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Rory’s Story Cubes: The Mystery of the Unmapped Mark

Rory's Story Cubes Easy to play

For Russian New Year’s Eve, I got a gift card to a local game store. I went in and found a couple of games to try. I picked up Rory’s Story Cubes (affiliate link) because they reminded me of a game I invented in Malta inspired by “The Decision Hedgehog.” You get nine dice with pictures on them. Roll the dice and tell the story. Story Cubes offers three different game plays officially, though you can probably make up your own versions. They have different styles of cubes, so if you like genre play, you can stick to your favorite. Or you can mix, match and combine them. Here’s the story I came up with on my first roll of the dice:

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How to Tell a Story

Learn how to tell a story because stories matter

You’ve been sitting at home for three or more weeks now waiting for this whole coronavirus thing to blow over, and it isn’t going away. You’ve played all the video games, read all the books, binged all the videos and shows until your eyes bled. If you’re with family, you’ve descended on each other’s last nerve and are, hopefully, learning how to live together through it. If you’re by yourself, you started talking to inanimate objects, and like Alice in Wonderland (affiliate link), they’ve started talking back. The chess pieces are telling you where to go, and you’re not sure you like the implications. But before you and your loved ones/ co-habitators fall apart, it’s time to dig a little deeper into your ability to as a human being and learn how to tell a story.

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Keeping Your Humanity while Keeping Your Distance

Stay the F--k at Home

Infants who do not receive enough touch can die due to a condition known as “failure to thrive.” Skin-to-skin contact is important for both infants and mothers. It reduces stress and increases emotional connection according to “Scientific American.” As we grow up, we don’t stop needing that contact; we can just get by with less, even if it means going without it for years.

Banishment and Solitary Confinement

In the Middle Ages, banishment was a form of punishment akin to death. The person who was banished at that time lost all of his or her support network. The banished became a person non grata in his or her own community and had to find another place to live. Often, the new person would not be accepted in a different society. They could die from exposure to the elements if they didn’t find a place to live, hunger if they couldn’t find food, or dysentery and other disease if they found the wrong food or water source. A person who was taken out of society was at a great risk of physical death after experiencing identity death.

Someone who is in jail can be subjected to a worse punishment. Solitary confinement is used to separate prisoners who misbehave for the safety of the other inmates. Sitting all day alone gives these prisoners an opportunity to think about what they’ve done. On a much lesser scale, children face this type of punishment when they are sent to their rooms or put in the corner. The punishment keeps them from interacting and touching others.

Isolation in Fiction

Several fiction stories have explored long-term isolation and its effects. The Twilight Zone’s first episode was about a man who couldn’t find anyone in the town he walked to. “Where Is Everybody?” was the series start that explore isolation on different levels. “The Lonely,” another Twilight Zone episode, features a convict on asteroid. His only contact comes from the supply ship that arrives every six months. A more modern take on isolation is Tom Hank’s “Cast Away” (affiliate link) wherein Hank’s character befriends a volleyball. In literature, “Robinson Crusoe” (affiliate link) deals with a shipwreck and what happens to the man involved. People aren’t meant to live alone, even those who profess to not like people – maybe them the most. Think of Scrooge (affiliate link) who isolated himself for the love of money until he was visited by ghosts.

Cultural Human Touch

In many cultures, human touch is an important part of interacting. Handshakes, cheek-kissing, a pack on the mouth, and holding hands are all ways to establish a familial or platonic connection depending on where you are and what the cultural norm is. Not being able to connect with people in this very personal way can keep others off their game and lead to depression.

Other Ways to Connect

Fortunately, there are other ways you can connect while staying at least six feet or farther apart. The current self-isolation and quarantine doesn’t mean you have to avoid human contact altogether – just physical contact. With the Internet available, you can still connect to your friends and family. Facetime, Facebook chat, and Skype are all ways to connect to the people you know and love. You even get video!

You can also use your phone to call them. Or if you want less interactivity, you could try YouTube or Facebook live. You don’t have to be alone with your thoughts. You just shouldn’t be in the same place as someone else. Virtual conversations can cover that. Even better, if you’re one of the people who is just supposed to stay home, you have the time to make those important connections again.

How to Survive

Astronaut Chris Hadfield has four steps to thriving in self-isolation. The first step is to understand the risks. Don’t let fear rule you. Find the facts and learn your risk factor. The next steps are knowing your mission and obligations. Then you can take action and do something about it.

One Person Doing It Right

Paul Draper, a public speaker, magician, mentalist, and anthropologist was at Disneyland waiting to do a show when he heard the park was closing and he was out of a job. As a public speaker, he’s lost several gigs, and instead of focusing on what happened to him, he focused on what he could do to make his situation better. He started a community on Patreon where he shares his stories and secrets. The biggest secret is that he isn’t just helping himself. He’s helping others through his thoughtful posts and comments. He is still accomplishing his goals, he’s just harnessing the Internet to do it.

