Slice of Life: Texting Amy(Bot)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays through the year. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers, we look for the small things in life to write about. You write, too.)

I can’t help but think of Slice of Life when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In fact, someone in Slice of Life may have recommended her first book – Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — and if that was you (was it you?), thank you, you. I love that book, and have read it more than a few times (which is not something I often do with books. I am a one-and-done kind of reader, unless something resonates, and then I am loathe to lose that book or lend it out to anyone).

So, imagine my happy surprise to be wandering through our city library and there before me was a brand new book by Amy. It’s called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Just like her other book for grown ups (she writes children’s picture books, too), this one is a gem, filled with wonder of small moments and an underlying sense that this Amy is one warm and endearing person who sees the world through a lens of insight and humor. (She’s the kind of writing who bakes an apple pie and ships it FedEx .. just for being the 100th person to respond to a prompt … that’s a writer who cares about her audience).

Check out her talk about her rather impromptu collaborative project The Beckoning of Lovely

The gimmick of this book is that is a “textbook” — sections are set to resemble those college tomes of yore, titled “history” and “science” and “math” — but the writing is focused on life itself (one math equation is all about love), and Amy’s life (her remembrance of an uncle beloved by many brought me nearly to tears), and the shared essence of all our lives. Oh, and the other part of the gimmick? There are moments in the book where you are invited to “text message” with a bot set up by Amy and her friend. Really.

Texting RoboAmy

I know it’s weird but I found myself enjoying my texting with the AmyBot very much. Part of me wondered, will Amy read these texts some day? Does it matter? The responses were whimsical and lovely, and some led me to her website where I could hear her reading or see images of other readers or take a poll (I chose Curly) or … listen to her selected music as I read the last section of the book, which ended on the theme of endings, with a very creative assortment of endings of other novels.

In the midst of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for Digital Writing Month, this kind of book – the ones that offer an invitation to the reader to engage in digital media — makes me wonder: is THIS digital writing? Even though her book is paper and bound (in my version anyway), the author’s extension and invitation to engage with our phones and on the web as we read her words, to add to a collective gathering of other readers in a community setting and to be part of the “story” that Amy is telling … that seems to have many of the hallmarks of what I consider Digital Writing. I’d love to know what you think. You can leave a comment at this post. I don’t have a KevinBot set up for this.

Here at Slice of Life, we try to do what Amy does. We see small but envision big. The moments that too often slip past our vision — those are the ones I try to write about when I write my Slice. Others do, too. What you realize that only when you start to actively notice the world, in all of its smallest pieces curving in an arc around all of us, is the point when you realize how consequential everything really is. Nothing deserves to be forgotten, but we forget so much. So much of our lives gets lost.

Amy’s books can feel at times like short-attention-theater. She brings us into a moment, and then it is gone. Poof. But the outline of her moments are small works of art, painted with a sense of kindness and wonder and generosity. How lovely is that? How much do we all need more of that? Much. We need much much more.

Thank you, AmyBot. Thank you, Amy.

Peace (it’s me, world),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: To CV or Not To CV

Kevin's Unofficial CV Comic

The first invitation to create for the #CLMOOC #DigiWriMo Pop-Up Make Cycle is the concept of the Alt-CV (see Sarah’s post) — about surfacing elements of yourself not inside the “official story” of yourself. Last year, when we did a similar activity, I made the comic on top of this post that still says a lot. 

This year, I went with a fake newspaper article, covering my lost time in online spaces. If you find it, please return it.

Lost Resume

By the way, you can make your own fake newspaper article with the generator. I remembered where it is.

I also wanted to share something that I had created some time back for my friend, Laura, who is a university music professor and a fellow Connected Courses companion. She had asked in open networks for people to share, as podcasts, their stories in relation to music for an activity she was doing with her students.

Mine is about my dad, a drummer, but also sheds some light on me and where a love of music first came from. I like to think of it here in light of the alternative curriculum vitae, since music informs my learning and vice versa. But you won’t find that on my resume as a classroom teacher.

