Gossip-end of the Grapevine

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I have lived in small towns or villages in New Zealand for most of my life, and I have been amazed to find that I’m the last to hear the latest in gossip. At one time I commented to my partner: “We need to put up a sign – The End of the Grapevine.”

A grapevine is a wonderful illustration of how news travels in small communities. The tendrils snake into the smallest crevices and cling tight, and then the flowers that the tendrils support blossom and develop into fruit.

grapevineBlog

Looking for evidence

Like grapevines, gossip sneaks into minds and our minds look for evidence to validate what we’ve been told (true or false). We rarely look for evidence to refute the gossip, just to substantiate it.

When we’re intent on seeing what we’re looking for, more evidence that supports the gossip appears. At this stage our minds are headed in one direction: “the news is true”. When it’s based on a misinterpretation of something, these creeping Chinese whispers can cause irreparable harm.

A modern twist on gossip

We tend to think of gossip as titbits of news passed on from person to person as opposed to being broadcast through accepted media – television, newspapers, news websites etc.  Prior to the invention of printing presses by German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, however, word-of-mouth or letters were the only way to disseminate information, person-to-person. Nowadays our gossip comes through more sophisticated sources, yet it’s really no more than an expanded version of person-to-person chat.

Our ability to observe and translate what we see, is the basis of all news. Reporters see violence and in a split second translate this, based on the evidence around them, into a report that purports to be the truth of the  matter. The next step in their process is to corroborate their observations before jumping into print or broadcast. Yet even these trained observers can sometimes get things wrong. 

But is gossip all bad?

Individuals are not held back by the constraint of hard evidence. They see something, translate it, and tell others. The ‘others’ add this information to knowledge they already have and hey presto the news flows. If something really is happening that needs to be in the public eye, gossip will do it. The fear of causing gossip is a natural constraint to keep most of us honest.

“Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups,” according to The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012.

The researchers claim that when an individual observes or experiences antisocial behaviour, they are generally compelled to share it with other potentially vulnerable people. As the information spreads, the perpetrators of the antisocial behaviour are likely to be ostracized and brought into line with accepted community behaviours.

That works well unless the individual who first passes on the information is not telling the truth, or embroidering the information to enhance their own reputation.  But on the whole, gossip gives us new ideas, alerts us to wrong-doing, and makes us feel we’re a trusted member of the group. Not “at the end of the grapevine”.

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

The Truth of the Matter

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I was thinking about ‘stories’ the other day and how the word itself has the implication that a story contains some element of ‘make believe’.  When we read a newspaper story, however, we believe the story to contain the truth, not make believe.

So are there true stories?

As I followed my fanciful thoughts I came to realise ‘the truth of the matter’ is far from ‘the truth’ because no matter who is writing the account it is seen through their filters.  Even autobiographies (written by the subject person) are filtered remembrances because who wants the world to know about their embarrassing or shameful moments? And if they do want to share them, doesn’t the author skew the account to elevate their part and play down their protagonist’s part?

True C onfessions magazine
True or fiction?

Newspaper stories

I thought back to the time when I was a newspaper reporter and considered how make believe might have sneaked into my writing. Embarrassing confession: it did regularly.

My first filter was which of the leads did I want to spend most time on? You’d expect the answer to be the one of most public interest. The answer, however, was always the story that most appealed to me personally. Subconsciously I’d assume that because it appealed to me, it would also appeal to everyone.

Less important information

When writing the story I would highlight the facts that enhanced my viewpoint and minimise comments or information that didn’t feel quite so important. Even though I reported this ‘less important’ information it would be relegated to the last paragraphs which the sub-editor would cut if space was tight.

My important story would be allowed an accompanying colour picture and would probably be given the largest headline. The reader subconsciously would assume that the picture and large headline meant this was an important story.

News filters the truth

Imagine what is happening in the US at the moment. Picture the differences in reports of President Trumps’ saying and doings. Same story/report of actual facts will be written with different filters and appear in print as if the writers were listening to different events or broadcasts.

The readers, viewers or listeners will hear only what they are expecting to hear. They will apply their own filters and accept or reject the reporter’s bias – their filter. When stories link into emotional issues, as President Trump is doing, the blurring of reported facts becomes catastrophic. Such stories can lead to  hatred, riots and war.

