(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
One of my hesitations in jumping into Slice of Life is my participation in something known as Networked Narratives, a ‘course’ being run at Kean University by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine (remotely) which has an open online invitational component, which I am part of. So, this Slice of Life sort of converges with Networked Narratives. That’s a good thing.
My good friend, Wendy, from Australia, has been tinkering with the app Acapella as a way to foster more narrative collaborations with the NetNarr folks, mostly those of us out here in the wide open spaces. The students in the actual course seem a bit more restrained and follow the course’s activity guidelines pretty closely. Out here, we just do what we wanna do. We’re not getting graded, of course.
Anyhoo … Wendy and I have been trying to navigate the potential of the Acapella app, which has strange quirks around collaboration yet has some potential that we find intriguing enough to stay with it. We’ve messaging back and forth, working through the kinks and frustrations.
This is one of our impromptu collaborations.
Next up is an invite to a few more friends (Sandy and Terry) and plan out something a little more creative and focused.
Peace (in collaboration),
PS — this is one acapella mix I made myself long ago, when I first tried out the app.
I only watched the first episode of this new series on Netflix, called Abstract, which is focused on design across the fields of art. I was curious to see how it might connect to some of the elements we have been talking about in Networked Narratives.
And I was intrigued by the first episode, which is about artist Christoph Niemann, whose name I didn’t recognize but whose art I certainly did, as he often does the covers for New Yorker magazine, and his views of the world — where technology and art intersect with humanity — often catch my eye. And I remembered the cover that is the focus of this documentary, too — the one which began an Augmented Reality cover, in which the viewer is immersed in the artistic New York of Niemann’s imagination.
What’s interesting here is the approach the filmmakers use to showcase Niemann’s fertile artistic mind, bringing us into the cartoony world and using “meta discussions” to show how hard it is to understand what makes an artist tick, and in fact, by trying to show the process, you ruin the artistic inspiration. Time and again, Neimann resists the filmmaker’s urge for “reality” and instead, Niemann calls for more “abstractness” and the collision of these two is often funny, entertaining, insightful.
I was most interested in the moments where Niemann talks about the creative process and his realization that working hard — doodling, sketching, trying new ideas — is the way to pave the way for inspiration to hit, but if you just sit and wait around for the “big idea” you will likely be disappointed.
I am reminded of some of what Howard Rheingold told NetNarr during his “studio visit” about how artists pave the way for possibilities, even if you are not certain yet what those possibilities are. You follow your interests, and make art because you have to make art, not because it is required. Even though Niemann works as a design artist for a living, he still tinkers with the unexpected, such as this interesting Instagram series called Abstract Sundays, where he meshes found objects with drawing and painting … just for the fun of it.
In other words, an artist has to keep working, even when the art is not. You have to have faith in the creative sparks, and Niemann’s keen observations of the world are what fuels his work, but he notes that he has to withdraw from the world in order to create his abstract versions of the world. He also talks about the “editor mind” and the “artist mind” that often comes into conflict with each other as he works independently.
The Abstract documentary is a fascinating look at the mind of an artist, and while we see him talking about and struggling with the design of the Augmented Reality cover of a paper magazine — indeed, he often wonders whether the two ideas will ever be in sync with each other — I wanted to see more of the technical aspects of how they built the cover to actually work for the reader/viewer. There’s less of that, and more of Niemann as artist, with brush and pen. Which is great, too.
I have not yet seen other episodes in the Abstract series, but I aim to.
When you go to YouTube, you are often pulled into the homepage of videos that others have watched. You’re drawn by the activity of others, because the underlying algorithm suggests that the more eyeballs, the more interesting. Maybe. But what about on the other end of the spectrum? What about the videos that people post which gain no views or only a scattered few? The site Astronaut takes that idea and provides a way in, by showing you the videos with almost no views and with obscure video titles.
Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.
I was drawn to that idea, of being the sole viewer of scattered videos, and such an interesting collection they were, too. Yes, there were puppy videos.
Always puppy videos:
But was also this tender video of a grandmother reading Knuffle Bunny to some faraway grandchild, using video to shorten the distance between family.
There this short shot of a machine, likely in some museum somewhere. The marble is up to something there.
And there was this beautiful musical performance to what seems to be a small audience, but whose audience now includes us:
What you quickly understand is the way that people all over the world, in all sorts of languages and visuals, are documenting their world, even when there is no real audience there for them to see. This is a view into the global humanity that you don’t see anywhere else, and it harkens back to the very first YouTube video of an elephant in a zoo (if I remember correctly).
