digital storytelling

digital storytelling has been a major part of my recovery.

i went to my first digital storytelling training in april 2009, so about 3 months before my diagnosis. a friend who is a breast cancer survivor told me about the center for digital storytelling in berkeley, and i convinced my school to send me down there. i had difficult times with my foster daughter on my mind. here’s the digital story i made at that workshop. my first DS:

i felt like i had found the perfect thing for me – combining my love of stories with photography and technology. i still feel so fortunate to have found it. digital storytelling energized me as a writer and as a teacher. i went back to my classroom and we wrote and wrote – my students did the best revision i’d ever seen in a dozen years of teaching. i did a workshop for some staff members and we bonded in powerful ways. i invited the families of my graduating 5th graders to a workshop and they created digital stories to show during the graduation ceremony. here’s one of them:

digital storytelling comes down to a personal narrative illustrated with photos and video and music. i think the best description i’ve heard is that it’s folk art of the 21st century.

as soon as school was out i went back down to berkeley for a 5-day facilitator intensive training. at the story circle i told the story of my first day of kindergarten. i didn’t have a good way to do the images i wanted, so i ended up making a digital story about my childhood park.

while i was in berkeley my friend kristin posted on facebook that she was back in southern california visiting her parents, who still lived in the house she grew up in. i asked her if she’d go to two strike park and take pictures for me. she did and she emailed them to me in berkeley. and a digital story was born.

once i got back to corvallis my friend lisa took pictures in my friend jenny’s kindergarten classroom for my next digital story – the one i’d pitched in berkeley.

when i got my brain tumor diagnosis i was working on a digital story about the tattoo i’d gotten in berkeley. i gave my friend jaqui a mini-workshop, put the finishing touches on my story, then i told the staff at my school that i’d be heading to phoenix for brain surgery and they’d need to find someone to cover for me when school started. this is the story i was working on. it has new meaning now that i know what was about to happen.

that digital story goes down in history as the last one ever made by pre-stroke kriste. it’s kriste 2.0 and 2.0+ from here on out. when i was in the nursing home in phoenix, my speech therapist tina worked with me to help me stop talking in a monotone robot voice. i remembered that i had these digital stories on my laptop and i played them for her so that she could hear what my voice sounded like before my medical drama. she said, “you sound just like your mom!” so she told me to listen to her and try to mimic the way that she speaks. in hindsight i realize that i should have told her that my voice sounded just like james earl jones or alec baldwin. a missed opportunity. no offense, mom!

so it turned out that i did some pretty fantastic emotional prep for the medical drama i was about to go through. i had digital storytelling as a tool for processing things. that summer, before my diagnosis, i read writing as a way of healing by louise desalvo, about how writing can be used to heal trauma. when i was diagnosed, i thought that i’d end up with a lot of digital story material – boy, was i right about that! when we went to phoenix, i asked my mom to please take a lot of pictures of me. i’ve written here about how those pictures helped me to process what had happened, but they also helped me illustrate the digital stories that were to come.

here’s the first digital story i made after my medical drama:

my first reaction when the boy laughed at me was devastation. i felt helpless. within a few seconds, it occurred to me that i should go home (home was still my parents’ house) and write a digital story about it. i even took a picture of my view from the bench where i was sitting, knowing that i might need it for the story – not bad for a woman who was still healing a pretty major brain injury. so i went home and wrote about it. and during the process of writing about it i came to some realizations that transformed my recovery. i remember realizing that i did need to keep going out, and i challenged myself to do something that scared me everyday. i did just that, and what do you know? after a while there were a lot less things that scared me. the forcefield thing was a big deal. i see it as my conversion to the religion of choosing my attitude – i chose to focus on the people who were smiling at me and encouraging me and holding the door open for me. and having people watch my story was so validating. i still feel like i’m doing something to help develop empathy and understanding for people in my situation. and i was so proud of myself and relieved that i was still able to make digital stories! that first post-stroke one doesn’t have any effects – no music, no transitions, no pans and zooms. i just wasn’t able to do them and i wanted the story to be finished and out in the world. and i’ll never touch it. it is what it is.

