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Archive for November, 2011

Tell Me A Story

I’ve noticed the word “I” in a lot of my blog posts. Maybe it’s because I’m super self-absorbed. I’m not going to attempt to deny that because it may then appear that I doth protest too much, but I think at least part of the reason is that I like stories – mine and other people’s.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories, always hungry for new ones. I think that’s why I am a voracious reader and, at times, TV watcher. (That’s another blog trend I’ve noticed.)

I used to skim through my parents’ religious self-helpy books looking for anecdotes used to illustrate a point. I didn’t care about the points the author was trying to make. I just cared about the stories.

I recently saw a comment online where the poster said he or she didn’t really care about personal stories and didn’t especially relate to that form of communication. That mentality almost doesn’t compute for me. I’m closer to being the opposite. If it’s not shared in the form of a narrative, I don’t care. That’s hyperbole but more true than not.

I want to hear about the time someone kissed you and their lip got stuck in your braces or when you talked your little brother into crawling into an underground pipe to rescue a kitten. 

Why do stories have such a powerful draw for me? I’m not sure.

When I was studying communication in college, I was introduced to theorist Walter Fisher, who put forth the argument that human communication is based on a narrative paradigm. We make judgments, he said, based on stories – based on whether we believe something has coherence and fidelity. We “experience and comprehend life as a series of ongoing narratives, as conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends.” *

(No, I can’t just quote communication theorists off the top of my head. I had to pull my intro to communication textbook off my shelf.)

I think his theory, like many of those I encountered as a communication major, provides an interesting way of interpreting human interaction. While it, like the others, is certainly not the only way of looking at things, it’s one that resonates with me. As I’ve experienced changes in life, beliefs, social circles, subcultures, I’ve often found myself trying to adapt to a new and unfamiliar narrative. At times I feel like I need to hear other people’s personal experiences before I can wrap my head around a new way of thinking. Realizing that everyone’s paradigm is not my own paradigm requires an understanding of those fresh “conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends” before I can feel comfortable with my new perspective.

I’m a big proponent of giving people a voice. I think their stories need to be told so that greater understanding can be gained. Everyone doesn’t think, feel or believe the same things. Some things are factual, and others are not factual, and the difference needs to be respected. The scientific method FTW! But human experience is complicated and nuanced, and I think there’s great value to letting people express those complications and nuances.

I know I’m a more compassionate person because I’ve heard the stories of people whose experiences were radically different from mine but for whom I felt a new empathy that allowed me to look beyond my own judgment, my own stark black and white, and identify with them.

I think that’s one thing I enjoy about my job at a newspaper. I retell people’s stories for them. While some of them aren’t the most compelling in the world, I know that they are narratives that make a difference for the people in the community. I know some of my stories end up clipped out and posted on refrigerators or workplace walls. When I’m not there anymore, my stories will be in newspapers turning yellow, saved for posterity, encapsulating a period in time and its conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles and ends.

*The quote is from Walter Fisher’s “Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action.”

P.S. This is the final entry for my post every day for a month attempt. I was successful!  (Unless you count that one time that I thought I had published my post but really it was saved as a draft. It’s OK though because you can change the post date, and so I just made it look like I had posted it on that day. So that’s totally legit.) I don’t plan to continue posting every day, but I will keep writing for the blog, so stick around.

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  1. It’s impossible not to feel superior to people who don’t know how to drive in the snow or who start complaining about the cold when it’s 50 degrees.
  2. The first snowfall is always exciting.
  3. The second snowfall loses a bit of its charm.
  4. If you’re like me, you’ll spend most of the winter brushing snow off your car and muttering “why do I live here?” repeatedly.
  5. Nevertheless, Christmas in a warm part of the world is inconceivable.

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Ode to Ruffers

It’s always difficult to lose a beloved pet, and I see the loss of our family dog looming, if not within months, then certainly in a few years. He’s 14, and to be honest, I expected him to die a violent death as a young dog – he was always breaking away and dashing toward imminent danger – so old age is a bit of an accomplishment.

When we first met him, he was a tiny golden sausage with absurdly long lashes. Now he has fatty tumors and tends to start breathing raspily at the end of a short walk. He still has moments when he thinks he’s a puppy though.

