Tuesday, July 31, 2007

As I read Rachel's post about her culture's pioneer stories and the Schank readings, I was reminded of the surprising interest folks up this direction seem to have about my Florida Cracker culture. At home, we often seem to be an embarrassment to the dominant culture, IE, more recent imports, but here the stories are viewed as unique and interesting. It has prompted me to explore my family history further and to value my heritage to a greater degree.

Listening to Bill Moyers on PBS this evening, I heard the president use several key story skeletons in a speech: 'inspired ideology' and 'Al Quida.' He used inspired ideology only once but the picture my mind drew was that the ideology was 'cooked up' rather than authentic; Al Quida popped up in almost every sentence - certainly every paragraph of the speech, keeping militant Muslims and their potential for violence at the forefront of the thought process as he spoke.

As with Danny, I enjoyed our time at the theater today, finding it an inspiring, exciting and vaguely dangerous place to be. After the critique session I realized that I should have pursued Bellerophon and Pegasus' adventures more aggressively. Instead, I used the 'The Chimera' from Hawthorne's Wonder Book, edited by Mabie, my book of myths from childhood. It has been with me all the years I can recall and I have loved the story always, but now I see how simplistic it is. Further reading still has not given me the Pegasus I am looking for, but I'm getting closer.

Insider Stories with Outsider Ideals

Groans, sighs, and "here we go again" echoes in many minds as July 24th arrives--at least when another pioneer story is told to Latter-day Saints. This day is a state holiday in Utah and yet is often celebrated worldwide, not as a religious holiday but one to honor the pioneers who trekked west and entered the Salt Lake Valley. The tables upon tables of food at least bring back some smiles. Plus, many enjoy the ultimate firework displays that rival what is done for the 4th of July. Perhaps many LDS people would agree with what Schank said of ". . .another dull story. Culturally common stories almost always are, especially to members of the culture" (p. 206).

Schank later noticed, "The stories of our culture are those stories that we hear so often that they cease to seem like stories to us. They are the stories that we take for granted" (p. 218).

When I travel outside of Utah, several people request to hear pioneer stories. Though I have heard these stories all my life--or at least heavily during the month of July--I really couldn't think of any pioneer stories off the top of my head to share. Sometimes hearing the stories so much puts my brain on freeze. My ears tend to turn off after hearing the same story read the same way through the view of the same person.

In order to grab the attention of a predominantly LDS audience, I would have to shake up the story. Perhaps the story needs to be told from another point-of-view. Who else witnessed the event? What would happen if an inanimate object--like a covered wagon or a cast iron pot--could tell the story? Is there an imaginary person who could tell it that could still share the facts in an interesting way? What if that imaginary person was not LDS? In the case of the pioneers, this could mean a Ute Indian or a frontiersman like Jim Bridger. I could see this already perking up people in church.

The gists of pioneer stories that I do know focus on the mundane and the ordinary. Schank reminded us that "daily life is filled with the untold stories of the culture" (p. 205). Yet, these tales, told in the proper way, could transform the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Perhaps there is more interest in "growing up Mormon" or pioneer stories outside of Utah because of what Schank said, "Outsiders tell more interesting stories because they tell stories that are not known to their audience. Insiders tell stories that everyone accepts and that everyone has heard before. It takes a great storyteller to make such insider stories interesting" (p. 218).

Regardless of how much knowledge someone has of the LDS people, it is still an "important point [to] to personalize it, to particularize it, to draw as many references as possible to real world events that hearers may have themselves experienced so that they can identify with the story" (p. 214). Alluding to the Oregon Trail could be helpful or maybe something more modern such as military families who are constantly on the move.

In the end, "the ultimate in storytelling is to have the stories become the stories of the listeners, to have them think that these are actually their stories" (p. 217).

Maybe by next July 24th, I will finally have some pioneer stories in my repertoire that all people regardless of creed would be anxious to hear.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

mulling vs. procrastination

“Mulling is a process critical to intelligence, one that creates labels for events in myriad way so that they can be seen again in memory”(221). I wonder if procrastination works in the same way. I have worked on 5 other things and am finally getting to the blogging. I do have to say I enjoyed the ending of Schank’s book much more than the beginning. I was even laughing at some of the items discussed. He had interesting comparisons of intelligence like…”the more intelligent you are the more you will fail”(232). “Intelligence requires you to forget many things and ignore most things.”(224) Yet I understand what he is trying to say. We will select the information we will remember from this class, and by being here and trying new things we are expanding our memory. We will create new ideas and thus become more intelligent.

School isn’t all I am thinking about. I have this urge to pull the weeds I see growing in the flower beds as I walk by them and I know I am missing my annual garden fix. My husband has been graciously freezing beans and keeping the garden watered in the 98 plus temperatures they have been having.. He informs me that the cucumbers are starting to call my name in anticipation of getting turned into a pickle. I also know that by the time I get home the corn and apples will be ready. I do a lot of canning, freezing, and making jelly as did my ancestors of the past. It gets us through the winter and gives us a chance to share home canned fruits, jellies, and vegetables with our daughters. When they come home, they usually take some back with them and it helps them with their grocery bills. One way we can help them out. My memory is recalling other obligations as the days fly by and I am moving on to answer that call.

Good Stories Heard and Good Time Had

Cohorts, one and all. It was a great day for me. I had never been to Ashville, North Carolina. It was a wonderful place to see and be. Also, the stage job comments made by Yashinsky were amplified by a first-hand experience on a stage. I enjoyed and learned simultaneously.

Afterwards Josh, Brenda, and I wandered around the city streets looking for a place to have lunch. It was refreshing to see the happy street people, and a sidewalk singing group, from somewhere other than Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Josh found a very nice pub called Jack of the Wood that took my mind back to British myths.

See you all tomorrow at 0900.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My mountain trail

“People think in terms of stories…new events or problems are understood by reference to…stories… We understand personal problems and relationships between people through stories.”(218)
Whenever I want to start to whine about how homesick I am getting after 8 weeks, out of my comfort zone living at ETSU, I am reminded of Josh’s story of his trip on the Appalachian Trail. I think, if Joshua can do that I can make it 1 more week. I might be roughing it as a student, but I do have more comforts than he had. I do have my own personal mountains that I’ve had to cross, but it is that personal feeling of success when I do get home that will make it all worthwhile. I have many co-workers, who will not take a class in town, unless they know someone else who taking it too. They also won’t attend the staff breakfast at the beginning of school unless they go with someone. “Everyday is like every other…they know a limited amount, never venture outside their limits, never need to grow or change.” (231) So I truly feel I have conquered some personal mountains.
“We are the stories we tell, we not only express our vision of the world, we shape our skeletons to express what has happened to us”(170). When August first rolls around my inner clock, trained after 30 years starts thinking ahead to school. So my mind is starting to go there, even though there is projects needing to be completed here. “coping in one’s world is knowing the stories of the cultures in which you operate"(207). I had the great opportunity to design my classroom to fit my teaching styles and incorporate my teaching philosophies into the atmosphere of the room, during our recent remodeling project. I was able to enjoy the completed project one year. We are now adding full day every day kindergarten to our school system and they needed more rooms in the building where I was working. When return home, I will return to a mountain of boxes waiting in an intermediate grade classroom in another building. I will attempt to turn it into a primary classroom. I have already hassled with the janitors over lowering the whiteboard and finding me primary size desks. I will be on my own to find furnishings, as our curriculum director, who is 77 years old, has not yet accepted the newer reading philosophies. I will venture to the dungeons of our bus barn looking for others rejected, broken furniture in hopes to find something I can use to create several learning centers. Since I had all my other centers built in, I wasn’t able to have them moved. The other option which administrators love is buy my own furniture. So I will keep climbing my mountains, encouraged by Josh’s story, Danny’s sonnet, bits and pieces of all the other sharing. My Maine will be making it to May and be able to say I, too have succeeded against the odds.

Being Dull is Hard Work--Story

Sometimes it takes more effort to be dull than it is to be intelligent.

As Schank said, "To put this bluntly, dull people tell you what happened to them, leaving no detail out, and often without point. Intelligent people quickly find the essence of the experience they are conveying and try to relate it to the topic at hand in a way that sheds light on the generalizations between them" (p. 234).