i kept on making digital stories that were really directly about my stroke. makes sense – that first year i had to put all of my energy into recovery. the second year too. here’s another one. in writing about benches, i realized that resting is kind. i didn’t know that before i wrote it.

i got a message from a guy i went to high school with. he’d heard about what had happened to me, and he’d been through some medical drama of his own. he asked me if i felt like i’d died at any point during the chaos of the surgeries. i hadn’t really thought about it, but i did and responded to him. i read my response and realized that it sounded like a digital story. so with very little revision, i made this:

i decided to make a digital story as a thank you to the local animal shelter that helped care for my dog early in my recovery. they played it at their fundraiser a few months later.

my friend jaqui used to have notes in her classroom that said, “are you fun to be around?” we made digital stories with that as the title. challenged ourselves to write 100 words or less. here’s mine:

around that time my friend bucko noticed that my digital stories were moving away from being about my medical drama. i hadn’t noticed that. i see the stories from that point on as being informed by my stroke, not about my stroke. that’s how my life is, too. since about this spring, i’m not focused on recovering from my stroke and all – i’m living my life. and it’s a life that was affected by a stroke, but that stroke isn’t what my life is about. same is true for my digital stories. here’s one i made for my friend zari’s graduation from college:

my mom decided that she wanted to get in on the act. but she didn’t want to do the editing. so she wrote the script, picked out the music and pictures, and storyboarded it. i took it from there. i’ve been thinking about how to help people tell their stories without the whole workshop part, so this was a great opportunity to give it a try. i absolutely love my mom’s digital story. the adult language warning is no joke.

my friend james teaches high school at an international school in morocco. he was really interested in trying digital storytelling with his history students. so he wrote a project for them, and i consulted (this included skyping with his morning students in the middle of my night). the students wrote first- and third-person narratives about historical people and events, then made digital stories with those narratives. i asked james to assign me one – he gave me sisi of austria (i’d never heard of her before). here’s what i came up with:

i’m excited about this new (to me) use of digital storytelling. looking forward to future projects.

i haven’t been feeling great this last week. i feel like all of my neurological issues (dizziness, wonky coordination, nerve weirdness) are flaring up. i saw my neurologist a few days ago and she said that it could be the seasonal changes in barometric pressure. i’ll see her again next week. but meanwhile my pretty high recent activity level has ground to a halt. i’m laying low in my apartment. feeling frustrated and bummed about not feeling well. but here comes digital storytelling again. i’ve had a few DS that i’ve been wanting to work on, and being stuck in my apartment works really well for that. one is a story i’ve been meaning to tell for over a year.

a good thing to focus on during this frustrating time. to remind myself how far i’ve come – from my stroke to the astoria column, and from that point until now. being able to work on digital stories this week as i’m sequestered in my apartment has made me feel productive and connected. i’ve thought about what i’ve been through the last 2 years, but also about lots of other things. here’s my most recent DS:

today i’ll likely finish a DS that began a few months ago when i posted on facebook that my grandpa used to call me his no-good kitty cat. several of my friends replied with the nicknames their grandpas gave them. it’s been nice to think about my grandpas (one gone, one still around but far away), and about my friends who responded.

i’ve never really looked at my digital stories collected this way before. my physical healing has been pretty easy to see since my medical drama, but i forget about the cognitive healing i’ve done since my brain injury way back when. but i can see that healing happen when i watch these.

between digital storytelling and this blog, i’m really enjoying writing. and i’m interested in this writing as a way of healing trauma idea – i feel like the poster child. thinking about how that could be rolled up into the master’s degree i’ve been dreaming about for years.


4 responses to “digital storytelling

  1. Your storytelling is helping others heal too 😉

  2. Grandpa says ‘lubba, lubba’.

  3. Hope you’re starting to feel a little less wonky now.
    “Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.”

  4. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! It’s good to meet you 🙂 I’m glad to see that you’re doing better, and I wish you continued improvement!

    Take care,

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