Storytelling Has Many Forms

the-modern-artrepreneurHere is an excerpt of the transcript to my latest podcast, The Modern Artrepreneur, Episode 04: Storytelling Has Many Forms. It goes into depth about my history of storytelling, and finishes up with my third and final project of this podcast, writing an e-book.
Thanks again for listening to the Modern Artrepreneur podcast on The Mystery Tin Podcast Network and if you haven’t already, please rate, review and subscribe on iTunes.

Welcome to The Modern Artrepreneur, a podcast documenting my circuitous approach to blending art and entrepreneurship.

As long as I can remember I’ve been telling stories. Most have been true. But whether it’s elaborate tales of far off, mythical lands or right-here-at-home conspiracy theories, I enjoy weaving tales to capture the attention of whomever dares listen in. Storytelling would become a lifelong passion of mine, cultivated from a spiritual youth, repeatedly tested in high school, stretched to it’s limits in young adulthood, and hopefully one day soon, I’ll financially profit from it as well.

It has to be 1991. Both of my brothers had moved out so the farthest room, the room at the end of the hall, was turned from Brian’s room into “the computer room.” I remember my dad spending nights down there, writing legal briefs and hiding from my mother… just kidding, Mom.

The timeframe of this computer is important is because it puts the entire situation in context. My parents were madly in love and occasionally wanted to go out without me tagging along. Our go-to babysitter was a teenager up the hill by the name of Tiari. They were, and still are, good family friends so I assume double-dates were quite frequent back in those days. It just so happened that Tiari was also enrolled in the first wave of “computer typing classes” offered in local high schools. Her homework was to type… or at least that’s how my memory has framed it.

I have memories of Tiari sitting at that computer typing in a Word document as I walked around the room, narrating a story for her to type down. We must have spent hours in that room, spinning tale after tale about dinosaurs and Mars and whatever craziness I could come up with at that age. I remember us getting into detailed conversations about character arcs and intentions and dialogue. It was my own version of Storytelling 101. I progressed quickly into Storytelling 102, “No mother. Tiari didn’t let me stay up past my bedtime.”

I have mentioned this particular story before on my blog, but before I continue, I would like to apologize to Mrs. Smart, my fourth grade teacher. I would like to take a moment to recognize the importance of “Book Club” in the learning and development process. It is not enough to read the book, you must internalize it and use that knowledge to help you reach conclusions in your everyday life. Twenty years ago, when I was in your class, I did not respect your “Book Club” and all the good it was doing for me. Had I done so, I surely wouldn’t be recording this podcast now.

Mrs. Smart is a very intelligent woman (no pun intended) and she’d read a ton of books, back before the internet. Our school’s library held around fifty thousand volumes, I thought to myself when choosing a book to read, surely there are some in here that she’s never read before.

“What about this book? Should I read this?” I’d ask.

“Catcher in the Rye. That’s a great book but it’s a little mature for you. Try another one.”

I combed the shelves for a book I thought she’d never, ever read. What may come as no surprise to anyone, I found most of my successes in the “Sci-Fi” and “Fantasy” sections of the library. If there was a picture of a guy in a space suit, fighting some other creature, on a planet other than Earth, there was a good chance it hadn’t made it onto Mrs. Smart’s reading list yet.

“How about this one? The Last Duel on Mars.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Great! Thanks, Mrs. Smart!”

Again, let me remind you, this is before the internet. There was no Amazon. There was no Wikipedia. And there sure as hell wasn’t a Sparknotes for The Last Duel on Mars. I’m sure you can all see where this is going. Every Wednesday, at “Book Club,” we were required to write a two-page synopsis of what we’d read over the last week and be prepared to share it with our classmates. There was always the implication that you would be questioned, most likely by the teacher.

That meant every Tuesday night, I was at home just making shit up. I have to admit, I really did have it down to a science by the end there. The book’s cover art was nearly always my primary guide. There’s always a central figure, a supporting character (most likely of the opposite gender). They like each other, but they’re too afraid to talk about it. See, look, I’m already starting to tell a story that in all likelihood is 0.00009% the same as the book. That tiny percentage that does match are a handful of the characters names, which I gleaned from opening to a random page and searching for proper nouns.