A few times Schank has said that a two-week vacation could be told in two weeks if every moment was remembered. As far as I know, I have never written out or told to that extent. Yet, there have been times that my journal entries caused my wrist to hang down and my writer's bump on my finger to throb and grow. After reading some of these extensive entries, I discover that I merely reported on the events. By writing about seemingly everything, I made a once dramatic experience to a yawn-maker.

At times, I feel like if I don't include everything, I will regret it once I decide to transform the experience into a story. Schank insisted, "Intelligence requires you to forget many things and to ignore most things" (p. 224). With the state of my memory, perhaps my forgetfulness could be used in my favor finally.

Rather than share the whole experience of when Brenda and I journeyed to the Roan State Park last Saturday, I will attempt to "forget many things and to ignore most things"--

Brenda and I looked at the map. From where we were standing, we should have been at the Miller's Homestead.

"All I see is this cemetery, unless this is what they meant," I exclaimed.

We scrunched our faces. For having "Miller's Homestead" in big bold letters on the map, this sure was disappointing.

We headed to the car to see if something else would grab our attention. Something did.

"Do you see that wooden sign? You know, like the ones before you head on a trail?"

Beyond the sign, and deep within a hollow, we saw a farmhouse, chicken coup, spring house, and other early 1900s buildings.

By now it was raining and Brenda and I pulled out our umbrellas. With no one about, we entered the farmhouse. As our sneakers creaked about on the wooden plank floors moving from kitchen to bedroom to the family room, we heard a female voice shout, "You can go upstairs!"

I jumped a little. Not seeing or hearing anyone for a while made it seem like we were trespassing, though the sign said we were welcome to enter.

When we went up the stairs, we looked out the window and heard birds twittering from the treetops. Above was a tin roof with yellowed newspapers to insulate the place.

Then, one door called out to me.

The door wasn't one of the normal entryways for tourists. This door was only as tall as my waist and had a rope loop as a handle. There was a wooden switch to keep it closed. I smiled. I didn't see a lock on it. If the woman over the farmhouse wanted me to stay out, she should have had a sign or something.

By now, Brenda has gone down the stairs so I was the only one in the attic.

I pushed the door in and it went "Creeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!"

I looked about. Perhaps the lady who had said, "You can go upstairs!" would rush up the stairs and pull me back. Nothing happened.

I squatted and stuck my head into the place ever so slowly. Unlike the other rooms, this place had dirt and mud caked on the floor as if someone hadn't walked in it for a few decades. Near the door was a wooden ladder flat on the ground with the rungs rotting away.

Then I heard a high-pitched sound. I remembered hearing the birds twittering and I wasn't sure if what I heard was a bunch of "tweets" or "squeaks".

In the center of this room I saw a brick column that went from the floor to the top of the raised ceiling. I wildly, looked about, half expecting some rat or mouse to jump from the ladder rungs or some bat to swoop from the ceiling. My heart pounded faster.

I closed the door, not wanting to do more than stick my head into the room. Then, I asked myself, "Where is your adventurous spirit? Just go in there. At least then you could say that you did it!"

I grunted at myself.

Once more, the door went "Creeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!"

I scrunched down on one foot while placing my other foot onto the dirty floor.

I paused. I glanced from side to side.

"Squeak! Squeak!"

I almost pulled out my foot. I gulped. Now I knew I wasn't dealing with a bird, but what?

I gritted my teeth and placed both feet into the small door, bent my back, and stood up in the room. I walked toward the brick column and looked at every wall and corner and ceiling space. Nothing. Nothing.

I breathed out.


A bat with a wingspan as long as my arm flew past me. I had my answer.

I rushed to the door, dove through it, and then slammed it behind me. I placed my back against the door as my left hand reached for the wooden knob so that it remained closed.

Someday, someone else will go in there. It just won't be me.

As I walked out the farmhouse door, I saw the lady who had called out to Brenda and I before. I guiltily smiled, wondering if she knew what had happened.

Later, Brenda had her own adventure driving up the Roan mountain with bikers along the narrow road, but that is another story. Perhaps my story would be dull compared to hers.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My descent into the whirlpool of grief continues but not without glimpses of the gentle moonlight of my aunt's life before her passage into the after-place.

I flew out of Tri-Cities Airport at 6 AM Saturday morning, arrived in Tallahassee at 10:30, met my daughters and grandson and then drove up to Alabama for the funeral. If you will recall from my previous blog entry, my Aunt Margaret's house was firmly stuck in the1950's; I had written about it some time ago and my cousin asked that I read the poem I had written and make a commentary at the funeral service. Since I thrive on spontaneity, I was happy to comply, but when I stood on the platform and saw all those sad faces, all I could remember was Aunt Margaret's laughter. I read the poem but then I commented on her laugh as one I had tried to emulate, copying it until I nearly had it but it was never mine - it belonged only to her. Her laugh was musical and had a lilting kick at the end that I adored. After that, her charm and the unique laugh she possesed dominated the proceedings as others added their memories to our bank.

I returned to Tennessee today, arriving at 10:30 Am, exausted but glad to be 'home.' My luggage continued on without me: somehow I passed through three ID points without anyone, including me, detecting that I was traveling under the name of Loiss Kelley to Harrisburg . . .why on earth I checked the bag is anybody's guess - disorientation, exaustion, brain fog. I'll miss the simple things I had packed in there. As for Loiss Kelley, who knows? I got my proper identity back in Charlotte, but it was too late to snatch the bag.

So, why did I share this other than simply wanting to tell you my story? I was reading Shank's Shaping Memory chapter; as I read, I found myself thinking about all the things that happened this weekend that will be pivotol in what I choose to remember for the future. Which elements will I retain as I tell the stories and which parts will I simply drop? I suspect I'll let the luggage thing pass now that I've shared it with you, but no, I've got to keep trying to get somebody to help me retrieve it from lost/misplaced baggage heaven which means I'll have to tell it over and over . . .

After the funeral, our family returned to Aunt Margaret's house and many of the relatives wanted to talk about the 'front room.' It seems I wasn't the only one who noticed it. I listened to all those stories and realized that we really do pick up pieces of things and add them to our inventory of memories. That room grew to impressive proportions yesterday as the story was told over and over again and new bits and pieces were added to it. Since the story was already on active file in my 'Memory Organization Package,' retrieval was simple. The retelling polished it and new details were added to enrich the memory for the next time. That the core of the story also exists in written form lessened the feeling that it was just a dream; sitting in Aunt Margaret's front room one more time imprinted it for life.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Finally Posting about Yashinsky's Furniture and Tea

I have been meaning all week to respond to Barnabus’s entry about the last chapter in Suddenly They Heard Footsteps. I finished this chapter last weekend while at home slathering another layer of emotional cement on the frayed nerves and strong spirit of my family. I was not so impressed by the moving furniture part of the chapter. I didn’t particularly like the moving furniture part of the class practice from our first week either. I think that is the theatre person in me. It bothers me that the stage is not set before the audience ever enters the house. I understand the logic in what he is saying, but it doesn’t fit with my personal value system. I’m of the opinion that the stage should be set and the actors/storyteller warmed up and ready to shine. When I moved the chair out of my way in class I didn’t feel like I was saying, “I’m in command – this is my space.” I felt like I was saying, “Crap – I forgot to move the chair out of the way.”

Enough about furniture – it’s tea time. I worked my way through college doing several different jobs, but my main job was working for a radio station. I started out doing clerical work and moved quickly into sales, writing copy, external PR, and working as a DJ. The station worked around my school schedule so that some semesters I worked sales 2-3 days a week, wrote commercials at odd times, and worked on the air several hours a day. Some semesters I worked on the air on weekends and did little else. The thing is even when I wasn’t really doing sales and such, there were certain clients that I still had to take care of. I might only see them once a month, but I had to be the one to go visit – another salesperson wouldn’t do

One of our florists would listen to any sales pitch I had, but I had to be helping him fix funeral flowers the whole time I was there. He taught me how to tie different bows and use this little machine to put spikes on the end of artificial flowers; he taught me how to bring balance to an asymmetric wreath and write personal messages on wide ribbon (called 40). He almost always greeted me with, “Come on back here – you’ll never believe what I’ve been into.” We would laugh and carry on and work for hours sometimes. I always made a sell and I always had a good time. Other people could go see him, but it just wasn’t the same for him and he would ask for me. One client was the most annoying cuss in town. He liked to pontificate on the state of the universe and he loved to make you come back again and again and again to finish something that should have taken 10 – 15 minutes. He handled the advertisement for the pharmacy which he co-owned and the card shop that belonged to his partner’s wife. My boss wouldn’t go see him. She said the aggravation wasn’t worth it for her. I enjoyed the challenge. It positively hung him up that I could remember things he’d said months or years before. I used to think the man needed to control the sales relationship. I think it was his way of having a captive audience. I listened to him and learned so much about patience. The lady who owned the bridal registry and Wilton supply store became a second grandmother to me. In all honesty, several of us loved Mrs. Lee and we would bargain to see who got to go sell to her. I would visit with her on my day off or if it was snowy and the station manager told us to stay in town and just do follow-ups. Long after I left the station, I would stop by to see how she was or how many baby birds she had. She was in her seventies and loved to reminisce.