In fact, this use of video for every documentary is the argument for YouTube as a human experience — it’s not that we expect polished productions or expertly edited videos. We still understand that the raw parts of life might be visible, and connect my life to yours, and our life to ours.
Using Astronaut is like flipping YouTube upside down, and seeing how average people are viewing the world through their lens, often through their mobile phones. Put on your helmet and float in.
The other day, in one of the Networked Narratives studio visits, the guests were Howard Rheingold and his daughter, Mamie. It was a crowded Hangout and we ran out of time before talking about what was going to be one of the main topics: connecting the dream-state to the art of storytelling. I’m afraid my questions about civic discourse in the age we’re in, and Howard’s long work with the Internet as Public Sphere, sidetracked us.
Howard talked about his own background, noting that the structure of school stifled him as a child to the point that he was labeled as a “troublemaker” and often got send to the art room, which was run by his mom. There, he was free to create, invent, explore. He wonders why more classrooms aren’t like his mom’s art room. Partially, I blame standardized testing, and its emphasis on right/wrong dichotomies, not open-ended problem solving and thinking.
Mamie worked for nine years at Google, and she talked about the culture there, and how it moved through different phases. She focused on the early “creative chaos” in which people were encouraged to follow passions, and “bump” into other’s work, as serendipity moments. That sounds a lot like some of the Connected Learning spaces where I enjoy hanging out.
There was a bit of pushback, or questioning, from one of Mia’s students in NetNarr, observing that the openness of the course felt a little strange, and that more structure might have eased some of that anxiety. The comment reminded me of my first grad course like this, too, and how I kept wondering, am I doing this right? I realize now, years later, how instructive that course was to my thinking and my teaching.
The issue of “silos” that we find ourselves in, and how to reach out beyond our comfort zone to better understand others of different political stripes. I mentioned that it feels a bit as if the promise of connected ideals has not brought us closer to together — not nurtured more compassion and understanding of the “other” — but seems to have divided us even more, creating pockets where we write and learn with those who have our same frame of mind. I wonder if the same tools that brought us here, into our echo chambers, can also help us crawl back out? Or do we need a new way forward?
Howard talks about “trusting your intuitive process” as we moved into the idea of tapping the inner artist, and finding ways to free yourself to create. “It’s about messing with things and seeing what happens.” — Howard. He talked about his passion for making spiderweb art years ago and now, he finding ways to use circuitry and programming to revamp that earlier art into something new. This points to being open to possibilities and going with your passions.
Thanks to the Rheingolds for spending time with NetNarr.
I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.
Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.
My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.
Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.
But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.
Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)
Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.
Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.
The third “studio visit” by the folks at the Networked Narratives earlier this week was with two interesting women with extensive experience and understanding about the worlds of Fan Fiction. If you know nothing about FanFic, then this studio visit is worth your time. There are entire communities — very large ones, in fact — where fans of novels (and television shows, and movies, and …) write entire offshoot stories with secondary characters, or mixing characters from one novel with characters with another.
I popped the video into Vialogues as a way to closely watch the discussion and think about what Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkle, of the Fansplaining podcast, shared during the hour-long conversation.
Here are some of my take-aways from listening in and some lingering questions in my mind:
FanFiction sites are composed of significantly more readers (ie, lurkers) than writers, which makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, although one wishes that more people were writing (that’s the writing teacher in me talking). What kinds of hurdles are there for new writers? What kinds of entry points are there? Is there as welcome wagon?
There seems to a fairly narrow demographic field of readers and writers, if I understood Klink and Minkle correctly. Most FanFic sites are populated by women (there was a real feminine theme emerging from this discussion), with a “Queer” sentiment (this is often known as “slash” fiction — ie, Spock/Kirk), and mostly white middle class. I wonder why? Is it cultural? What draws that demographic in? What keeps others out?
Comments by readers in the FanFic world can be supportive and they can be critical, although there is apparently a sense of criticism being done privately, not publicly. Does this private criticism run counter to why people write in these open sites? It’s more likely a sense of protectiveness of writers, I suspect.
There is a lot of explicit content in many FanFic sites, which makes it something to consider when introducing young writers (like mine) to the prospects of fan fiction. So, yeah, don’t start fanfic in your classroom with a tour of some of these sites. Just saying.
I wonder about the roles of writers in these spaces. Who is there because an avenue for writing has suddenly emerged and they want to write to write? And who is there because they want a career as a writer (good luck with that) and see fanfic as a stepping stone to something larger? This fault line seems important to me.
