The Talk to Strangers Campaign is a phrase I’ve been circling around ever since I visited Ireland, discovered that folks there are not only willing but warm in their conversations with strangers, and decided that the lack of this practice must be what was troubling the U.S. Polarization was a problem then, in the Bush years, and it hasn’t gotten any better. Now, I’m much less sure that I know how to solve the country’s problems – indeed I’m positive that I don’t know how to solve even my own state’s problems – but I still think that a willingness to talk to, and listen to, strangers is a big part of what’s needed.
The current incarnation of this site is as, I hope, a compendium of ways to connect. A resource for those who wish to stop talking past each other. Since I know I don’t have the answers, I will be pointing toward others who I think have at least partial answers. Some of this will involve face-to-face communication, or pen-to-paper, and, since I believe in the importance of stories (see below), much may be focused around theatre and books and other once-upon-a-times. Very little of it will involve digital communication (it has incredible potential, but I haven’t yet seen it bring out the best in us) or anything particularly commercial. Some of the suggestions will be things I do, some things I aspire to do, and some things I’m horrible at doing but still see the value of. My knowledge and range of experiences are limited, so if you think there’s something I ought to post about that I haven’t, I hope you’ll share that with me. Although as I write this, on this rather abandoned (I haven’t posted in years) corner of the web, I’ll just be happy and a bit surprised if you find your way here.
What this page used to say…
The Talk to Strangers Campaign is a project predicated on the belief that stories (in person, on screen, and in print) are important. It is an investigation into the challenges and opportunities presented by a society where information overload threatens to create a culture where stories and storytellers are taken for granted. It is an inquiry into the ways in which stories affect our attitudes and actions. And it is an exploration of the craft of storytelling, applying theatrical techniques to writing, improv techniques to conversation, and so on, learning over and over again that actors, bloggers, business people, class clowns, conversationalists, designers, directors, filmmakers, graphic artists, husbands, lawyers, parents, politicians, publicists, scientists, wives, and writers are all, so often, storytellers first.
What’s in a name? In the C.S. Lewis biopic Shadowlands, one of the characters says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” I’d say this applies to all the arts. When someone says, “I’m depressed,” we can only guess the subtleties of how they’re feeling. But when you watch a well-crafted film or play, or listen to a ballad, or read a good book – the feeling that any of these works communicate is both complex and subtle.
In Feeling and Form, Suzanne Langer posits that the purpose of a work of art is to communicate a specific feeling or emotion that is brought out by that work of art. The idea is that each piece of art – if successful – forms a point of contact where you and I can both understand a certain feeling. That isn’t to say that everyone experiences a piece of art in quite the same way. But I believe it is through art and story that we come closest to really understanding each others’ experiences – and without that understanding, we are all strangers.
Campaign (n) 1. A series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting: a dessert campaign. 2. An organized course of action to achieve a particular goal: his campaign to win the heart of a new woman. (From the Oxford English Dictionary.)
“An artist needs to be a warrior. Welcome to the battle.”