While it’s true I have brought donuts or drinks or homemade Christmas candy to these and many other “mentors”, I think the greatest thing I have given is time to stop and really listen. Now I teach and I have been blessed by a cluster of students who take vacation days from there work to return year after year to help with the spring musical. I am equally in awe of those who just pop by to see if they can do anything for me. Many come to my door with a diet soda in there hand, some bring white cake with white icing remembering it a favorite of mine, even more bring chocolate. One student came to see me a couple of years after graduating. She was just getting back in the country and had came to Sparta to see her parents. She had brought me Romanian chocolate and stories of playing the theatre games I'd taught her with the children she had met. I am one of those teachers that you either love or hate. I love my students and I am still amazed at how they support and love me. When my sister was hit head-on a year and a half ago, I came home from the hospital in Chattanooga for the funeral. So many past students and presents students came to hug me and tell me they loved me and ask if there was anything they could do to help. There were a couple of students that I would have sworn fell into that “hating me” category that came by and held me close and said they remembered how I spoke of my family and they knew my heart was breaking so they wanted to tell me they were praying for me and my whole family. I had text messages every day from students who got my number from some of my past students who help with the musical. Prayer after prayer after prayer. It was almost a year later that a group of student and I were talking and one of them said to me that everywhere he went he told my story. I didn’t understand at first. He explained that he had been amazed that I had asked the same thing of everyone who asked me if they could do anything. I had asked each one to pray for my sister and Ryan. Evidently this had surprised several of my students. They knew I loved my sisters and seeing one of them so close to death was unbearable. They knew I would want them to pray for my family. He said he knew what a Christian was when I asked them to pray for Ryan – the boy who fell asleep at the wheel and hit my sister that November afternoon. If I only get to be one story for one person – that story is enough.

Schank's Understanding...

Hey Gang,

I was reviewing my Schank notes and have spent some time contemplating a theme in the "Understanding Other People's Stories" chapter. The theme seems to be more of a thesis really which I think can be succinctly stated as, "all people are doing when they understand is figuring out what story to tell." I think I've missed something in the first half of the book, because Schank can't mean simply this (it seems too improvised). Let me try to explain what I mean.

According to Schank, we know that we understand a situation in relation to other situations we've already understood, now we can add to this that while we are referencing our indexes of understood experiences we are also preparing an appropriate story. Is this right? My fiancee is a therapist, and when she is working she attempts to understand her client's story while not imposing any story of her own. She is trying to create a space for the client to discover the narrative they are telling. This seems different to me. I can imagine that we may all find ourselves in situations where we are not trying to tell anyone a story, but are rather trying to listen to someone else's (while still trying to understand what we are experiencing). We may listen to someone's story and carefully pose questions or suggestions that help them develop that story.

Could Schank mean that in some cases when we're trying to figure out what story to tell that we are sometimes trying to manipulate others into telling the story we think they should be telling? That doesn't seem to be his intent, but I'm not sure here exactly what is.

We may understand experiences by referencing other experiences we've understood, and while doing so be preparing a story of our own to tell in relation to what we are presently experiencing, but is this a fully developed explanation of the entirety of our knowledge? Is it possible to experience understanding not by referencing our stories, but the stories of others? Perhaps a good friend isn't preparing a story to tell as they listen to ours, but she is rather referencing our stories in an attempt to help us better understand what we are trying to say or identify certain story patterns in our narrative.

Does this make any sense? Is it possible to hear someone tell a story and by referencing only their stories (not your own) help them come to a better understanding of that story? Maybe this is what I'm trying to say. In this situation we're not preparing a story to tell. Or are we?

Well, these were some thoughts I wanted to share with you all. I hope you're all having a great weekend. Take care and I'll see you on Monday......your friend in stories, Josh

Friday, July 27, 2007

The need to talk

"Human beings are a collection of stories."(135) Schank goes on to tell us that we accumulate many stories over our life time. When we have the opportunity we pick a story and tell it. Our opportunity seems to be now. It has been interesting and enjoyable to hear all your stories and to listen to them evolve. Schank says that the "the stories we tell are affected by whom we are telling them to."(135) Everyone's input and comments to the stories helps each of our stories to grow.

"How can I know what I think until I hear myself talk"(114)The example Schank gives with the man talking to no one all day is something I have thought about often with our technological world we live in now. I had visited my daughter in Rapid City, SD one spring. At that time new to me, was the self checkout counters at Walmart, and it made me think about how easy it has become to live in a "big" city and talk to no one. The fact that you could have all those people around you and speak to no one because you drive to work by yourself, work in a cubicle on a computer by yourself, buy your supplies from a store with a self-checkout counter, fill your car with gas using your credit card, drive home by yourself and maybe live by yourself. It almost horrifies me!!! I think that is because so often in the history of our state, you can read the stories of the loneliness of the early settlers. How they went for months, sometimes a year without visiting with another woman, or seeing another person. It played a big part in the difficulty of settling the area. That need for human contact and conversation is so important. Yet there are so many people who do not have that important verbal contact, that chance to share stories. Sometimes by choice, other times not. It is like when Sandy talked about not going to bed without laughing. We need laughter, but it's hard to keep laughing by yourself. Schank said everyone tells stories to themselves but also questions how much of the story will be remembered if we don't tell anyone. So keep talking and telling stories....and visiting with store clerks!!!....or young mothers, or older homebound people, or people new to your community, or....
Given the grabbers that our sonnets contained, I have posted below another site that may be of interest to one of you. Below the sonnet site is one that I am listening to as I type and think about how to place, relate, and reveal. You may find it helpful in many ways.



Repression/Resurrection of Stories

Last night I called my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Rick to talk about my cousin Grant. We talked for over an hour and a half.

For the first time with my aunt over the phone, I shared the personal story of confronting my cousin's death. I referenced the two hymns and said the words but I did not sing them. Interestingly, when the story was over, my aunt requested that I sing those songs the next time I told it.

Though it has been almost 14 years since my cousin's death, I have repressed that story. When we had the one-on-one tellings in class, I told Josh that he was really the first person to hear it. I have relived it in my head, but now the story has been heard by others besides Josh.

Schank commented, "People are probably not consciously trying to repress a story. Rather, they are unconsciously trying to remember it so that they can match it to another story like it--should one ever occur" (p. 142). In the case of my cousin Grant, I believe the story surfaced for many reasons, with one reason being that a couple months ago another one of my cousins, Christopher, passed away at the age of 33 from a stroke. Usually one hears of deaths of grandparents or aunts or uncles. The death of cousins before these elders can shake the mind and soul.

After talking with my aunt, I asked if I had her blessing to share Grant's story beyond the family setting. Of course, most of the story is how I cope with death. My aunt agreed that sharing moments from Grant's life would be appropriate and healing for others. Though it will be about two weeks after this Advanced Storytelling Class, she will scan a booklet for me and send through email of other memories that classmates and family members had of Grant. She wished she could get it to me before, though I assured her that stories evolve and that I do not want to rush the development of the story. I would tell the story with what I know now.

Schank said, "The sooner you tell a story, the sooner you can begin to forget it--by never telling it again. If you want to remember the story, on the other hand, keep telling it" (p. 141). I would never want the stories of Grant to fade. In fact, I would love to piece separate stories that emphasize his loving nature for the underdog. A whole program could be dedicated to Grant, who was like the big brother I never had. I am the oldest one in my family. I do have a younger brother and a younger sister, though it seems that most people yearn for a big brother if they do not already have one.

I plan on exchanging stories about Grant with another cousin, Becky. Grant, Becky and I were one to two years apart in age so we had our adventures. When the memories are stored inside for too long, they get fuzzy. Becky and I could do some mutual reminding/storytelling so to make memories clear. I have a feeling that Schank would be pleased to hear this goal.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day Nine Report -- Takes Telling to Learn

Today was very informative. I recalled many stories as I listened to each and everyone of you, and am sure that it will continue tomorrow when I hear Saundra tell and everyone else retell.

