Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Legacy Writing

In my earlier posts on the blog on folk music and the American Folklorist, Alan Lomax, I touched on the issue of preservation. Of leaving a trail for those who follow us, to say, this is me, this is who I was. Songs have filled that role for centuries, books too. One of the finest forms of preservation is photography, which has the added sense of always being in the now. A photograph is in permanent present tense. The image below is the first photograph ever taken, of a Paris street, that shows a human figure. Down in the left hand corner there is a man having his boots shined by a bootblack. The street beside them looks deserted but in fact it was full of horses and carts, horse-drawn taxis, people walking. Because of the very long exposure time required by the early cameras, anything moving couldn’t be captured. So the street traffic is rendered invisible and only the bootblack and his customer remain. 

Photographs not only capture subject and context but voice. They are in and of their time. 

I’ve become involved in a concept called Legacy Writing, where we become our own folklorists and photographers. Us, not just famous people, but all of us. Our stories are logged like the photograph, in the permanent ‘now.’ The field of Life Writing has been around for years, developing out of the class biography and autobiography, but it has always been from a point in our later life, looking back. So we’re reflecting, analyzing, sometimes justifying. Perhaps even seeking forgiveness. But what were our thoughts and motivations in the moment. The diary and journal has always been the format to capture that part of ourselves, and now social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, Blogging) and forms like digital storytelling and electronic scrapbooking allow us to log those moments and make them available to view. 

With the electronic media now available we have an opportunity to record ourselves in the now – a permanent now – in the way we’ve always done using photographs. The flared jeans, family gathered around the fondue set lit by the glow of the lava lamp, catching the subtleties of the orange and brown vinyl wallpaper. Masterpieces of style like the Schwarzenegger shoulders on your 1990 power-suit, the clean lines of the 1980’s mullet that puts Billy Ray Cyrus to shame.

One of the most useful tools with the new electronic media is the ability to link, to show viewpoints, creative works, story forms beyond your own, and ideas beyond your own. Large scale media forms like e-books allow this too. This gives us a unique chance to branch out beyond just our thoughts in biographical form and use the full range of our creativity. 

  • Digital stories (images with overlaid music and text)
  • Video (self filmed)
  • Audio clips we make ourselves
  • Linked images to audio and video clips
  • Poetry and Prose with images included
In Legacy Writing, written text lies at the heart of it all. The word. The use of point of view, voice, description, narrative style and structure. Written text is the glue. You don’t have to just use your own voice, or a documentary style. You can create characterizations depending on context, as fiction writers do all the time. We’re talking about a repository for all of you, including your storytelling in all its forms. It is a creative record, not just a chronicle. I’ve always had my doubts about Bill Bryson’s story of being roomless and freezing and sleeping on a park bench with his underwear over his head. But it could’ve happened, and even if it’s embellished, it’s still a vivid example of his creative voice, which is as legitimate a part of him as his factual history.

Give it some thought. Those bits and pieces you put on Facebook, where will they go, where will their life take them. Or those bits you never record anywhere, how will they be preserved. Will they be preserved. There is so much about my immediate family history that is lost, just a few fragments and snatches of anecdote. Modern technology gives us the ability to avoid that, and be creative. There's no need to be rendered like moving figures in that Paris street - unseen.

Give it some thought…

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