Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Deadwood conversation -- the power of stories, part one

There was a commentator on the Times Online who posted something the other day about how the internet is killing storytelling. That encouraged to me to work up this piece which is derived from some rp in the Deadwood 1876 sim. Next post we'll talk about this and put it into some kind of context.

Things settled down into their normal routine after I got back from the hunt for Al’s killer. Well...normal for Deadwood, anyhow.

There was that whole thing about the jail gettin’ burned’ this gang o’ desperate characters who took a whole mess o’ townfolk hostage....I had to patch up quite a few people after that, being as Doc Alcott warn’t around when all that transpired. Oh lord, and then there was the trial after that--holy Christ, that was like a goddam three-ring circus.

But not everythin’ goin’ on was quite that excitin’...Miss Adiniah was doin’ quite well with keepin’ the orphanage goin. Hey, ye know, her ‘n Ol’ Bill got hitched. That was nice.

An’ the mine war didn’t happen after all...that was real good.

Oh...but Daz got bushwhacked an’ died from his wounds...that was real rough on Mahaila, bein' as they were kin.

Another thing that was kinda rough on folks was that there was this fever goin’ round when the wet weather came...

Doc Alcott was makin’ the rounds out amongst the miners’ famlies, an' I was tryin to look after some o’ m’ friends in town what took sick.

One among ‘em was Miss Addison...she was workin’ fer Neil Streeter at the paper back then, before she had the boardin’ house an’ the store she runs now.

Anyhow, when the boys tol’ me she was down with the fever, I went up to her place to find her just a-mumblin’ an burnin’ up. But ye see, more often than not, when a body is in the grip of a disease like that, one o' the best things ye kin do--besides tryin to cool em off, an' take the fever down with willow bark tea an such--is to get em to smile a little. Mebbe even laugh a tad .

Now like with Addi, she was a layin there, an I askt her how she’s doin’. She could only shake her head a bit an’ mumble some more, an’ I said, “Oh I see, purty much like sunday dinner, long about Monday night, eh?”

Yeah, I know. Not exactly no brilliant flash o’wit, but damn if’n she didn’t open her eyes a bit an’ actually made a slight sort o chuckle. Not much, but I took it as a good sign.

I felt her forehead, an tol’ her “Yep...dandy fever ye got goin on Hon.”

She started to rub her eyes, said, “This room ...the light is awful bright.” Ye see, that sort o’ fever makes yer eyes real sensitive to the light.

So I dipped a washrag in some cool water an put it over her eyes, an started givin her a bath with vinegar--that helps a feverish body to cool down, ye know. Sepp tells me that some Docs also think it kills the disease, so as to keep it from spreadin’--so ye warsh down all the sick person’s things as well. Addi was all worried cuz Lola had tol’ her she oughtta have all her stuff burned, but I tol’ her, “Yep, some folks say ye gotta burn it, but I come from the school what says jus warsh it all with vinegar an let it dry in the sun....”

I mean hell, it ain’t like it’s easy to get stuff out in the middle o goddam nowhere...why waste all that gear ye worked so hard to get?

That made Addi feel a bit better. She said she’d hate to have to “start from scratch.” Now that was good. I was actually gettin’ her to talk--real words, too. Not just mumblin’ an babblin’.

So I said, “lemme see yer tongue,” an she stuck it out. An’ ye see, when ye got that kind o’ fever, yer tongue swells and looks like a huge berry o some kind.

An sure enough, that’s what it looked like.

I tol’ her, “Yep, ye got the tongue what looks like a big ol’ berry.”

“How long will this last?” she asked.

An’ I said, “Oh, I reckon ‘bout another three, four days by the looks o’ yer various parts...but after that yer outta the woods. Then ye jus’ gotta take it easy.”

She kinda tensed up an was sayin, “Oh no, I cain’t be layin around, I got too much stuff I must look after, an I have lost so much time already with this...”

Well, I’m givin’ her a bath with this white vinegar, an I could see her wrinklin’ her notstrils at it, an I decide to give her somethin’ else to busy her mind with, other than worry about her stuff, an the odor o’ bein scrubbed down with vinegar.”

