Disjointed

 

Harvey keitel 2

A scene from Wayne Wang’s Smoke. Have you been looking at old photos, too?

 

Have you been doing lots of things you haven’t felt like doing before?  I have. Apparently a lot of people are baking bread, and I’m trying to work up the courage to make some New York rye. Baking is not my thing, but I found a recipe for making rye bread with pickle juice – that sounds irresistable.

I’ve also been listening to audiobooks, not because I prefer them but because the library in closed during this pandemic and only ebooks and downloadable audiobooks books are available.

On Mother’s Day, I did a lot of looking at old photos. My bet is a lot of people did the same.

Life since the end of February has been a bit disjointed, with old patterns flying out the window and new patterns flying in, then the new ones sneaking out, replaced by others sneaking in, then those new ones sneaking out and…well, you get my drift. Are you feeling like the “pattern” during our Stay Home, Stay Safe pandemic seems to be no pattern at all? Is that a good thing or bad thing? Who knows? (she says, shrugging her shoulders….)

My thoughts are a little scattered, possibly becauset the boundaries of my world are now more restricted. There are lots of new rules. But how can a day be simultaneously “More of the same” and “Everything’s different”? I’m confused. What’s new? (she says, shrugging her shoulders….)

As writers we’re used to being at home when we work. But we’re not used to the whole neighborhood, town, county, state, country staying home. It’s more than eerie – it’s serious business. True, change presents opportunities as long as we’re healthy. There’s space for innovation,  creativity, new choices. There is also space for insomnia because we feel a sea change coming, and we know the pandemic is no metaphor, it’s real, it’s out there.

Like I said, life’s been disjointed – could be a chance for change, could be a mess, most likely both.  Whatever is coming, the present passes a bit more slowly in ways I can’t quite figure out. Same for you? Despite the slow pace, does your day end without you being able to figure out what you did all day – how did you get from morning to night? In some ways, does life seem to be in slow-motion? Or even no-motion?

Of course, slowing down has always been something I’ve recommended to my creative writing students. Good writing – especially poetry, as far as I’m concerned – requires it.  “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down, my friend” – that’s a line from Wayne Wang’s fascinating movie, Smoke, which I also recommended to my students. It’s based on a book by Paul Auster, who also wrote the screenplay. Auggie, played by Harvey Keitel, has scrapbooks full of snapshots of his smoke shop in Brooklyn, and when he shares the scrapbooks with a friend (see the photo above)  the friend points out that all the photos look the same. But Auggie disagrees. On the surface, yes, the photos seem identical. But his smoke shop, his “little spot” in the world, is different every day, if you know how to look carefully. Different people pass by, or the same people pass by but they look different from the day before. The air each day is different, the light is different, the weather and the seasons are different, colors, noises, conversations, the details are different.

Harvey Keitel

So I’m living in my little corner of a Smoke world right now. The same each day but different. Forget-me-nots blooming, carrots coming up in the raised bed, chickadees building a nest in a wooden birdhouse. The white lilac has come into its glory and is about to go out of it, as it does each year.

My grandson turned thirteen yesterday. I love him to the moon and back, and I can’t imagine being thirteen, even though I once was. When I go for my walk later today, I’ll try to remember what being thirteen was like. And when I go to bed, I’ll still be trying, because I like to get the details right. I remember slowly.  I might fall asleep thinking about that, or I might be thinking about taking weekly photos of my little yellow house because it’s the same but different every day. Or I might fall asleep thinking about the word “disjointed.” It’s a word that makes you believe your skeleton could be rearranged so your knee bones switch places with your wrists. Or the knuckles of your thumbs get attached to your ankles. “Dis-jointed.” I’m sure there’s a poem in that somewhere.

 

 

There’s No Place Like…

Since March 12, we have had a chance to decide if Dorothy is right, if there truly is no place like home. Our enforced staycation has given us all lots of time to think about what ‘home’ means.

It’s a common theme of literature: the hero’s journey takes him out and away only to return home, changed, to a hot supper.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.52.57 AM

Home. Such a perfect word. The sigh of the initial ‘h,’ the round ‘o,’ the ‘m,’ which can be drawn out ‘mmmmm.’

In the early 2000’s I spoke at a joint Oregon and Washington library gathering. Organizers asked participants to respond to the question: “What is ‘home’ to you?” I remember Lois Lowry said home was her mother singing in the kitchen. And Jacqueline Woodson, who had a new baby, said home was the curve of her daughter’s neck, that little nuzzling place.