Writing 500 words on a book that doesn’t actually exist is more difficult than it sounds, especially when it came to a book club. The book reports I wrote were based on stories that didn’t actually exist. The facts were not tangible so they weren’t negotiable or debatable within my group. If I said the main character was a “man struggling with loss,” nobody could argue with me. I had to be ready to explain what I thought the protagonist really wants in his life, which is when I would start saying things like, “oh yeah, I forgot, his mother died and left everything to his sister.”

In order to not get caught, I had to create a pretty solid, not-real version of this book, in my head, and each week report a little progress toward the book’s exciting conclusion. Somehow, I pulled it off. So, like I said before, Sorry, Mrs. Smart.

A sidenote about technology here. This type of thing, lying your way through book club the way I did, is pretty much impossible these days. Teachers read reports about the books students are reading so they can ask engaging questions and yes, make sure they’re actually reading the book. More often than not, they’ve read the book before.

In high school and college, I found my storytelling being tested in an entirely new way: art critiques. For those of you out there who have never taken a studio art class, SHAME ON YOU. Take a class, learn to draw, calm your mind and let your creativity go. It’ll be one of the best things that ever happened to you, I swear. Anyways, art critiques are when everybody in the art class takes the project they’ve been working on and they present it to the entire class, for them to “critique.”

You may be struggling to understand how art class has anything to do with writing an e-book, but bear with me. An art critique is an opportunity for an artist to display their work and grow through constructive criticism and discussion. I was given an assignment and this piece of art, the one I am about to present, is what I came up with. It is this “assignment-directed” art that allowed me to continue crafting my storytelling, both visually and aurally.

In art, specifically critiques, the project is real. It’s tangible. It’s on the wall and we’re all looking at it. We’re going to look at it and think about how it applies to the concept or assignment we were all given. When it was my turn to defend my art, it was my turn to tell a story.

For a final drawing project, I constructed a somewhat controversial piece involving cutouts from Playboy magazine with abstract line art and a mirrored sticker. I’d come into class to discover the piece covered with paper so that “other classes wouldn’t be distracted by it.” I found that argument entertaining considering there were frequently real naked people standing in the middle of drawing classes.

Nevertheless, I presented my piece to the class, Objective Validation, a comment on the nude modeling world and one’s ambition to be coveted, receiving validation by being objectified. The mirror sticker was cut in the shape of a model, so the viewer could, you know, “see yourself up there.” It was, admittedly… something else.

After Final Critique I was approached by a female classmate. “Your piece was certainly… interesting.” Her tone was not complimentary.

“Thanks. I thought it would be a little controversial.” I responded.

She smiled and nodded, but there was something more there.

“You are an artist, Chris… A bullshit artist.” Then she walked away.

After graduation, I moved to Sydney, Australia for a bit. I wanted to go into advertising but nobody would give me a job because I was technically there under a “working holiday Visa.” They thought if they gave me any responsibility I couldn’t handle, I would just bounce back to the United States. I guess they just didn’t know me.

I kept a journal while I was traveling, and it was there, in Sydney, that I decided I wanted to go to law school. I returned from Australia in December 2008 and immediately started studying for the LSAT. In my offtime, I would turn my travel journal into a romana clef novel about a young coffee fortune heir that is forced to relocate to Australia under false pretenses, then ends up getting himself into actual trouble and is forced to go on the run with no way to get back to the States. I wrote 270 pages of that novel before I started law school then sadly, never returned to it.

And although I never finished law school, I will happily declare that attending law school gave me tools and a mindset that changed my life for the better, particularly in my research and writing skills. Other than my father, I was initially drawn to law because of the grandeur in storytelling at trial. At the time I felt, and sometimes I still do, that I would be a phenomenal criminal trial attorney. That was the class I excelled in best. But ultimately, after deferring and spending a year as a civil litigation paralegal, I decided I wanted to tell stories that affected more than a few dozen people at a time.

So in 2012, I quit law to become a writer.

Tune into The Modern Artrepreneur to hear more about this project and two others I’m passionate about.

-CHE

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