Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

! ZAPPED ! – a graphic novel in need of artwork

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Got some nice cover art from Erik Evans of Bottle Rocket Productions. Now, need artist(s) interested in illustrating thee body of the story. Check out the info. below then get in touch.

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! ZAPPED !

 

! Zapped ! is the story of a man called to a quest by the sudden (or as he discovers not-so-sudden) onset of a serious and disturbing disease. Unbeknownst to him, he is called not to recover what he has lost but to transform his life and himself. His journey takes him into unknown territories of alternative healing, spiritual practice, interspecies relationships, spirit possession, and the hidden depths of his own internal life.

The story is told through three intertwining narrative threads:

  • Cleo’s story –- told from the point of view of the protagonist’s wife’s dog.
  • The protagonist’s story.
  • The running commentary of two members of the Watcher Bureau, keepers of the collective unconscious, charged with recording stories of the human condition

 

Author Bio: Jeffrey Callen is a writer based in San Francisco whose work is rooted in the belief that an authentic story opens up a space of connection that creates the basis for understanding, communication and effective action. He is also a creative writer, published poet and cultural analyst. His writing on popular culture appears in scholarly and popular publications. He received an MA in Music from UC Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA.

 

CALL FOR ARTISTS: I am looking for one or more artists to work with on this project. Each narrative thread is intended to have a distinct visual image. I have imagined Cleo’s story as having a manga look; the protagonist’s story with the look of a Hernandez brothers (Love & Rockets) story; and, a film noir presentation of the Watcher Bureau. However, I am more interested in ideas that occur to potential collaborators. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact me at jeffreycallenphd@gmail.com or here at Deciphering Culture.

Shifting the “bottom line”: recognizing the power of storytelling

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Earlier this year, I wrote a short piece for the print newsletter of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center on the increased recognition of storytelling as a valuable methodology whose use is no longer limited to communication and marketing. I’m posting it on Deciphering Culture in hopes that the ideas contained in it get broader distribution and, hopefully, inspire dialogue. If it also introduces some people to the amazing work of Earthfire Institute, all the better.

 

DATA ADDS UP, STORIES RING TRUE

by Jeffrey Callen

 

During the last decade, storytelling has been enthusiastically embraced as a methodological framework by individuals working in endeavors as different from each other as technology, journalism, and social activism. Storytelling is no longer confined to the realms of communications and marketing but is seen as integral to the creation of “product” (now often reconceptualized and relabeled as “experience”). In the design process, calculations and quantifiable arguments are replaced by the creation of evocative experiences—the bottom line is no longer how the data adds up but whether the story rings true.

This change in methodologies implies a changing vision of the work itself. Unlike quantifiable methodologies, storytelling is an art and, like other art forms, its primary goal is to create a space of connection outside the flow of everyday life. In this “virtual” space, new possibilities (ideas, strategies, visions) and ways of being in the world can be tried on and experimented with that previously had only been imagined or, at best, partially realized. The criteria by which this experience is evaluated is the extent to which it rings true, authentic and genuine— it is also the primary determinant of the effect the experience has on the participants. The best contemporary uses of storytelling apply this template which hearkens back to the beginnings of human society.

Nearly as old as music, dance and drawing, early forms of oral storytelling were shared in settings of fellowship that transcended later boundaries created between the realms of spirituality, healing, philosophy, history–keeping, and entertainment. The same respectful disregard of disciplinary boundaries is a component of the storytelling work of Earthfire Institute. It is one of the many ways in which it returns to the roots of storytelling. Storytelling is an integral component of the work of Earthfire Institute. It is more than its chosen means of communicating the ideas and values that drive its mission to reintegrate humans into nature. Through stories, Earthfire experiences are shared and intimate, often transformational, human/animal interactions are evoked, creating a space of connection with the listener/viewer (one of the advantages of storytelling in the postmodern age is the easy availability of integrated presentations of sight, sound and movement). In each online video or blog post, more is communicated than is contained in the outlines of a single story. Each story adds to the totality of Earthfire Institute’s work and it is here that Earthfire presents its vision of a possible future in which man’s (and woman’s) connection to the natural world is restored.

