As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’m really enjoying Cowbird. Since I’m planning to use it, I wanted to get a feel for the community and how other people tell and share stories. One feature that I’ve been using to see different stories is Serendipity. It’s an icon located in the upper left corner of the home page. When you click on it, it takes you to a random story. Scott has a similar feature on his blog called Spin the Wheel (which is a WordPress plugin, random redirect).

I like this idea. I think it would be cool to have this tool in the database. Users could click on the icon to find a random photo, video, archival document, question, etc. What should I call it? Hmmm….

follow-up note: I’m still not sure what to call the random item generator but, since it will be in the “scraps of memory database” section, which is connected to the “banging on the loom” interactive documentary, I’m thinking the name should be loom/rag rug-related.

An App?

I’m not sure whether or not I want to develop an app for this project. Are they the best way to tell and share stories? To get people engaged with the project? I’m not convinced that an app is needed. While browsing through the Cowbird FAQ the other day, I came across their answer to the question: Do you have an app?

No. We think Apps are destined for obsolescence — they’ll be the CD-Roms of tomorrow. We believe in the open Web. That said, you’ll find that Cowbird works well on your smartphone.


I like this answer. And, I like how the site works on my phone. In a post a week ago I mentioned how my embedded story wasn’t responsive. It kept getting cut off on the phone. Not sure if that’s a problem with Cowbird or with my theme? For now, I’m not sure it matters; I like the idea of directing people to Cowbird.


Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 1.14.49 PMI’ve decided to use the really cool storytelling site Cowbird in my project. I had been thinking about using it for some time, but wasn’t sure. Then I joined it and published my first story. I love it! Such a supportive community. I’ve been posting digital stories on Vimeo for almost two years now (142 videos in all), and I’ve already received more encouragement in less than a week on Cowbird than I ever have on Vimeo. I still think Vimeo is great and I love using it, but Cowbird has built a better structure for creating community among everyday storytellers.

While I haven’t completely figured out how to use Cowbird for this project, I have a tentative plan:

1. To post story fragments about the farm while I design/develop my interactive documentary for the project. Maybe 1-2 per week? These fragments will help me as I work through the storytelling process and they’re a good way to let other people know about the project.

2. Create a collection* (The Farm) and encourage certain people (family members, friends) to share their own stories about the farm. Eventually, once the project is launched, I will actively open up the story sharing to anyone who wants to contribute.

*Still undecided. Should I use a collection or a project?


I just finished Wendy McClure’s really entertaining book, The Wilder Life. It chronicles the author’s attempts to access and inhabit Laura (as in Laura Ingalls Wilder) World, the world that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose crafted in the Little House books. She includes stories about the books and the television series, traces (and troubles) the relationship between truth and fiction in Laura’s accounts, details her own adventures (and the unique individuals she encounters) visiting the various Laura historic sites sprinkled throughout the midwest and critically explores her own investments in trying to become part of Laura World.

While there are many different reasons I enjoyed this book, perhaps the biggest were: 1. McClure’s efforts to reflect on her own investments in the project (especially as those investments connected to the recent death of her mom from cancer) and 2. her willingness to push beyond searching for the Truth (what really happened) to explore the space in between fact and fiction, where we can craft stories that should have happened or that we wished had happened or that did happen, but not quite in the ways that we imagine/remember.

Towards the beginning of the book, McClure spends time researching the history of the actual Laura, scouring old records, scholarly books and popular biographies, trying to determine what events in the LHOP (Little House on the Prairie) books are real and which are imagined. But, at certain point, she realizes that this determination isn’t necessary. She writes:

I knew what was real…and what wasn’t…and there was a lot of stuff in between that I wasn’t quite sure about….But maybe those distinctions ultimately didn’t matter as long as I recognized them; maybe I didn’t need to sort truth from fiction from exaggeration in order to go further into Laura World (48).

