A look back at Week 1

Our professor, Alan Levine, wasn’t kidding when he warned that the GMU Digital Audio/Video Design weekly assignments needed a lot of attention throughout the week. For a low-tech, late adopter, the litany of instructions, assignments and links was overwhelming and caused a slight moment of panic. The panic has now decreased to a low humming in the back of my head – not quite pressure, not quite stress, just a presence. I’m still catching up, but as expressed in my Welcome message, after establishing my bearings and gaining some traction, I have really enjoyed the learning process through the various video clips and assignments – finding the nuggets.

As you can probably surmise, the technology has been my challenge. The first step in getting plugged into this class was to create a blog through WordPress.com. What a task for the first assignment! It was an experiment of trial and error, but this process was encouraged and I can appreciate that.

Once I had some success with designing my blog (“designing” used very loosely here), I was on rewarded by the series of online articles demonstrating the possibility and innovations of digital storytelling – just amazing – that the second assignment required. Immediately, I was intrigued and wanted to know how to do that and by “that”, I mean the creative use of navigation, photography, audio, zoom features and other engaging widgets and functionalities embedded in these articles that grabbed my attention from my first click. But first, I had fun listening to Kurt Vonnegut’s explanation of his mapping of stories. I took The Princess Bride movie and mapped it according to his graph.

I couldn’t wait to jump to the next assignment that provided two perspectives from Ira Glass from NPR’s This American Life and Andrew Stanton, Pixar filmmaker of Toy Story and Wall-E, on their experiences and construction of stories. Incredibly insightful and just fun to listen to these two expert storytellers. (Andrew Stanton’s opening story is hilarious – warning it does have an expletive in the first few minutes (1:08), so this is fair warning to watch at your own risk in public spaces.)

These led to the next question of “what is story?” When posed with this question, a flood of images and flashbacks from my childhood came to mind. All positive ones. When the word “digital” was introduced as a follow up to this question, I felt overwhelmed as described above, but also hopeful this time. I think that’s a good sign.

So, what’s next? Well, Week 1 concluded with the challenging task of identifying something to “storify” (insert jazz hands). To be continued…

One of the last things I need to do for Week 1 is to assign myself a grade for the week’s work. I would say that I would come in as a solid “8” out of 10. For the skeptics out there, let me break it down to this: I heeded the professor and tried to break out of the paradigm of working for the grade and focused more on letting myself explore, fail, try, engage and begin understanding “story”. What do you think?



and the search begins… STORIFY!

I feel the need to throw up jazz hands when saying “storify” (in an emphatic, but breathy Broadway-esque voice). Myriad of ideas come to mind when I try to hone in a qualified topic to storify per the final assignment for Week 1. What mundane, possibly overly complicated and perhaps uninteresting topic can I “storify” and bring to life through media? Some are (in no particular order):

1) How to change the oil in my car

2) Bipartisan-ism

3) Water hammer (a problem, I will have to inevitably address)

4) Stocks/Finance

5) Differential calculus

6) Financial aid – how to apply for it and the right ones

7) How to make sausage

This IS difficult! Well, this is a start. To be continued…

What is story… storytelling…?

I love this question and the license to associat freely (thank you!). The first image that rushes to my mind is my after-school public t.v. line up, which is kind of ironic since I associate stories and storytelling with books and not television shows. But, apparently, I do.

1) Unknown title and can’t find it on the interwebs. The format of the show was a storyteller whom you never saw only heard his voice and an artist with vivid, flourescent chalk work that drew the scenes of the story as it was narrated. It was wonderful and I remember being so enthralled and engaged and disappointed when it was over. It reminds me of modern day graphic facilitation like the UPS commercial.

2) Reading Rainbow. Levar Burton! One of the best shows ev-er.

3) My sixth grade teacher. She read to the class on rainy days when we couldn’t go out for recess. I remember her reading us some mystery adolescent novel (one that I would have never read on my own) and how she drew me into the story with her intonation, change in voices for different characters, her way of building suspense. I didn’t want it to end and looked forward to rainy days.

This American Life, NPR , also comes to mind. I’m so amazed at these modern-day storytellers.  To me, a story is about engagement into the reality or fictional account of someone else.

By adding “digital” to storytelling, I become inundated and somewhat overwhelmed in both a positive and negative way.

Positive because I look at the explosion and impact of TED talks and the platform that opens to the world. Wow!

Positive because of the amazing and innovative media formats for conveying news like Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.


Negative because I’m not there yet. How do they do that? Where do I begin?

Well, Andrew Stanton helped me understand that you have to start from the “punch line” and know every line leading up to it and most importantly, answering the plea of “make me care”. So, how do you do this? Well, in Stanton’s Ted Talk (7:38), he talks about the “invisible application”, meaning you lead the audience to put two and two together, but you don’t give them the answer.

