Reflecting Courage and Compassion – a Wordle

A new video has been produced by Single Arrow Productions, called “Mona’s Story” which is part of the Angels of Iran series. It sheds a more personal light on Mona’s story. Please enjoy this digital story…

Wordle: Amalia Giebitz

 This is the story that created the above Wordle:

Mona Mahmudnizhad

Mona Mahmudnizhad, Martyred 18 June 1983

“Mona Mahmudnizhad was a seventeen-year-old girl who was executed on 18 June 1983 in Iran, along with nine other women.  She had been in prison with these other women for one year, and though she was the youngest in prison, she was the one who ‘most frequently reassured the other women and helped them to be steadfast during their periods of imprisonment and interrogation’ (Perry).  During the third stage of her trial, the religious magistrate accused her parents of deceiving her with their religion, the Baha’i Faith. She responded that, though she learned of the Faith from her parents, in this Faith one adheres to religion after investigating it independently.  He demanded to know why she had abandoned Islam, and she calmly and peacefully explained to him that the foundation of all religions is one, and that Baha’is uphold the truth of Islam. ‘But,’ she said, ‘if by Islam you mean the prevailing animosity , murder and bloodshed in the country, a sample of which I have seen in prison, that is the reason I have chosen to be a Baha’i ‘ (Perry).

When she was arrested with her father after a search of their home, her mother protested, and begged to know why they would take a child to prison.  According to one account, one of the Guards replied, ‘Do not call her a child. You should call her a little Baha’i teacher. Look at this poem. It is not the work of a child. It could set the world on fire. Someday she will be a great Baha’i teacher’  (Perry).

On the night of their martyrdom, each woman was again given the choice to abandon her Faith and save her life. Mona asked to be the last so that she could pray for the others’ steadfastness as they faced their deaths, and so the last thing they heard in this world would be prayer. When her turn came, she was asked again to deny her Faith, ‘No,’ was her reply. She kissed the rope hanging before her and placed it around her own neck.   As her soul took its flight, silence echoed through the night.  Her crime had been teaching children the Baha’i Faith.”

The story of Mona Mahumudnizhad’s arrest, imprisonment and execution because of her refusal to deny her faith was first shared with me when I was fourteen.  She was only two years older than me when she was arrested in Shiraz, Iran.  More importantly, we shared the same faith, the Bahá’í Faith, and it was because she refused to deny that Faith that she died.  It became an important story to me again last month because I learned that the seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran, who have been imprisoned for two years without access to an attorney (one of whom is Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi), were sentenced to ten years this month.

Photos courtesy of

I am sharing this story because, though Americans are constantly made aware of Iran for its political and military aspirations, they are rarely aware of the official Iranian objective to obliterate the Bahá’í Faith from the planet.  The emotions I wanted to evoke were admiration for Mona’s courage and sympathy for the plight of the Baha’is in Iran.  The creative process began with trying to decide what story to tell.  I heard a song about Mona, and decided that was it.  In the writing of it, I had to do some research to remember details, and to decide which to include and what structure to use.  Then in importing it to Wordle, I had to think about what visual impact I wanted to make.  I wanted it to be a somber mood but also to illicit some of Mona’s personality.  By chance, the structure that appeared when choosing the font I settled on looked like upside-down lips.  It reminded me of the kiss she gave the rope that she placed around her neck before she was hung.

Finding the right story was the most challenging aspect of this assignment.  It was also the highlight of the experience.  Before I knew what story I would tell, I agonized.  But in the telling of it I was exhilarated and compelled to do the story justice.  I learned two important things from this exercise.  First, let inspiration be my guide.  Don’t force a story that doesn’t want to be told.  Secondly, let the technology do some of the inspiration.  Sometimes a random choice can be the best one.  But also, don’t rely on the technology to tell the story.  The words of the story make all the difference in Wordle, so choose them carefully.

Baha’i International Community. “Trial of Iran’s Seven Baha’i Leaders.” Bahá’í World News Service. Bahá’í International Community, 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Also used in research of Wordle story:
Perry, Mark. “The Story of Mona Mahmudnizhad.” “A Dress for Mona” Home Page. Web.  22 Sept. 2010.

Reflecting on 2010: Digital Story Highlights

Wishing you all light and love in the New Year!

The year is ending on a definite high note.  I am writing this post as the final assignment for my digital storytelling class, which I am taking through Empire State College.  The reason I mention the course is because it has had such a significant impact on me.  It helped me integrate the seemingly disparate elements of my life in to a more comprehensive whole.  It seems appropriate, then, to finish this course and this year with a reflection on my favorite digital stories, and what they have taught me. 

But first, I have to thank my friend and digital mentor, David Truss, and my instructor,  Nicola Martinez.  David started me on this pathway over a year ago, and lit a fire under me to re-engage with a creative part of myself that had long gone dormant.  Professor Martinez has been a most helpful guide in exploring the terrain of digital storytelling.  She provided a rich environment of readings, discussions, digital “field trips” and assignments that made me think deeply, work hard and create meaningful content.  Her standards are high, and both my successes and failures in meeting them taught me a lot.  

