Graphic Book Review: The Shape of Ideas

I have long been a huge fan of Grant Snider, who puts out regular Incidental Comics that makes you pay attention to the creative mind and imaginative sparks that come with writing. This collection by Snider — entitled The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity — is a perfect curation of some of his work, ranging along themes of Inspiration, Improvisation, Exploration, Frustration and Elation.

 

I see Snider as a visual poet, using visual and word puns to challenge the viewer to think about what it means to find and nurture ideas that often seem elusive. His graphic art reminds us of the “work” that goes into making art.

He even left the last page of his book as a blank art canvas, as an invitation to draw. I love that.

While there is some repetition of ideas here, Snider’s exploration of the creative mind through comics and graphics will surely make you contemplate the wistfulness of creativity, and perhaps inspire you to make your own. I’m happy if my purchase of his book allows Snider more time to make art. I also support him through Patreon.

You can even glimpse some of the art in his book through a link off his site.

Peace (elusive and wandering),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Cold Room on a Hot Day

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

There are all sorts of reasons why people come to my classroom these days. A quick chat. Something forgotten behind. A borrowed book. Check-in with a student.

Mostly, though, it’s the cool air flowing.

I am lucky that I have the only air conditioned classroom in the building, a result of the room’s past life as the computer lab (we don’t have a lab anymore … we have rolling carts) and the home to the computer server, which thankfully was moved elsewhere a number of years ago (it hummed and rattled like crazy at times).

I don’t mind the visitors. I keep my head down when my colleagues complain about the heat and humidity — summer finally hit us here in New England — and I remain humble. I know I’m lucky and happy to share that luck with anyone who needs a moment of reprieve.

Just come on in. You don’t need an excuse.

Peace (in the hot and in the cold),
Kevin

 

Characters Talk (Writers Listen)


Shadow flickr photo by I.Gouss shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I had a visitor to my imagination the other day, and it sort of startled me. She was a character from a story I wrote (or tried to write) many years ago. The story collapsed under its own weight. Yet she apparently kept going.

I wrote this on Mastodon (I will write about that another day), under the auspices of #smallstories

A character I created years ago, in a short story I only now vaguely remember, came back to haunt me this week. Isn’t that funny? She skirted on the outside of my imagination. I welcomed her, of course, and wondered why she had returned. She had not aged. She was still that erratic, lovable, curious shadow from the page. We didn’t talk about where she had been. We haven’t talked about where she’s going to be, either. But we will.

She wouldn’t leave my head after that, as if mentioning her was an invitation to stay. Not that I wanted her to leave. But still … so I wrote about her again, breathing something like life back into a character from a story best forgotten (for now, anyway).

I wrote the story — What We Remember is Not What We Forget —  over at Notegraphy. You are invited to read it. I’ll just be tinkering with words and hoping you’ll wander back …. here’s the opening few lines:

What We Remember Is Not What We Forget
Conversations with a Character
Kevin Hodgson

“Do you remember me?”
She twirled her hair with her long finger. I noticed she still stood on one foot, using the toe on the other as a sort of balancing fulcrum point. One slight push and down she would go. Or perhaps she would begin dancing on a moment’s noticing, balancing on air.
“Of course.”
It was true. I remembered her clearly, just as I had created her. She looked the same. Wavy auburn hair. Faded blue eyes. A nose slightly twisted at the end. A smile bordering on sinister.
“Are you sure? You look … doubtful.”
“I’m sure. I’m just remembering. That’s all. It’s been a long time.”

more at Notegraphy

I wasn’t done. I still felt her voice in my head. She wasn’t content to remain on the page, digital or otherwise. She was restless.

So I wandered over to Google’s Story Builder, and removed all of the exposition, using only the dialogue between her, my character, and myself, the writer. Strangely, as my friend Lisa N. noted when I shared it with her, the character seems more alive here, in this version.

What do you think? Do you have character rattling around in your head? Do you listen to them?

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

Jowel’s Journey: How Story Transforms Understanding

Jowel 3

I’ve mentioned before that I am facilitating a project with some middle school teachers in our largest urban school district (Springfield, MA) through a complex partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory and the Veterans Education Project. We’ve been doing a series of professional development days, with a focus on the historic primary source archives of the Armory, and offering a free summer camp experience at the Armory for urban middle school students. The project — which we call Minds Made for Stories, in reference to the book of the same name by Thomas Newkirk — is funded by Mass Humanities and the National Writing Project.

There are a lot of strands to our work, from writing to history, and yesterday, one of those strands — how oral history can enhance understanding of the world — came to life as a visitor to our PD session presented and talked about his childhood in Africa, during war, and his eventual journey to the United States, where he now works to help other immigrants navigate the culture.

Jowel Iranzi’s story is powerful, as he narrates how strife and violence in his native Congo (then, Zaire) led his family to flee, first to Rwanda, and then Burundi and then to Tanzania, living in refugee camps and dealing with the tragic loss of his father and separation from his younger brother and mother. He talks of adversity, of perseverance, of education, of the realization that he cannot look back and blame others for his life situation, but has to look forward and forge a new life out of the ashes of his old one.