Peace (hear the beat),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo #CLMOOC: Vertices, Edges and Digital Nomads

Network Analysis Study

I don’t claim to understand all of the data analysis that goes on when people research and examine all of the elements of our social interactions in places like Twitter and beyond. Here, for example, is what the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC looked like from a data analysis viewpoint.

IMMOOC Network Analysis

I grapple with making sense of it all, but it fascinates me just the same, particularly when a visual is teamed up with writing that dives into the data points. So this recently published piece by some friends in my social networking circles — Aras, Autumm, Maha B., Sarah and Dave, and Apostolos  — caught my attention.

I’m still reading it (the title alone is a mouthful: Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behavior on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network) …. and learning the vocabulary of research.

definitions

Some of the elements explored here about hashtags and the wandering spirit of those in networked spaces in this research article certainly caught my eye. I am one of those people. And I wander around quite a bit, hoping to connect with people and picking their brains about writing, teaching and more. The insight of how hashtags are connector points makes a lot of sense to me.

Network Analysis Study

I am intrigued by the term of “nomadic learners” — those of us who skirt and toggle between open educational spaces. In fact, that term is more fluid than the “lurker” terminology that is often used, and debated in online spaces. A nomad is forever on the move, but not just transient — they stop, talk, chat, share, gather and then bring what they have learned to other spaces.

Or so, I hope.

Network Analysis Study

 

As CLMOOC hosts a taste of DigiWriMo this week and into next (with an open invitation to make and create and collaborate and explore), I hope we all become rather nomadic in our wanderings and in our creations, and in our connections. I’ll see you on the edge of the vertices.

Peace (on the compass of imagination),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo Book Review: The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music

 

This book — The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music (A Fresh Look at the Art of Hip-Hop, from Old-School Beats to Freestyle Rap) by Paul Edwards — is wonderful mix of research, insights by Edwards, and voices of oral histories by many rappers and artists on the Hip-Hop scene, talking about influences and origins of the music and culture.

The history of rap angle didn’t uncover much new for me (but I still enjoyed it), as I am interested in the music as an art form. I did appreciate all the elements of the research that Edwards has done into how the music is made (and was made, as things have changed over time with the emergence of technology). Many of the musicians here talk about the past production of hip-hop, of scouring records for beats and bass and then finding ways to isolate sounds, pulling them together to form the backbeats.

In particular, the use of Flow Diagrams by rap songwriters was something I had not come across before. Some rappers use Flow Diagrams (of various sorts) create columns for rhymes, and move across the columns as they rap. This allows for intentional internal, double-word and other kind of rhyme patterns. In the book, some rappers talk about setting up these kinds of charts as ways to use rhyme for rhythmic elements — words as beats and off-beats. I love when the process of writing is exposed like that.

(This flow diagram comes from a Genius page about a Pharcyde song. The annotated page is from Edwards.)

Interestingly, much of the discovery of how to use samples from other tracks was often accidental. A rapper/DJ/producer tries to do this, only to discover that. They were smart enough to have their ears open at all times for opportunities, and when mistakes happened that sounded good, they took that and ran it with. The early days, it was not about the money (as it seems to be today), but about pushing the art-form into new terrain, and impressing others on the scene.

Of course, litigation for using unlicensed sounds made the old-school way of remixing sounds nearly impossible, so the collage-like, layered production work that went into albums like Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys (and the Dust Brothers production team) or landmark tracks by Run-DMC, NWA and Eric B & Rakim might never be replicated now (without huge financial support from a company on the licensing side).