Secondly, I have to give a nod to my favorite story tool website:  Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo.  This list of fifty plus story-telling tools not only provides a very helpful description and analysis of the tool’s ease of use, but also provides example stories.  The Dominoe story that Levine tells with each tool helps show the variations in functionality.

 So, let’s start this journey through digital storyland! 

The first digital story that really showed me the power of the medium was a creative and delightful story from a fourteen-year-old boy in Wales named Neil Fitzgerald.  His story, Which Witch, introduced ideas from the pagan religion.  The subject is not what struck me most.  It was the medium, Neil’s engagement in it, and his ability to engage me, a middle-aged American woman in China, in a culture with which I am almost wholly unfamiliar.  The story is part of the BBCs project, Capture Wales, which introduces “average” people in a short time, and made me feel like I knew them like neighbors.

The next big breakthrough for me was Jonathan Harris’ work.  His TED Talk on Collecting Stories showed me a whole new universe of story possibilities.

And speaking of “universe”, here are a few examples of his work to play with and learn from: Universe, We Feel Fine, Love Lines.

The publisher Penguin introduced compelling digital fiction to me, and gave me a “visceral” experience of the many layers and richness of the medium.  They introduced six different works of digital fiction over six weeks in We Tell Stories.  Here, a mystery-suspense thriller is told through a Google map.  The blogs of a fictional teenager and her parents reveal a frightening tale of terror.  A fairy tale is told with your input. All six stories are examples that begin to scratch the surface of possibility in digital fiction.  I look forward to exploring this area much more, and possibly even contributing to it.

A few other sites deserving mention are: The Center for Digital Storytelling and Interactive Narratives.  Both contain collections of engaging and touching storytelling, and are updated often with new stories.

Several sites were helpful in considering how to use digital storytelling in the classroom.  They are The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, from the University of Houston, and Digital Stories @ UMBC, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus.  Their examples gave me confidence to introduce digital storytelling to my own students, and I am proud of their work

Digital stories can inspire:

They can be sobering:

They teach me things I didn’t know I wanted to know.

Digital stories are personal stories, biographies, non-fiction or fiction, or they combine all of them.  They are often interactive, and you find them on the internet, on CDs, DVDs, on television and in movie theatres.  They are used for entertainment, promotion, education and training, an even personal transformation. I have only just begun to explore this world, so this list of highlights is missing many examples worthy of mention. The field is brand new and is wide open for development and growth.  This is an exciting time for me.  The next year will help define my place in the field, and I am looking forward to the journey.  I hope you all have a learning-filled new year as well, blessed with stories of all kinds.  Check back here soon for my next installment, and the first of my Virtues in Digital Story challenge.

Wordle: Digital Storytelling in 2010

Reflecting History – A Canon Ball and a Sword: The case of the missing stories

Haifa, Israel, the International Baha'i Archives

There are several stories from early Baha’i history that are quite compelling. One tells of the harrowing defense of the adhoc fortress at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. In order to defend themselves against the attack of marauding hoards of townspeople, and later against the Qajar dynasty’s professional army, this small band of early believers constructed several defensive walls around the run down shrine. Their succesful defense belies explaination beyond that of Divine intervention.

Sepehr Manuchehri analyzes the defense of the fortress is his paper “A Brief Analysis of the features of Babi Resistance at Sheikh Tabarsi,” which was presented at a Baha’i Studies Conference in Sydney, Australia in 1998. Here is an excerpt that describes the resistance:

Almost none of the Babis had witnessed or participated in any forms of conflict or battle prior to Sheikh Tabarsi. They did not even know the basics of one-on-one fights. There is virtually no accounts to suggest that any of them had committed murder or killed any person before coming to the battles. In other words, they were totally and utterly inexperienced and unfamiliar with military operations. There are numerous examples of the transformation of these people after the start of battles. Haji Mirza Jani remarks about a certain Reza Khan who hade developed an expertise in choping-off the heads of the cannon operators hiding behind the cannons. (2)

Another example is sighted of Mulla Hossien who chased after a particular soldier in one battle. The soldier retreated and hid behind a tree and used his rifle as his guard. Mulla Hossein quickly applied his sword and cut the tree, rifle and soldier in to six parts.

In modern militia uprisings, such lack of training and experience will quickly lead to a hasty defeat at the hands of the regular government troops. However, Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi held up the Royal Qajar Army for more than nine months despite lack of weaponry and basic necessities. If the purpose of Babi leadership was purely military, the resistance could have continued well beyond nine months. Waves after waves of the best and most competent Qajar officers and soldiers were time and time again mutilated and decimated by these former civilians…

The resistance appears particularly interesting when we consider that Bab never permitted Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi to conduct a Holy War [Jahad]. Mulla Hossein and Quddus constantly reminded Babis to only defend themselves. Every time Babis got the upper hand and appeared to change the balance of the military confrontation and exert a degree of offensiveness, Mulla Hossein would quickly order a retreat.”