The task for me is to improve the 'Place, Relate and Reveal' components of my story. Looking forward to another day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My last surviving connection to my mother's immediate family died tonight at 10:16, leaving me the trembling matriarch of our small family. The reason for sharing this with you is that just awhile ago I was reading Schank and came to the section on 'relating.' I had read it previously but this time, it struck me deeply.
Earlier in the week, Brenda shared the loss of a number of her family members this past year; I related to her words and immediately wanted to share my experience of multiple loss with her even though it wasn't exactly the same as her story.
Tonight, when I got the word about Aunt Margaret's death, I immediately thought of Brenda and her loss. Then I moved on to recall my childhood memories of Aunt Margaret's house.
It was always exciting to pull off Hwy 231 in Ozark, Alabama after having driven through what seemed like hundreds of miles of parched farmland, to a gentle slope that led up to a true Florida house. That it was virtually the only Florida-style house I knew (I'm from North Florida and rarely if ever saw houses like that) and was sitting in Alabama dawned on me as I grew older, but as a child, seeing that aqua stuccoed house with it's heron screen door ornament and the flamingos out front was a treat.
Her house had a special scent of it's own that eludes me now but I knew it well then. Walking through the front door with the big round port hole and into her living room in my mind today, transports me back into the fifties because that's exactly where that room stayed for forty years; I will miss it as I miss her. I wrote about it once, sending a copy of the poem to her and even though she framed the poem and kept it, she began to change the room . . .

Story--Brenda, Rachel & the Exchanged Glance in the Woods

My mom said that I was a storyteller as soon as I opened my mouth. What she doesn't know are the number of stories I keep to myself. If Schank knew how many stories I kept inside, he would shake his head and say "Talking is remembering" (p. 115).

At certain moments I can be creative and play impromptu storytelling games whenever I attend the National Youth Storytelling Showcase in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. With permission from parents, I lead games with the finalists until 1:00am or so. On the last night of the event, it has been tradition to be all-night so that we are the first ones to have breakfast.

Most of the time I like to listen and soak things in. Sometimes I soak so long that my memory gets shriveled like a prune.

Schank warned, "If we don't tell the story soon enough after the experience or often enough immediately after the experience or if we don't tell the story at all, the experience cannot be coalesced into a gist since its component pieces begin to mix with new information that continues to come in" (p. 115).

Every so often I tell the experiences to myself in my head or aloud though rarely to others. My kind of rehearsal is what Schank said, "One phenomenon of memory is that people talk to themselves, not necessarily aloud of course, but they do tell themselves stories, collecting disparate events into coherent wholes" (p. 117).

Even with the support from my husband for storytelling, deep down I have fears that if I tell too many stories to him, he will be storied out. Casey has shared stories with me--like when he proposed to me through a story--yet he claims he will only tell official stories once every seven years. (He still does not realize the great number of unofficial stories he tells.)

Due to my tendency to keep stories inside of me, I believe I have fewer indexes to jump to various gists and stories. You may have noticed in class my cloudy look when searching for a word or a story to continue conversations or exercises.

To break this trend, I will now share an experience that Brenda and I shared last Saturday, July 21st, which I call "Brenda, Rachel & the Exchanged Glance in the Woods"--

Brenda felt brave enough to go solely with a water bottle and sunglasses for the hike in the woods around ETSU. As for me, I brought my bag complete with book, paper, colored pencils, jacket, camera, batteries, water bottle, timer, cellphone, whistle--to name a few things. I would hate to be a few miles into the hike and think, "Hey, I want to sketch that bird up there" or "I've got to call Casey" or any number of random thoughts.

We twisted and turned along the trail. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Every so often I stopped and took pictures of strange logs with unnatural faces or of enormous spiderwebs.

Then we saw it. A long thick vine dangled from a tall tree.

Now--have you ever been told as a child "do not touch"? We knew that someone, somewhere--whether our husbands or our parents--were shaking their fingers and saying "do not touch".

We had seen many vines that climbed up trees during the hike but none of them hung above the trail. To add to the temptation, the end of the vine came to about my waist.

Brenda and I exchanged glances. We knew what each other was thinking. We wore crooked smiles, knowing that this was our chance.

Then, like two good girls in Sunday clothes, we walked past the vine to continue our hike.

After a couple paces, I stopped. Throughout the hike I had dutifully carried my bag across my shoulders with all my safety devices. At this time, I threw down the bag and it thumped on the ground.

Brenda looked back, almost jealous that she had not made the first move. I quickly walked to the vine. I pulled on the it. Nothing happened. I pulled on it again. Nothing happened.

"I think this will hold!" I called to Brenda.

The vine was thicker than my arm and seemed lighter than what a branch the same thickness would weigh. As the end of the vine was to my waist, I jumped so that I could pull the vine between my legs and get a good grip on it. The vine only slipped. I tried again and again. I was never good at the high jump in middle school and I saw there was no improvement as a 27-year-old.

I decided to give one last try. I jumped and caught the vine between my legs. I pushed off with my feet from the tree so that I could swing. Brenda rushed to my bag and took some pictures as I swung for a good length of time.

I smiled for the camera.

"Brenda, how about you give it a try?"

Brenda hesitated for a moment. She knew she was at least a decade older than me, but did that matter? She smiled and I knew she wanted to swing.

She then asked, "You do have your cellphone in case something happens, right?"

"Right--but you'll be fine."

Brenda and I are about the same height and though I guessed that I was lighter than her, I didn't see too much difference in our weight.

Brenda, too, tugged on the vine to see how well it held to the tree. Satisfied, Brenda jumped to get the vine between her legs. She had troubles, too. Finally, Brenda caught onto the vine. She swung a bit and I grabbed the camera as she had done for me.


The world was brought to slow motion. Brenda and I looked up as the vine broke about as long as a three-story apartment complex towards the trail. Brenda's arms raised high above her head and then dropped backwards followed by her head, chest, and legs. The vine fell in the same direction.


I nervously smiled.

"Are you okay, Brenda?"

She smiled and laughed.

"I told you something was going to happen."

When I looked back at the camera, I saw that a picture was taken, but that the camera had also run out of batteries.

So if you want proof of this story, you will have to believe Brenda and I.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799


In my search for a myth, I checked several books out from the library, but it was my stop at the used book store yesterday that was the most fruitful. I found a nearly new copy of a book called Classic Myths to Read Aloud. It is stories of Greek and Roman Mythology specially arranged for children five and up. It is a perfect book for beginners and for me as it gives background information and it gives pronunciations. I want to share some information the author gave in the introduction to the book. He talked about how we often think our children are learning about certain things in school because we learned it, but that is not always what is happening. I did not learn an abundance about myths, but have always been fascinated by them. My three daughters all had excellent units on mythology when they were in 6th grade. My sons has had no exposure to the myths. I felt so “on the same page” as the author when he told how much these students will miss out on in life as they are not able to understand any of the references to the mythological characters or expressions. I have to share his story with you, it is just too sad. It will hopefully make your job as a storyteller even more important.
"…..I was riding a student bus that was taking me across a university campus to the school’s education Department. In front of me on the bus were two undergraduate women-sophomores or juniors, perhaps—who were having a most difficult time trying to figure out what a certain passage in their textbook meant by its references to ‘the wooden horse of Troy’. I could barely believe what I was hearing, but an even greater jolt was in store. The last words I heard them say before they, too got off at the Education Building were, “and who in the world is this guy Troy, anyway?”(3)
He saw 2 tragedies…one was that they were probably bright students who never had heard the story, second was that they were probably going to be classroom teachers and would be guiding the learning of other children.

So go forth and tell ----

In our after telling chat with Roy Book Binder, he mentioned that sometimes a story he is telling takes off in another direction because of something he is reminded of….just like Schank talks about in the remembering chapter and we are experiencing in class.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We allowed ourselves to descend into the depths of of our sonnets today, testing how best to speak them; later, when we expressed them as extended conversation, I was struck by how poetry is an expression of life. It seems when the extras we use in prose are dropped, and the words are stripped down to only those which are most meaningful, simple beauty and significance emerges.