Jeffrey Callen is a storyteller and ethnographer based in San Francisco. As a consultant, he has advised Earthfire Institute on storytelling and strategic development. He is also a cultural analyst and creative writer, whose work has appeared in numerous scholarly and popular publications.

Short takes: Insights on ethnography from Mimi and Eunice

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One of the dilemmas of ethnography is how to create a picture of the “now” of an event or experience that is not shaped by expectations or other unacknowledged (or unconscious) interpretations of the ethnographer. Bracketing ones reactions and biases is the classical anthropological technique to deal with such distortions. The effect of temporality on ethnography has not received the same degree of attention (with the exception of the work of Johannes Fabian). In tw0 recent strips, the ever-perceptive Mimi and Eunice present dilemmas presented by the temporal constraints of looking back on the “now.”


For an interesting exposition of the concept of mnemonic arbitrage go to the original post: Mnemonic Arbitrage.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

October 16, 2011 at 11:52 am

Short takes: Storytelling — illness narratives as healing tools

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Almost everyone’s life has been touched by a serious illness, whether their own or someone close to them. As with most everything else, we make sense of the experience through creating narratives. In a thought-provoking and insightful post on Nieman Storyboard (The implications of plot lines in illness and memoir), Victoria Costello discusses the use of “narrative therapy” in healing and how encouraging clients to change the story they are tellling of their illness can “can have a real impact on treatment and survival.”

Studies show, for example, that when a wife includes her husband in the story of her breast cancer, in effect changing the protagonist in her narrative from “I” to “we,” treatment becomes more effective and her chance of survival improves. In psychotherapy, when a client sees a redeeming value in the abuse he suffered in childhood – usually that the hardship has made him a stronger person – studies by Dan P. McAdams show that this “redemption narrative” provides the client a higher level of life satisfaction. (for the rest)

The discussion of the Arthur W. Frank’s work (the sociologist who developed the concept of the illness narrative) left me determined to check out his book The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. As a storyteller, I was drawn to Frank’s definition of three types of illness narratives: the restitution narrative (restoration “to good health due to the marvels of modern medicine”), the chaos narrative (“the illness moves randomly…from bad to worse and back to bad before getting worse again”), the quest narrative (“the ill person meets suffering head on; they accept illness and seek to use it. Illness is the occasion of a journey that becomes a quest”). A story may shift narrative structures as it goes on: not every descent into chaos is without hope and a seemingly Quixotic quest can find success. It is as true here as it is in the other stories that frame our lives.

Related articles

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Ethnographic Storytelling – another lesson from Haruki Murakami

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This is the second in a series of lessons from notable fiction writers that provide guidance (or at least inspiration) for core techniques used in ethnographic storytelling. The first entry was a lesson from Haruki Murakami in how to set a scene (Ethnographic Storytelling – a lesson from Haruki Murakami). The second lesson, also from Murakami, addresses how to create convincing characters that blend the “factual” and the “true.”

A lesson from Haruki Murakami in creating characters

One need in any storytelling is to create compelling characters. As in fiction, ethnographies frequently require the creation of characters that represent more than a single individual: a typical member of a social group, whether it be a music fan, an elder in a community, a customer for a product, a technology user. Whether the story is addressing a problem or issue within the realm of ethnomusicology, anthropology, design or UX, convincing, compelling characters are a baseline requirement — if you can not believe in the characters, you will not believe in the points being made in the story. The following passage from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle illustrates the need to rely upon both the factual and the true in creating characters (and in storytelling in general):

He was engaged in a serious search for the meaning of his own existence…. To do that, Cinnamon had to fill in those blank spots in the past that he could not reach with his own hands. By using those hands to make a story, he was trying to supply the missing links. From the stories, he had heard repeatedly from his mother, he derived further stories in an attempt to re-create the enigmatic character of his grandfather in a new setting. He inherited from his mother’s stories the fundamental style he used, unaltered, in his own stories: namely, the assumption that fact may not be truth, and truth may not be factual. The question of which parts of a story were factual and which parts were  not was probably not a very important one for Cinnamon. The important question for Cinnamon was not what his grandfather did but what his grandfather might have done. He learned the answer to this question as soon as he suceeded in telling the story. 