This passage makes me think about the Puotinen farm and my own relationship to it as a real and imagined place, the Farm World. I could spend a lot of time reflecting on my own understandings of truth/fiction and real/imagined at the farm. For me, the distinctions do matter, but not in way that privileges one over the other. I keep thinking about the “stuff in between” and the possibilities it might offer for new understandings of what’s real and what’s imagined.

McClure closes the book with a chapter entitled, “Unremembered.” I’m intrigued by the concept, even as I can’t quite understand what she’s trying to say with it. Here’s how she describes unremembering:

Maybe the Little House books have always been a way to unremember–a word that I kept coming back to…I know technically it means to forget but somehow, in my mind the definition changed. To me unremembering is knowing that something once happened or existed by remembering the things around it or by putting something else in its place. Laura Ingalls Wilder unremembered being hungry by writing Farmer Boy, and Rose Wilder Lane unremembered her terrible childhood by helping her mother write about hers….You don’t deny something when you unremember it, you just give it a place to live (324).

I wonder, how does/doesn’t this idea of unremembering connect with my understandings of not forgetting and remembering?

Follow-up note: I just found an interview with McClure in which she briefly discusses “unremembering.” She suggests that it involves “making a place for something, even if it’s too difficult to remember it directly.” As I write this, I’m still not sure I understand what she means.

It’s Not Just a Story

Note: I’m cleaning out the drafts in my WP dashboard and I came across this one from Oct. 1, 2013. I’ve added a few lines at the end. 

Right now I’m revisiting Trinh T. Minh-ha’s chapter, “Grandma’s Story” as I think through how to structure and shape my stories. I first encountered this chapter in my second semester of graduate school, way back in 1997. Eventually, I used it in my doctoral exams (2003) and the second chapter of my dissertation (2006). Four quotations from it were also featured in the second farm film. It’s very helpful to revisit it now; it’s enabling me to think through my own resistances to certain forms of storytelling. Here’s a passage that is particularly thought-provoking:

It’s Not just a story.

I do not remember having asked grandmother once whether the story she was telling me was true or not. Neither do I recall her asking me whether the story I was reading her was true or not. We knew we could make each other cry, laugh, or fear, but we never thought of saying to each other, “This is just a story.” A story is a story. There was no need for clarification….

Trinh T. Minh-ha

As a storyteller, my mom often embellished the truth. She liked to exaggerate experiences or make small details more significant than they might actually have been. She also liked to shape the facts to fit her current perspective.

Mostly, I love my mom’s passion for storytelling and her wondering, curious, imaginative spirit. I loved hiking through the woods and listening to her tell stories about Finnish immigrant women or Grandma Ines and how she picked raspberries with her sister Tynie. But, her storytelling did have a dark side. The meanings she created were often too exaggerated, crafted not only to make sense of our experiences, but to fit with the realities that she needed to believe existed in order to cope with difficult situations. While these stories were never just stories, they often ignored events, experiences, feelings that didn’t fit with the meaning that she wanted to create at that moment.

As I think about my mom’s storytelling, I’m reminded of something that she said during her second interview in 2002:

When you’re trying to explain how you feel about something, or what your relationship to that place or thing is or to other people, it is so often clouded by the particular events that are happening at that particular moment in your life.

Judith Puotinen

Here my mom suggests that our stories are “clouded” by our current experiences/situations in ways that we don’t always recognize.  She’s talking specifically about my dad’s first interview (shot in 2001) and how, as he tells stories about the farm, he seems to be deeply affected by his recent struggles with leaving his job. I wonder, how much of her own embellishment of experiences/histories/events in her storytelling was deliberately crafted, and how much of it was an unconscious effort to make sense or or endure her situation? Maybe this shouldn’t be an either/or question, but a both/and explanation. 

Part of my project involves reflecting on why and how we tell stories. So, in the upcoming months, I want to keep pushing at questions about storytelling and its relationship to truth/Truth. What’s the difference between embellishment and manipulation? How do I tell stories? Do I, like my mom, use them to cope and craft the worlds in which I want to live?