Their answers engage the senses – the sound of singing, the touch of a warm baby – because home is a place we know with our senses. The smell of oak duff takes me to my childhood home in the Sierra foothills, as does any starry, starry night.

But no matter where your physical house is, it’s the people there that make it a home. Anyone who has experienced homesickness knows the truth of the old axiom “Home is where the Heart is.” No matter how good a vacation is, it’s always comforting to come home to your own bed.

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Have you ever taken a walk through your neighborhood at dusk, when neighbors have their lights on but before they have shut the curtains? In every picture window there’s a vignette of home being experienced: kids playing, a family eating dinner, a mother rocking a baby. Lots of stories going on.

These days we get glimpses into peoples’ homes because of the necessary reworking of live TV shows. For instance, if you watch American Idol, the contestants are broadcasting from their homes. You get to know them a little better: the freeway is off in the distance from one guy’s porch, another has a couch full of kids watching.

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.03.30 AMYou can’t help but imagine their lives as revealed by their homes. It’s an interesting insight, especially for we nosy writer-types.

I’ve become fond of Jimmy Fallon’s home edition, videoed by his wife on an iPhone. He is so charming with his two little girls on his lap, reading the evening’s jokes – and what an interesting house!

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.04.45 AM

 John and I realize we are lucky. We have each other – that’s what home is for us – and a roof over our heads and access to just about anything we need – and two little grandboys who are on their way over here right now. Maybe they will build a fort of sofa cushions and blankets. A home in a home.

My heart goes out to those whose housing is uncertain and healthcare and food sources iffy.  The inequalities in our land-of-plenty are laid bare by this crisis. As we recover from the corona virus’ impact, I hope we will take the opportunity to reset our communities, and services, and country with compassion and inclusion. Here’s a chance to do things better, to take better care of each other, to offer everyone the welcome of home.

Wishing you all the best during our “safe at home” days — and wondering; When you click your sparkly red heels, what is ‘home’ to you?

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Head, Body Legs

Head, Body, Legs is a drawing game. You can play it with as few as two people or with a whole roomful. You can even play it through the mail – preserving social distance while making playful connections.

by Julie Paschkis and Zoe Paschkis

How does it work?
Fold a piece of paper into thirds.
Draw a head of any kind – human, animal or other – in the top “head” section of the paper.

Draw two tiny lines that extend from the bottom of your drawing into the middle “body” section of the paper. Fold the paper so that the head is hidden.

Pass (or mail) the paper to the person next to you,. They will see only the little lines and not your drawing.

The next person draws a body of any kind in the middle section, adding tiny lines that extend into the bottom “Legs” section of the paper.

They fold and pass (or mail) the drawing to the next person so that only the little lines are visible, not the head or the body.


The next person draws the legs.

Unfold the paper to reveal the creature that you have co-created.

In a group everyone draws at the same time and then passes in the same direction.  You work on the head of one drawing, the body of the next and the legs of a third. The process sounds complicated but it is actually simple: Fold, Draw, Pass, Repeat.

Here are some Head, Body Legs that were drawn at a table. All the generations of my family often play this game.

by Julie Paschkis, Joe Max Emminger and Amy Kaye

By Julie Paschkis, Benji Kaye and Eric Kaye

by Benji Kaye, Julie Paschkis and Joe Max Emminger

by Lucia Santos, Julie Paschkis and Jennifer Kennard

The drawings themselves can be as simple or complicated as you like. The finished pieces look more coherent if all of the participants use the same media – pencil, ink, markers or paint.

Here are some recent HBL passed through the mail instead of around a table.
I started these at home and then sent them to Margaret Chodos-Irvine, who sent them to Deborah Mersky.

by Deborah Mersky, Margaret Chodos-Irvine and Julie Paschkis

My niece Zoe and I did these three piece drawings  through the mail:

by Zoe Paschkis and Julie Paschkis

Then we realized it made more sense as a two person collaboration to create two part drawings. Head Bo/Dy Legs.

I drew these:

And mailed them like this:

Zoe finished them:

 

Exquisite Corpse is another name for Head, Body, Legs.

Whatever you call it, I hope you will give it a try.

Joe Max Emminger, Julie Paschkis and Daisy Emminger

P.S. I am continuing to post free, printable coloring pages on line every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please click HERE for a link to those pages.
Here are some pages that people have colored in.

Benji Kaye

Mary Ann Landmesser

Eric Kaye

After you have spent some time playing Head, Body Legs, or coloring in the printed pages, perhaps you will be inspired to keep drawing, or to invent your own games.

