The Community Story: Globally Written Narratives

Please Note: There are apparently technical issues at WordPress right now because I can’t seem to edit my post for spacing and unwanted bold font in some places. Please excuse the occasional layout glitch.

I have been remiss in posting these days. Not for lack of ideas. In fact, there are a number of hand-written notes next to me. I think the more the pile grows, the more I buck at the “have to” of the posting. Spontaneity works better for me. Probably a lot of people. It’s not a dislike of deadlines or assignments though. I just should not let the pile build up. Important things fall to the bottom and newer things to avoid layer and layer themselves.

Do I think blogging is a burden? No. I love this medium and I love to read other people’s work when I sign in. Again, it’s the procrastination that makes what could be an inspiring and fulfilling practice seem mountainous and cumbersome.

So, what does this all mean? How does the above work with this post’s title? It fits perfectly actually. For the many who do not know what it is, The Community Story was first an idea that I had to offer writing prompts for short stories (later to become larger works if appropriate and in different genres) and let other people work together to complete the story. No one person should complete the tale (although one of the contributing posts was so perfectly formed by one of my friends that I can only see minor edits and leaving it as is). My goal is to have many people contribute to, discuss, and edit the story up until the deadline I set. Then, I do the final edits and post the story with the proper acknowledgements to all contributors. The Community Story holds the copyright, but all contributors can of course refer to the story they contributed to as co-editor or co-writer since the proof of participation is online. I take no profit and charge no fees, unless a time comes that it  becomes a large enough online publication that I need to charge for expenses.

The Community Story has a Facebook page and a group, but until I find a better collaborative medium for everyone to work on, the page will have to do. I’m working with a Web designer to create a page on my website for this purpose. Any IT advice?

Below is the inaugural prompt I offered via Facebook and some of the responses:

Here is the prompt for the first community short story. All members have until September 1 to contribute and discuss the project. Remember, no one should complete the whole story. Contribute a number of paragraphs, or even just a sentence. The is no right or wrong, just what you see as the next stage of the tale:

As I opened my car door, my legs felt the draft of early autumn whisk in. I knew I should not have worn such light slacks, but I just could not let go of summer yet. Stepping lightly out into the dusk of early evening, I felt the gravel of the driveway crunch under my shoes adding to the reminders of the changing seasons. Soon, it would be dried, dead leaves and then ice and snow crackling under my weight.

A lovely contribution from Mairead M.:

I sighed longingly for the long summer months drenched in heat, light, and sun lotion. However, there was too much to do to linger on these thoughts for long.

The absolutely hilarious digression of focus from Bill J. and John V.:

Bill J.: I pause to inhale the moment. Geese are honking their way to their retirement communities in the south. As they shrink towards the horizon I hear the gravel crunching under my feet again. But wait! I’m standing still. Oh my God! I forgot to set the parking brake!
John V.: I can’t believe I did it again! What is it about this place that gets me so fuddled that I can’t remember to set the brake! This is the third time this has happened to me here and I’m still paying for the new fender that is currently folding into itself as the car bounces off the stone wall at the edge of the drive.
Bill J.: How am I going to tell Mikey that my car backed over his pet turtle? It darted out behind the car just before it bounced off that stone retaining wall. God, I hope the car stops before it gets to the highway. i don’t know why it would, it didn’t stop the last time. At least none of the nuns in the bus had children.
Wow, I still laugh out loud reading that exchange between those two. Great comedic minds. Of course other prompts follow more sedate or folkloric paths. It all depends on the mood I’m in when I create the prompt and the people who choose to participate.
If you would like to become a part of this go to: http://www.facebook.com/TheCommunityStory
I’ll be periodically posting commentary related to The Community Story on its own WordPress Blog: http://thecommunitystory.wordpress.com/
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Themes of Death and Violence: Teaching Children’s and YA Literature

After the Harry Potter phenomenon, but before The Hunger Games was reviewed in The New York Times, I decided to teach a course entitled Death and Violence in Children’s Literature. Catchy right? The goal was not to sensationalize these themes, but address both death and violence as dominant presences in much of modern children’s’ and YA lit. Not that either were missing before, but often a death or a violent event or even a war were what moved the plot along and got the character out of their comfort zone and into the path of self discovery. This could be as profound an odyssey as “the hero’s journey” that leads one to his/her (usually his) rightful place in the world. It could be as simple as the loss causing a new destiny or path to be followed as we observe the failures and accomplishments of a fellow human being.

But what about violence and death as a daily fact of life? This is not to affect the setting. It is the setting. The plot is not moved along within these contexts, it depends upon them. I was not talking about gratuitous violence either or otherworldly (hence, at a safe distance) acts of subversion; this is rural, suburban, urban, today, tomorrow, and who-knows-until-when. There is no assistance from the author in finding comfort or hope when you find that the last page has arrived and your hope for a “psych! it’s all OK,” does not appear. Nor does there appear to be a sequel to offer succor.

So many people have already discussed the desensitization of everyone, not just kids, to violence. It has permeated all aspects of media to the point of being expected. Nonviolent, cerebral works are now sold as innovative and “thoughtful.” Ugh. I am guilty of succumbing to the anesthetization of repeated exposure. When I saw my first episode of Law & Order’s Special Victims’ Unit, I was genuinely traumatized by both the subject matter and that it was presented as entertainment. Who could write such terrible things? Who could let their kids act in these parts? But, as it was going to be on rather often (I was not in charge of the clicker, but that is another story), guess what? Ready for the surprise? I got used to it. NO! Yes I did! No, really you knew that from the beginning right? We are all there. I’m honestly disgusted with myself for becoming so complacent about such subject matter. I won’t watch it anymore. No, I’m not advocating that it be boycotted. The cops care and they save people in it. It’s about salvation, not celebration. But still . . .

When I developed my course, I chose books such as Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, with its theme of childhood survival in a time of war and its characters a band of very eccentric and wholly disturbing youngsters. They are disturbing for their individualism and ability to witness, experience, avoid, and survive many perils that come with a lack of protection from adults of any sort or failed protection by the requisite guardians. There is even incest presented in a symbiotic essential-to-emotional-and-spiritual well being relationship. Try to get that one past the school boards.

I used Dead on Town Line by Leslie Connor, a free-verse poem about a young girl killed by a jealous classmate. Beautiful imagery. Even in its most violent moments. There is a lyrical dreamy passing of the ghost from living experience to simple observation and an empathy for the living that emphasizes the loss of such a being.

I’ll not belabor the texts used. The point is that I see these themes as less about callous or jaded audiences, but more to the point of a need for us all to realize that life dominated by these two is not impossible or as unlikely as we hope. No, it’s not a polemic about global warming or war in general, although it would help. I see these types of texts as excellent experience for the reader and writer in approaches to particular themes and character development. I think of them as serving a kind of purpose that Sinclair’s The Jungle, Orwell’s Animal Farm, or even To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee have. No, these current authors are not necessarily of the caliber that I believe Sinclair or Lee are. You may not feel their work is as as profound and erudite as these worthy members of our canon. But they address certain truths either directly or indirectly that show us human nature and patterns as they are and could be. We observe, like Lee’s Scout, through young eyes and hearts and learn how to survive or perish as is our lot.