My Own Little Wild West of Remembering


flickr photo shared by Profound Whatever under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

(This is a post for Western106, an open online digital storytelling course, that will focus around the Western genre. I’m dipping in with my own experiences with the Wild West narratives.)

When each of our three boys were young, my wife and I made a conscious effort to avoid any kinds of toy guns in the house. It didn’t matter. They would pick up a stick, point it at a squirrel, or each other, or at us even, and go “bang bang bang.” The more we talked to our friends, the ones with boys, the more we came to realize that the stereotypes of boys and guns (and trucks) seemed to be something true, despite all that we did to avoid it.

Strange, right? But true, at least in my circles. We could not shake their obsession with guns.

One time, we were visiting a friend of my wife’s from work and her husband was a retired police officer. Before we even knew what was happening, he had pulled out an unloaded handgun from his gun safe to show our youngest son (he must have been about six years old). I was furious at this man and frustrated by the look of reverence on my son’s face as he was so close to a real gun. One that shoots real bullets. One that kills in a second.

We never went back to that house, needless to say.

It had me thinking of my own childhood as a boy, though, and my own obsession with the same. I distinctly remember watching The Lone Ranger re-runs on television with friends, as soon as it was over, we would run outside and playact out the episode we just watched. We’d use sticks as guns, and bikes as horses, and string as lassos. Cats sometimes would be our cattle, if we needed. (They were never very cooperative. We didn’t have dogs in our apartment complex. Only cats. Yeehaw. Kittyup.)

As I got older, I still gravitated to the idea of the Western, which I see now through my adults eyes as having many flaws — from gender issues to animal treatment issues to violence issues to … well, there are a lot of issues — and yet the theme of Good vs. Bad (another complicated issue) and of Hero vs. Villain (same) and Cowboy vs. Indian (more of the same) are timeless storytelling devices, made so visible it’s as if a mallet is pounding you on the head.

As kids, we liked that. Mallets made the story clear. There were no ambiguities. Cowboys were good,. Indians were bad. (But thanks to Alan Levine’s gathering of Western stories and narratives, I see now that even the stories I thought had a clear divide maybe never really did … look at the peaceful Tonto, who saved The Lone Ranger’s life more times than a viewer can count … and I am probably over-stereotyping the genre completely anyway .. writers do that to make a point, right?)

What began to change my mind and alter my perceptions of that narrative as a kid was the reading of a book. This book.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks brought a whole new perspective to the Cowboy/Indian narrative that Hollywood had created to sell stories, showing me instead how proud the American Indians were of their place on Earth and how mistreated they had been, and continue to be in so many places (It is a travesty that the Pine Ridge Reservation has some of the deepest pockets of poverty in the United States and that casino operations are what keeps some tribes afloat here on the East Coast).

The novel, telling the tale of a boy who brings his plastic toys to life and then realizing the consequences of his actions, humanized American Indians for the first time for me, in a very powerful way that never left my head or heart. It later resonated with other books about the American Indians that I would read, too, such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and The Heart of Everything There is. This was the real history of our country, the kind that I was not being taught in history classes.

Move ahead a few years, and, as a young adult, I got hooked on the Western-themed television show, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. What an odd one. It was a mashup of cowboy and science fiction, told with humor. It didn’t last very long, but I loved that show, and watched it religiously. It skewered the conventions of the Western in so many ways while also maintaining the elements that attracted me to Westerns as a kid. That later led me to Firefly, the short-lived series that is a natural successor to Brisco, with its Western-in-Outer-Space theme. Add in Deadwood and others that I have forgotten over time.

And then came the discovery (or rather, the rediscovery with new eyes) of the Spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood in college, with a friend who wanted to go to Hollywood to work on movies (he did do that, eventually) and listening to him dissect the movies over and over again through a filmmaker’s eyes was interesting, as was the experience of watching Eastwood later in Unforgiven, where he tries to dismantle the whole notions of the Hero as Avenger and Violence as a Way of Life.

Just last week, I was watching The Hateful Eight with one of my sons, now in high school, and thinking of how the myth of the Western permeates so much our media lives, in ways that are often unseen. I didn’t care much for The Hateful Eight (we had it on disc, as our neighbor is a filmmaker who votes for Oscar movies so she gets discs to sway her decision) and gave up on it, but my older sons (the eldest one had already seen it in the theater) enjoyed it, and it brought me back around to the opening of this post.

Neither of my older children are still obsessed with guns. Maybe they have grown out of it or been horrified by the front pages of our newspapers. The younger one still seems to gravitate towards toy guns whenever he can. It still rattles me.

And it raises some questions for me, a father.