But I figure this … there are still plenty of people making tracks and creating new sounds on their own, and it is likely that those tracks are finding paths to listeners. Like so many businesses, the music industry is being upended, or has been upended, by technology and social media. While that may have diminished the field of music listening to some degree (it’s a time when all radio stations seem to be owned by corporate interests, and radio DJs have no say over what is being played, the landscape becomes rather hum-drum .. radio that I listen to here is nearly identical to radio that you listened to there), it has also opened up doors for more intimate connections to more niche bands and musicians in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

I also wondered about the connections to what we think of as Digital Writing, and now remix and a new lexicon of song/writing construction might fit under that umbrella. It raises the question: when is writing a song a form of Digital Writing? Is it? It seems to me that Flow Diagrams and borrowing snippets seems to have interesting ramifications about language.

Edwards, whose book bio calls him “the Aristotle of Hip-Hop Poetics,” does a fine job here of exploring the historical perspectives of hip-hop music but he seems to conclude that its best days of innovation are far behind it, now that hip-hop is the touchstone of pop culture and a cash cow. I don’t quite agree, or maybe, I have faith that innovation is happening — even if many of us don’t see it. I just hope we can eventually hear it.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Sculpting Stories with Sound

Making Sound Stories

My sixth graders are in the midst of creating Sound Stories — small stories that are built for audio, with sound effects being the driving force behind the writing and then learning how to use Garageband as the tool for sculpting stories. I wrote about this last year, too, for my column at Middleweb.

The basics: They have a list of known sound effects that I have pulled from the Garageband loop library. They choose five to seven of those sounds on the list and write a small story, with those sounds embedded or embellishing their story. They record their story on Garageband, and edit in the sound effects.

There’s a lot of excitement in the air this short week before Thanksgiving. They do enjoy using Garageband and using what are called Foley Sounds (side note: check out this cool site where a professional Foley Sound expert challenges us to figure out the sound), even though I purposefully give them only limited instructions. I want to see if they can persevere and figure things out, and turn to each other for help. Mostly, they are fine, but you can almost visually see the lines between those students with learned helplessness (they ask for help before even trying to figure out how to solve a problem) and those who just need a push forward, and space to figure it out, into resilience.

I’ll try to see if I can post a few of their sound stories another time. Here is the one that I made last year, which I shared with them as a mentor text.

Peace (sounds like this),
Kevin

 

 

Remixing Hope from the Heart

Greg Stone quote

There’s a new permanent sculpture on the front lawn of our county courthouse, right at the very heart of the downtown of my small Western Massachusetts city. Artist Greg Stone finished the piece in the days before passing away, and his piece — showing a young woman caring for a dove — is beautiful and powerful.

I felt the need to not just photograph it yesterday but also to remix the images of Stone’s piece. It’s yet another way for me to kindle the fire of Hope in myself and in my world. I tried to find a way to bring it all together, to tie the images into a larger digital composition. I could’t find a way to do that which satisfied me, so it’s pieces of the whole here instead of a whole with pieces.

Here is the original, from one angle:

Greg Stone's Hope

I then began using an app called Fused, remixing the image (a second image is also from the courthouse — colored lights in the form of a peace symbol).

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Working with the images gave rise to a poem.

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

I tinkered with the poem’s look, too.

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

Greg Stone's Hope Statue

I also followed my friend Carol V’s lead to tried out a 3D Cube tool, which is nifty but not practical for images with words, I found.

And then I did a podcast of the poem, using some recent guitar open tuning that I was messing around with as the underlying melody, which I thought meshed nicely with the poetry.

And that led to … Zeega … where I sought to combine the image and poem and media … this is closest to what I was thinking …

I still may yet do something more with all of these pieces. For now, I am happy just to have been deep with Hope.

Peace (beyond Hope),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: How I Failed Visual Notetaking 101

Notes from WMWP

Yesterday, I spent nearly the entire day at a Leadership Retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. It was productive, as always, and yet, I did find my mind wandering from time to time. I decided to try my hand at Visual Notetaking to keep focused.

I tried at Visual Notetaking, but I failed. I began with notes on paper during the meeting and then later, after the retreat, I used the Paper app to draw the visual with my stylus.