Quest of Personal Mythology

We may know "To thine own self be true" from Shakespeare's Hamlet, though this exhortation implies that we have some sort of understanding of ourselves. If there is any question to who we are, we could listen to Schank and "tell stories to describe ourselves not only so others can understand who we are but also so we can understand ourselves" (p. 44).

A month ago I shared personal stories for an hour in connection with the Lunch Bunch concert series of downtown Salt Lake City. Within the performance, I could not resist to also tell the Russian folktale "Bearhead". Since this tale was told towards the end of the program, I figured the audience had a better idea of my nature and might guess why "Bearhead" struck me. I didn't want to say any statement of "Bearhead reflects my life because. . ." though I did give them a challenge to see if they understood why I told it along with the personal tales. I then left it open for the audience to interpret the folktale as they wished.

The types of stories that we share already reveal who we are inside.

As my repertoire grows, I am anxious to see the development of my own personal mythology that parallels mythology found in other cultures. Schank reminded, "Telling our stories allows us to compile our personal mythology, and the collection of stories we have compiled is to some extent who we are, what we have to say about the world, and tells the world the state of our mental health" (p. 44).

I chuckled when I read "state of our mental health". I seem to come up with crazy or out-of-the-box ideas and so I have nicknamed myself "Random Rachel" in a good natured sort of way. This could easily connect to the nickname that my mom continues to call me of "Silly Goose". Within a name--or a nickname--could be steps on the path that my personal mythology travels upon.

Part of the mythology journey may entail the times when I listen to others tell stories about me. I might dwell upon the stories to such a degree that there could be self-fulfillment of those stories in positive or negative ways. Schank taught, "We also acquire personal myths from our parents, teachers, friends, enemies--in short, from anyone who tells us stories about ourselves" (p. 46).

If too much time is spent listening to "enemies"--or at least from negative sources--then I may turn to a trusted friend and ask for a story that may comfort me. Often the biggest "enemy" is me. When I transform into villain, then Casey, my husband, reminds me that I magnify my faults and that I dwell upon criticism longer than I should. He usually follows these words with some sort of example of why I should be happy with myself. Schank noted, "When you tell a story that implies something is wrong with yourself, you may hope for a story that disputes your point" (p. 52). Fortunately, Casey is always there to "dispute" on my behalf.

Thus, my personal mythology journey continues. I, too, face the question in Hamlet of "To be or not to be". Will I be my own villain within my mythology or will I play the hero's role? Each story I tell could change the answer to that question.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799


Looking over my notes I realized that I never commented on a sentence written by Schank on page 15. He says, "We understand events in terms of events we have already understood." Let's say for the sake of argument that this is indeed true. What does it mean? I can make sense of saying that events I now experience manifest themselves as a sort of knot on an expanding web of experiential relationships, but was there some sort of proto-event? Or proto-story? How did little baby Josh understand anything around him if he was not only experiencing them for the first time, but was too young to have had any other experiences to relate the new situations to? Doesn't this make you wonder if we don't already carry experiences with us? Perhaps situational knowledge can be encoded in genomes, and we have vestigial knowledge given to us by our parents' genes. Some religions believe that we are reincarnated souls who carry with them much of the knowledge learned from previous lives. (This reminds me of a book entitled, "Many Lives, Many Masters.") I wonder if it's now possible in my life to encounter a situation where I would have NO references. Essentially, in such a situation I guess I would have no understanding....

Why I am a Storyteller....

Inspired by the readings and our work in class I've been thinking a lot about why I call myself a storyteller and what it is exactly that I want to do with stories. Along my storytelling journey I’ve come to understand that my presence as a storyteller has essentially two equally important facets: (1) my voice as an Appalachian native working to preserve the folk heritage of my ancestors and the region they called home, and (2) my voice as a servant-leader, one who may incorporate the power of our shared narrative experience to help create opportunities for social and political transformation. Each aspect has had a profound affect on the other as I work to grow and develop as a storyteller and attempt to understand my role and responsibilities within my family and community. While each aspect has equal significance to my journey now, my first steps as a storyteller took place along paths in a rural county in hills of East Kentucky…

I’ve begun to discover my storytelling voice is one that I hope will carry on the traditions given to me by my ancestors and help preserve the beauty and sacredness of the South-Central Appalachian region. The hope woven into any narrative of why this area and its folk traditions should be cherished and preserved is essentially a moral discourse, one shared with me by the people who called this place home. Breaking beans with my grandfather was not only a vocation of subsistence, but was also an exercise in morality. During my development as a storyteller over the past two years I’ve begun to see how storytelling can help share with others not only a way of life, but a way of living. Contemporary society may be experiencing a dearth of moral exemplars and an unraveling of our sense of place and community responsibility, but within the woven narrative of the communal oral tradition we may find keys to reclaiming an integral component of our humanity: our ability to understand and empathize with others as a way of embodying hope in the human potential. Woven into my particular family tapestry are these important moral threads, which I have chosen to emphasize as a significant aspect of my own narrative journey.

In many ways the two stories I’ve been telling are one. One important family tradition that I strive to embody is a desire to serve as a servant-leader. The importance of community service is woven throughout many Appalachian folktales. For me, this is the truest narrative of Appalachia, its most authentic story, and these are its storytellers – the people that use their warm words and loving smiles to help share the understanding of community interconnectedness and sense of place we cherish so highly. I pray that they will give me the strength and wisdom to voice their stories as they deem appropriate and that their stories will influence and shape my own. It is here in Appalachia that I remember most profoundly the innate power of humanity to change, and that this transformation can be brought about by reaching out with the limitless love of the human heart. When we find the confidence to dance with the sensuous harmonies of the stories being told all around us, we will find the true means to fulfill our deepest yearnings as human beings, and then discover the truest sense of place. Perhaps then the framing of ethical and moral dilemmas will change and we will understand that only with a commitment to revering the sacredness of all narrative traditions will we find the necessary courage to heal ourselves, our families, and our communities.

July 24

My younger brother turned 57 yesterday and the fact of it left me listless until I read Brenda's post where she mentions grandmothers and their potential value. Why have I told you this? Is there a story brewing? I suspect there is and it may or may not be one I wish to tell . . .stay posted.

Yesterday's exercises left me 'free'd up for some reason. I love poetry - I love to read it, hear it, and think about it, but I never really thought about why. As I heard the sonnets read aloud and listened to my classmates' discussion, I began to think about why I chose Thomas Caulfield Irwin's #5, A roadside on on a Summer Day. We did our class exercises and participated in 'conversation' about our story threads and then it hit me - Irwin is telling my story. Somehow, through words, I am in his story and he is in mine - our eyes see the same things but with different lenses.

Way back on page 36 in Tell me a Story, Schank writes about firsthand stories, saying 'the art of storytelling involves finding good ways to express one's experiences in a way appropriate to the listener.' For me, that is what Irwin accomplished in #5. How to translate that knowledge into my own work is the challenge.

Hunting and Gathering/Elders

According to Yashinsky ……whenever I hear that name I am reminded of a little town in eastern Montana across the state line from where I grew up. The town is Wibaux ( we-bow) in case you do not speak French. Pierre Wibaux was a rich businessman who came to the area to develop a cattle ranch in the early homesteading days…. But that’s another story. This town that is named after a French man has a “ski” celebration every July. The “ski” event is not literal, even in eastern Montana the temps. do not allow for snow in July. It is quite a big deal, attended every year by my step mother, whatever family members can make it, and hundreds of other Polish people whose name ends in ski or sky. It is a typical small town event…food, music and FUN! FUN!
…back to Yashinsky… he tells us that a storyteller is always collecting ideas, words, phrases, stories. Carmen Deedy told us the same thing. She even pulled her orange notebook out of her bag and showed it to us. I will have to resurrect mine. It might even have some memories that will “remind” me of a story I am now able to tell.

I have been immersed in Grandmother stories since coming here at the beginning of June. Maybe I am envious of the people who have Grandmother tales to tell. Both of my Grandmothers died when I was quite young. My children did not get to know their Grandmothers as neither of them are living. Maybe I am worried that I won’t be able to be the type of Grandmother to my grandchildren that gives the wonderful virtues told in the stories I have heard. Either way I do believe in the elder storyteller and the ideas presented by Yashinski. He offers the idea that a story that comes to you “directly via the oral tradition will set deep roots in your life and repertoire.” I don’t want to miss out, so I have adopted my own Grandparents wherever we have lived. They have enriched my life and given me many stories to tell, even if they are not about my background personally, they are about my era. When my stepmother died this spring, we sat as one family watching the video of her life and were able to laugh as we saw them wearing the same clothes we would have worn, our hair the the same, our lifestyles the same, very different personalities but there was the connection of living in the same era.