This provides enough of the picture for the mystery that is longing to be told. In Haifa, Israel, the International Baha’i Archives houses two relics from this episode. One is a canon ball the army shot into the fort. The other is the sword which Mulla Husayn used in those attacks. The stories that are missing are about these artifacts journeys to the Holy Land.

A cannon ball from the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi, and the sword of Mulla Husayn


I’d like to create a digital story with an interactive map and timeline that tells those stories, much the way the movie The Red Violin tells the story of a violin’s journey from its creation to the present day, through many people’s lives. The research involved would be extensive and would require some travel, but if Jonathan Harris can go to Bhutan than I can do this!

If you have any suggestions on how I might go about building such a map or timeline, let me know.  I have been thinking about using Our Story for the timeline, and Wayfaring for the map.  But it would be even cooler to find a good Flash programmer to work with to create something original. 

(Thanks to Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo for pointing me in the direction of some great tools!)

The Heart Stone – An Artifact Reflection

I have been wanting to tell the story of how my family first encountered the Bahá’í Faith.  This project gave me the opportunity to combine it with the story of how I received one of my most precious artifacts in a fictional tale.  The audience is my family, as they will most readily recognize the images that others may find obscure, such as the house in which Mulla Husayn first encountered the Bab, the Forerunner of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, thus initiating its first era.  The artifact, a pink, heart-shaped stone that fits in the palm of one’s hand, was passed on to me after my grandmother’s death.  This stone sat on her mantle piece when I was a child.  Whenever I visited her, she had other visitors to whom she showed the greatest kindness.  Though neither of us knew it at the time, my future husband was one of those visitors. 

I wanted to evoke a sense of connection in our family to the history of our Faith in a whimsical way.  The dragon’s story just flowed out from the idea of “The Heart Stone.”  I decided to use Microsoft MovieMaker as an editor because it allowed me more flexibility in transitions and effects than PowerPoint does.  The greatest challenge was finding appropriate images, especially from the family photos. This has also proven to be the highlight, as I have had to connect with many family members to find the right photos.  I would like to work more on the project, take more time on it, and perhaps incorporate it in to a larger family history website, where the “real” story can be more completely explored interactively, with family members able to recall what their memories are, much in the way the website “Remembering Nagasaki” does.  There is a collection of memories of when people first became aware of nuclear weapons or the bombing of Japan, as well as a forum of comments from people with different perspectives about the bombing.  Though the subject matter is dramatically different, the format is suitable for a family history.  It could include a place for comments from people who have been touched by the Smith Family because of its relationship with the Baha’i Faith.

If you’d like to contribute to the creation of such a site, please comment.

Works Cited

The Exploratorium, IDG Films, and Rupert Jenkins. “Remembering Nagasaki.” Exploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. The Exploratorium. Web. 29 Oct. 2010.

Digital Storytelling: A beginning

The Looking Glass

What will you see when you look inside yourself?

I am beginning a course, and perhaps a significant portion of my career, in digital storytelling.  This blog will display my efforts and chronicle my learning.  Digital storytelling has tremendous implications for the publishing and entertainment industries.  Its potential impact in education is extremely exciting, for both teachers and students.  For me, as both a writer and as a teacher, digital storytelling seems to be a culmination of my previous educational and professional experiences. 

Digital storytelling can help give an audience to those who have never even considered themselves as storytellers.  For example, the Center for Digital Storytelling at the University of California at Berkeley is, “a community art center for new media based on the premise that everyone has a story to tell.”  In the process of creating their personal stories, participants improve skills that carry over into other areas of literacy, skills that they may have struggled with previously.   Using a process of traditional composition, storyboarding, and editing in simple video editing software to include images and sound track, the author can identify problems of plot consistency, flow, grammar and description.   And perhaps most important for my ESL students, the reality of the audience comes alive when the participants consider the possibility of their words becoming available on the World Wide Web, accessible to the whole world (Sylvester and Greenidge 287-291).  

 My husband is reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG  to our son at bedtime.  It’s just like a grandmother who tells her grandchildren the stories of the old ones to connect them to their heritage, or a teenager who logs on to an interactive story and starts to play out another version of the latest novel from Steven King.  Storytelling touches our lives in many ways.  The advent of the personal computer and the Internet has expanded our ability to create, collaborate on and consume stories in more ways and with more people than ever before.  This expansion has created an enormous upheaval in the business of storytelling, and in the way writers craft those stories.  This blog will explore the methods and practices of digital storytelling, both through discussion of theories and examples of practices.  Please let me know what your reflections are! 

Works Cited

Sylvester, Ruth, and Wendy-lou Greenidge. “Digital Storytelling: Extending the Potential for Struggling Writers.” Reading Teacher 63.4 (2009): 384-395. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Apr. 2010.