Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?

My review of Darran Anderson’s book Imaginary Cities is up at Australian literary journal The Lifted Brow.

oj_imaginary-cities_1

Anderson’s grand literary tour of urban environments that never were, from citadels of myth to more manageable fantasies of the kind you’d find in Walt Disney’s EPCOT centre, challenges our vision of what cities could be in 2017 and beyond.

In my review for The Lifted Brow, I link Anderson’s work to projects taking place around Australia, giving local context to his epic global account of the urban past, present, and future.

Read ‘Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?” at The Lifted Brow.

DNAInfo

I surfaced from my holiday to hear that Joe Ricketts, CEO of the news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, has closed both enterprises a week after staff decided to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

The abrupt move has shut down the sites entirely, so that even archived news stories are now unavailable.

I only wrote a couple of times for DNAInfo, but they were a place of welcome for me in New York and gave me valuable experience putting together local news stories through words and pictures.

Both the pieces I created for them, on New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read programme and the NYC Kids Food Festival, explored projects at the junction of literacy, culture, play, health and wellbeing – a place I still work today with Australian organisations like Metro South Health Board and the Griffith University School of Allied Health.

I’m grateful to the DNAInfo team for the kindness and collegiality they showed me on my visits to New York, and hope that all of their reporters and editors move on to better and brighter things.

All Things Good and Strange

I love TV, and I don’t think I watch enough of it.

I’d watch more but it’s so slow*.  You can spend weeks of your life trying to hammer through season after season of just one show.  In Douglas Coupland’s 1993 novel Microserfs, characters “blitz” movies by watching videos on fast-forward with subtitles switched on.** My friend Katie, equally impatient, listens to audiobooks on chipmunk speed, but I don’t think I could sustain either approach for a full season of TV.

I watch television to get ideas for work. TV shows and community experiences like the ones I design have a lot in common. You need a central conceit which draws people in, and on which you can hang a series of recurring episodes. Action-adventure, problem solving, and play are closely entwined. This year’s non-speaking, musical keynote was inspired by dialogue-free sequences in the TV show Legion.

The teams I work with are pretty explicit about this link between TV and the events we run. The working title for Ann Arbor’s Wondrous Strange event was ‘Weirder Things’.

tumblr_oay00gcixt1qm5glso1_400

Stranger Things is a difficult one for me because I’m not super into it, and that makes me feel bad. It’s so popular, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I’m out of touch. It’s doubly bad because I grew up immersed in – and totally in love with – the late 80s/early 90s world of Stephen King novels and pirate horror movies on VHS.

Read more

It’s the Tyrell Corporation Comedy Hour!

On Friday, 20th October, I was the guest storyteller at Brisbane improv troupe Big Fork Theatre’s “Cool Story Bro“.

At “Cool Story Bro,” the guest storyteller shares tales from their past, based on audience prompts, which then become fuel for improv sketches by the troupe. It’s an interesting format with roots in the work of the Upright Citizens Brigade, which has been home to the likes of Amy Poehler, Donald Glover, and Aziz Ansari.

You can watch Tina Fey doing this kind of storytelling here:

I’m no Tina Fey, but I did my best. My stories came from the audience call-outs “cats”, “whales” (or “Wales”), and “first kiss”. As always with these things, it was entirely terrifying & nerve-wracking right up until the moment you stepped on stage and just had to do it.

I’ve been getting all excited about memories lately – how they blur the bounds between fact and fiction, how they might be shared or transplanted between us. And I like challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone.

I found stories from my life and told them messily and honestly, with plenty of detail for the improv troupe to riff off. In turn, they made skits about talking meteorites, a school for nervous possums, and TV cookery shows. It was fun to see your experiences reworked into something that preserved only the vibe; details warped and reworked into new contexts, themes you hadn’t spotted in your own tale coming to the fore.

Read more

Postcards from the Future: Behind the Scenes at Wondrous Strange #notenoughscifi

Imagine letting your community dream wildly of the world to come.