Benji Kaye

Pet Love

Last month I posted my video read-along of Where Lily Isn’t, in which I suggested viewers could send pictures of their own beloved pets.

My friend and fellow author/illustrator Wendy Wahman sent me a drawing of her poodle LaRoo, also known as Nanny Paws, who inspired a book by that name.

Wendy was the only one who sent me any pictures. Ah well.

I was hoping to get more responses so I could share them with you in this post. Instead, I am posting my own.

Where Lily Isn’t is dedicated to: Stanley, Boo, Stinker, Freya, Bluey, Ajax, and Lily. Those are the names of pets that Julie and I have loved, and lost (mine are in boldface).

Stanley was an English bulldog my family got when I was six. I wanted to name him Trixie, but my brother thought Stanley, after comedian Stanley Myron Handelman, was more appropriate. I guess my parents agreed. He was a loving, slobbery, snaggle-toothed goof who terrified my friends when they came over and he charged at them to say hello. Cartoons like Spike gave bulldogs a bad name. I’ve never met an English bulldog that didn’t want to just snuffle you up and down and drool all over you. He was my constant playmate until I hit puberty, when there was a bit of a Puff-The-Magic-Dragon situation. I still feel guilty about that. Stanley died when I was about fourteen.

This is me with Stinker, my Half Moon Conure. I bought him from a bird farm with $30 my grandfather sent me for my birthday when I was a tween. I was not his first human. He already knew how to croak “don’t bite!” (maybe that and his given name should have clued me in on why he was so affordable for a parrot) and I taught him to squawk “hello.” He also picked up yelling my name from hearing my mother. I loved him dearly. He died when I was in high school.

Bluey was a blue parakeet I got in Kyoto when I was living there with my parents when I was nine. I was lonely without other English-speaking kids my age to play with, so my parents took me to a pet shop on the top of a department store that had parakeet chicks for sale. He became so tame he would nap on my chest. I brought him back to California in a mouse cage in my carry-on bag (maybe smuggled is a better word). He inspired my dad to build an aviary and we raised parakeets for many years. Bluey flew out of my hands when I was carrying him back inside from a visit to the other birds in the aviary. Stanley had jumped up to see what I was carrying and it startled both me and Bluey. I never saw Bluey again. I cried for weeks.

And Ajax. Ajax was the Best Cat Ever. He showed up as a kitten when we were working on remodeling our first house in Seattle. We had been thinking of adopting a cat, and my friend Gabrielle who we’d hired to help us (and who is an expert on cats IMHO) said “this is the cat you want.” We figured out that he lived a couple of houses down from us, so I gathered him up, along with my courage, and went to ask if we could adopt him. I knocked on the door. When they answered I asked, “is this your cat?” and the guy said “yeah, you want him?” Ajax was the kind of cat who loved people, would come when you called him, and liked to sleep as close to your face as he could get. He lived a good long life. We said goodbye when he was nineteen.

Which brings me to Nik. Nik is our current animal companion. He is a Rat Terrier. We’ve had him since 2013. We are his third family. He is coming up on sixteen. He is deaf now, and going blind, but he still loves his walks, his meals, and his naps. He has many quirks, and that is what we love about him.

Like many terriers, he likes to burrow, and while our youngest daughter was still home, he would sleep under the blankets by her feet every night. I am preparing myself for when he’s gone, but who knows? Terriers are tough. I hope he makes it with us at least until the COVID-19 era is over so Clare can see him again.

The importance of animal companions during these days of home confinement can’t be underestimated. Nik gets us out of the house on a regular basis. Petting him helps me feel less anxious. He is a good listener, even though he’s deaf. Pets have no clue what’s going on in the world, thank goodness.

Here is a little drawing I did of Nik. I think it highlights his best features.

If anyone wants to send me pictures of their pets, they are still welcome to! You can send them to: margaret@chodos-irvine.com, and I will post them below.

Update: Here are a few loves from friends!

Laura Kvasnosky’s dear Izzi
Julie Paschkis’s dear Freya.

It Takes Two: How to kickstart your story-making brain

You can’t make a story out of a single thing. A “one” thing. A lone thing. Story comes from that lone thing in relationship to something, anything else. That’s where it all begins.

If you’re starting to think of the story of Dot, it’s because your brain has already added a second element. The dot is trying to escape the square? The dot is lonely? Your brain is already adding something else for Dot to be in relationship with.