Jowel Talk

We’ll be having Jowel come in to present to students at our camp — which has a social justice theme and is focused on immigration and the Springfield Armory. Our intention is that his personal story, through oral history, will bring to the surface how one struggles and perseveres, and the difficulty of being a refugee and immigrant in the United States can be.

We’re reminded again of the power of story. My sketch-noting of his talk is proof of how complicated a life can be. By listening to his narrative, we all came to better understand Jowel, and in doing so, the larger world, too.

Peace (across the globe),
Kevin

 

#DigCiz: Making Comics as Keyhole for Thinking

Earth Responds

I’ve been trying my best to engage in discussions about “citizenship” and digital identity and more with the #DigCiz work now underway (see the schedule and join in the discussions). And I have appreciated all of the chatter and the debate (the word ‘citizen’ has sparked a lot of pushback).

I’ve also been on a comic kick each day before heading off to work. I’ve been mostly using my “slow-watching” of the video hangouts each morning to gather ideas for a daily comic. It’s my way to paying attention to what others are writing and saying, and then filtering my thoughts through what I hope is a humorous (although sometimes, sarcastic, but hopefully, never mean) lens of comics.

Echo chamber pop

Here are some comics from the past week, and some thoughts behind them as I process the #DigCiz discussion points:

Unrealistic expectations

This comic came about from thinking in terms of how we expect our various social media platforms to be more and to do more than they are designed to be and do. In some ways, our expectations are unrealistic, and then we are disappointed. This is not to say that Twitter and Facebook and others can’t do more than they are doing (particularly around policing the hate), but I think we also need to cognizant of the reality. But if Twitter wants to vacuum the house? I’m OK with that.


Outside looking in

I hesitated on posting this one. I didn’t want it to become a harsh critique of the discussion and folks behind the discussions, folks I admire and enjoy engaging with. But I was wondering how others could be invited in, too, since the #DigCiz crowd seems very University-based, and already a close network of people.


Who owns what

Again, who owns the platform? We often think we, the user, is in charge, but the reality is the flip — the platforms often own us, and our data, and our information. Why? Notice the dollar sign? That’s why.


Ideal social media user (company perspective)

This was one of my favorites of the last week or so. I think it was an effective look at how corporations are using our children as click-bait for advertising, and how the interactive features of technology allow for such easy access, and easy sharing of data and privacy and more. Young people are vulnerable!


What the Kids Say

And yet … there’s something pure and loving about young people, too, and perhaps we need to pay attention to that notion of play and compassion and collaboration when thinking of how we adults can interact.


When Google is your teacher

There was a link someone shared that I followed about a new Google site for teaching digital citizenship, and I found it strangely ironic, given how much Google taps into our what we do with our time to target us for advertising (and making gazillions of profit as a result). The adblock question in the second frame still cracks me up.


Citizens of the world

Here is the crux of one conversation: how do we help people see their online selves as part of the larger world and move beyond the “follow” into action in their own worlds? Or do we? There was a strand of talk about how people have the right not to engage in the public sphere, too, and that true citizenship, if that’s even the right word, is voluntary and meaningful, not forced.


Listen to the writing

Listen more. Yell less. That’s an idea.


Peace (framed and skewered),
Kevin

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),
Kevin

Book Review: Minds Made for Stories

Thomas Newkirk‘s idea that story is everywhere, in everything, is not all that new, but his framing of the issue in the Common Core-infused world of the US education system is worth noting. Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts is Newkirk’s, well, story of how he came to see stories in the anchors of all texts.

“The hero of this story is narrative itself –how it comes to our aid as we sort out the welter of information that is available, as it undergirds our belief that our world is comprehensible, and meaningful, and one in which our actions have consequences. Narrative is there to help us ‘compose’ ourselves when we meet difficulty or loss. It is there to ground abstract ideas, to help see the pattern in a set of numerical data, to illuminate the human consequences of political action. It is home base.” — Thomas Newkirk, Minds Made for Stories, p. 5

Newkirk refers to many of those before him, including Peter Elbow, James Moffett and others, whose work and insights about writing has informed the teaching and thinking of writing in the past 50 years. Here, Newkirk argues that “narrative” is not a genre, and that the Common Core classification breakdown of writing into the three rungs of Narrative, Information/Expository, Argument/Persuasion is faulty categorization system, in that it fails to acknowledge that all texts have a narrative beneath them.

He advocates the direct teaching of noticing these stories, in all sorts of texts in the world of young people, and by noticing the frames of narratives, young people will be more apt to compose their own, breathing life into arguments and into informational texts, which often take on the lifeless role of teacher-as-audience assignments.

In one example, he breaks down the box score of a baseball game, to show how one can ferret out the true story of the game from just the mere numbers. In another section, he praises the role of Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus series for the way is uses story to contextualize science themes. He does the same with many picture book authors, too, such as Eric Carle. We lose that sense of underlying story in the content fields as students get older. Why is that?

This book  is part of our framework for a summer camp we are now designing in a partnership between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and an urban middle school in Springfield. Our program is even called Minds Made for Stories. All that we are planning to do during our free summer camp (we are being supported through a grant from Mass Humanities) will be done through the lens of story, through historical documents, a social justice mindset and a larger community project.