Imagine collaborating on a future history spanning millennia.

Imagine turning public space into something that was wondrous and strange.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 11.22.14

As part of our time-travel themed festival of weirdness, storytelling, art and science at Ann Arbor District Library, we asked visitors to write postcards from the future.

We collected over 80 tales stretching from 2018 to the year 5000.

Read more

The Fall of Box City: Havoc, chaos, and sheer delight with @ChaniTheunissen

A special guest joins us on the blog today. Chantel Theunissen, Children and Teens Librarian, Koraunui Stokes Valley Community Hub, and editor of New Zealand’s Library Lifetells us how she orchestrated havoc, chaos, and sheer delight to commemorate the closure of a temporary library in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Let me start off by saying all of my favourite things I’ve done at work (and in life really) haven’t been planned. Read more

Cool Story Bro at Big Fork Theatre

I tell stories and I always want to push myself to develop my storytelling skills. New challenges, new audiences, new ways of getting a tale onto the page or stage or screen.

I’m interested in memory, too: how we make it, preserve it, remake and share it.

Tonight I’m embracing both of those things with a session as guest storyteller for Brisbane improv troupe Big Fork Theatre.

Big Fork run a series called “Cool Story Bro”, where a storyteller recounts tales from their life in response to shouted audience prompts. Those stories then become the basis for skits improvised by the performers.

You can join me and the Big Fork gang at Cool Story Bro this Friday, 20th October at Hands On Art, 150 Enoggera Terrace, Paddington.

Wondrous Strange at Ann Arbor District Libraries

I’m just back from a week delivering training and community engagement for Ann Arbor District Libraries, an acclaimed public library service in Michigan, USA.

The micro-residency culminated in an all-ages half-day event called “Wondrous Strange”, blending play, history, prophecy, technology, art, craft, science fiction, time travel, and storytelling.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 11.22.14.png

Wondrous Strange was an opportunity for the Ann Arbor community to venture into an imagined world blending fact and fiction, and to create their own shared stories and experiences stretching from recorded history into the distant future.

More on my Michigan visit soon, but for now here’s a short video from last Sunday’s session.

This Digital Life @usqedu @thewritplatform: Mums, Dogs, and Inmates

The Writing Platform has published my three-part series on the work of Australia’s Digital Life Lab, an academic unit at the University of Southern Queensland exploring our experiences of the digital world.

Part 1 in the series, “Mums“, looks at fake news, parenting decisions, and the information world of new mothers on social media, as researched by social scientist Kate Davis.

baby-600x398

Part 2, “Dogs“, follows researcher Ann Morrison’s investigations into animal-computer interaction, teasing out the implications of a world where animals and digital devices interact without a human intermediary.

cat-600x450

Finally, part 3, “Inmates“, looks at digital engagement in remote communities – principally the Australian prison population – through the lens of two projects: the Shakespeare Prison Project and Digital Life Lab’s ‘Making the Connection’ initiative, led by Professor Helen Farley.

fence-600x432

Find the whole series here at The Writing Platform.

 

Combats for Kindy and Other #Librarianstyle Stories

I’m over at Library Whisperers joining in the conversation, led by the brilliant Kim Tairi, around #LibrarianStyle – the fashion choices of people who work in and with libraries and other knowledge institutions.

There will always be a tension in the style choices of knowledge professionals, especially those working in public-facing institutions. Should staff wear uniforms? Do they make it easier to identify staff on the floor of the library, museum, or university?

Which ranks become exempt from uniform and what does that do for an “us and them” mentality?

Does sartorial expression ever become self-indulgent, distracting, or damaging to your professional role?

Do these questions play out differently depending on whether you identify as a man or a woman – with this patriarchal world placing more demanding expectations and standards on women in the workplace?

Read about teaching kindergarten in hiking gear, and taking on university roles in tweed and punk hairstyles – as well as cross-dressing for the Open 17 conference! – over at Library Whisperers.