The Next Steps

In essence, touch helps us feel real. We need someone else to validate who we are and who we think we are. We need to know we are loved. Words are inadequate to the job, especially in cultures where saying “I love you” is taboo or restricted enough to be taboo. However, you don’t have to let self-isolation take your humanity. Sure, you may feel like touch is the exact thing you need to feel real, but being human is so much more.

Storytelling for Your Soul

One good way to connect is through storytelling. People have been telling stories long before they could write. Fairy tales, fables, and many religions are made up from oral stories passed from generation to generation until they could be written down. Storytelling is your birthright as a human being and now, you have more options to tell your story than ever before.

Write a novel.  Write a short story. Tell the story on video and then release it on YouTube, Facebook, or your favorite social media. Some people are using MadLibs to pass the time. Start your own. There are even communities of writers that have writing prompts. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, the only qualification is you need to write.

Storytelling isn’t just about telling your story. It’s also about listening to the stories of others. It’s the give and take. The act of sharing between two people that makes storytelling so powerful. You don’t have to search far for stories. There are plenty of movies and books with fandoms that you can connect to. However, talking to the older members of your family and asking them for their history will increase your appreciation of them and create memories that will last a lifetime. Now is the time to call grandma and grandpa and ask them how they are doing, and if they’re up for it, what they remember best about their lives.

Play Some Music

You’ve seen the videos of Italians connecting to each other through music from their balconies. Police officers in Mallorca are performing concerts while enforcing the lock down in Spain. Celebrities came together while remaining apart to perform “Imagine.” The Doobie Brothers knew what they were singing about when they said “Listen to the Music.”

But you don’t have to just listen. You can perform, too. Maybe you don’t play an instrument, but if you have one at home, you can learn. All you really need is your voice. Check out Cameron Diaz (below) singing in a scene from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” or Tiffany Haddish in Netflix’s “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” Neither one of them is on-key, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is giving yourself the voice and allowing your lungs, vocal cords, and mouth to work together to sing out your feelings – whatever they are.

Back to Normal

We can’t know when it will be safe to touch each other again. As long as people break the rules and continue to party, get together for church services, congregate in parks because “I do what I want” or whatever their excuses are for coming together, we will continue to face the consequences of our physical interactions. Those of us who are doing our part will face the continued consequences of those who are being irresponsible and exposing all of us to greater risk. But that’s okay because in the end, we will understand that our humanity comes from our compassion, our creativity, our storytelling, and our music. Create something new today, and the world will be better for it tomorrow.

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Being Human: Identity, Compassion, Creativity and Problem Solving, and Storytelling

Curious girl exploring the boundaries

Many people mistakenly believe that what makes us human is an opposable thumb. While that may be part of what separates us from the animals, it doesn’t actually make us human. Cut off a person’s thumb and he or she is still a person. So, what is it that makes us human? It’s a set of qualities that brings out our humanity. These qualities include our sense of identity, our compassion for one another, our ability to solve problems and our ability to learn from history and stories.

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New Zealand: The Wellington Museum Does More than Te Papa with Less

Wellington Museum

Te Papa is the 800-lb gorilla of museums in New Zealand. Its reputation is so good that people from other communities recommend seeing it. Te Papa is the national museum after all. The Wellington Museum’s ad seems to take advantage of that fact with a “Getting mistaken for Te Papa since 1999” slogan. While this might smack of the “we try harder” advertisements of a second place rental car company, it may also speak to the excellence with which the Wellington Museum’s storytelling style brings out the curiosity and focused joy of children visiting a place they remember.

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The Ludicrousness of the Internet and the Simple Answer

Should I feed my dog mandarins? Yes or no. It’s a simple question to answer. Yet, before I can get an answer to this question on the Internet, I have to understand what a mandarin is, what a dog is, the different breeds of dogs that might eat mandarins (all of them), the nutritional value of mandarins and their rinds, how a dog’s digestive system works, why people might think it’s a good idea to give dogs a mandarin, why dogs should have mandarins, why they shouldn’t have mandarins, why they shouldn’t have the rinds, and then finally, the writer of the article deigns to give the answer: Probably not, but barring allergy, the dog won’t die from it. (In other words, I should not feed my dog mandarins.) That simple sentence could have been written at the top of the page, and it would have saved 15 minutes of scrolling and loading and given me the answer I was looking for.

The same is true for recipes on the Internet. Search for “apple pie recipes” and you’ll get plenty of recipes, but most of them will tell the story about how the person thought about making an apple pie on one harvest Sunday when the smell of cinnamon wafted through the air from the local bakery reminding him or her of a long deceased grandma who had the best apple pie recipe in the world, the one that you will soon be baking after the person gives you a complete biography of said grandma and the hardships she went through to get to the U.S. during the Great Depression. There will be a not-so-lively discussion of various apple types, how Johnny Appleseed was responsible for a majority of the apple trees in the U.S., and whether or not apple pie is actually as American as baseball and Chevrolet. Sure, the recipe, which calls for cardamom and squid, could’ve been placed at the top of the page and all of the other stuff below it, but you might’ve clicked to another web site if you found that the recipe required an ingredient you didn’t have, like 24k gold dust from a Nevadan river.