I appreciated Newkirk’s insights. The reminder of how powerful a role stories can play in our lives, in school and certainly beyond school, is always welcome in this day and age of standards, testing and information overload. We need stories to make sense of the world, maybe now more than ever.

Peace (tells the story),
Kevin

What If You Met All of Your Virtual Friends?

MassMoca Day Trip

My wife and I took a personal day (no kids!) last week to visit MassMoCA, a huge and expanding contemporary art space in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. It was my first visit there (see yesterday’s Slice of Life for what I saw) and as we wandered around huge galleries in an old manufacturing facility, I was amazed by the depth of the artwork (and we even got a chance to try Virtual Reality Goggles for the first time, too, which was a neat immersive experience).

One of the exhibits that caught our attention was by Tonya Hollander, whose Are You Really My Friend? seeks to break down the barriers between the “friends” we make in online spaces and our interactions out here, in the worlds beyond the screen. Hollander decided to visit, with her camera, all 626 of her Facebook friends, documenting her journeys. Along with photos, she has sticky notes from folks, stuff given to her along the way, documents of her journey, and much more. The exhibit itself is multi-layered, in interesting ways, with translucent banners of artwork hanging from the rafters of the room.

It’s fascinating to see how she breached the wall between our virtual identities and our offline identities.

I was struck most by the humanity of the exhibit. It’s easy to lose track of the stories behind those who choose to follow us, and those we decide is worth our time to follow. Can you imagine spending fives years on a journey of documentation? Can you imagine how powerful that would really be? How it would strengthen your network?

Given all of our worries about how digital spaces are dipping towards chaos and negativity, the act of sharing our lives with a stranger, who becomes a friend, reminds us of why many of us went online in the first place: to find our Tribe and connect with others, and to expand our own notions of what it means to be a citizen of the world (or World).

Peace (in all spaces),
Kevin

 

Visual Slice of Life: Silent Museum Tour

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We went to MassMoCa, now one of the largest contemporary arts museums in the country. Here’s some of what we saw.

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

Peace (and art),
Kevin

We Don’t Own It (and That’s the Problem)


Land flickr photo by star5112 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About 15 years ago, our neighborhood was engaged in a huge fight against a developer. He came from New York City, bought a large swath of undeveloped land in our suburban neighborhood, and proposed to build a subdivision of rather ritzy houses here in Western Massachusetts. The undeveloped land was beautiful — with walking paths, a bubbling brook, deer and even moose, and more.

Here’s the problem: We (the neighborhood) didn’t own the land. He did. An attempt to raise funds from our middle class neighborhood as a way to counteroffer to buy the land for protection failed.

In the end, the woods were cleared and decimated (a process still underway today) — I still get sad with memories of the old woods as we walk through the subdivision loop where the homes are slowly being built and sold and bought — although some environmental mitigations were put into place after the legal battle. The brook has been kept pristine and some wetlands are protected. We haven’t seen  moose in there for years, though.

I was thinking of that story recently as folks in the #DigCiz community mull over how to protect people in various online digital spaces — such as Twitter, and Facebook, and others — as we consider the topics of Civic Engagement and Digital Citizenship. Two articles shared by Doug Belshaw in his newsletter about the Feudal Internet (run by companies such as Google and Apple and Facebook and Twitter, etc.) gave this discussion a metaphorical hook. (Doug also wrote a great piece about Facebook’s data mining)

Who owns what

Are we all just serfs now? Is our sharing and writing our work and what the “feudal lords” get is our data and privacy as payment?

Like my neighborhood’s battle against an outside with money, our conflict with the technology giants of today is that we (society) have let them (the companies) build out our common lands, and now we don’t own much of it anymore (maybe a little wetlands here and there).


Behind the Screen by @andrewchilts flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

And if you don’t own it, you don’t control it. That’s the problem.

Perhaps experiments around “federated spaces” like Mastodon will help pave a new path forward. (In federated spaces, no one entity owns the experience — it is shared across networks, which connect but remain distinct). Mastodon is an alternative to Twitter. I’ve been in there and will write about my experiences some other day. I’ve also begun researching how to host a hosting ground in Mastodon (might be too technically tricky for me).

What to do? Michael Bauwens, in his piece How to Fight the Feudal Internet, notices signs of encouragement in Europe (but not much in the United States, particularly in this political climate where billionaires run the country and profit is put above all else, including the common good) and lays out what I think are some excellent suggestions:

Bauwens advocates for:

  • A strict 30 day time limit on storing behavioral data.
  • The right to opt out of data collection while continuing to use services.
  • A ban on the sale or transfer of behavioral data, including to third-party ad networks.
  • A requirement that advertising be targeted strictly to content, not users.

I’m not suggesting we the people buy up the Internet. Still, I don’t know about you, but I feel we are near or at or beyond a tipping point here with concerns and worries about discourse in online spaces. There’s still plenty of positives. But either we fix the spaces we inhabit (through pressure or force) or we abandon them for better spaces, perhaps one we build together. Then, we can own the land.

Maybe then, the moose will return.

Peace (freely and openly shared with you),
Kevin