In my opinion, he’s been the perfect dog. Soft, fluffy, cuddly – just mischievous enough to be interesting.

Perfection doesn’t mean that he is always obedient. No, he failed 4H dog obedience by four points, and some of the points he gained by lying still were due to the fact that he was too occupied by eating dog poop to move.

He wasn’t always perfectly friendly. Although he gets along well with people, he usually tries to start fights with other dogs, and he maayy have bitten a few people as a puppy.

He irritates my mom by coming into the kitchen when he isn’t supposed to. You can’t have a phone conversation with her without having her damage your eardrums by suddenly scolding him.

But he’s always happy to see you and usually happy to have you pet him, especially if you’re joined in the activity by everyone else in the room. A pet’s love isn’t like a person’s. It’s more straightforward; less tenuous. A couple of my college roommates accused me of liking animals more than people. While that’s an exaggeration, I do love my dog. I wish he had a longer lifespan and wasn’t now categorized as a “senior dog.”

Here he is:

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It’s Strange Movie Sunday – the best day of the week. I’ve taken to visiting the Wikipedia page on the “List of films considered the worst” for inspiration. This week’s selection comes from that illustrious source. “The Robot Monster” is one in a long line of films featuring aliens who want to eradicate the human race. It just happens to involve a robot monster/alien that looks like a shag rug.

Cast of key characters:

  1. Aforementioned alien whose helmet appears to be made out of a metal bowl and two radio antennae.
  2. Alien overlord communicating orders from somewhere off-world.
  3. Human father who’s a scientist with a German accent.
  4. Human mother – no particularly distinguishing qualities.
  5. Alice, daughter, young, pretty, exceptional scientist.
  6. Roy, German accent-scientist’s assistant.
  7. Little boy – we could call him a little bit of a brat or we could say he’s “spirited.”
  8. Little girl – likes to play house a lot.

So basically, the little boy is on a picnic with his mother and two sisters. He sneaks off into a cave and encounters a terrifying alien.

……spoilers……

Suddenly and inexplicably, the little boy and his family are the only humans left alive. The alien has wiped out the rest of the population with a death ray, but the survivors are immune due to an antibiotic serum invented by the father and Roy. They’re hiding out in a protected headquarters. The alien can’t find them there but is aware of their existence and is trying to hunt them down.

The alien wants to speak to Alice for some reason, but her father and Roy won’t allow her to go. Her little brother once again sneaks away and goes to talk to the alien to discover why he hates them so much. He accidentally gives away the secret of the serum, which puts the alien on a quest to change the makeup of the death ray so it will effectively kill them.

Roy and Alice, who don’t get along in the flirtatious sort of way that indicates they’ll end up together, go out to find the little boy. Suddenly, Roy is accountably shirtless. When he sees the alien coming after him, he picks up Alice and runs away, surely less effective than both of them running on their own two feet.

 Roy and Alice are off somewhere outside their hideout. Not surprisingly, they start making out, return to the hideout and tell the rest that they want to get married. The father agrees to marry them. Alice finds some sort of filmy white cloth to use as a veil. Roy is still shirtless.

 The marriage is actually sort of bittersweet, as they’re the last humans and are being pretty brave about it.

 They go off to have their honeymoon somewhere outside the protection of their headquarters. The little girl comes after them to give them flowers as a present. They tell her to run back quickly but don’t follow her to make sure that actually happens.

 The alien catches up with her and strangles her, then attacks Alice and Roy, strangling Roy and carrying Alice away. She’s struggling, but she looks way happier than she’s supposed to. Roy wasn’t effectively strangled and manages to crawl back to the remaining survivors before falling over dead.

The little boy suggests a cunning plan. He’ll act as bait while the father and mother rescue Alice. No word on how the little boy is going to escape.

The alien has a strange connection to Alice and decides he wants to be human, something his alien overlord will not allow. He goes to meet the little boy, as planned, strangles him and is killed by the overlord. Father and mother are seen untying Alice. Perfect stratagem, except for the whole leaving the little boy vulnerable thing.

