Category: guests

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.

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Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.

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Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.

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Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.

BUILD COMMUNITY BY ORGANISING EVENTS IN THE “GIFT ECONOMY” STYLE by JONATHAN KAHN

This winter I tried something new: I organised an event in the “gift economy” style. Inspired by ancient gift cultures, gift economy means offering an event (or other work) as a gift instead of exchanging it directly for money. At the end of the event people connect with their gratitude and give in a way that fits for them—either with money or with non-monetary gifts. The idea is to promote community, connection, and gratitude by moving away from transactions.

The practice of gift economy opens up new ways of interacting, learning, and seeing. I’ll share what I learned from the experience in the hope that it will inspire you to participate in a similar activity.

Wealth is what we give to others, not what we keep for ourselves

Instead of seeing wealth as an accumulation of money or resources, in a gift economy a person’s wealth comes from what they give to others. Anything we choose to give in the hope of meeting another person’s need is a gift. This may be material things, like money, food, or shelter. There are many other types of gifts, though: the gift of listening, the gift of art, the gift of connection. In a gift economy, wealth is our power to help others. Through giving we can accumulate goodwill, connection, and community.

My gift economy experiment: an evening course about building trust

I was inspired to try organising a gift economy event after reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. I announced an evening course about practices for building trust. I used this version of gift economy:

I offered the course as a gift with no upfront charge. Instead I invited people to apply for the course by sharing what they hoped to learn from participating.
Based on advice I found online, I emphasised that it was not a free course, and shared the needs I was hoping to meet through organising it. This included the direct costs of hiring the venue, and my non-financial needs like introductions to people who’d like to attend my events, feedback on the course activities, and help organising conferences.
At the end of the course I asked the participants to reflect on their gratitude, and to give in way that aligned with it.
I clarified my motivation: I organise because I want to learn

When I tell people about this experiment, many appear to object, saying, “but you need to make a living somehow!” This reminds me how foreign the concept of gifting is in today’s capitalist culture. Yes, I need to make a living somehow. It doesn’t follow that I need to make money from every activity I take part in!

Offering the course as a gift helped me to clarify my motivations. I realised that I was organising the course to meet my needs for learning, growth, and understanding. Although events and training are the focus of my work, this event wasn’t about making a living. It was about learning how to run workshops where people can practise communication techniques. Discovering this changed my attitude towards the participants. Instead of seeing them as people who wanted to benefit from my expertise, I was grateful to them for facilitating my learning.

I was surprised to find that letting people know what gifts I’d like to receive created a dynamic of mutuality. Asking for what I need makes me vulnerable, and that encourages people to connect. The participants could see me learning during the course—including when things didn’t go to plan—which created an atmosphere based on helping each other to learn, instead of a one-way exchange of knowledge. I spent most of the final session getting feedback from the participants about what worked and what I could change in the future. Because of the gifting vibe, this didn’t seem out of place.

Gift economy enables events that wouldn’t be feasible otherwise

Participants at my other events have their places funded by their organisations, which limits the number of people who attend. My events are about practices for building trust, an area that many people think is important. The problem is that their organisations have difficulty funding it, because it doesn’t fit their concept of “professional development.”

Gift economy reverses the situation. People participate because they want to, and the question of who provides funds is secondary. It also reduces risk, because people don’t need to determine the value of the course before they’ve experienced it. At the end they choose what donation to make, whether monetary (paid by their organisation for some) or another type of gift. This experience helped me realise that many more events are feasible under this arrangement than under the transactional model.

Gifts create relationships

Giving and receiving gifts—rather than transactions—creates the conditions for a relationship. As well as more than covering the direct costs of the event, every single participant offered to volunteer at my larger events—something I always need help with. At the end of the course, I asked each of them to keep in touch—something we say a lot, perhaps—but this time I believe it’s likely to happen.

Next steps

If you’d like to organise an event in the gift economy style, read the post by Marie Goodwin that I used to get started, and check out Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.

I’m organising several gift economy events in 2016, including a series of evening courses and an event about transition. For details, subscribe to my mailing list or contact me.https://togetherlondon.com/

This post was originally published on the Impact Hub King’s Cross blog.

Faster than a speeding bullet! Why Superman does what he does…

RAY