Makin’ Movies

This week sees a foray into movie making. Thinking more and more about our final assignment (which is already due in a few weeks!) I’ve decided to use this opportunity to make a sort of early draft of my own project. As it stands now, my final movie will look at the history of 115 Otisco Street, a plot of land located in Syracuse’s Near Westside neighborhood.

A Tempting Beginning Shot

A Tempting Preview

The following link is a sort of draft for one part of this project that focuses on the recent past and present of the space. Overall, this assignment was harder that I anticipated. I feel like I keep saying this, and I should just accept now that I’m not a tech whiz. This project pushed me to consider what is important for a viewer. How exactly do you convey the most important information in such a quick time frame? Is it all about tone? Placement within the overall story? What makes the most impact? I went with a good combination of timing, images, and subtle background music. Let me know what you think!


Scary Stories and Sound Mixing

For this week’s exercise, I was tasked with creating a digital story feature some kind of audio compliments (ambient noise, music, etc.). When reading through the assignment sheet, my first thought was to chose some kind of scary story. While not the worlds biggest horror fan (read as not a horror fan at all), I figured that a frightening tale had any number of opportunities for great experiments in sound mixing. So I grabbed a compilation of scary stories off the bookshelf and started thumbing through.

My resource of choice.

My resource of choice.

For me, I think the hardest part of using a scary story is in not overdoing it. It is quite easy to have sound effects for every creak, drip, or thunderclap. Don’t get me wrong, my retelling includes many a scream, whine, and crash, but I did try to keep it minimal. To me, the scariest parts of frightening tales comes from the sentence structure. To cover this up with too many noises is a disservice to the story. I did find, however, that the end of my story seemed slightly anticlimactic. Luckily, sound could save the day and provide a nice outgoing moment beyond the narrative. In the end, I hopefully found the right compromise between the two components.

With these reflections in mind, I present my newest foray into digital storytelling: a retelling of the story “Sounds” from Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories Treasury.

The Slow Embrace of Storytelling

While preparing for this week’s course assignment in storytelling, I became horribly distracted watching episodes of Art21. Perhaps I should do so more often as a particular gem inspired my work. I caught a segment on Carrie Mae Weems, a photographer whose work is heavily inspired by storytelling. When speaking about the early years of her life, she said that “narrative and storytelling is in the blood.” This got me thinking, perhaps too much, about myself.

Never once have I counted creativity as a strong suit of mine. Whenever people ask what I do, I almost always say “I study art history/work in museums. Don’t have a creative bone in my body, but I love talking about the work of those who do.”  Recently, however, storytelling has become this monumental force in my life. To best understand exactly how the least creative person I know (myself) got to this point, we’ll have to travel back in time about three years.

The first fall after graduating from undergrad was particularly crisp. There was something freeing about being out of school, but still living in the same city where I’d spent four years laboring over my degree. I was fortunate. Unlike my roommate, one of my best friends for all of college, I had been working in a job within my field since before graduation. Perhaps unluckily though, I hated almost everything about it. I had great coworkers, but they were really the only redeeming factor. Despite the beautiful sunrises, I hated commuting from Tacoma to Seattle. I couldn’t really handle forty hours of non-stop customer service a week. And, easily the worst thing of all, I abhorred the terrible uniforms we had to wear. It probably didn’t help that mine never really fit. But we won’t dwell on that.

A perfect sunrise over the sound.

A perfect sunrise over the Sound.

That fall, despite its usual beauty, felt lonely. I had spent so much of my life learning that to not go to school felt odd. Commuting alone to a job that used approximately 25% of my smarts but took up 90% of my time didn’t really help all that much either. It wasn’t until chatting with a friend I had recently helped move out to Syracuse that I was inspired to apply for graduate school. It had long been a dream of mine to continue my studies in art history, but I felt time off from that would be appropriate. After some encouragement from professors and friends, including my roommate who was already applying for a master’s in journalism, I started the research and application process that led me to Syracuse University.

But how to tell my family? What may seem like an exciting moment in a person’s life offered me nothing but anxiety. A born and raised Washingtonian, the farthest I’d been from home was living in Tacoma. This was but a relatively short three hour drive from where I was born. Seattle had schools with nice programs, but there was an itch to move on to somewhere new. So I only applied on the east coast, a factor that I never really shared with the family until actually finishing up applications. This devastated my mother. She pushed and prodded to have me wait, or apply closer to home. She never explicitly mentioned her feelings of concern, but I knew they were there. She worried about me making it so far from home. And I worried about her making it with me so far from home. Three months and a few panic attacks later, she saw me off in a moving truck across the country. Aside from the many swapped “I love yous,” she left me with something I’d never forget.