For either of these two posts, you’ll be scrolling past photos, videos and ads, all eating up bandwidth and time. Why all the scrolling, or worse, the multiple “next” page clicks? The easy answer is money. The slightly less easy answer is search engine algorithms. The least likely answer is credibility.

The more copy someone writes, the more place there is for ads. If a web page can keep you scrolling through ad after ad, it will make more money, even if you never click on any ads. Some web writers don’t have control over the placements of the ads, so using several pages rather than one long post makes it easier to make more money while you click through page after page of long-winded explanation for a simple question. Regardless of how much everyone wants content on the Internet to be free, the person or people producing the content need to make money to live. While multiple pages and multiple ads are annoying, they are necessary for many creators in the Internet (me included).

However, if no one is looking at the pages, there is no revenue to generate. Getting people to the page takes good search engine optimization practices. This includes writing enough that search engine web crawlers don’t exclude the page because it has a lack of content. “Should I feed my dogs mandarins? No” just isn’t enough words for a search engine algorithm to recognize the page as serious. Anything fewer than 100 words is suspect, even 100 words is questionable. Write enough, and the web page not only becomes more reputable according to web crawlers, but it will also hit on more keywords for search engines to latch onto.

For some pages, this is a matter of establishing credibility. (If I wanted to do that, I would tell you I’ve been working in the SEO industry for almost a decade and have studied trends in the Internet and its search engines. I would also give you a complete history of the Internet and my involvement with it, stopping just short of claiming to have invented it – I did not invent the Internet; please don’t start any rumors.) Because most Internet information is published by those who wish to remain anonymous or those you don’t personally know, it is important for the person to come up with a way to get you to trust him or her. After all, not everyone can be associated with a credible Internet source and those who aren’t need your page views even more than the biggest web sites. Of course, credibility doesn’t really matter to someone who is looking for a recipe. It should matter more to someone looking for dog care tips, but for the most part people on the Internet aren’t looking for the truth. They are looking for someone to confirm the information or biases they already have.

Aside from that, writing a lot doesn’t actually establish credibility. Anyone can write anything, and you will have little to no way of verifying the information. I used to be an astronaut and flew the first manned spaceship to Jupiter in a secret government program. That’s not true, but there’s no way you can verify it. Maybe it is true, and I’m trying to cover myself by saying it isn’t. Even if you have access to secret government records, chances are you don’t have secret access to every government’s records. However, if I wrote a whole lot about space and Jupiter and published some planetary stock photos, you might think I’m a credible authority on space travel. The same is true for someone who writes a whole lot of information they found on the Internet in their blog about feeding dogs mandarins.

Until the Internet changes the way information is sorted and paid for, there is little anyone can do to stop the overflow of useless information that doesn’t answer the question asked. Sending reports to search engines about clickbait, especially on sponsored posts, may help. Subscribing to your favorite web sites may also help. However, for the foreseeable future plan on learning the obscure history of someone’s great uncle pirate who is responsible for the introduction of gravy to the Indonesian diet while you’re looking for the answer to whether or not raccoons are native to North America. (They are.)

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Kubo and the Two Strings: Storytelling is magic.

Kubo and the Two Strings was released in the U.S. in 2016, and according to IMDB, it made about $76 million worldwide with $48 million in the U.S. This is sad and maybe should be left for another day and another discussion about originality and sequels. As it is, if you are among the many who haven’t seen this film, I suggest seeking it out, maybe with this link, and pressing play before you read the rest of this article. It’s okay, just bookmark this article and come back to it. You’ll be glad you did, and if you aren’t you can tell me why in the comments below. This was a long-winded way to say:

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

Kubo goes to the village every day to tell his stories. He brings them to life with origami characters made with the magic of music. The people gather around him and watch intently as he strums and talks his way through the deeds of his father as told by his mother and translated through Kubo’s magic. Storytelling isn’t just something people do around a campfire or to their children at night. The best advertisers, TV shows and sports broadcasts know that story is what keeps people in front of their sets and buying products. Storytelling is a powerful tool anyone can use. Storytelling can improve people’s moods, capture their attention and make them beg for more.

We are the stories others tell about us. As Beetle points out to Monkey, Monkey will live on in Kubo’s stories and through generations of storytellers who pick up Kubo’s thread. She will continue to live, even when her spirit leaves this plane. Kubo’s grandfather forgets who he is and becomes the person in the stories of the villagers. The moment is both profound and dark as he is a microcosm of living up to what others believe about him.

Storytelling is magic. It can bring the dead back to life and create images that never existed. It can be used to enhance a person’s worldview and self-esteem or to destroy that person. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to keep memories alive, and it’s something people have done since they first gathered together in groups.

Long before there was written language man gathered in the caves of Lascaux and painted pictures on the wall. They used these pictures,that came to life in the flickering firelight and the imagination of the audience to tell their stories – how to hunt, how to survive, and what it meant to be a part of the tribe. People kept their stories alive, so the next generation could learn and grow from them. Keep your story alive, tell it in whatever medium you are comfortable with, and if you don’t know what that medium is, find it. You and the world will be glad you did. Human beings are storytellers. You are a storyteller.