Welcome to the mix…

I’m mixing things up a bit and doing things a little out of sequence than how the Week 1 assignment was intended. After finding some “balance” between work, life, school after a sick week, I’m slowly making my way through WordPress, trying to upgrade my blog site to one that is appealing, engaging and inventive. I remember creating a blog before I moved to Egypt in ’07 as a way to keep my friends and family informed of my life in Cairo; it seemed so much easier to set up that blog and manage it. But, I’m keeping in mind the advice of Alan Levine (cogdog), our professor,  that the course is about the exploratory process and thought behind the story and not just the mechanics of getting the grade or posting to the blog. I’m catching up this week and though the process of figuring things out has been a challenge, I am enjoying the thought-provoking video clips, articles and just the vastness of this ds106 arena. There’s so much to learn and do!  So, welcome to my blog. I hope you stick around and pop in from time-to-time to engage!

A weekend jaunt to Jordan's Waadi Rum,  when leaving in Egypt.

A weekend jaunt to Jordan’s Waadi Rum, when leaving in Egypt.



Up and Down the Story Goes…

As part of a school assignment (GMU EDIT 572 Digital Audio/Video Design), I was to Explore the Shape of Stories by applying Kurt Vonnegut’s structure of stories to a story, poem, song, etc., familiar to me. Reflexively, my mind went immediately to, yes, The Princess BrideIt’s not as timeless as Cinderella, but it has all the elements, a bit remixed for 21st century consumption, but all there nonetheless – beautiful princess (check), handsome “farmhand-turned pirate-turned hero” (check), the Giant (RIP Andre and the days of real-fake professional wrestling), six-fingered villain (check), among other notable characters. Parallel to the story of these characters is another one of the grandfather who is reading the story of The Princess Bride to his sick, bed-ridden grandson (whatever happened to Fred Savage?). So, how do these two stories map on Vonnegut’s graph? Using my mobile phone’s high-tech memo app, I have provided this mapping. The blue line represents the ill-grandson’s initial very low interest in 1) the story and 2) his grandfather and then his upward progression as his interest and love for the story and his grandfather grows with the climax of the story. The pink line represents the princess and hero’s story beginning positively as they fall in love and then experience the doom of separation and perceived death. Following this turn in the story, the hero with his motley crew slowly, but surely achieve individual and collective success to ultimately save the princess and restore true love.


Unfortunately, in real life, unlike Vonnegut’s example ending in an infinity symbol in the positive quadrant, the story continues oscillating up and down, and up and down, and plateaus at times, but inevitably up and down again. To be continued…

…as I continued to dissect this story and the art of storytelling, I enjoyed thinking through Pixar’s 22 rules of appealing stories and honed in on….

Rule #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

It’s so disappointing when watching or reading a story and the character is saved by a “coincidental” appearance of the police or a favorable placement of a key, gun, car, etc. In The Princess Bride there are coincidences, but it only adds to sarcastic humor that carries the story line like when the hero, Wesley, and his motley crew are devising the rescue plan to save the princess, but they are without any viable resources. Wesley says “What I wouldn’t give for a Holocaust cloak.”, and shazam the Giant pulls one out of nowhere. In 99% of cases, I agree with Rule #19, but in this case it works!

The story spine is another tool for great storytelling/writing. After reading it, it seemed so straightforward, simple and just obvious, but I never approached writing a story – whether it was for a proposal, presentation or white paper – in this manner. As Kenn Adams, the creator of the story spine highlights, the “spine” is not the story. It’s the structure upon which you must build your story. Here is The Princess Bride stripped down to the bare-boned spine:

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful farm girl, Buttercup, and handsome farmhand, Wesley.

Every day, she bossed him around to fetch the water and other chores around the farm and each time he replied “As you wish”. Until one day, she realized that he meant “I love you” and they fell in love.

But one day, Wesley leaves the farm to seek his fortune so that he can marry Buttercup one day.

Because of that, the selfish Prince Humperdink hears of Buttercup’s beauty and calls for her hand in marriage. But, he as an ulterior motive to use her as a pawn in invoking a war.

Because of that, Buttercup becomes depressed, but vows to continue to love her Wesley despite the Prince’s demands for marriage.

Because of that, the Prince becomes jealous and angry and when he finds Wesley he tries to kill him, but does so unsuccessfully.

Because of that, Wesley seeks revenge

Until finally, on the day of the Prince and Buttercup’s wedding, Wesley and his motley crew sabotage the wedding and save the princess.

And ever since then, Buttercup and Wesley have lived happily ever after.