 “Michelle. I know you’ll do great things. I am so proud. You better come back here better at something when you’re all done with this.”

 This seemed like an easy task. “I’m going to school. Of course I’ll get better at something. Geeze,” I remember thinking while heading down the driveway. It wasn’t until getting out here and starting classes that I realized what I would actually grow in and embrace: telling my story.

Moving so far from home inspires more stories than one may think. When meeting people in a completely foreign environment, stories where a crutch for me that explained some of my oddities. To be honest, I had never thought of storytelling as the best way to engage with new acquaintances and realize commonalities. You’re probably thinking that I’ve never met other people then.  “Of course you tell stories to get to know people. How else would you do it?” And you’d be making a pretty great point.

But for me, it was so much more than that. I was thrown into the deep end and had to explain to people where I’m from, what my family is like, what I’ve done with my life. It’s one thing when you meet someone from your city or state. With those people there is an already shared knowledge of locations, common phrases, popular activities, and all around cultural norms. I can only describe the move across the country as a mild case of culture shock. What’s all this about lacrosse? Wait, people hang out in malls here? What’s with all these freeways? Wait, you don’t call them freeways? The same could be said for those I met. How else does one explain to a lot of New Yorkers that I’ve lived in a farm on the desert? Or how a quick move across the mountains within the state, allowed me to live on the outskirts of the rainforest? Or why I can’t direct myself around this state because I don’t have an ocean to use as reference? Or what the Space Needle is, that it doesn’t actually pour rain In Seattle, and no, I’m not really that into Nirvana or Starbucks.

iPhone Photos1

Settings for most of my tales from the Pacific Northwest.

The list goes on and on. The best way to explain what makes this Pacific Northwest transplant tick was in the form of really quick, informal stories. And I’ve grown to love it. I sometimes feel like an ambassador from the PNW and I absolutely adore sharing everything about it.


Wegmans also enjoys sharing the wonders of Washington with New York.

Perhaps the best part of embracing this kind of storytelling is how it has slowly invaded the rest of my daily life. I’ve started experimenting with how to best include more tales and explanations in my academic papers. At little bit of dabbling in adding more stories to profiles of artists in the neighborhood where I work have made for more exciting data sharing. All in all, it is no longer fair to say I am devoid of creativity. It’s slowly getting there, especially with the help of this storytelling course. Hopefully it’ll be something to share with Mom when I get home next.

Babe the Blue Ox

Charged with finding a personal story or folklore to tell via podcast, my mind immediately went to Babe the Blue Ox. This may seem like an odd choice, perhaps, at first glance. I’m not from Montana or the Dakotas. I don’t have an interest in the history of logging or even a particular enjoyment of stories about abnormally sized men with large bovine companions.

I am, however, a graduate of the University of Puget Sound. One a Logger, always a Logger! With graduation happening in the last weekend, my Facebook, Instagram, and email have been flooded with pictures of happy seniors celebrating their time at the university. This has inspired a lot of reminiscing among friends, some bits of jealousy (an odd thing to admit!), and overwhelming pride in the students I’ve never really met but share this Logger bond with. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week thinking about campus. In our student center, in the second floor atrium area, are two huge murals by Peggy Strong, a local Tacoma artist. In the first mural stands a monumentally large Paul Bunyan surrounded by scenes of logging and forestry. The companion mural shows an animated image of Babe the Blue Ox flying through the scene, dragging Paul behind him.

(photo courtesy of Arches Magazine, Spring 2011)

This assignment allowed me to explore the folklore behind a story I’ve stared at millions of times will hurriedly eating lunch between class, gabbing over dinner, or stressing over finals. While not explicitly personal, this story is, in a way, a part of me. And it has been fun exploring this side of the tale.

Follow the link to listen to the story of Babe the Blue Ox.

Adventures in Storytelling

I have something to admit.

A year ago, I started this blog. As is readily apparent and slightly embarrassing, there is nothing on this blog until now.  That’s all about to change!!! It only took a year and the impetus of an online class with assignments related to blog posting for me to resuscitate my sad nonblog into a regular posting machine. But we won’t focus on that now…

For the next six weeks, this will be the home for my online musings, reflections, and posted assignments. My hope is to work on my blogging voice while exploring the wonderful world of storytelling. Perhaps this will lead to continued use after the course is over. Here’s to perseverance and to not dropping the ball again for an entire year!

Here. We. Go!