So whilst I’m a warshin’ her down, I start a-chatterin’ away, “Hey Addi...the look o’ yer tongue right now--like a giant berry--makes me think of a story m' papaw used to tell.”

And she went, “Oh yea?”

Hehe, I had her hooked.

I started out in this very serious kind o’ voice, “Back in the days o’ ancient Rome, this ol’ Roman feller by the name o Herman was roamin’ the outskirts o’ Rome. An’ he was out wanderin' along that ol’ Tiber river when he found this giant berry.”

I could see her smile at that.

I went on, “Now mind ye, when I say giant, I gotta tell ye, this fucker was huge. Twas just the biggest goddam berry that Roman Herman had ever seen.”

Addi actually laughed out loud. Twas a small laugh, but a good one, an then she took to coughin’ some.

About that time, I found the rash on her, an I tried to warsh very careful and gentle around it so as to not irritate it none.

“What happened next?” she asked.

“Ah, I am glad you asked that Hon. For ye see, in them days the ancient Romans held berries in high regard as very wonderful things, so ye kin imagine how a giant berry like this was quite a treasure. Roman Herman took the berry’ set it on a lil’ pillow, restin atop this short lil’’ he charged folks a silver piece each to come see it.”

She had this funny grin on her face at this point, an I could tell she was followin’ along.

I continued, “So Romans would come from miles around to view the berry and to praise it!”

Addi seemed impressed. “Really?”

“Yes, Hon, really!” I replied, still warshing her an lookin’ fer signs o’ worse complications as I yammered on. “Yep them Roman folks was mightily impressed and would give Herman a silver piece each, just to stand there lavishin’ praise on the berry an’ goin...damn! What a berry! Hey Cassius! Ain’t that the god-damdest berry you ever seen!”

By this time Addi was laughin’ an coughin’ purty serious, so I giver her a sip o' willow bark tea. I put some honey in it, cuz otherwise folks seem to be o’ the opinion it has a taste that greatly resembles boiled buff’lo turds.

Once she stopped coughin’ I went on. “Well Hon, Roman Herman did so well with this--showin’ folks his berry so they could praise it--he made a pile o’ silver an’ could afford to buy him a villa an’ git hitched. An’ he give his wife the berry fer a weddin’ present. They was very happy, settin aroun’ their villa by the Tiber, with the berry settin next to ‘em on it’s lil satiny pillow. ‘Til one night...these fellers knock on their door. So Roman Herman goes to the door and says howdy y'all, have ye come to see m' wife's berry an’ to praise it? Sadly, it turned out these boys was ancient Roman’ they whipped out their lil’ Roman swords an started whackin’ on poor ol’ Herman whilst shoutin'..."

I paused fer dramatic effect and then asked her, "You ready fer it?”

Addi done giggled and nodded. She could tell the big finish was a comin’.

Then I hollered out in m’ best ancient Roman stentorian voice, “NO! we come to seize her berry, not to praise it!”

Addi, was laughin’ an’ tellin me how I was turrible, an' I was gonna be the end o' her. I grinned an tol’ her I was all done with the vinegar bath and that I saw no signs o’ anythin’ worse settin’ in. This made her quite happy an’ she commented, “Well, I may smell to high heavens but I feel a bit better...I just keep getting so dizzy, and my joints ache so, feels like I’m being pulled apart, but I think the vinegar seems to help. I feel cooler....thank you Dio.”

I suggested she might want to drink some vinegar cider vinegar tho, as it don’t taste as bad as regular white vinegar. An’ lots o’ willow bark tea.”

She was makin’ faces at that, an’ when I laughed at her about it, she tol’ me, “Oh, I'm a lousy patient, I’ve never been sick like this.”

I countered, “Hon, the good thing is once yer thru this...yer gonna be less likely to get this kind o' fever again...ain't no guarantees, but usually it works that way.”

She thought that was very good news.

