Tell Me Something I Don’t Already Know

Typing these words is the most difficult thing in the world. I had to sit here for a few minutes and figure out a way to begin and that’s the best I could do. Pretty lame, I know. It’s been a long day and I’m tired. Sleep can wait until I get this off my chest.

I appreciate the time you take to write your Facebook essay. Based on what I read, I get the impression you spent a lot of time finding the right words. The effort shows.

Despite the effort, it didn’t work. The paragraph fell short of its potential because you never said anything I didn’t already know. What you wrote never surprised or moved me. It was just words typed on a computer screen and submitted to the world.

Every topic; every story – deserves to be written in a way that helps your readers see the story in a different way. Think of the most mundane thing you can imagine and see if you can discover a way to tell it in a way no one ever imagined.

Use interesting verbs, analogies, metaphors – whatever – to give the idea an interesting twist.

Earlier today I talked with a fellow ex-smoker about brands of cigarettes we smoked – back in the day. Then the conversation turned to unfiltered cigarettes – the nastiest of the world’s nastiest habit!

I mentioned my Uncle Tom – the guy lived to be 84 despite chain smoking unfiltered butts. I can’t remember the brand, but it was fascinating how he beat the odds for so long. My Uncle Tom smoked unfiltered cigarettes and smelled like the inside of an old shoe. He’d squish the butt in the ashtray as he picked tobacco from his lips and then cough like a steam engine. Tom loved his cigarettes and as soon as the phlegm cleared, he’d light up another. He made them look good. Back then I smoked too, so it didn’t take long before I tried one. Yes – they worked. If you needed a smoke, these guys would do the trick. Wow. They made me dizzy. Tobacco overkill.

Time for bed. Hopefully my dreams will tell me something I didn’t already know.

 

 

Story Selling

The best stories bypass our senses and strike deep into our being – they move us to feel what the storyteller feels.

I’ve interviewed thousands of people – most with a microphone, first in radio and then in television news and now as a media producer. To be sure, speaking into a microphone and in front of a camera isn’t for everyone, but what I’m talking about applies to all stories whether recorded or not. Good stories give us images we can never forget.

Like the woman who told me how she reacted to the news that her fiance was killed in Vietnam. The image I have is that of a barefoot, sixteen year old girl running down a dusty country road to her fiance’s parent’s house where she finds the army notification team in the driveway. Another image has her and several of her friends spending the night in the funeral home. They just wanted  to be close.

Not every story has to be dramatic or unique. I’m sure thousands of young women – more than we can imagine – ran to those they loved after receiving similar news during every American war since the Revolution. It’s not the story, per-se – but the way it was told that we find unforgettable.

The essential ingredient – the most basic necessity for any story or idea to embed itself in our mind’s eye, based on what I’ve learned in my work: authenticity.

I know it’s an overused word, but it’s true. Phoniness doesn’t make a mark on my emotional landscape, nor does someone who speaks without any consideration of the listener. If you’re going to say something, tell me in a way I will remember and please show me you care.

Next time: sympathy for the viewer.

General John A. Logan Museum

Mike Jones, the Executive Director of the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois is the kind of guy you cannot say no to. When he asked me to help get the word out about the museum’s new exhibit, I knew I had to say yes – and not out of obligation – or from pressure – but because I WANT to help. Mike and the museum he founded and developed starting nearly two decades ago is a monument of selfless public service. The people of Murphysboro and southern Illinois owe Mike an incredible debt for all he has done. Mike is not the the sort to toot his own horn – so I will for him. Sorry Mike.

The General John A. Logan Museum exhibit “Caught in the Sweep of History” – is a multi year project recounting the history of southern Illinois in the Civil War. Unlike many other exhibits, this one focuses on the people – the individual lives of those who experienced those times. In conjunction with the exhibit, I’ve been asked to produce a series of short videos. The two first videos have been posted on a YouTube page  set up by the Logan Museum. A third is in production and will be posted next week.

Thank you for the opportunity to help Mike. It is an honor!

Back in the timber -

Tom finishes a notch on a thirty-two foot Douglas Fir timber

There’s nothing like a few days at Trillium Dell Timberworks of Knoxville, Illinois. The company hosted a Compound Joinery workshop for the Timber Framers Guild and I was given the honor of videotaping the event. Over five days, I managed to learn something about roof trigonometry and how to calculate the necessary angles.

Fascinating stuff – best left up to to the professional timber framer. I’ll take my chances with something a little less complicated – like video codecs or Final Cut X.

Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission Website

The Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission website is up. My web skills are limited – it’s something you need to do all day – every day – to do it well. But I manage to stumble through it. I also depend a great deal on the community forums available through Adobe. I’ve received some excellent help.

There’s a purpose for the madness – I create websites for non-profits who cannot afford them and wouldn’t have them unless someone like me did it for free. I also build my own website – that’s it.  Tools exist that would streamline the work – but they don’t look right. I use Dreamweaver a wysiwyg editor that fronts HTML and CSS. Apparently the only thing I enjoy about creating websites is the feeling of satisfaction knowing the work is complete and that the site works. There’s much I have yet to do with the Mound City site – but it works for now. More to follow. Suggestions and comments would be appreciated.

Illinois State Historical Society

Here’s my table in the “exhibitor area” during the recent ISHS Symposium in Carbondale, Illinois in late April. Sold a dozen DVD’s and enjoyed visiting with everyone – made some great new contacts and reestablished a few from the past. The DVD Quiet Acres was shown the day before to a very small crowd – four people. I understand another video presentation had only five viewers.

Oh well, I’d like to believe historical society members attending a symposium have better things to do than watch a video – especially if it’s a video they can watch at home.