I discussed this idea little in my last post—how the human brain seems hardwired to find connections between things.  And out of that instinct comes story.

I love this idea that all it takes is two images to prompt story. Using this kind of prompt could be a fun activity for yourself or for any of your at-home kids who can “never think of anything to write about.”

Of course, you can come up a story with just one image.

A lot of writers start with just that–character. But look what happens to your story-making brain if you add just one other element.

Is this Bulldog’s dream self, a goal, an unlikely friend, his mortal foe?

Just about any pairing can suggest a story, but I’m always looking for contrast, contradiction and the unlikely:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Putting two things in relationship almost inherently suggests goals or dreams or conflict… plot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You could put almost any of the images on this page together and start to get story ideas.

 

 

 


Of course, the more unlikely the juxtaposition, the harder it can be to create a logical story. But, especially with picture books, it’s exactly the unlikely, the unexpected that can make your book jump off the shelves

So it’s great to play with all kinds of juxtapositions. Watch what happens to your story-telling brain as you run through the possibilities:

There’s this adorable kid. And then this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

And, of course, our very unlikely crocodile.

 

 

 

 

 

Every one of these stories would be very different. So which do you tell? For me, it comes down to a gut feeling about where my heart and energy want to go.

If you find yourself stuck for story and would like to get out of your own head for awhile, pull some images from the Internet or from magazines or even your own photo albums and put them together. There’s a story in there!

If any of these prompt a story in your household, I’d love to hear about it or to have you share images you might have found that sparked story for you.

Be well!

 

 

 

 

Radishes and Prayer Wheels: Looking for Something New

BATT 10 Little Library Face

Seen on my walk: a startled Little Library

These are strange times. Maybe even startling times. Are we all doing a few things we’ve never done before? Sure we are. Social distancing? New to me.  Zoom-ing instead of having a cuppa coffee with a friend? Never heard of Zoom before all this.  Wiping down the groceries before adding them to the pantry? Never done that before, definitely not, nope. Strange, strange.

BATT 12 Seed Packets

Seed packets a little worse for wear….

But also, for the first time in my life, I’m planting a kitchen garden: broccoli, kohlrabi, gold and red beets, orange and red carrots, radishes, four kinds of peas (I’m sure there’s a poem in that list somewhere.. or there will be by the time the seeds germinate.)  Before sundown tomorrow I’ll have the cilantro, parsley, basil, and lettuce in. If I have room, I’ll spread some snapdragon seeds. The sun’s been out – there’s been no rain in our neck of the woods since April 1st –  that’s seventeen days! (Even the weather is doing new things!) So I’ve been in my garden with a shovel, a hoe, a bucket for the weeds, a sieve for the dirt, a trowel, some twine, and my seed packets.  I’m not just thinking about planting flowers and vegetables – I’m doing it. That’s new.

I’m  also going for (not just thinking about going for) a daily neighborhood walk.. My  post today is filled with some of the strange, sweet, mysterious, hilarious and beautiful things I saw as I walked three blocks north on Williams St., two blocks west on Illinois, five blocks south on Henry, two blocks east on Washington, and two blocks north again on Williams, back to the Little Yellow House that my husband and I call home. There were a few detours down alleys, to be honest. Irresistible. I love alleys.

Yellow House 2

Little Yellow House – my home base.

I wrote a poem after I came home from my walk. That often feels like the right thing to do if I’ve been looking carefully at the world around me. If you’re looking for something new to do and you’ve never written a poem, how about using some of the photographs I took as a springboard to a poem of your own? If you have kids at home who are looking for new things to do, how about getting outside with them, walking, photographing, going home and writing stories or poems of their own about what they saw? Try for the littlest or strangest or most unusual discoveries you find, things you only see if you linger a bit, things you see up in a tree or at your feet, on a fence post or down an alley. And please, share them with me in the Comments section below.

BATT 1 Chalk Spaceship

Is it a spaceship – or is it a butterfly ?

BATT 3 Prayer Wheel

A Buddhist prayer wheel – “Always spin clockwise.”

BATT 6 Bike in a Tree

Bicycle in a tree (sign supporting local whistle-blower, Dr. Ming Lin)

BATT 6 Animal Fence

A gate made of animals….

BATT Balls in Leaf

Three ceramic balls in a cement leaf….

BATT 7 Bottle Tree

Bottles (and a glass chicken!) on bare branches…..