At what point does media influence us, and at what point do we influence media? Do Westerns glorify violence or reflect our society’s interest in Outlaws and Justice? Is this notion of boys’ interest in guns innate? And if so, does the interest in guns lead to the potential of violence? Researchers are no doubt trying to figure that out.

Of course, I sure hope not, and I know that our struggle as parents to explain our violent culture to our kids over the years, expressed through exasperation with the proliferation of guns has been an ongoing process. I’ve even used my own experience in the military as an infantry soldier to talk about guns, and the powerful danger they possess in the world.

Here at home, we promote peace in this world of violence. That’s just how it is, I guess. It’s not that we never had Nerf guns in the house. It’s not that we took every stick out of their hands. But it’s also not that we have bowed to the overwhelming wave of pop culture, either. Our family conversations about guns and violence, though .. those continue. They have to. They always will.

Peace (there it is again),
Kevin

Webcomic: The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid

InternetKid1

Last weekend, I was reading up on Alan Levine’s move to push ahead with a Western-style DS106 course, even though the college where he was to teach it pulled out due to lack of enrollment. Lack of enrollment in the course? Do they even know Alan Levine and DS106? Their loss, but Alan is launching the course as an open invitation.

There is sure to be lots of critique of the Western genre — of violence, and gender, and more — and I hope to do as much of it as I can, if only to be part of another DS106 adventure.  I am already part of an Outlaw Brigade with Wild Toady. I was thinking about Western DS106 this past weekend and started to get inspired to do a webcomic which has come to be called The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid.

Really, the comic has little to do with the Wild West and more to do about technology. No surprise there, if you follow my blog and comics. Before I knew it, I had more than a handful of comics created, and so I have decided to “publish” the comics, one per day (except today, when you get one plus my cover), on Twitter via the #western106 hashtag

I also just now realized that a Tumblr site would make sense, so here it is: The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid tumblr site. 

My aim is to have some fun with tweaking the Western genre AND technology and writing.  Plus, I like making comics. Honestly, some of the Internet Kid storylines work better than others, but I am sending all of them into the Wild anyway. I hope you get a chuckle now and then. And if it makes you think, well, all the better.

So, here you go — the first comic of The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid:

InternetKid2

Peace (partners),
Kevin

Zeega Music Demo: I Fall Apart

This demo song is one I wrote quite a long time ago, and only recently pulled it back onto my guitar. It was first written in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti Earthquake. I tinkered a bit more with it in the last few days, adding a new section, and then recorded this as a spare song. Don’t worry — it’s thankfully not about me. I am happy. I am fine. The narrator of the song is not. (I always feel the need to write that for these kinds of songs.)

I am still making with Zeega until the doors close …

Peace (in the fall and recovery),
Kevin

When DS106 and Rube Goldberg Unite .. or how to put on a hat

Hat on Yer Head #ds106 #dailycreate
It’s cold this morning here in New England. Wind chill about negative 14. Walking the dog … not so much fun. So when the DS106 Daily Create came into my inbox with a note of explaining how to do something, I was reminded of a recent classroom activity/lesson around Rube Goldberg contraptions (my students had a blast with it).

Here, then, are my instructions for putting a winter hat on your head. (My attorney suggests I mention that you should not try this at home. Duh.) At the Daily Create, you could only write text, but I drew out the contraption in the Paper app (which I am still figuring out).

Winter. It sucks. So, you know, you need a winter hat on your head to keep your brains from freezing when you need to walk to the dog.

Here’s how you do it:

1. Superglue fishing line to a bowling ball
2. Stuff bowling ball inside winter hat
3. Place bowling ball/hat on the top of the stairs
4. Sit on the bottom step of the stairs, holding fishing line in hand
5. Pull on fishing line. Be sure to pull hard enough so that the ball and hat start tumbling down the stairs
6. Quickly pull fishing line a second time to dislodge the ball from the hat. Guide bowling ball around you (note: this is important)
7. Hat sails through the air, lands on head

If you set up pins on the ground near the bottom of the stairs, you may even get both a strike AND the hat on your head. Be careful that the bowling ball and the hat don’t change positions. If that happens, you might end up with the bowling ball on your head. If that happens, you won’t need to go outside on your own. The ambulance will take there and it is probably heated.

Peace (you deserve it),
Kevin

Yep, We’re Yodeling

Blame this one on me .. but yesterday’s Daily Create at DS106 was my idea — getting people to yodel. And darn it if they didn’t. In fact, I completely forgot it was even my idea until Mariana called me out on it with a “Hey, where’s your yodel?” So I got my yodel on this morning and added it to the Soundcloud group.

How about you? Do you yodel? Come add yours.

Peace (in the yoleheehooo),
Kevin

Annotating a Connected Song

The other day, I shared out my tribute song to my various communities, in the form of an animated music video of sorts. It is my way of saying thanks to people who inspire me all year in various online homes.

