Storytelling and Memory-Gathering Under Quarantine

Storytelling and Memory-Gathering Under Quarantine

Recently, Governor Michelle Grisham issued a state-wide ‘stay-at-home’ order, to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing the schools that remained open and most workplaces. Chances are, if you and your family were not already sheltering in place at home, you are now.

This is a novel situation for most of us, enforced isolation during the day. While at the beginning it may seem like there are endless things to do, movies to watch, social media to surf, and those little projects that we’ve been meaning to get around to; before long the challenges of not being able to go out into the world, reveal themselves.

For those of us with children, an extra dimension of care and attention is added to the day. School age children have been sent home with lessons and some schools are conducting online classes, but there is only so much homework a kid can do. Many families have re-discovered the charm of board and card games, but there are only so many rounds of Monopoly or Uno, that one can play.

One of the more pleasurable and rewarding constants of Manitos culture is our love for storytelling. Whether sharing a cuento, like those featured in our exhibit celebrating Juan B. Rael’s collection of Manitos folk tales, or remembering together heartrending and humorous stories about our families and friends; storytelling has traditionally been a large part of our way of passing the time. A favorite Manitos tradition is combining the two. As we all know, the story of La Llorona is so much scarier if it happened to my cousin’s aunt or her great-great grandmother.

This ‘stay-at-home’ time, with its air of concern and uncertainty, is a good time to remember and record our stories. The transition from telling stories to collecting them is at lot easier than you might expect, an can be done using the technology most of us carry around in our pockets.

Whether you organize a storytelling session or simply recognize that one is happening in the moment. Your cel phone or tablet is an easy and non-disruptive way of capturing the magic without breaking the spell.

If you are already a community documentarian, family historian or memory gatherer, you probably already have a set of tools and techniques that serve you well, if not, our resource page on Field Collection can help get you started with phone settings, apps and tips for making better recordings.

Of course, you may not be quarantined with the best storytellers or everyone you want with you. Even under normal circumstances, loved ones may be far away. But if everyone involved is lucky to be quarantined with good wifi and have their digital devices handy, video call and conferencing apps are a great way to keep in touch with friends and family.

Social media is filled with posts from scattered families using streaming tools like FaceTime, Zoom or WhatsApp to creatively stay in touch with distant family and friends. Grandparents are reading bedtime stories to grandchildren. Aunts and uncles are getting together over conference call to draw or paint with nieces and nephews. Friends throw virtual movie watching parties or play video games.

People are singing together.

You can even capture the sound and images of those far away, as these sessions can be recorded without too much trouble.

When choosing a call platform, particularly with an eye to recording your calls, here are some things to consider.

For Apple devices, FaceTime is an easy but limited option and recording a call is not possible without third-party apps and workarounds.

Skype is a popular video call app for everyone, The one downside is, signing up for accounts is unnecessarily complicated. On the upside, Skype calls can have up to 50 participants and recording a call is very easy. Here is information on recording Skype calls.

Third-party messaging apps often have video-call functionality but call options can be limited, for example WhatsApp, is considered to be one of the best but is limited to four people on a call. Recording a WhatsApp call requires 3rd party software.

If you want to have multiple people in multiple places come together easily, a video-conferencing app is your best option. Zoom is easy to set-up, does not require an account to participate as long as you have been sent a meeting link and is free for most calls and includes functions like screen-sharing that can really add to your call. Recording a Zoom party is easy for the host on a computer, who has a handy button on their Host control panel, but requires permission from the Host if you are not. Learning how to record Zoom calls starts here

The important part is that you work with the tool that makes you most comfortable and that is easy for you to activate without too much fuss.

When it comes right down to it, the important part of memory-gathering or storytelling during quarantine, is that you enjoy yourself and have fun. Don’t be too worried about missing the moment or having it slip away.

You will be the best judge of group dynamics and right place right time. Sometimes it is best to quietly turn on the recorder to capture a bit of spontaneous family magic and sometimes its best to simply recognize a great story when you hear it, and make a note to yourself to arrange a quiet time to record it later with the storyteller.

Have confidence in your ability to think of prompts and cues to really get the ball rolling and keep a story on track, once its started.

A pre-arranged one-on-one recording session like that, is better for archival story-gathering or oral history recordings anyway. Allow the informal to inform and inspire you.

Think of all the stories you may have already heard in the last week that start with… “Mom, remember when…” and “Hey, did I ever tell you about the time…”

We hope that by the time these strange circumstances are over, you will have a collection of cuentos and crónicas that you would like to see added to the Manitos Community Archive.

Stay well and Lávate las Manos!

Featured Image: Ricardo Sanchez and Tómas Atencio at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto de Aztlan. (Michael Sedano, 1973)

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