Of Community and Crucibles

I tabled at the Portland Zine Symposium last weekend with The Dreaming Crucible. It was the culmination of a year-long anticipation, since I first published the Crucible just one week AFTER the previous year’s Symposium. Sunday from 11 to 4, I sat at a little wooden table, a massive cloud of origami cranes fluttering in my hair, and introduced folks to my little storytelling game. It was fun and eye-opening! Initially I felt a lot of commercial anxiety, as I always do when I table with product—they’re not buying! Man, why aren’t they buying? I hope that person comes back like they said they would; they seemed really interested! Jeez, I’m going to be here for hours and only sell one copy; that works out to two dollars an hour and I might as well just quit self-publishing and work at McDonalds!!!

Once I got that under control I enjoyed myself a lot more. And the community-solidarity focus of the Symp made it easy to get into the flow—Jake Richmond of Modest Medusa passed out flyers and talked up the book for me on Saturday when I couldn’t attend, PZS Organizer Blue helped me in email and in person to get set up on the wait list and get a Sunday table, and Easel Ain’t Easy’s Breena Weiderhoeft, Jen Clemens and Luke Mahan, whose table was opposite mine, offered welcoming and encouragement, and even made me a Dreaming Crucible button! In the end I sold a few Crucibles, and traded a few for other zines. Pretty good for only one day, and the trading culture of the Symposium feels . Next year I’ll try to table the whole weekend. And it didn’t take long to remember why I do this: to reacquaint people with story.

I developed a patter for the game pretty quickly, and I saw people come alive to the message that THEY could tell stories together, with their friends, with a minimal framework. As they flipped through the book, eyes would widen and breaths would catch. I credit a lot of that to artist Erin Kelso, but the text seemed to inspire as well. One woman lingered on the header “Say What You See” and exclaimed, “Ooh, that’s so good! It’s so important to really honestly report what you’re actually feeling in the moment!” I smiled, feeling she got it.

My story gaming colleague Mike Sugarbaker showed up with a tiny booklet he’d written and stapled together called “Taking Stories Back: A Mini-Festo.” We put it out at the table as a freebie and it went like MAD! Mike was running back and forth between my paper cutter and the info table’s stapler, making new booklets as fast as people could take them, until he ran out of sheets. When I told people “it’s about reclaiming stories, because why should Hollywood have them all?” the general response was a hearty “fuck yeah,” and a throwing of the horns. Folks really resonated! (No surprise given the punk-art vibe of the Zine Symp.) And it made a great lead-in for talking about the Crucible, as one example of a way to begin that reclamation.

In the end, a lot of folks went home thinking about empowered, collaborative storytelling for maybe the first time. It was the perfect atmosphere for it. The zine symposium is all about self-publishing and empowering the voices of the people, and the cooperative spirit of working together in artistry and community. That’s a great fit for what story games do.

I think it’s time for storytelling to come back in a big way. I myself was inspired by Mike’s mini-festo, and excited to see someone put the idea of roleplaying into terms that are both radical and welcoming. I truly hope that in the next year, the seeds that were sown at the Story by the Throat table—not just sales, but also conversations, flyers, and mailing list signups—grow and flower into something new and beautiful in Portlanders’ lives. And I hope to water that seed myself. Next year at the Symposium, I hope to be hawking not just my books, but the community organizing and resources to put storytellers in touch with each other, because that’s when story for the people will truly flourish.



3 Responses to “Of Community and Crucibles”

  1. August 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Nice, Joel! I want one of those Taking Stories Back booklets.

    Christian and I had a conversation Tuesday night about crucibles. In game design, in scene structure, in character relationships. Zeitgeist!

    I love that you’re reaching out to this community about something you’re so passionate about. I like to sometimes invite people I know who don’t know one another at all to engage in some creative activity that is a little bit outside their normal comfort zone and see what new community might evolve from that.

    I keep meaning to get together with some of my old improv pals and show them Penny, Fiasco & Polaris…

  2. 2 Joel
    August 12, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Thanks, Matthew.

    I like to jam my friend groups together like that too. That’s what I did with the Go Play day Sunday; we’ll see who shows up and what alchemy results!

    Let me know if you have any improv-storygamey adventures!

    Also, with luck, Mike will have Taking Stories back booklets with him on Sunday! I’ve also, I don’t mind telling you, asked him to adapt the essay into a guest blog post! Watch this space!


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