Bora Comes to Town

My senior year at Davidson College I had the opportunity to join a seminar on Margaret Atwood’s work. She was the big lecturer that year, and the students in my seminar actually had the opportunity to meet with her for a Q&A, preceded by a luncheon. She walks into lunch, looks at me, and asks, “How’d you get invited? Did you win the lottery?” I was immediately heartbroken; here was an idol of mine, a woman who’s words people cared about, studied for semesters, years, even. And she didn’t give a shit

Bora Zivkovic is a friendly man. I bet if he were to attend a luncheon, he would walk into it knowing no one and walk out as friends with most. His friendliness holds up both on his Twitter page and in person, a standing reminder that you don’t have to censor yourself (too much) when blogging. In fact, he inadvertently proposed a solution to a problem that I feel exists as a result of social media as it stands today. Namely, that it separates the very people it claims to connect by filtering communication through yet another medium.

And Bora recognizes the need for one-on-one personal contact when it comes to sustaining relationships long-term. But he also understands that social media can be a great way to hold onto that relationship when you are parted from someone. Moreover, I love his use of Twitter for bringing people together – I’m thinking of the anecdote he told about his trip to Pennsylvania, when he tweeted that he would be going to a certain bar, and thirty people showed up to come hang out. Watching his Twitter feed reveals that he’s constantly encouraging people to join him at conferences, talks, etc. In this way he utilizes a medium not to filter communication, but coax the communicators out of their iPhones and into one-on-one conversation.

I did, however, take slight issue with his discussion on Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”? At one point, he claims,

having several generations raised with the segregated containers for different formats of stories resulted in a degradation of the native human ability to recognize them at first sight.

I fear that that was exactly what he was doing with his blog post – setting up the differences between story types; that is, narrative vs. inverted pyramid.

I find this point troublesome. There are news articles that focus more on narrative in the traditional sense of characters, plot, and symbolism (like this one from The Science Times a few weeks ago). These are the stories that I’m most interested in writing, and reading. The stories that have a little bit of “pluck” are the ones that I personally classify as narrative (vs. the more straight-forward inverted pyramid – which Bora accurately describes as having the punch line in the title). And I wonder how he defines his own blog posts or if he even restricts them to a specific “genre” at all. To me, the post was narrative, both by his standards and my own. The post had pluck. You couldn’t necessarily stop at any given moment – you might miss that awesome rendition of  Little Red Riding Hood at the end. And the title works to incite interest – not deliver the bottom line.

So I might follow Bora’s example (at least in his Teling science stories post) and continue to push the envelope on what we consider “straight forward news” and what we consider “narrative”. I don’t think either one of us sees a reason why the two have to be separate all of the time.


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