Me or You?

It was an interesting process yesterday to do the activities that helped make the connection between our personal stories and other’s personal stories as discussed in the Schank book. Schank says, “ we start life without stories, and we go through life acquiring them.”(30). He also ( in Chapter 1) went into great detail explaining the effects remembering or being reminded of an incident or story helps us interpret new events. You don’t know something if you can’t find it in your memory when you need it. In conversation, a speaker might say something that sparks that memory. We experienced that in class and can relate that to a possible connection we want our listeners to make when they hear our stories.
In class we talked briefly about me-goals and you-goals. According to Schank tellers have 5 intentions with respect to themselves (40):
• achieve catharsis,
• to get attention,
• to win approval,
• to seek advice,
• or to describe themselves.
Anyone who tells us stories about ourselves, is helping us acquire personal myths or you-stories. I am in the sorting process to see where the story I am going to tell fits in to this picture.
When we tell stories for other people we have other goals. Schank lists them as(48):
• To illustrate a point
• To make the listener feel someway or another
• To tell a story that transports the listener
• To transfer some piece of information in our head into the head of the listener
• To summarize significant events.

I often find when I am analyzing my story I might have a deep purpose to telling it, sometimes not able to remove myself yet from the story or experience. Then I know it isn’t ready to tell. Schank tells us that stories are often intended to make somebody feel something and often they make the teller feel something as well.

I enjoyed these two comments in Chapter 2;
1. “ the most you can get expect from an intelligent being is a really good story. To get human beings to be intelligent means getting them to have stories to tell and having them hear and perhaps use the stories of others.”(54)
2. “Good storytellers cause positive responses in their listeners. Thus, good storytellers seem very intelligent.”(54)

Disappearing footsteps

On Sunday evening I worked on giving my insight to the forward, preface and chapter 1 of the Schank book, often noticing the little speech balloon that says, “Now blogger saves your drafts automatically! That was calming as I tackle this whole blog concept and maneuver my way threw my post. Yet, when I go on to the blog site, it is not there. When I go to return to list of posts it is there as a draft, but only 1 paragraph of it is there. I am still working to find it, if anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate them.

Day 5

Friday, July 20

All Present

We continued our read aloud of Dr. Seuss. Warm-up activtiy with word sounds: passing the sound around the circle ("zzzz" "p" etc.) Articuklation exercises: "Whether" and:

A Tutor who tooted the flute tried to tutor two tooters to toot. Said the two to the tutor "Is it harder to toot or to tutor two tooters to toot?" (Focus on the distinction between the "liquid u" as in "tutor" and the straight "oo" as in "toot")

Cecily sells sea shells by the sea shore where the sun shines on the shop signs. (Get off your "s". Use this to control splashing sibilant sounds.)

We discussed the important of control the breath in certain plosive sounds such as "p" especially when working with a microphoone. Use "Peter Piper" for this purpose!

Brenda continued work on "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut". Note the choice to emphasize the pronoun or the verb: "I" vs. "read". In general, emphasize the action words.

Sandy read "Are You My Mother?" and "Gertrude McFuzz" 2 stories about bird adventures! We discussed the idea of "fresh thought", speaking the words as if you were just thinking of them, as when Gertrude asks her uncle if there is a...pill of some kind to help her.

Saundra read "Cat In The Hat". We discussed the surprise of a fish talking - the historic tension between fish and cat. Saundra extended the "sh" sound in "fish" in the line "up, up, up with a fish" to great and sinister effect. Word sounds enhance connotative meaning, but also have an entertainment value of their own.The short, clipped words such as "cat" and "hat" gave a stacatto quality to the reading, whereas open, ongoing sounds as in "down" let out the emotion of the moment in "put me down!" In general, consonants carry intellectual value (meaning) and vowels open up emotions (feeling).

Josh gave us "The Sleep Book" with a sense oif the fresh thoughts: "The news is just in..." We worked the "Horn Honker" sequence to get the distinction of words. Note the effective use of specific information such as the number of sleepers.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Schank Tank

On page 218 Schank said: "When we hear the stories of others, the issue becomes whether we choose to adopt these stories for ourselves. We define ourselves through our stories, but through teaching (and preaching), we also define ourselves through the stories of others."

Today was a very interesting example of Schank's statement We were in the Schank Tank and it was full of 'gold' fish swimming together. All of you told personal stories that revived things in my memory. Now it is time to adapt my inherited stories and pass them.

Brain gym info.

I had told you I would post some information about Brain Gym. Here it is in a nutshell.
Brain Gym is a program based somewhat on the yoga philosophy. It uses physical movements to enhance learning and performance. (much like some of the ones we do in class) It is said to develop the brains neural pathways the way nature does through movement. It is my understanding that some students may not have developed all of their primary reflexive patterns as a baby. Maybe they weren’t given a chance to crawl, spin, roll, reach for things because they were kept in swings, playpens, walkers, etc. Maybe they experienced trauma in utero, due to stress of the mom or something traumatic happening to mom. If these primary reflexes didn’t develop, that stage of development is not complete and can cause problems later on in life.
In the classroom, I do these activities to calm the students and help them focus. I have seen amazing results for me as well as for the students!!! Usually it is the students saying, “we didn’t do Brain Gym today”, especially if the class seems loud and off task. They notice the difference too.
There are various exercises to do, we usually pick about 5 and it is well worth the 10 minutes it takes. By mid way through the year the students take turn leading the exercises and picking what they want to do. Double doodles ( like the circle/triangle one we did, except we only do 1 shape) and the owl are favorite exercises. Different exercises focus on certain learning skills. You might do one exercise to help in listening and another one to help in writing or one to help calm you. I worked last year with a Brain Gym instructor to incorporate reflexive pattern movements into stories. We had great success and it is what I plan to do my paper on.
Some good sites to give you more information is:
Some words to google for more information:
Dr. Paul Dennison
Educational Kinesiology
Brain gym
The instructor I work with is from Oregon ( originally from ND) His e-mail is
jonbredal@earthlink.net He has 2 books Brain/Heart Games for Families and Empowering Children Through Stories and Movement. I know he would answer any questions you had. Just tell him you met me at ETSU. He knows I am here working on this Masters degree.
There are many classes available around the country. Asheville, NC has 4 Brain gym instructors. TN has 2 and ND has 2 trained instructors also.
Like everything in life there are people who do not believe in the program. I have seen the difference it can make. I will admit sometimes, I do the Brain Gym activities because it will calm me and help me focus after a crazy morning full of unpredictable issues. You know, just a typical day at school!
If you have any more specific questions, ask me and I will see if I can answer them.

Lesson Plans

This weekend I read a lot more in Suddenly They Heard Footsteps. The book is a great how to book. I find answers to questions I haven't thought of yet. I want to start a storytelling group in White County. My first goal will be to hold a storytelling olio with my Theatre II students. I am working on a unit plan and as I read I keep going, "I hadn't thought of that!" I will have the unit finished soon and will post it with the cross references to Suddenly They Heard Footsteps. I have discovered I'm not in the mood for a LOVE sonnet, but I found one that works.

Striving for Intelligence

If any person ever doubted their intelligence, then they would be pleased to know that Schank said, "Any human, even the dullest of us, is unbelievably intelligent" (p. 3). Even if we feel we do not have stories within us, we do, and therein lies our potential to brilliance.

The longer we live on earth, the more experiences we gain that feed into the types of scripts we are familiar with such as the normal activities at school, home, work, or church. Our memories of such places and others can allow us to converse and communicate easier with our fellow man.

Though Shakespeare said that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players", each of us have different roles. Schank revealed, "The more scripts you know, the more situations will exist in which you feel comfortable and capable of playing your role effectively. But the more scripts you know, the more situations you will fail to wonder about, be confused by, and have to figure out on your own. Script-based understanding is a double-edge sword" (p. 8)

A script could even relate to the Harry Potter phenomenon at the bookstores. When there is the midnight party to celebrate the release of a Harry Potter book, I already know to expect thousands of people to be lined inside and outside of Barnes and Noble. I would not strangely look upon the people who have dressed up as their favorite characters in the book such as Harry Potter with his scar on his forehead, Hermione Granger with her stack of books, or Ron Weasley with his broken wand or pet rat Scabbers. I would see many people carrying broomsticks and know that I was not witnessing a major janitorial reunion. I was really among people who shared a fascination about the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and all the other magical wonders within the book pages.

