Our final assignment for Collective Narrative: An exchange between two people is easy. Add a third and what happens? For this exercise you are going to create a structure that requires the participation or a transaction with or between threeor more people. This assignment can take any form, but, must involve in some form the creation or exchange of a “story”.
Paty, Sarah, Ting and I were a team. An incredible narrative force! We allowed ourselves to brainstorm and live in abstract land for a long time. We came up with so many excellent, fun ideas but everything seemed to have a drawback (would take too long, required a skill we didn’t have and couldn’t learn well enough in a week, didn’t meet the assignment criteria, etc). And there were a few parameters we imposed on ourselves: we were interested in engaging the public, we didn’t want to build up a collection of things (stories, sentences, images, etc) without purpose that wouldn’t have an audience besides our class, and we thought the project should focus on the process not the product. It came to a point where we just had to decide on a project, as Ting put it: we needed our plane to land.
So we decided to engage the SpongeBob characters in Times Square. Our initial idea was fairly simple: find SpongeBobs and instead of giving them a tip to take a picture with us, we’d give them a tip to take a picture with each other. We headed out late on a Saturday night, but there were no SpongeBobs. Instead, we found Elmo after Elmo and decided he would be the focus of the project. The project quickly broadened as we talked with the Elmos and other characters in Times Square. As is often the case when entering into an unknown world, we found so much more than we had expected. We reformulated our plan and spent Saturday night and Sunday afternoon tracking down Elmos.
Once we’d collected our footage, we began the process of reviewing, constructing, and editing our narrative. We worked hard to focus our narrative and keep the material on that track. The result was that many of the surprising and interesting side stories and comments had to be dropped. It was hard to make those choices, but we agreed that the final product would be much stronger if we eliminated potentially distracting anecdotes.
Here is a recording of the presentation we showed in class. Eventually, we’d like to continue the work and put the story into a format that preserves the narrative but also allows viewers to make content choices.
Every object tells a story, even the most mundane item or things that might be considered trash. With this project, I wanted to tell stories about my life through the everyday objects in my apartment. If I leave home in the morning and die before I return, every object and its placement will become sacred to someone. Notes I’ve made to myself take on grander importance, things I forgot to put away allow someone to conjecture about the rush I was in, the general state of neatness or disarray might mean something about my mental state. I wanted to explore the idea of turning this present moment into a museum of my life.
I’ve only lived in this apartment for one week. Nothing is setup properly, everything is in disarray, and it’s actually pretty embarrassing to share with other people. But we’ve all been there, living among boxes and searching endlessly for an item we were careful to put someplace we’d never forget. And I thought that maybe those first items that find a use after a move might be some of the most essential or meaningful.
In this demonstration of the concept, all of the items are photographed just as they are right now, on February 26, 2013. The only thing that has changed is the addition of placards with numbers that identify the number for the audio tour. I tried to select things that I’d acquired in different ways (gifted, found, purchased) and that are varying levels of ubiquity (from something almost everyone has to items that are probably more unique). I had a hard time narrowing down the objects. Once I got started writing about the things in my home I realized that literally every thing around me has a story. There are so many good ones that didn’t end up in this project.
I narrate the tour in the form of a traditional audio tour. I’ve tried to keep the stories short and reveal something about my life or my personality in each.
This week for Collective Narrative our assignment was to construct a story in three parts, or with three voices, using sound. I’m an avid listener of public radio and I really love radio documentary, so I was excited about this assignment. One of the first things that came to mind was to bring my friends into the project. Over the years we’ve had a lot of collective experiences and we love to reminisce.
I emailed my friends and asked them to participate — I wanted to interview them but I also wanted their input about the best story to tell for this project. We decided to tell the story that has become our origin myth, the story about the development of our group persona. I spent a day making house calls and recording everyone’s version of this story.
While editing, I ran into some complications. I was getting caught up in making sure that everyone was equally represented. At times, this was taking precedence over the narrative. I wanted to include everything: all parts of the story, all of the side stories, all of the tangents and the piece started to get very long. At one point I realized that there is probably no way this story will hold the attention of someone who doesn’t know these people, but there was no turning back. I was on the road to making a very long inside joke.
create an introduction to the story and the characters. Right now this doesn’t work in any way.
tighten up the story either by ditching the tangents or cutting out some of the segments where people agree (instead of disagree), reduce redundancy.
figure out how to tweak the content to make it more generally interesting and not only of interest to those involved; create a more universal piece. (I think that outside feedback will help with this. I’ve heard the story so much that I can’t tell what is actually funny and what is insider funny.)
finesse the transitions between speakers and within a speaker’s story better.
add more pauses where appropriate to pace the story better.
edit on paper to make sure that each element supports the narrative and moves the story forward.
make the reveal more impactful by varying the pace (or something) in a unique way.
In addition to the Hourly Comic exercise, we had to write a short story. Not just any short story, a very short story in a specific format. Some options were: SmithMag 6 word story, 25 word hint fiction, 55 word fiction, 400 word autobiographies, and short fan fiction. Here is the short story I ended up with (and a reflection of my process is below):
55 word story:
Since you asked, my mom isn’t well and needs help at home. I’m not from here, no, but she grew up in Rochester, now lives in Ditmas.
I never meant to say so much, to an Orthodox man with his own ailing mother and sympathetic gaze. But New Yorkers will do anything for an apartment.
Reflections on process:
I appreciate constraints. Having too much space makes me panic. Even if I don’t end up following the rules, a word limit or content guidelines make it easier for me to begin, and therefore complete, an assignment. This particular assignment interested me because I believe that you can say a lot with a little. This type of calculated prose is hard to master so there’s value in exercises like this that force us to give it a try.
I started my process by brainstorming some ideas, writing down things that I’d seen or experienced then letting other ideas flow from those instances. I picked a couple and tried writing the story in a few words. I wasn’t able to make a six-word story work. It was too difficult; I couldn’t find the right words. So I expanded to the 25 and 55 word stories. I tried to let myself write anything, to play around with changing a word or two; my goal was to stay focused and keep going.
I chose a couple that seemed to be working well and tried to refine them. I ended up with one that worked well enough, but it’s far from perfect (not to mention it doesn’t meet all of the 55-word requirements well). Is it clear what’s going on and who the characters are, how they relate to one another? Are there words that cause confusion instead of allowing for interpretation? Is there too much reality for it to be considered fiction? Whether or not the story is entirely successful, the exercise was a good way to do some rapid iteration and get into a story telling and writing mode.
This is the week one assignment for Collective Narrative, an hourly comic exercise. Pick a day and then document each hour of that day in some way.
I understood this assignment to be more about noticing and process and less about producing artistic work, so I kept it simple: I took a picture every hour on the hour for an entire day, Sunday, February 3. I set a series of alarms on my phone and wherever I was when the alarm went off, I took a picture of what I saw. I tried not to concern myself too much with composition or get too critical about the work. One thing I was conscious about was how fun or interesting my life would look. Unfortunately, what you see is a totally mundane Sunday. All of the photos are taken from my point of view so I’m not in any of them. (There is one exception, a shot on the subway; it felt weird to take a picture of some random guy sitting across from me.) I have included only the most bare-bones description for each photo.
This link is to the photos in a presentation format on SlideShare.