 Then the little boy is being woken up by archeologists he met before going into the cave and his mother and sisters. It was just a dream. Or was it, the audience wonders as the human robot emerges again from the cave and comes at the camera with his arms outstretched. Three times.

This film would be better if so much of it wasn’t spent on the human robot talking to his overlord and the surviving humans blabbing on amongst themselves.  The special effects also left a lot to be desired. At one point a rocket blows up, and it looks as if they spliced actual rocket footage with footage of a paper rocket being swung around on fishing line. In the credits, they mention a billion bubble machine, and the filmmakers must have wanted to get their money’s worth because they use it every chance they can – in the cave, in the overlord’s lair. I’m willing to believe that “billion” is not an exaggeration.

The movie also makes you feel like you’ve missed a scene when it jumps from the little boy on a picnic to a world with only a few living humans. It’s supposed to line up with the whole little boy having a dream/maybe it’s real theme, but it just makes the viewer confused. There are better ways to accomplish what they’re trying to do. The actors do manage to act a bit better than the cast of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and at least there are no dancing angels a la “The Music Box” … and no Santa. (See the rest of the Strange Movie Sunday entries if that last sentence is confusing to you.)

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I have no blog ideas today. Or rather, I have a few, but they aren’t ones I really want to follow to their logical conclusion, so I’ll just follow them as far as I want to and then end abruptly.

Through a random following of links, I became aware of a recent Twitter trend – #literaryturducken. It’s based on the concept of a food turducken. Turns out I’m not completely sure what that is and am too lazy to Google it (that’s pretty lazy), but I’m fairly certain that it’s a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. Mmm. Mouthwatering.

Anyway, the Twitter trend is to combine three famous book titles into one delicious mashup. I’m finding them pretty amusing. They have included such things as “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Two Cities For Whom the Bell Tolls” and  “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Gone with the Wind in the Willows.” Here’s my contribution to the cause, which isn’t on Twitter, but whatever, whatever … “A Wrinkle in Flowers for Jude the Obscure.”

Next topic: WordPress suggests ideas for future entries whenever I post, and a recent one was whether or not I believe aliens have made contact with the earth. I don’t because there doesn’t seem to be compelling evidence that it has taken place and most people who seem sold on the idea are not the sort that I have much confidence in.

I got in a conversation with a coworker about whether or not the government could successfully cover up the fact that they were preparing for alien invasion. I argued that it would be too difficult to secretly mount the type of force necessary to keep the nation safe. The secret would slip somehow. She thought it could be done – the government’s budget is large; they could appropriate funds for something seemingly innocuous while really using it to get ready for alien attack. I told her to look at the influx of homeland security efforts and how difficult it would be to completely hide those. She countered that the government would probably cloak its alien task force as something like homeland security.

That sounded really plausible to me – so maybe I should buy into the alien cover up theory.

Welp. That’s about all I have to say. *ends abruptly*

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It’s time for something a bit different for this British TV Friday. Many of the shows I’ve already discussed are high on humor, but another sort of television I appreciate is drama, especially drama based on classic literature.

A number of films and television series, often made by the BBC, for example, achieve the rare accomplishment of being as good as or better than the books they are based on. I think one aspect of the productions that make this possible is the willingness to create a lengthy series that contains most of the details of the source rather than cutting them and then trying to spice up the story up for the viewers in ways that are inconsistent with the original material.

When I think of this category, I think of “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Daniel Deronda” and “The Buccaneers” and “North & South” and “Middlemarch” or the catalog of works by authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen or the recent series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.

Many of these have prompted me to read books I enjoy, introduced me to authors that were unfamiliar or told a story I’d already come to love.  Sometimes they help me to learn about history – at other times, they’re just entertaining.

These are definitely the types of shows and films that are best watched with a mug of tea, a big blanket and maybe a few kittens. This sounds like a great plan for today, actually, although I’m missing the kittens.

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I’ve got a theme in mind for this week’s British TV Friday and will have it up ASAP, but I’ve got a friend coming over any minute, and I’m not sure if she’ll leave prior to midnight. Sooo … it could end up being British TV Saturday, in which case, this post covers my requirement of posting every day. On a technicality, perhaps, but it totally counts.

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