Finally, FanFic sites are built under the radar, purposefully (except for Harry Potter worlds, which is supported by Rowling and her publisher). If teachers teach fanfic, do we suck the fun out of it and ruin the very thing that makes fan fiction so wonderfully unique and important to communities of young people? (FanFic is mostly the domain of teens and younger adults). I grapple with this question on many occasions (ie, video game design).
Overall, the exploration was enlightening, and raised a lot of questions to consider and mull over. Flourish and Elizabeth seemed to have in-depth knowledge, but openly admitted they can’t speak for all of FanFic, since it is large and rather undefinable. But this very unknown nature — where writing and networking and creativity and literacy come together — is what makes learning more about FanFic worth the time.
I will be hard-pressed to explain this (go here and read more if you are interested) but one of the Networked Narrative assignments this week is the result of a blackout poem exercise the folks in the real course did and tweeted out. We are asked to find three “lines” from those blackouts and create a “story spine” without the words — only images and sound.
Interesting … just so you know, I borrowed lines from Mia, Quanesha and Hailey, and then added one of mine. BUT, they used a common text (I think) and I used something else completely — I did my blackout poem from the Folded Story project.
NOTE: I may even be doing this assignment completely wrong .. but what the heck … there ain’t no wrong out here in the land of open learning ….
Here goes .. my visual story as image pulled from invisible text borrowed from other’s poems that you can’t see …
Meta-Analysis: Well, finding the right keywords that captured the essence of the borrowed sentences was tricky, and also, I had a tough time thinking about which images in my search worked on its own, and which images worked as one piece the whole. I’m not convinced I accomplished what I wanted, although I’m not too terribly disappointed either.
I was reading through the suggested activities for last week’s Networked Narratives course, and came across Alan Levine’s suggestion for doing a “Four Icon Story” that uses icons to tell a story with no words. I’ve done those before on Twitter via DS106. The visual aspect of writing (and trying to guess another’s four icon story) is interesting.
One note: While Eric suggests that “control R” randomizes the emojis in the spreadsheet, my Mac wanted to do “command R” to get the randomizer working. So, you may need to tinker a bit.
I didn’t add any new emojis to Eric’s database, but it is certainly possible to do. Instead, I hit the “randomizer” button (Command R) and got my list of five emoji inspiration. How lucky is it that a saxophone was in the mix? Pretty cool!
And then, I wrote a story.
It was one of those blustery nights, the kind of night where every living thing in the jungle or the plains fell silent and tried to sleep, hoping for the sun in the morning. The Lion was hungry but not motivated to hunt. He knew there would be little out here, with the Wind blowing from the East. Hunting would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. Huddled in the leeward side of his rock, Lion pulled out his cell phone, and checked for service. Even with the Google Wireless Balloons in the air and Facebook towers dotting the plains, Internet service was spotty in these far reaches of the world. Lion imagined the Winds buffeting the Balloons, knocking over towers. Sure enough, there was no cell phone service on this night. Lion sighed. Hungry and disconnected from the world. He closed his eyes and sought out sleep. As he drifted off into dreams, he caught the faint sounds of music, as if someone were riffing off the melody of the Wind. The jazz floated above the plains, flatted fifths and augmented sevenths. Lion opened his eyes. Perhaps he might go hunting tonight, after all. The musician played on, unaware of the power of his song.
(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March — about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
For more than a year now, I have been involved in a postcard writing/mailing project with folks in my connected circles, mostly through the CLMOOC clan. This year, a subset of the Postcard-ers is doing Data Postcards along agreed-upon theme (So this month, it was “love”).
Yesterday, I gathered up a bunch of postcards that had arrived in the last week or so, and took a picture. We like to share out, if only to show arrival. You can see a woodcut postcard of Woody Guthrie, and a 3d keychain (and 3D shovel!), and messages about art and collaboration. And a mallard duck.
Then, yesterday afternoon, just after I posted my collection of recent arrivals, I received this gem of a postcard, and poem, from another friend, Sandy, in my mailbox. She and I connect in other spaces, such as the current Networked Narratives. Sandy does a whole other kind of postcard adventure around a magical art theme (I think). Her postcard — right from the beautiful colored handwriting on the envelope — was a work of part, and her poetry was pure beauty.
I’m lucky to have found my way into such a creative tribe.
I grabbed out phrases, and met those words with images. The reader moves at their own pace, so the Zeega may not be in sync. That’s OK. I think the Zeega is a poem in and of itself, influenced by but different from the original.
You can move and read and listen at your own pace.
(NOTE: Some browsers don’t like Zeega because of “unsafe scripts.” This has to do with Terry hosted a version of Zeega on his own, I think. You can click on the option in the URL bar to allow the scripts to be read by your browser.)