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  • I have been thinking about this story for a while. But now that the deadline is here, even after 33 years in journalism, I can't seem to get it together to write what I want to say on deadline.

    So I'll tell you a story.

    On December 10, 2011, I received an email from someone named Jonathan Harris inviting me to join a site he had built. He wanted me to tell some stories.

    The platform was gorgeous -- an image, text, add audio if you wanted, sprout if you wanted. That was it. Its simplicity was captivating.

    My first story was on my uncle Frank . Confession: I wrote it for another purpose as well. I wanted to show teachers in my Master's class how easy it was to create a story with a photo, text and sound. They loved it. They created some of their own. And then they got their students to do it. The Frank story became the model for 2,000+ stories created by youths around Vermont and New Hampshire about their fathers and mothers and grandparents.

    Coolest, though, was that you liked it. My uncle, who was 95 at the time and still performing, found it fascinating. He liked the story but mostly he was stunned that so many people had seen it and loved it and that so many kids had patterned their own stories after his. I showed him some of those, too. I explained him the concept of going viral on the InterWeb. "Frank," I said, "you haven't gone viral exactly, more like a common cold."

    I went bonkers over the next few months. I wrote 11 stories before Jonathan, David and Annie C. even opened this joint up to the public. I wrote stories about people important to me, about snow and my favorite object, a typewriter. I made connections. You appreciated me; I appreciated you. But mostly I was absorbed by your heartfelt stories.
  • And the quality of those early stories was as stunning as the platform. I was in awe. Aaron and Dylan and Jari, and Agent Giraffe and Annie A. and Gillian, Sara and Eirik. And then came Kay (her work, short-lived, blew me away). I can't list them all. But there were stories from war zones and the rez, inner cities and rural west, from France and England (remember "B"?), Norway and Iceland. Stories from the insides of your souls and the surface of your laughter. I felt humbled. I kept coming back. I met so many of you; not literally, of course, but through your stories. It was intimate; as Jonathan said, slices of humanity -- our daily encounters with living. From Occupy Wall Street to observing life at a cafe, from a grandmother's touch to a lost ring, from childbirth to marriage to death. And jaw-dropping art. So many remember Jaga Argentum and his fresh stories and ground-breaking use of digital graphics. (Does anybody know where he is? We worry. We have not heard from him since 2015.)

    While I learned much about you on this community, I learned much about me, too. And I learned about this craft of storytelling.

    I had never had to find a photo before I wrote. The visual artistry of friends like Barbara Ganley and Alan Levine taught me a new way to look at things, a new way to write.

    When I did a series on sugaring -- making maple syrup -- I could not type in the sugarhouse so I recorded my stories. This helped me discover that when you are in a place where you feel most like you, where you feel most confident and comfortable, you tell the best stories. So I worked with teachers to apply that principal to helping their kids imagine themselves in places they felt comfortable and to have them tell -- and then write -- their stories. It works.

    And along the way came the Lily story. You loved it. And then it got picked up by Upworthy and Huffington Post and AOL and a few others and all of a sudden I had 350,000 views (the view meter got broke, I guess, and it reset). Wow. More amazing was when I got an email a year later from someone who was so taken by Lily's spirit that she gave her own daughter the name Lillian.

    Whoa.
  • And then, well, life happened.

    I have become consumed by my own project: Young Writers Project a nonprofit that engages kids to write and which has brought its own voices to this community. I found, too, that the changes on this site took away from its simplicity and allure. Others found that, too, and disappeared. But most importantly, though, I found that my storytelling energy was being spent in classrooms or on my project's site or at YWP events. And, worse still, I was drained most days and simply didn't have the energy for writing at the end of the day -- and no time at the beginning. Now, it seems, I no longer have time to tell any stories -- at least not often.

    I did return a couple of times. I told you about Frank's death and about a Thanksgiving dip in the freezing ocean with my now full-grown youngest daughter Lili (whose workmates have all appreciated my stories about her).

    I have tried to pop back into the community to read and to love. It has been a comfort knowing that you all are still here.

    So to Jari and Aaron and Dylan and Alan and Gillian and Alex and P.D. and Agent Giraffe and Barbara and Jean-Luc and Rebecca (oh I so remember your writing in 6th grade!) and Kay (holy shit your work still blows me away) and Adele and Erik and Hop and Hawkeye ... well, all of you, thank you.

    And Jonathan, Annie C. and Dave L. -- look what you did! Thank you for bringing so much humanity into our lives, for connecting us, for helping us think about what drives our existence: stories.

    Out.
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