If I was unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, I would not know how to talk to the "crazy" people at the bookstore. The fans' minds would be filled with stories and episodes from the books. They would have these stories indexed to such a degree that an everyday word like "car" or "train" could trigger images from the second Harry Potter book with the flying car scene.

Though I have read six of the seven Harry Potter books, my husband, Casey, would be able to converse more intelligently about the series. On July 20th, he attended the midnight release of the seventh and final book of the Harry Potter series. He finished the book in one day. Since the 20th, Casey has read one chapter of the book a day over the telephone to me so that we might have deeper conversations in regards to the literature. Gary Saul Morson from the foreword commented, "Popular fiction or well-known narratives in mass culture, such as television programs or movies, also provoke intense conversations. . . .Such popular works allow us to speak to those like ourselves about questions interesting to us. . . .The conversations are going on now, and if one waits, one may see the film but will miss the dialogues about it" (p. xvii).

Television shows have seemed to wait on commenting on the last Harry Potter book so that more of the viewing population could feel apart of this unique storytelling event.

Within conversations, Harry Potter readers will remind what has already happened in the previous six books. As Schank stressed, "Reminding is the basis of much of our conversation and our thought" (p. 19).

Some storytellers have connected with their listeners by adapting the popular literature into their repertoire. A storyteller dressed as Hagrid, the half-giant and gamekeeper at the Hogwarts School, to share stories of magic in Louisville, Kentucky. Many library summer reading programs had storytimes to connect with themes due to the positive reactions to Harry Potter.

Even as I wrote these comments, I have used several words from the Harry Potter books that I can simply say and not explain since "culturally common stories are usually referred to rather than told" (p. 38).

So if at any moment we feel unintelligent, the easiest way to feel connected may be to discover the culturally common stories. Perhaps this explains why some movies, shows, or books are "must sees" or "must reads". We are striving to feel intelligent.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Schank Final Chapter: Stories & Intelligence

The final chapter summarizes Mr, Schank's theoretical perspective that "People think in terms of stories. They think in terms of stories that they have already understood. New events and or problems are understood to old previously understood stories and are explained to others in terms of stories."

Schank theorizes that: "Stories are very basic to the human thinking process. But people also use stories to avoid thinking." He then addresses what he believes to be the seven dimensions of human intelligence in terms of how they operate via story recognition.

According to Schank, the seven dimensions of intelligence are:
  1. DATA FINDING: "Intelligence is characterized by the ability to get reminded. Reminding has a purpose. It is the means by which our memories present us with data for our consideration. We might want to recall an experience because of who was involved in it, where it took place, an unusual experience related to it, or one of many points that was derived from it." Personal Note: Schank's description of the Jimmy Swaggart story skills in chapter 7 seem to fit this dimension.
  2. DATA MANIPULATION: "Some people can find matches that do not directly fit and instead of rejecting them, use them. They have learned old to adapt old data for new situations....The more successfully you adapt old stories, the more creative you are." Personal Note: This dimension seems to fit well with the story skeleton, chapter 6. The distillation, combination, etc. to create the gist of the story.
  3. COMPREHENSION: "...we can connect new stories to old stories...Part of being intelligent is figuring out where the actions of others fit." Personal Note: From what we have learned in the past and embedded in our minds through scripts, the process is simplified.
  4. EXPLANATION: "It seems rather obvious that speculating about what may be going on in an anomalous situation is an important part of thinking...From what I said above, it follows that intelligence is intimately connected with failure...Change comes about because of failure...Failure is valuable because it encourages explanation." Personal Note: This is easier to understand in the Jimmy Swaggart story in Chapter 7.
  5. PLANNING: "How is it that planning is possible by beings who are not overwhelmingly intelligent? The answer is that most beings don't create plans, they copy plans...The ability to create brand-new plans is one of the real hallmarks of intelligence" Personal Note: Basically, Schank uses a lot of generalization to support his point, e.g. cooks and recipes; drivers traveling to a new destination; chess players and generals looking for a new strategy. Generalization is typically due to lack of data in the high tech world.
  6. COMMUNICATION: "Intelligent beings communicate. Some people can tell stories that are not simply direct descriptions of what has happened to them. They have learned how to generalize, crystallize, and elaborate so that they tell stories that express insights not obvious to the original story.... Knowing that it is possible to entertain people in various , storytellers learn to hone the skills necessary to be entertaining." Personal Note: Though technical on occasion, the communication dimension was inspirational for one wanting to become a better communicator.
  7. INTEGRATION: " "As a matter of course, we understand stories that we have been told. " Personal Note: This is a shift section to the concept of computers conversing with humans. To support his point Schank refers to an artificial intelligence project in the late 1970's and then moves forward with more technical discussion regarding artificial intelligence and how: "The day of interactive storytelling is coming."

Personal Assessment: Much of what was said in this chapter was based upon generalizations and personal opinion. If the day of interactive storytelling does arrive communication via stories will shift from oral to written.

Schank: Chpt 7 - Knowing the Stories of Your Culture, Pgs. 189 - 218

Schank uses examples from the 1960's Hippie and Flower child and their, and his, use of the Chinese 'I Ching' culture describe the process of how people can make complex decisions. He points to the 'I Ching' one of three basic flavors of stories "...which are either neutral, condensed, or elaborated". The following are his story flavor definitions:
  • Neutral: "General wisdom that seems intended for your particular problem, but which, in fact, is applicable to almost any problem. This is the secret of the 'I Ching's' appeal."
  • Condensed: "...a generalization drawn from many stories ---one that predicts the outcome of events by recognizing the basic pattern inherent in other stories. The most common form of such stories occurs as proverbs."
  • Elaborated: "An elaborated story is quite a bit like a proverb except that the case in question is filled with details and particulars....Elaborated stories provide stories to aspire to, or to learn from, that the culture as a whole agrees are valuable. Myths, or heroic stories, are a typical form of elaborated story."

Schank then goes into a more detailed description of the three story flavors using both personal and well known stories as examples. I will now encapsulate what Schank said about the elaborated story.

Elaborated Story Detail per Schank

  • "We don't have to figure out the answer to hard questions by adapting well known stories to new situations. Finding a story that fits exactly would be much easier....One remedy for this, then, is to adapt our own lives to what has gone on before. If you can't make a well-known story fit your life, make you life fit a well-known story. Our need for heroes is powerful because heroes are models for our own lives....The important point is that stories of heroes' exploits are more for copying than adapting. We get our stories from heroes, and their stories become our own."
  • "Why are these evangelists so appealing? One possible answer hinges upon the concept of a culturally common story. If we all share the same stories we feel part of a common group...the stories they tell are being heard by thousands of people. If we all share the same stories we feel part of a common group....Thus, the stories automatically build a bond among these people. They each share the same stories to use as guidance in their lives."
  • "Size is actually a critical aspect to memorable stories...actually telling the story in a reasonably sized chuck is an important memory aid.
  • "... as we have seen with the 'I Ching', the more generic the story, the more it is of general usefulness. Bible stories have survived precisely because they are stories that typify situations in which people often find themselves."

Personal Observation: Schank launches into a discussion of sub-cultures, pages 195 -203. He again returns to the1960's hippie era, and adds a personal story in which he misleads his boss at Stanford University to get a trip overseas. I will not address the contents of pages 196 to 201 where Schank provides some stories that he defines as sub-culture shared stories because he uses some profane language that my culture finds offensive. However, he does make an important statement on page 203: "Self-definition means the adoption of a set of stories of one's own Adapting to another story means learning the stories of that culture."

Schank returns to a working man's culture with some illuminating information, stories, and important points in the final two sections of Chapter 7.

Untold Stories of Foreign Cultures

Schank's statement on page 203 illustrates the differing perspectives cultures: "What we learn, as we grow up, is the stories of our culture that allow us to communicate quickly and efficiently with members of our own culture...We have a lot of evidence that language is learned phrasally, rather than word by word. But to function effectively in France, learning French isn't all that is necessary. One must learn French stories, i.e. the stories that are only culturally common in France." Schank then provides an excellent well-crafted story of an American tourist who can speak French, going to a French Cafe and experiencing something very different than his culture defines restaurant experience, pages 204 - 207. The bottomline is that we learn from our experiences. When the American customer returns again he will know more than how to speak French.

