Evidence of things not seen

This post was originally posted on History@Work.

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.

Sylvia Plath, “Stars Over the Dordogne”

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Montana sky (The haziness is due to a series of western forest fires in the summer of 2018.) Photo credit: Priya Chhaya

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.

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Retreating

I spent the weekend in paradise.

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.

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2018. Just Be.

Today is February 20, 2018. Hello world.

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.

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A piece from Adrian Villar Rojas The Theatre of the Disappearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Taken on a hot summer day in the middle of 2017, the roof was filled with energy, but the sculpture brought a sense of peace and in some ways defeat. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

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.

That’s all a lie.
But also all true.

Continue reading “2018. Just Be.”

One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms

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.

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Images in this post represent the different ways you could tell the story of my trip to Italy. This first image is the ceiling of the Dumo di Siena in Tuscany.

As a reminder here are the four research questions that I presented a few months ago:

  1. What are the ways in which history and culture are being presented in an increasingly digital world?
  2. In what ways do digital projects dealing with art, music, and the past connect with the public beyond a momentary impression?
  3. 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?
  4. How do various historical presentations and cultural mechanisms relate and effect individual and collective identity?

Continue reading “One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms”

From Europe, With Love

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.

Ciao, for now.

Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World

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.

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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”

Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

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:

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Creative Collaboration: We are all the same

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.

image1 Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: We are all the same”

Creative Collaboration: And The Waltz Goes On

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.
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Creative Collaboration: Green

For March (we are running about a month behind in the posting) the creative collaboration team was inspired by this instagram from DixonBaxi, a creative company out of London (and the Baxi in the name is my cousin). I was struck by the the way the green and black took up space within the image creating shapes within shapes as they connected together. This month collaborators pulled together some poetry, another healthy dish for you to make, and a color study. Check them out below.


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