica

Do you read the same book, over and over? I do. I am a nut for certain books. Oftentimes, they are ones that I first read in middle or high school. On August 26th I will be celebrating my 20th high school reunion with friends in Springfield, OR. So, this means that I have been reading and re-reading the same books for 20+ years.

 

It can be a crisp fall day – I’m pruning leaves from the river birch tree in my backyard, and I will have a sudden urge to read a passage from Franny and Zooey. Or I will be driving down I5 to visit family in Eugene when I just need to revisit White Noise by Don Delillo.

 

What is it about certain stories that keeps us coming back for more? I’ve often thought about this as I lug box upon box of books across the country, from place to place. “Why don’t you just get rid of them?” friends and family ask. It seems like a tedious burden, hauling these words around.

 

As I nestle down into my favorite blue chair and open Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for the 92ndtime, I feel at home as the first lines settle in ... “I am a man of substance, flesh, bone, fiber and liquid. I might even be said to possess a mind.” It’s like coming home, to re-read these stories. I find myself catapulted back to the first time I read Ellison’s work, as a high school sophomore, searching desperately for meaning behind each and every word.

 

This, to me, is the courage of true storytelling – when it transports a reader or listener to a particular time and place, a safe space to process and imagine. Through story we find courage to confront demons and dance on rooftops, to relish the odd, and honors tales of resilience amid obstacles.

 

I hope that you, too, have stories that keep you coming back, again and again.

 

My Top Ten Re-Reading List:

  1. White Noise by Don Delillo
  2. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  3. Franny and Zooey by JD Sallinger
  4. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  7. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson
  8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  9. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murukami
  10. Go by John Clellan Holmes
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Darwinian Take on Storytelling - Jeff

One way of thinking about human behavior is in evolutionary terms, the notion that even in this age, we do things because they somehow contribute to our survival.

 

Our forbearers needed to create things and tell stories in order to survive. They needed to build shelters and weapons, start fires, and make clothing suitable for different climates and changing seasons. They needed to sound warnings of threats and communicate opportunities such as ripening berries and migrating salmon. In the centuries before before moveable type, before literacy was commonplace, before we had anything like television or film, I can only imagine the importance of the sharing spoken stories. For many, sharing stories might well have been the only way they could experience the world beyond their personal, lived experience.

 

Today we live in a world filled with more than six billion people. At times its hard to imagine that we’re individuals and not just part of this huge, teeming herd. It’s our personal narratives that set us apart and make us truly unique.

 

Our forbearers needed to make things and tell stories in order to survive, and the same is true for us today. The stories we create, whether they’re fiction or memoir or DIY instructions on You Tube or even poetry, these are essential to our humanity. And there are more ways than ever to create stories and express our uniqueness.

Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis

Folk Art for the 20th Century - Kriste

On March 27, 2017, a cup of coffee in Russell (birthplace of Bob Dole) led me to an afternoon in Lucas. That was the day that I, a lifelong West Coaster on my first ever visit to the Midwest, fell in love with the great state of Kansas. 

I woke up that morning in Wilson, KS, home of the World's Largest Czech Egg.

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From Wilson I headed west to Russell, on a pilgrimage to Senator Dole's hometown. After taking a few pictures outside his childhood home, I gave in to my craving for a fancy coffee, and stopped at Espresso, Etc., in downtown Russell. Shelby, the barista, and Jim, the other customer, were adamant that I should go to Lucas, KS, to see the toilet. No way was I going to argue with either one of them, so I headed north and arrived in Lucas in an hour. Jim said that I should check out the Grassroots Art Center, which displays the works of quite a few local artists. The staff and volunteers were having a meeting when I arrived. Rosslyn, the woman who runs the center, said that she'd gladly give me a tour after the meeting. She pointed me towards the toilet. And man alive, what a toilet it was.

Outside

Outside

Inside

Inside

When I got back to Grassroots Art Center, after my best bathroom visit ever, I was warmly greeted by Rosslyn. Before the tour got started, she asked me, "Are you an artist?" I automatically said no, and added that I do some writing. There were half a dozen of us in the group, and Rosslyn started us in a side room to look at examples of art created by Kansans. She talked about the artists, who were all regular folks who used their creativity to beautify their homes and yards. 

During the tour I realized that, yes, I am an artist. I didn't start thinking of myself as creative until my first Storycenter digital storytelling workshop, almost exactly eight years ago. So I took back the answer I'd given Rosslyn a few hours earlier. I told her that I am an artist, and the art I make is folk art for the 21st century (a description I've always loved, but hadn't completely understood until that spring afternoon). As I started to describe digital storytelling, I realized how much I have in common with the Kansans whose art I was admiring. One of the things I love about digital storytelling is that you don't need a lot of technical experience to create a digital story - you need a story to tell and some visuals to help you tell it. The regular folks in Lucas, and really everywhere, don't need special art education to make what they have around them into something beautiful - they need raw materials and the creativity to put them together in ways that they find appealing. Same idea, different century.

Next summer I want to bring digital storytelling to the folks in Lucas, Kansas. To help the artists tell their own stories, in their own voices, so that Grassroots Art Center can introduce them to future folks who come to town for the toilet