I inquired her if she liked m' papaw's berry story. I had figured she would get it, bein’ as she was educated an’ all. I had tol’ the same story to Roku one time, an’ she had jus’ looked at me like I had two fuckin’ heads. But Addi giggled an’ said, “oh yea, very nice...I always was fond of...of...oh that playwriter...”

“You mean Shakespeare?” I asked, an’ she nodded, sayin she was sorry she couldn’t think straight with that fever goin’. I said that was no great never mind, an’ then I tol’ her about how the only two complete books papaw had, the one was a big volume o' Shakespeare, an’ t’other was a lil’ book by his namesake, Marcus Aurelius

She was startin’ to look really befuddled then. “Marcus Aurelius??”

“Yep, he was a Roman emperor an’ o’ what they called the stoics...a very honorable sort o’ gent fer one o’ them Roman rascals. Mostly the book was jus’ lil sayin's he wrote about how to live a good life an not be a miserable cocksucker,” I explained.

Addison nodded an said, “That is important information, you should write a book with that as a title, How to Not be a Miserable would sell thousands o’ copies....”,

She tried to set up a little an just sorta fell back on her pillow. She stated sayin’ somethin about what a mess she was, an I said “hell, tain’t so bad..I seen much worse.

She was siad that greatly reassured her. And was startin’ to go on again about how she hated to cause a’ I jus’ gently tol her she was bein’ a big ol’ silly, an’ that she was gonna be’ bout that time she drifted off to sleep.”

An’ sure ‘nuff, in less’n a week she was clearly gonna make it,. After a while, she was her ol’ self again. Mebbe it was the willow bark tea. Mebbe twas the vinegar baths. But I like to think a big part of it was Papaw’s story.


  1. I didn't read the Times article, but it sounds too idiotic to be worth it. Do these folks have no imaginations at all? As always, you had a worth rejoinder.

    Now, *Twitter* killing storytelling... :)

  2. Hey Rhia,

    Well Hon, I think that the main point being offered up by the goober from TimesOnline (which by the way, is the Times in the UK, not the NY Times) was that because of things like Twitter, we have been reduced to communicating just in short, almost real-time snippets. If I understand the argument, it's that we are all being trained to write only in leet-speak and incomplete sentences of 140 characters or less, and that our attention spans have all shriveled to something tinier than Karl Rove's code of ethics.

    So obviously what he has missed there is that things like Twitter and Plurk are actually just a form of give-and-take-conversation, not unlike sitting in the lunchroom with your buds and co-workers, tossing bits of ideas and observations and opinions back and forth. It's just that now, our lunchroom conversation is freed from the constraints of time and space.

    That, for the most part, is a separate phenomenon from the process of sharing our narratives on the internet. But at the same time it is not completely separate, because as Headburo showed me, it can serve admirably as a means to tell your buds and co-workers when you have produced a new contribution to storytelling, and where they can find it.

    And of course, people like you and me, and Riven and Headburro know that thanks to the internet, people are actually writing much more nowadays--and sharing both individual and collective narratives more. But I think I'd like to talk about that a bit further when I post part two of this conversation in a day or so.

  3. I can see what he was getting at, but i think he is wrong - he wants twitter to reduce ppl's attention, but ppl aren't that simple - ppl can read a book and tweet and neither activity need be mutually exclusive.

    And isn't it just as possible to tell a story in a tweet (try the hashtag #vss )as it is in a txt message or an email or anything. Ppl haven't bemoaned the death of graphic novels because of 3-panel Garfield & Snoopy cartoons.

    Nah, the article was flawed from the outset.

    p.s. Great tale! What fever makes the tongue swell like that?

    p.p.s. Addison nodded an said, “That is important information, you should write a book with that as a title, How to Not be a Miserable would sell thousands o’ copies....” - we should ship sitloads out to bankers and governments...

  4. hey HB,

    it's the symptoms for Scarlet fever -- very nasty stuff in the 19th century

    as for the book, well sadly I think we all fall prey to being miserable cocksuckers now and then in our lives. It's just some folks manage a certain impressive consistency with it.