Batt 9 Sink in the Dirt

A flower-filled sink in the dirt…

BATT 2 Chalk Lightning

Lightning hits the sidewalk….

batt Apple Tree

Red fence, white blossoms….

Batt Geese

Goose and Duck waiting for the rocks to hatch….

BATT Chalk Friends

Message from our neighbors (notice the yellow house, blue door….)

Sometimes it’s comforting to stay inside and do familiar things. Other times, it’s exciting to try something new. Plant some kohlrabi and carrots, or head three blocks this way, five blocks that way, savor the creativity of your neighbors, take a few photographs. Then write a poem.

 

Authors Connect with Kids Stuck at Home

Last month, many U.S. schools were closed until the end of April to try to slow the spread of the corona virus. This week, our Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, announced state schools will likely not reopen until fall. All these closures have sent parents scrambling for study space, learning materials and content.

Luckily, Erica Rand Silverman, who works for the Stimola Literary Studio, had an idea how to fill that content need. Within days of the first closures, she contacted the authors and illustrators the agency works with, asking them to contribute programs – and StimolaLive.com was born.

Launched on March 23, the programs run on weekdays for kids of all ages. So far, they include picture book readings, a sing along, a bake along, and wonderful workshops on myriad aspects of writing and illustration. After each program is livestreamed, it is transferred to the Stimola Live YouTube channel for future reference.

On April Fool’s day, with help from my husband John, I jumped into the livestream. My event included reading Little Wolf’s First Howling and a workshop about creating a character based on a stuffed animal, as I did with Little Wolf and A.A. Milne did with the Winnie the Pooh crew. Clearly, it’s my first attempt at livestreaming, but I was pleased to get my toes wet. See here.

Erica juggles her new livestreaming project with literary agent tasks and family duties, but she found time to tell us more about Stimola Live. What follows is our Q and A.

How did you get this idea? 

I was near other parents when we received the news that school was going to close. The look of fear on all their faces would have been funny if it wasn’t such truly devastating news. Most of them were worrying how they would be able to continue engaging their kids authentically on their own. They were worrying that one of the first things to slip would be their kids’ reading skills and interest in books. The idea for Stimola Live came flying in at the very moment – our authors and illustrators can help to create content that parents can feel good about using with their kids. It’s a win for the parents who are desperate to keep their growing readers engaged. A win for authors and illustrators who want to stay connected to their readers. And, a win for booksellers who desperately need patrons to remain invested in book buying (we link to booksellers – often indies- on each event page!). Honestly, it grew into something bigger and better than I could have ever imagined! I called author-illustrator, Shanda McCloskey, to ask her to participate and three sleepless days later she and her husband had created a website and logo for it! Then, my colleague, Allison Hellegers, had the idea to save the livestreams as videos to a Stimola Live YouTube channel.

ericaandboys

Erica Rand Silverman and her boys. She writes, “This is from the first day of school this year which is particularly bitter sweet.”

What kinds of challenges did you have to overcome to create Stimola Live?

The biggest challenge has been figuring out the technology end of things. We learned a lot as we went through the process, like which platforms are easiest to save the video from, which platforms allow for interaction, which are difficult to use because of overcrowding. Some of the livestream platforms translate well to a saved video and some aren’t as good. We had over 50 participating authors and illustrators each with their own questions and challenges. It was a lot to manage but incredibly satisfying at the same time.

Can you offer recommendations per age level or guidance through the offerings?

One of the best things about Stimola Live is that the livestreams and saved video content range in age from preschool to teen. There is truly something for everyone. Each event page on StimolaLive.com lists appropriate ages directly in the event title, and on the Stimola Live YouTube channel we organize videos by age as well.

Unexpected benefits? Response?

I loved unexpectedly bumping into [Stimola Literary] Studio authors and illustrators at the different live stream events. Authors and illustrators who might not have known each other well before were able to tune into each other’s live streams and participate. I loved seeing them (and their own children in many instances) participate. It helped to create even more camaraderie and community at the Studio itself. There may be 15 people attending the livestream with you or 300. Either way, when you’re able to see each other tune in and read each other’s comments, you really feel like you’re all in the room together.

It has also been amazing to see that people from all over the world have come to the site! People have visited from Canada, Germany, Mexico, China and more.

Teachers write to us to ask if they can link to Stimola Live or specific events/videos in their Google Classrooms. Those are the best emails to get!

There were instances where some livestreams didn’t go as planned or teachers/students/kids weren’t able to access the event as expected. That was disappointing for all but as we say on the FAQ page, we’re book-makers, not professional livestreamers . . . at least not yet!  We did over 60 events in two weeks! There were bound to be some mistakes and all the viewers were really kind about it.