I decided to show a bit of where the song writing came from, and used my comic app to annotate the original piece of paper. My songwriting process is very messy, musically and physically. I am constantly scratching on and scratching out words, drawing lines to show movement of phrases and verse/chorus, and yet, I often take photos of the paper later, to keep a trail of the song.

Annotating a Connected Song

So, if you are interested, I tried to reconstruct the writing of the song with annotated notes before I forget it all (which I am bound to do). Thanks for being part of my network as a visitor here. This song is for you.

Here is the audio-only version, too. Feel free to remix.

Peace (in the script),
Kevin

Words Upon the Wall: A Gift of Song

For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.

Peace (with words on the wall),
Kevin

Writing Digitally: A Comic About Connections

I had this urge to create this comic as a sort of reflection point, drawing in connections that have me pushing my own ideas about what it means to be a writer in this digital age. Think of it as a token of gratitude for all those who are helping me along on this journey. I created the comic (making up representative characters for my friends: Simon, Terry, Anna, and Maha) in Bitstrips for Schools, and then moved it into a flipbook creator.

Read — Digital Writing: An Ongoing Exploration

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

A Story in Icons

Story in Icons
Telling a story of a day in only visuals is tricky business. Today’s Daily Create suggested we use the new icon library that Google put together, and so I tried here to represent my morning as I continue an interesting dialogue with my friend, Simon, about writing and stories and all sorts of interesting odds and ends.

You can find the Google Icon library preview here: http://google.github.io/material-design-icons/ I just copied what I needed (coffee) and tried to represent my ideas as best as I could.

What story could you tell?

Peace (in the icon),
Kevin

Keeping the Lights On …

Keep the lights on #CCourses

Alan Levine had a great post the other day (what else is new?) about how online learning communities, such as eMoocs and such, would do better to never situate an “end point” for a course and just keep the lights burning for folks. He situates this point within the context of the Connected Courses, where a lot of university folks are experimenting with how to transform their curriculum with elements of open design and open learning.

Alan cites DS106 and its #4life motto as an example. That’s what I do so love about DS106 …. it never seems to end and I can jump in and out as I please. I think what makes that system work, along with the great sharing, is the Daily Create … every day, there is something new to do.

myflag

It only takes a few minutes to do the Daily Create, but the act of getting that email update or seeing the call for creativity on Twitter reminds me of the presence of DS106. Even if I don’t do the create, I remember a bit of where I’ve been within DS106. I get re-anchored. The breadcrumb leads me back.

That identity with a learning space is important.

For many, particularly those in the Connected Courses, their teaching year no doubt revolves around semesters. The course they teach ends when the semester ends, and then things start up all over again. But when you add an open learning element, really, things should never quite come to a close. Why would it? Our learning never stops and if the connections forged have been true and honest and worthy, the space should continue.

Which is not to say this is easy to pull off. We’ve tried to keep our conversations and making going with the Making Learning Connected MOOC the past two summers. We’d love folks to stay connected in our spaces all year. It doesn’t really happen. Life intervenes. People get exhausted. Other priorities bubble up. We loosen our threads. But every now and then, we’ll see a burst of activity, as folks come back together with an idea or a share, and these echoes of the intense summer of the CLMOOC re-emerge in a powerful way. We still see the CLMOOC Make Bank as a growing connector of our ideas, as a sort of legacy project (modeled on, what else, DS106).

The power of the Daily Create is that we need constant and gentle reminders — a lighthouse beacon out in the world — of why we were there in that space and place and time in the first place and why we need to return to get recharged. Still, someone has to administer the Daily Create (I helped facilitate the Connected Courses Daily Connect all through October and I realized then how much of a task it is — enjoyable but still, a task.)

Meanwhile, I am taking a grad class right now that uses Blackboard as its LMS, and everything I write in there … I know it’s only temporary. My words will be eaten up by the LMS in a few months. The doors will close. The lights will go out. We’ll be done. This is important as I think about Alan’s points because what I write in that particular space is just enough to do the assignments. It’s me, the student, not me, the writer/connector, and when those words disappear … I could care less, to be frank. We have not really forged any true learning community connections in that online space (even though we are required to have “conversations” each week in the forum). It all feels so very forced and fake to me. The doors to the LMS will close and I won’t care.

Close the doors to the CLMOOC, or DS106, or other learning spaces I am in, and I would be in an uproar. And saddened. Those learning spaces, and those colleagues in those places, matter to me. I would be lost as a writer, learner, teacher, maker without those connections. Keeping the lights on is challenging, but important, if we are trying to keep to our ideals of learning as an open adventure.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin