In the summer, while my father worked at military installations around the country, my mother would drive us from place to place, occasionally catching up with Dad along the way. My favorite photo from childhood is of me, sacked out on one of these trips, all white blonde hair and sunburn, face down on some old red-topped Coleman cooler. It was incredible fun with mom and my siblings, out in the middle of nowhere – mountains, deserts, forests with coldwater streams and rivers - hunkered down by the fire circle.
And that’s where stories were told. Just as people have done for millennia, we would gather around the flames and tell ghost stories and family tales and urban legends, triumphs and tragedies of history… It was great. And I so miss it. In my mom’s later years, she still loved to camp, but her health relegated us to RV camping, which, I’ve gotta say, just ain’t the same thing. I pine for the campfire and the stories, passed down, interpreted, built on, and embellished over the years.
With no children, no spouse, and no local friends who like to camp, I’ve lost that true campfire. But, through the blogosphere, perhaps I’ve found a virtual one.
There are millions of everyday people telling tales of their everyday lives online. Mommybloggers and daddybloggers, aunts and uncles, and sisters and grandfathers. They post baby pictures and birthday parties, graduations and weddings - the normal passage of normal lives. And it’s so neat to have that instant access to the minutiae of life from friends and family, especially when they are far-flung. They are documenting life, cataloguing personal happenings in a virtual photo album, just like their grandparents did with paper and glue. An electronic hand writing births and deaths in the air instead of a family bible. It is family history and a very personal knowledge celebrated in a very public way.
And sometimes, those ordinary blogs are transformed into something extraordinary through a twist of fate – an illness, a death, a crime… some defining moment that draws a much greater audience to share in the telling. The everyday blogger is now a storyteller, documenting harder truths in compelling words.
Last year, hitting the “next blog” button on Blogspot, I found myself at a site called “Kevin’s Dead Cat.” It was the journal of a young woman in
Sure, everyone has at least one story in them, but not everyone, in all honesty, is a storyteller. (Otherwise, there would be no jobs for ghostwriters.) Some people can state facts. Some people can write a sentence. Others can actually string together a fairly cogent paragraph. But it’s a much smaller number that really can spin a hell of a yarn. It’s been that way for many ages of human history. A handful of talented and motivated people with the skill to write and speak with finesse or character capture the imagination of a wider audience, and their names and stories are passed down and around. It’s the same concept now. Only the tools and speed of dissemination have changed over time.
Some storytellers become novelists or journalists or screenwriters. Some tell stories of history, some of fantasy, some of melancholy or politics or sex. Some write with literary grace and others in a text messaging shorthand that makes me slightly crazy. (Your mileage may vary.) And some just write what comes to mind and heart, never figuring out how to make a dime with their words. They just blog. Yet, paid or not, they are all storytellers who form words and vision in such a way that readers are drawn to them on screen the same way that balladeers and poets drew in crowds by tavern hearths and village fires hundreds of years ago.
I’d like to gather people to that fire again. A real fire.
Put another blog on the fire...
I would love to bring some bloggers together – not at a conference in a stuffy hotel for seminars and urns of coffee, but in a park, around a campfire, where people could share their stories under the stars, flashlight in hand. It would be neat for each to stand and read an entry or two they’ve written – something to mesmerize and spellbind, something funny or sad or thought-provoking – in a place without iTunes or a TV or other technological distractions in the background. Just the sound of crickets and firecrackle and pine needles under foot. A place where the words can be heard and appreciated, in a way perhaps anachronistic to the blog itself, but not to the simple act of storytelling. The oral tradition of storytelling should not die in the Internet age. Stories change when spoken out loud, with inflection and emphasis and audience reaction. I think it would be amazing to see how our own interpretation and understanding of words we wrote ourselves change in a vibrant, live setting.
For now, my screen is my campfire, but I want my old campfire back. Woodsmoke, owl hoots, Deep Woods Off, and all.
Anyone up for BlogFire ’06? I’ll bring the marshmallows and graham crackers, if someone else brings the Hershey bars!
And, if you have a great blogging storyteller to recommend, leave the name and link in the comments. It would be cool to see whose stories really entertain you.