Going forward we’ll continue to host events and will now be able to refine them based on everything we learned. We love feedback and suggestions. So, please let everyone know that they can email us at info@stimolalive.com  and if they want to know when we have more events going up they can subscribe to the newsletter – https://www.stimolalive.com/newsletter/

• • • • •

Thank you, dear husband and quarantine mate, for helping me participate. And thank you, Erica, for inventing this wonderful river of connection and sharing the story of its beginnings with our BATT readers. 

Topsy Turvy

The world has felt topsy-turvy lately. Here are some upside down images to reflect that state of affairs.

Because you might not be able to turn your computer over I will include every image twice – as a topsy and a turvy.
The illustrations are from the book The Playful Eye, by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding.

OHO! -a matchbox is from India, 1927. Harrumph.

The burro is from Spain, 1865.  Flip it over to see the rider.

This Japanese woodblock was made in the 1830s. The bullfrog/skull in the center row is perplexing and perplexed.

From Italy in 1870…a gentleman, charming in both directions

Here is a gender bending topsy turvy from Spain, 1865.

This Indian topsy turvy from 1948 takes the face from youth to adulthood.

This is from an Indian pamphlet, painted in the 1980’s. I find it difficult but not impossible to ignore the lips in the forehead.

Try drawing your own topsy turvy head: fold a piece of paper in half and draw eyes in the middle. Draw a nose and a mouth below the eyes. Flip the paper and repeat with another nose and mouth. Fool around until it looks interesting from both directions.

Or you could color in these pages. Click on the link beneath each image for a pdf that you can download and print.

topsy turvy coloring page

topsy tree coloring page

Here is the topsy turvy tree page as interpreted by Susan Hughes-Hayton and family.

 

Also, I have added a section of coloring pages to my website. Every weekday (until schools reopen and home isolation is over) I will post a page that you can download, print and color in.
juliepaschkis.com/coloring-pages/
Please share this link with children, teachers or anyone who would like to draw. Email me at juliepaschkis@comcast.net if you would like to get weekly notifications linking you to the coloring pages. Thanks!

Have fun drawing in these topsy turvy times!

(Peter Newell 1893)

 

Where Lily Isn’t – a read-aloud

So, what have I been doing with all my free time while sheltering-in-place? Sewing masks. Doing puzzles. Reading endless emails about COVID-19…

And, I made a video! With so many kids staying home all day with their families, it seems like the least I can do to help out.

I have to admit, I’m new, and not entirely comfortable with, recording myself. My video is not perfect, as I am not perfect, but it will do. I hope.

After the reading, I encourage kids (adults too, if you are inclined) to send a drawing of a beloved pet. I will post them on this blog. If you know of any children who might enjoy listening and participating, please pass it on!

Thanks!

Stay safe, and stay healthy.

Our Brains are Story-Making Machines

Take a look at these two images. If you give it a second, odds are your brain will start to construct a story as to why those images are next to each other. Is there a connection? Is there a story here?

It isn’t too hard to start to imagine how these two images could tell a story, but according to David Linden, a  professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, your brain will automatically start trying to figure out a narrative even when I show you something like this.

No matter how improbable, your brain wants to make a connection.

Linden says you can’t help it. It’s what comes naturally. Linden believes the brain is hard-wired to tell stories.  It’s a subconscious function that automatically kicks in. A survival mechanism. After all if you see this:

And then this.

Well, it’s nice to have a brain that is quick to analyze cause and effect.

And isn’t that the essence of story. Connecting one action and to another to another, all the while examining why and how and what to help us figure out how to live?

In my last post, I looked at the book “How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang, where she does a great analysis of how our minds can make stories out of abstract shapes if they are in the right relationship to each other.

Simply placing images side-by-side will kick speculation into gear. But what happens when the relationship gets more complex–as with the Heider-Simmel animation?

Developed in 1944, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel, experimental psychologists at Smith College, created it to investigate how our brain can make complex inferences from relatively little data.

The two investigators simply told their subjects to watch the (very short) movie and “write down what happened.” Almost every one of the undergraduates saw the shapes as animate characters in a relationship.

I won’t tell you what most of them said, but there’s a good summary of the experiment and some of the findings here. But before you go, check out the animation yourself and see what your story-making mind tells you.

If you want to share, I’d love to hear the story that you saw!