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Short takes: Design Storytelling & User Experience

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The widespread adoption of “design thinking” has included a reinsertion of storytelling into many aspects of business life. For a look at its use in product/service design, see, The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley of IDEO; in crafting a business plan, see Business Model Generation (both influential books in spreading the design Gospel); in user experience research,  Storytelling for User Experience by Whitney Quesenbery & Kevin Brooks has been recommended to me but has not made it to my reading list yet (UX hs not been one of my areas of exploration – yet).

All this is by way of prologue to an interesting article posted on UX Matters by Traci Lepore, The CSS of Design Storytelling: Context, Spine and Structure that looks at the nuts-and-bolts of storytelling in UX work. A short excerpt:

Storytelling is important not only to theater. I agree with Tom Erickson, who says in his article “Design As Storytelling” that design is a social, collaborative activity. I believe a UX designer’s role is to bridge all of the pieces that bring a design to life—from product management, marketing, user research, and design all the way through development. If that is true, communication is critical. Stories become an essential communication vehicle in the user experience world. Every day, we talk to users, bring back their stories, and co-create with them.

Major parts of our work are building personas, creating scenarios, and creating and using prototypes in usability testing—all of which connect our work to real users. Of course, we must also talk with various people within our organization to understand the case for a product’s business value, as well as relevant technical constraints, and negotiate a balance between all of these factors. But, in the end, to get buy in, we need to tell a compelling and engaging story about our design and its value. And we need to evangelize that story. To be successful in design, as well as theater, it makes sense to spend some time on the CSS—the Context, Spine, and Structure.


Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Ethnographic Storytelling – a lesson from Haruki Murakami

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A while ago, I wrote a post about my fascination with the ongoing development of ethnographic fiction as a means of capturing qualitative research that is more evocative and significantly meaningful than typical ethnographic prose (Short Takes: Ethnographic Fiction). This fascination arose from my longstanding dissatisfaction with the lifeless quality of so much ethnographic prose and conviction that good research could be related in good writing. While I applaud the efforts of writer-scholars such as Tobias Hecht (After Life: An Ethnographic Novel to open up new territory for ethnographic representation, I have to admit that I have  yet to read a work that successfully utilizes fictional techniques to create a convincing and engaging ethnography. The question arises if it’s simply a problem of blending two very different skill sets: those of a researcher and those of a writer? But so many fiction writers have done such thorough research and then related it in masterful prose — if you want proof, read the opening section of Don Delillo‘s Underworld , which recreates the deciding game of the 1951 National League pennant race. Maybe, it is best to turn to fiction writers for tips on how to tell a story. Below is a lesson from Haruki Murakami in how to set a scene in what may be the first entry in an occasional series here on Deciphering Culture.

A lesson from Haruki Murakami in setting the scene

One need in any storytelling is to set the scene. Sometimes, you do that by (in cinematic terms) taking a long shot to set the context before moving in to capture the details. Murakami is a master of this and often uses this device to set a scene. For example, this passage from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:

Like a make-believe bird in a make-believe sky, I see the rooms from above. I enlarge the view, pull back, and survey the whole, then zoom in to enlarge the details. Each detail carries much significance, of course, I check each one in turn examining it for shape and color and texture. From one detail to the next,there is no connection, no warmth. All I am doing at that point is a mechanical inventory of details. But it’s worth a try. just as the rubbing together of stones or sticks will eventually produce heat and flame, a connected reality takes shape little by little.

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