Lewis and Clark College, my alma mater, has a long-standing connection with the family of William Stafford. Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 1975-1990, Stafford wrote poetry about nature, pacifism, and Oregon, and had a long teaching career at Lewis and Clark.
Kim Stafford, William’s son, has had an equally impressive career. He has taught much of his adult life at Lewis and Clark, founded the college’s Northwest Writing Institute, and writes brilliantly. This winter I read his most recent work, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, which was nominated for an Oregon Book Award in creative non-fiction this year.
As an undergraduate student at Lewis and Clark I had the opportunity to listen to Kim close the campus’s Last Lecture series for the year. He brought his guitar and sprinkled songs between thoughts about the importance of being true to yourself—embracing all your interests rather than giving up your guitar playing, say, to become a better mathematician. Do all the things, embrace life wholeheartedly instead of being a specialist. Over a decade later, and I still look back on this evening with great fondness.
You might say I’m a bit of a fan!
That’s why, when I heard about his Introduction to Digital Storytelling workshop, I was compelled to attend. I’m not a complete newbie—after all, I did produce “The Cycling Eight” at Adventure Cycling and have racked up quite a bit of educational media experience. An opportunity to work with Kim Stafford and to glean new storytelling approaches could be rather helpful!
Journeying to the new Lewis and Clark graduate campus, I arrived early to check things out. I entered the chapel, our workshop space, and before I even sat I had an entire conversation with Kim! He walked right up and asked me about myself. We talked about the Sisters of St. Francis, the order of nuns that the property originally belonged to. We spoke of silent retreats at monasteries, how we’d like to see more radicals in the church, and I told him about discovering the wonderful Trappist Abbey. Standing next to me, he took a photo of the same dove mural on the ceiling that I was photographing. Like we were already old buddies.
The workshop, as it turns out, presented a specific way of telling personal stories modeled by the Center for Digital Storytelling.
In this example, Kim tells of the day his father narrowly escaped being hanged:
Most of the workshop participants were professional educators with limited media tools, looking to take the idea to their students for classroom teaching. As a hired pen, it was hard to imagine incorporating the workshop content into my work life. And sadly, real life has time constraints that foil many of my creative project ideas. Still though, I was thinking about the class content the rest of the evening and into the next day.
One phrase Kim kept throwing around was “digital haiku.” This is the idea to make one’s digital story as succinct and brief as possible. Let the images communicate some things so you can take another few words away.
It gave me an idea:
As we filled out course evaluations at the end of the three hour workshop, Kim waited just outside the chapel doors. Students formed a receiving line, shaking his hand and I imagine covering him with praise. Eventually I headed up the back of the line, extolling my own praise and asking a question about that latest breathtaking book, a memoir about his brother’s suicide.
It was a real thrill to be Kim Stafford’s student for a few hours. He filled the room with warmth and a joyous smile, admiring so many of the deeply personal stories his students were brave enough to read out loud. He focused on drawing things out of his students rather than intimidating newbies with his own brilliant work.
Where will I go with this? It’s hard to say. Inspiration’s a funny thing—sometimes it shows up in odd places…