Sunday, October 4, 2015

Nerdcon: Stories, On the importance of stories

My dad was a storyteller. I wouldn't call him a raconteur because he hated speaking to more than one person at a time, but my God could he spin a yarn. If you took a sample of my dad and examined them under a microscope, I suspect that you'd see cells sitting around telling each other stories. More than anyone I've ever known, he was made of words.

This fact made it strangely easy to put my thoughts about losing him into words. I spoke at the funeral and wrote elaborate notes to thank those who helped mom and supported us as we mourned. I couldn't begin to do that in the wake of mom's death. Partly, I think this was because it was so sudden and unexpected compared to his long fight against cancer. But for the most part, it's because stories were dad's lifeblood but mom was a creature of pure feelings.

Nevertheless, I was adrift after my dad died. I didn't stop telling stories, but they changed in ways that were perceptible to me and I was a long time coming to terms with it. I was uncomfortable with this new facet of my life and how it was manifesting in the tales I wanted to tell and how I was telling them.

What does this have to do with Nerdcon: Stories?

If you've read the acknowledgements page of Howard Carter Saves the world, you'll have seen this:
John & Hank Green don’t know it, but they and the Nerdfighters helped me through a dark time. Their efforts to encourage peace and empathy in the world and to form a support community for those who are not chosen first, kids who are mocked, scared, or live in fear of themselves are laudable and should be supported. In recognition, a portion of the author’s proceeds* from this novel will be donated to their Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck. Learn more about how you too can support their efforts at and Don’t forget to be awesome.
When I wrote that, I had no intention of really explaining it. But events have changed around me. Of course, the death of my father was the dark time I was talking about, but I'm not sure I can fully explain the way that John and Hank helped me through it.

Being somewhat attuned to the memetic culture of the web, I'd been aware of the Vlogbrothers pretty much since they started, but only as a peripheral thing.

As a former YA bookseller, I had a lingering professional interest in John Green as the author of Looking for Alaska but I can't say honestly that I spent much time digging into the philosophical basis of his work. When my dad died, that changed and Green's message of empathy and imagining the complex lives of others suddenly sank in. The idea of telling stories as a means rather than an ends wasn't groundbreaking, but it was amazing to watch someone doing it, live on the internet.

And thus the method and mode of my storytelling changed again.

That's a profound effect to have in someone's life. Because I am a storyteller like my father before me. If you examined me under a microscope, you'd find my cells drinking coffee and trying to top one another with a funnier story. To inject a new and serious note into that conversation was shocking for me.

And over the course of their rambling conversations recorded on their YouTube channel, I was progressively, night by night, rattled me out of the funk and began charting a new course. Which led to Howard Carter.

And because I support their larger charitable mission, it's a profound effect that inspired a likeminded effort on my part.

As previously noted, Howard Carter is a very silly but pointed anti-cynical manifesto. It's about optimism, yes, but it's also about doing the hard thing. It's about trusting one generation to strive to do better than those who stood in their places the last time. It's about not shoving our duties onto the next poor sap to come along. And succeed or fail, it's about the subtle heroism of making the right choice in the face of rampant cynicism that all is for naught.

It's about planting a flag somewhere and defiantly insisting that we are not, in fact, doomed to repeat the mistakes of the previous cycle of humanity.

Whether I succeeded or not, that's where I've been. And some of you have come along for the ride.

On Thursday, I will fly to Minneapolis to attend the first ever Nerdcon: Stories. Put on by the crew that Hank Green assembled to create VidCon, the YouTube creator's conference, Nedcon is a conference/convention that's about the power of storytelling and the important nature of the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves.

Some exciting Big Names will be there, but I'm not going to meet the big names or even John and Hank. I'm going to support the mission as a volunteer and participant at the conference. Because more importantly, our stories will be there and I will be among these storytellers assembling on the Minnesota plains to discuss how stories make us human and how we can do it better.

So I'll be spending the week swimming in words and maybe I will return with a few in my teeth, reliable old dog that I am.

Have a good week, friends.


*By the way, for the first year of publication, that percentage is half, but that's another post.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).