Notes from WMWP

Well,  first of all, too many words. Too much text. But that’s who I am: a word man. And I wasn’t patient enough, either, for thinking through the visual design element. I sort of jumped in, started and then worked around my starting point. I’m not sure either of these really captures much beyond a pretty note.

Check out Sylvia Duckworth and her art. It really is inspiring how she listens, processes, and then captures the movement of ideas in her artwork. All of it seems logical and designed with an eye towards cohesiveness of the reader/viewer.


flickr photo shared by sylviaduckworth under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

I’m not giving up on the idea of Visual Notetaking, but I understand that free-hand drawing is not my strength and never has been. It doesn’t help that I have a fat stylus for the Ipad, making detailed drawings more difficult than it probably should be. I am more apt to be creative when I have the art done for me, which has its drawbacks and limitations, and I can work on the writing and design piece. I need a partner!

Still, this opportunity allowed me to dive in and try the process, and I did find some good resources to put into my Diigo bookmarking for later perusal. I like the simplicity of this overview, for example.

Have you tried Visual Notetaking? Have you done better than me?

Peace (in the draw),
Kevin

 

#DigiWriMo: Home Poem

The Young Writer’s Project in Vermont (an amazing organization supporting student writers) is taking on the unofficial hosting of some themes for what used to be and still is #DigiWriMo as way to help its writers keep writing in a digital way. Each week, they will offer up a theme. This week’s idea is: Home.

I went into MapStack and created a few versions of my neighborhood with its coloring layering tools and then pulled those images into Adobe Spark on my iPad, writing a poem as the narration, and ended up with a digital poem.

I like how the map layout doesn’t change, but the layered effects does, and the words are inspired by each image, to some degree.  In other words, the writing of the poem came AFTER I had created various versions of the maps, not the other way around.

I also used the Fused app, which does double exposures of images, to pull maps together to make something slightly different. By keeping the layout exactly the same, the blends gave a slight twist to the originals. Subtle, even.

Peace (at home and beyond),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: That Moment Before Shipwreck

Fordham Friday

I did #WhitmanWednesday and #ThoreauThursday — two white guy poets of much acclaim — and I wanted to find a poem with the alliterative “F” for Friday that moved away from gender and race of the other two dudes.

So I wandered about, used a Search Engine as a compass for navigation, and sailed into Mary Weston Fordham.

The Poetry Foundation says:

Little is known about the life of poet Mary Weston Fordham. A free person of color from a relatively affluent family, she bravely ran her own school during the Civil War and was hired in 1865 as a teacher by the American Missionary Association. She taught during Reconstruction at the Saxon School in Charleston, South Carolina. Her poetry contains references to family and to the deaths of several children in infancy.

A single volume of her work, Magnolia Leaves (1897), containing 66 poems, was published by a South Carolina press with an introduction by Booker T. Washington. Her poems display an ease with meter and rhyme in lyrical explorations of historical, spiritual, and domestic themes.

I read and then tinkered around with her poems, which have a certain grace to them that I liked. I settled on “Shipwreck” for its theme and imagery of language, but also I was hooked on the last lines of the last stanza.

So, I took the last stanza of Fordham’s Shipwreck into the Visual Poetry and painted with her words for #FordhamFriday. Is that hashtag a thing? It is now. 

Fordham Friday

I also took her poem, The Pen, and did some blackout work on it, recreating the words into something slightly new.

Blackout Poem - The Pen

Want to play along? Here is a link to various Mary Weston Fordham poems.

Peace (as remix),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Thoreau on Writing

It’s #ThoreauThursday, and in an intersection with the concept of Digital Writing Month, I gathered up a bunch of Henry David Thoreau quotes and layered his ideas about writing into a Zeega media mix. The soundtrack? A song called Walden Pond.

The digital piece works best if you use the Full Screen option, in my opinion. Never used Zeega? The reader advances the slides as the soundtrack plays underneath. The writer puts the pieces together, but it is the reader with the agency on the pacing of the piece.

What about you? What are you making today?

Peace (ripples on the pond),
Kevin