Over the course of a writing retreat this past November I was listening to a MasterClass with the author Amy Tan. While sections of the course were directed to writers that were just getting started, I paid close attention to the lesson focused on writer’s block.
While 2021 was so much better than 2020—and 2022 even better so far—I still found myself choosing to spend what spare time I had sitting on the couch watching television instead. I know we are not supposed to be hard on ourselves, to be thinking about missed opportunities from this ongoing pandemic— after all, we can’t all be Brandon Sanderson—but I can’t help but consider how much of my real blocks are about more than just the state of the world.
During this lesson Tan talks about writing rituals, about methods to block out distractions, and then she looks straight at the camera and says: “Ask yourself: Why did you decide to become a writer in the first place?”
Her purpose, of course, was to encourage us to move past the imposter syndrome that leads into a cycle of NOT writing. To remind you about what the initial impetus was for first putting pen to paper.
Where I am at home, only the sparsest stars Arrive at twilight, and then after some effort. And they are wan, dulled by much travelling. The smaller and more timid never arrive at all But stay, sitting far out, in their own dust. They are orphans. I cannot see them. They are lost. But tonight they have discovered this river with no trouble, They are scrubbed and self-assured as the great planets.
There was a fire. The warmth a contrast with the cool Montana air. As the sun dipped beyond the mountains and dusk passed its way into the deep inky blackness of night, we glanced up to see a sight not often visible from my home in the suburbs of Washington, DC. From my perch on my balcony, I can often only spot one or two sparks of starlight; whereas, on this night, a vast dream of glitter, obscured a little by forest fire smoke from the west, lay above us.
Well. My version of paradise, despite the cool torrents of rain sweeping through for the fifth day in a row, or the Virginia humidity the day after, rising up from the lush, textured, tops of trees that hid the flowing James River.
I wish I had a great excuse. A reason why this post (that no one is really looking for but me) is only going up today.
There are a lot of good reasons to put the blame on. On being too busy. On the state of the world. On the unexpected. On letting fear of change effect the way I feel, think, act. On a surprising lack of will power. On procrastination. On having nothing to say.
In my book, The Heart of the River, I wrote that “every adventure starts the same way, with one foot in front of the other.” After averaging 7 miles (14k steps) a day for the last month, I can testify that I embraced my adventure through formal/informal theatrical performances, walking tours, museum visits, historic site wanderings and so, much, more. It wasn’t merely the steps that made a leap forward, but also my mind as I started to pull on different threads of my project on storytelling, trying to find the ways in which these pieces fit and slotted together.
As a reminder here are the four research questions that I presented a few months ago:
What are the ways in which history and culture are being presented in an increasingly digital world?
In what ways do digital projects dealing with art, music, and the past connect with the public beyond a momentary impression?
What are some of the innovative ways in which the arts and history intersect to tell a narrative – both offline and online? How can we create a more fully immersive experience for the user?
How do various historical presentations and cultural mechanisms relate and effect individual and collective identity?
And so it begins. Over the last two months I have been interviewing friends, strangers, and colleagues about my project on interdisciplinary storytelling. Their words have been thoughtful, engaging, and challenged the way I think about my work. While I will do more interviews when I return I am now leaving for a month long European adventure – for inspiration and wonder. While I will conduct more interviews in September for now I am going to digest what I’ve heard so far and see where I go. In the meantime, if you consider yourself a storyteller make sure to fill out my survey and tell me about your art.
Update 8/2/2017: Do you consider yourself a storyteller (a dancer, a musician, an artist, a writer)? Make sure to fill out my survey!
Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here. —Sue Monk Kidd in the Secret Life of Bees
As a public historian and preservationist, I have always seen our work as inherently interdisciplinary, recognizing that in the increasingly digital world we live in, the need to use audio, video, and text to communicate our mission has become paramount.
Now, nearly, eleven years into my career at the National Trust for Historic Preservation I plan on jumping in feet first into the world of storytelling and engage with digital (and in person) storytellers across a variety of disciplines and fields. In doing so I hope to gain a sense of best practices and tools that can help connect the public to the histories of all Americans.
This project is part of a two month sabbatical from the National Trust that will take place this coming August and September (see timeline below). The hope is to not just look at storytelling in the history field – but also the wider field of humanities and beyond. At the end I hope to have gained a sense of how to construct a story that is richer, broader, and meaningful – without creating a cacophony that overwhelms the senses. Continue reading “Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World”→
I am afraid. Folded in by the weight of postcards and calls links and 140 characters. Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.
I am certain that I have fingers toes, a heart with blood pumping slowly through my veins — as do you, and them, and us, but those that lead find different ways to say You Don’t Belong.
I question my ability my strength for this test. Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles And God cannot do all the work
And so —
Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready. I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.
Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:
This morning I introduced one of my nieces, a ten year old, to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time. During a planned trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum we walked through Daniel’s Story – the exhibit directed toward children – and the Hall of Remembrance. When she didn’t feel comfortable going through the permanent exhibition with her parents, the two of us wandered around the National Mall talking about what she learned.
It was an important conversation for me and for her, and while I tread carefully on what details to share much of our talk centered around how Hitler intentionally separated people based on religion and other characteristics he felt were deviant (making a side connection to Harry Potter and Voldemort’s obsession with purebloods). Our conclusion was how ridiculous that assumption is because we are all, in the end, human beings.
This month’s Creative Collaboration looks at an image from S.Fell. Taken at the Baltimore Light City exhibition the image reflects the conversation from this morning. We are in the end all the same.
The inspiration for this month is a waltz. Written by Sir Anthony Hopkins it was conducted by Andre Rieu and has quickly become one of my go to YouTube videos. The piece is at times melancholic and joyful all at the same time.
For my submission (the only one) this month I thought I would try my hand at writing a very short story where the song is an invisible character. Written on my porch as the sun set (mood, it’s all about the mood) I tried to match each section of the story with one section of the composition. Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: And The Waltz Goes On”→