Week 1 Summary

This was an interesting week in DS106! It was a little overwhelming at first but once I organized my tasks into a nerdy little spreadsheet/checklist I was good to go.

I enjoyed think about the elements of stories this week and having the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic.  I got my feet under me in WordPress by setting up my blog and writing my first post. The title of my blog is TBD but I’m sure I’ll come up with something good soon.  BCodelson will have to do for now.

I explored how the story of the star bellied sneetches lines up with Kurt Vonnegut, Pixar, and Kenn Adams’ ideas about the shapes of stories.

Seeing Ira Glass’s describe the building blocks of a story was pretty great and not just because I got to see and not just hear him for the first time.  Andrew Stanton of Pixar also had some words about stories and wonder that really resonated with me.  I got to talk about my love for NPR’s, The Moth, while discussing my ideas about what is a story.

Finally, I identified a particularly un-helpful item in my everyday life that could benefit from a digital story telling makeover.

This week was extremely interesting. I’m looking forward to what week 2 will bring!

So Not Helpful

The first thing that came to mind when thinking about something that simply didn’t work for me, I thought of this one piece of paper that I keep in a basket in the kitchen.  I got the paper from my daughter’s pediatrician at her 4 month appointment. It’s a “Guide to Solid Foods” and it’s really, really lousy.  It’s printed in all black ink with no graphics.  It’s been copied no less than 100 times and the information it contains is the absolute bare minimum that a parent would need to start feeding their infant solid foods.  The guide left me wanting for so much more. It was so not helpful.  I find myself having to reference it time and time again because none of the information ever stands out in my mind.  It was disappointing that one of the most trusted resources for parents (the pediatrician) hands out such a lack luster document on such an important topic.

I think this hand-out might be something I could re-work into an engaging and interactive resource.  I think there are several options of stories that could be woven into the content.  I’ve already got my main character – a baby!  I also think there could be a lot of ways to compile information about the solid foods to try, how to cook them, how much a baby needs to eat, etc.  This could be a really good subject for my final assignment and hey, maybe I’ll let the pediatrician take a look at it.

What is a Story?

It’s safe to say that I am slightly obsessed with NPR’s radio broadcast, The Moth.  My husband and I like to listen to it via podcast while we get ready in the morning (when we’re not playing Disney tunes to entertain our daughter) and it makes for an interesting start to the day.  I like to share the love, so I usually tell friends and family when I hear a good story.  I’m always a bit surprised when I learn that they’ve never heard of The Moth, which means that I now have to explain it to them.  So I tell them….well, I never know quite what to tell them.  I’ve realized that it’s kind of hard to explain.  It’s a collection of stories told by the people who lived them; that’s easy enough.  But what kind of stories?  Well, all sorts of stories. Sometimes they’re funny.  Sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they tie up neatly at the end and sometimes they leave you wondering.  What’s the point of the stories?  Well, there isn’t always a point, at least not in the way you would think. they don’t all have a moral to offer and they don’t always have a happy ending. There’s no easy way to define the stories of The Moth just like there’s no easy way to define stories on the whole.  For me, stories offer a brief moment to view the world through someone else’s eyes.  You see what they see, smell what they smelled, hear what they heard.  They allow you to pause and think outside yourself and try to understand the world around you in another way. I liked the way that Andrew Stanton talked about stories as being able to deepen our understanding of the human experience.  I think that as individuals, we don’t have enough experience or insight to understand the world on our own, so we need to draw from the experiences of others to do it.  It’s kind of like that old “it takes a village to raise a child” saying.  I think something like that applies to stories.

And to make things even less clear, we can add the word, “digital” to storytelling. My understanding of digital storytelling has expanded exponentially in just the last 36 hours through DS106.  Just reviewing the New York Times articles that utilize different forms of media to enhance their stories changed the way I thought about digital storytelling.  There are countless ways of using media to enhance a story and that has the potential to make the story richer than before, having an even more profound and lasting impact on the consumer of the story.  Thinking about The Moth again, I can only image if some of the stories came with animations, or interactive imagery – those would be pretty cool tools to help me connect with the story and ultimately, the experience of the storyteller.

The one thing that really resonated with me in this week’s class videos was what Andrew Stanton said in his TED talk.  He talks about wonder being the secret ingredient to a good story.  He says that the greatest gift one human can give another human being is to give them the feeling of wonder, “to hold them still for a brief moment of a day, and have them surrender to wonder.  When it’s tapped the affirmation of being alive reaches almost to a  cellular level…..the best stories infuse wonder”.  I love this.  I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Stanton that a sense of wonder is a great gift that you can give someone and it certainly explains why Pixar (and Disney) films are timeless and ever-popular.  This will stick with me and I hope I’ll be able to infuse wonder into all of my stories; spoken, written, digital, or otherwise.

The Shape of the Sneetches

Did you ever read the story of the star bellied sneetches by Dr. Seuss? It’s a lively, tongue-twisting tale about the sneetches with stars and the sneetches with “none upon thars”. The story begins where the Sneetches with “none upon thars” are being ill treated by the sneetches with stars.  The way I see it, this story has an interesting and unique shape.  With two main characters (the two types of sneetches) there are really two story lines that cross over one another.  The star bellied sneetches begin with good fortune, being the star bellied elite.  The starless have the ill fortune of being the shunned.  Once Mr. McMonkey McBean shows up with his star on and star off machines, things get interesting.  The Star-On machine makes the star-less the starred, thus lowering the status of the original star bellies.  Once the originals have their stars removed, the process starts over again and each group yo-yos between being the best and being the social outcasts. Eventually it all gets so messy they realize that stars were never all that special and they wind up accepting a bi-starred culture and they all find themselves together in the end, sharing their good fortune.

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Story Shape: the Star Bellied Sneetches

When I look at the story withing the context of the 22 Rules Pixar Uses to Create Appealing Stories I thought that rule #14 was most applicable to the sneetches story:

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

The story of the sneetches carries the underlying theme of, “underneath our stars skin, we’re really just the same”.  I feel certain that as Dr. Seuss wrote this story he wanted to entertain children, but also teach them to be kind to others no matter what they look like on the outside – a really important lesson for children to learn.

Now let’s look at the story in another way, through the lens of the “Story Spine”.  The story of the sneetches falls neatly into this formulaic approach to storytelling.

Once upon a time there were star bellied sneetches and starless sneetches who played on the beaches.

Every day, the star bellied sneetches snubbed the starless sneetches.

But one day, Mr. McMonkey McBean showed up, promising to cure the woes of the starless by sending them through his star-on machine.

Because of that, the starless sneetches now had stars on their bellies.

Because of that, the star bellied sneetches couldn’t tell themselves apart from the other sneetches.

Because of that, the star bellied sneetches went through McBean’s star-off machine.  Then the other sneetches followed.  Then it was stars on, then it was stars off….

Until finally, the sneetches were so mixed up they didn’t know who was who or what was what.

And ever since then, they never worried about stars again.