Mastering One's Own Stories

Based upon the French Cafe story provided above Schank concludes that: "...coping in the modern world means knowing the stories of the cultures in which you operate....Understanding culture, then, in the sense of being able to operate easily in it, means knowing the cultures stories. And similarly, operating in the idiosyncratic world of your own subculture, you must know your own stories."

Schank points out that children and teenagers do not have their stories down, whereas,: "Adults on the other hand, needn't think at all after a while. All the stories that you ever will tell have already been thought up and stored away."

Schank goes on to say that we define ourselves through the stories we tell. To illustrate this point he launches into some detailed evaluations of two media feast stories commonly understood by the public:

Pages 208 -210: Tawana Brawley false allegation of sexual abuse by a gang of racist. An event that drew the media.

Pages 210 - 211: The Ben Jonson, Olympics runner who was disqualified and gold medal taken due to steroid violation.

Schank points out that: "Explanation patterns are cultural norms in that sub-cultures share them." Bottomline per Schank: " WhenTawana Brawley and Ben Johnson chose to start telling the story of what happened, they chose stories already accepted by the culture they lived in and which they assumed would be accepted once again." The bottomline is that the investigators found the true stories because they found other stories which sounded better and were more reasonable.

The Power of Good Story -- Last Chapter, Pgs. 212 to 218

Schank begins with a quote that underscores his theory that stories are the root of personal decisions: "Throughout history the most powerful demagogues have been the best storytellers. Today we have a breed of storytellers, namely television evangelists, who manage to mesmerize people with their stories...The television evangelists capitalize on the fact that they can tell stories that are universally understandable by their audience---stories their audience identifies with."

On pages 213-218, he launches his second personal attack on Jimmy Swaggart,the former TV evangelist who was caught in a major sin and removed from his role as a TV preacher. This time Schank describes and details how Swaggart wove his stories to attract a following. Using extracts drawn from Swaggart's sermons, Schank defines how Swaggart had such skill as a storyteller.

  • "The important point is to personalize it, to particularize it, to draw as many references as possible to real world events, that hears may have themselves experienced so that they can identify with the story."
  • To draw upon the hearers' experience reservoir, Schank says about Swaggart: "Thus Swaggart talks about difficult fathers, drunken people, people who have had very bad luck, children confronting death and other topics that the audience is likely to have some familiarity with; and then he ties those previously known and understood stories to the difficulty of understanding how God works and the importance of preaching.. Thus he adds his on conclusion to each listener's story. And his own stories become his audiences' story."
  • PAGE 17: "But in general we don't adopt other peoples stories as our own. Swaggart is trying to convince his listeners to do something that is actually very difficult to do. He wants his listeners to buy his stories, not only to believe them, but in a sense to reenact them. He probably knows, at least implicitly, that to the extent that he gets to his listeners to tell his stories and live his stories, he can manipulate them to do what he wants them to do.

CHAPTER 7 - BOTTOMLINE Page 218: "When we hear the stories of others, the issue becomes whether we choose to adopt these stories for ourselves. We define ourselves through our stories, but through teaching (and preaching), we also define ourselves through the storie of others. Many people who are good storytellers know how to take advantage of this basic human need to define oneself through the stories other people live." Personal Note: Kind of makes me wonder how good of a teller Mr. Schank may be.

Personal Assessment of Chapter 7: An interesting chapter. However, his repeated use of Jimmy Swaggart in a negative way, and his repeated use of newspaper articles to define what a story was about seemed to lose the gist for me. However, I did think that the Swaggart points might be useful when crafting a story.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Schank Chpt.6 - Story Skeletons, pgs.147 to 188

Schank begins by providing his assessment of "Communication via Stories':
  • "The stories we tell each other we also tell ourselves. This can cause us to see our own lives in terms of established, well known stories that can obscure the ways in which our actual situation differs from the standard story."
  • "Seeing a particular story as an instance of a more general and universally known story causes the teller of the story to forget the differences between the particular and the general."
  • "Thinking in terms of general stories poses a serious danger, although doing otherwise is not so easy. We want to see the situation that we encounter in terms that are describable to others."

Personal reflection on the above comments: Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960's I can understand his assessment. A personal story of my youth is often viewed differently by those who remember some of the general stories of that era in my life.

Regarding cultural stories, Schank says that often the stories we use to guide our decisions are not our own, but are drawn from the standard stories of their culture. Schank underscores the fact that one word from a cultural foundation can tell a story. He then transcends to the Skeleton concept with the statement that: "This book is not about language, but about stories.

Schank says that a skeleton story is the talker's definition of a word. Primarily it is built around culturally attained beliefs. The actual story builds a new story around the skeleton. He says that we see events in terms of their own skeleton stories so they can use them as ammunition to support a cause. He then goes through a series of newspaper articles to show his point.

Schank makes some points that might be useful when crafting a story:

  • "We can see an event in so many different ways that we must understand how we decide which story skeleton is applicable."
  • "When no standard story skeleton is available, telling stories is difficult...A teller will make the story fit into the skeleton and will leave out the parts that do not quite fit.""

Schank then goes through several divorce related stories that show how a skeleton can be used to alter the story.

Schank lost my interest for a while, but gets back to my interest in what he has to say when he gets to page 177 again addresses the gist of a story. Gist is defined as the main point or part , i.e essence, for example: the gist of an argument. Schank defines gist on page 188 in the conclusion section as: Gists are structured sets of events that function as a single unit in memory that can be transformed by a variety of processes into actual stories.

Schank then states that the gist of a story is stored in memory and can be worked on in a variety of ways. He then defines the following processes that can be used to transform the gist into various aspects of a story: Distillation, Combination, Elaboration, Creation, Captioning, and Adaptation.

Schank defines the five gist transformers as follows:

  1. Distillation: A two part process that reduces the events o fa story to a set of simpler proposition, i.e. gist construction, and then putting those propositions into the spoken language.
  2. Combination: Combining a point with a story means leaving out the parts of the story that don't help make the point and emphasizing those parts that do. As Schank says: "The combination process causes the distillation process to suppress events unrelated to the points of the story to be conjoined. The combination process must integrate two stories by deciding which is the master story and which is the coloration for the master."
  3. Elaboration: "A story can be elaborated in order to create an emotional impact on the hearer. Or it can be elaborated in order for the teller to hold center stage as long as possible."
  4. Creation: "The basic creation process combines elements of a real story or stories with a standard story the author wishes to tell."
  5. Captioning: "The process of captioning is basically one of reducing a large amount of information to a very small amount."
  6. Adaptation: "Adapting a story means taking one story and making another one out of it.

Personal Assessment: Chapter Six was useful. It was very informative regarding the gist and how to transform it to tell a good personal story.

Chpt 5 Shaping Memory, P.114 - 146

The 'Why do we tell stories?' question has popped up again. Basically, he is focusing upon conversational storytelling. Nevertheless, listeners do not change based upon whether they are sitting in a kitchen or in front of a stage. Their own experiences, memory and observations are still with them.

Schank does hit a few tale crafting points to consider in this chapter:
  • "The process of story creation, or condensing an experience into a story-size chunk that can be told in a reasonable amount of time, is a process that makes the chunks smaller and smaller."
  • "Normally, after much retelling, we are left with exactly the details of the story that we have chosen to remember. In short, story creation is a memory process. As we tell a story we are formulating the gist of the story which we can recall whenever we create a story describing that experience." Personal Point: Carmen Deedy said something very similar during our discourse with her on Wednesday.
  • "In order to remember an experience, we must tell it to someone."
  • "When you begin to retell a story again that you have told many times, what you retrieve from memory is the gist of the story itself."
  • "People add details to their story that may or may not have occurred."
  • "Stories change over time because of the process of telling,because of the embellishments added by the teller."

Schank then moves into an psychological assessment of how things are remembered. It was interesting, but mostly focused on psychology. Page 118 to 145 address semantic and episodic memory, dreaming with a lot of Freudian theory similar to that discussed in ETSU Historical & Psychological class, not telling due to bad events that have occurred that you want to forget, repression, and some comments on therapists.

Schank ties a lot of the psychological discussion to why we tell and why we don't, and then concludes that: "We tell stories to make a conscious check on how memory organization is going."

Personal Assessment: This chapter might be useful if a teller plans on working with healing stories, or being part of the NSN Healing Alliance Guild.