President Donald Trump
It’s merely the way you look at him … or is it?

Editorial versus Reporting

We accept that an editorial contains some element of opinion and therefore ‘make believe’. We don’t expect a news report to contain make believe. However, I would challenge anyone, whatever side of the Trump debates they sit, to say they can eliminate their personal bias or filter from what they write on the issues Trump raises.

And guess what? I don’t think reporters should.  Whatever moral ground, religious filter or belief you have should be applied to any news report, just as you would to an editorial. Public debate is important, dissension is important. These are the tools that define a nation’s moral codes on which are built our judicial system and laws.

Old Records Herald a Story

By Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

A little left behind the tide of Spotify and iTunes, I purchased a couple of years ago a turntable on which to play the records I had collected in the 1060s and 1970s.

Back to the future

What fun I’ve had as I’m flooded by the memories and melodies of those decades – the lyrics full of promise and blind faith that life would always be filled by the sentiments expressed within the tracks. As you can imagine there were a lot of golden oldies. But how I enjoyed the sounds, coloured as they were by the filter of those good old days. (I never thought I’d EVER say that!)

Ian_SylviaTyson

Music changes as the decades pass and newer generations have also marked their special moments with songs of significance. Often it’s the singer not the song that matters. And realising this I embarked on a remarkable journey into the life-story of one of the singers in an album I purchased – Four Strong Winds by Ian and Sylvia Tyson. I wanted to know what became of these singer song writers who were equally at home singing songs penned by Bob Dylan as blue grass and folk.

Sylvia Tyson as a member of the group Quartette

Early lyrics set their stars

Originally Sylvia Fricker, Sylvia started performing in 1959 and then joined Ian Tyson in the folk duo, Ian and Sylvia. The first song she wrote that gained acclaim was “You Were On My Mind”. It hit the charts in 1962, and three years later it reached #3 on the Billboard chart for a group called We Five, and then rose through the British charts as a hit for Crispian St Peter.

Contemporaries of Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, The Band, and Janis Joplin, the Tysons continued as a duo from the early sixties until 1975 when they broke up(personally and professionally), but both remained active in musical circles. Ian, a longtime rancher and cowboy country singer, still lives on the same south-of-Calgary ranch he bought with royalties from Young’s cover of “Four Strong Winds.” Sylvia became (eventually) a member of Quartette, a collaboration of four women and singer-songwriters.

Quartette formed in the early 90s, and used their distinctive voices to create amazing harmonies in country and folk styles. Click Here for a little sample.

From left: Gwen Swick, Sylvia Tyson, Caitlin Hanford and Cindy Church.

Not surprisingly, in 1994 Quartette won the Canadian Country Music Association‘s award for best vocal collaboration. The following two years the group was nominated in the category of best country group at the Juno Awards.

More than just a songwriter

One of the more unusual outputs from Sylvia Tyson has been the recent release of a novel and related MP3 – Joyner’s Dream. A mixture of folksy strings and guitar with voice thrown in, I can imagine the music being used as background music for a film version of the novel. Maybe that is what Sylvia, now in her seventies, had in mind.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.

TheIllusionOfSelfControl

‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

An Opportunity for NZ Authors in Print

NZ Bookshop Day: seeking authors!

Bookshops are keen to have authors in store on NZ Bookshop Day – Saturday October 31. Whether it be a book signing, launch of a new book, a reading, or just dropping in for a chat and an opportunity for book buyers to meet their local authors. This is a great day for authors to connect with their local bookshop. The day has been established to celebrate the great local bookstores in New Zealand.

Bookstores must have their events registered by October 1st in order to join the nation-wide event so if you have a book possibility (signing, give-away, competition idea) get hold of your local NZ bookstore and talk to them about it. To check out the website GO HERE.

Photo Competition

There is also a photo competition for the best picture of someone reading a book anywhere in New Zealand. Check out the competition page here. At risk of disqualifying myself from entering I would like to share this picture of my daughter reading many years ago.

NessReading

In the US, May is the month for Indie Bookstores (as opposed to book seller chains) to celebrate authors. Bookshops who participated reported huge increases in foot traffic, so if you’re an author of print books get on the phone and see if you can take advantage of this nation-wide event.

Heather Sylvawood – Amazon Author