What Writing Means … to me

One of the workshops I attended at the National Writing Project’s annual meeting in San Antonio was about a new venture called the National Conversation on Writing. A group of mostly college professors is trying to change perceptions of writing in the public mind and one of their ideas to collect vignettes from people about what writing means to them. In particular, they would like to have a collection of short videos, in which teachers and students and others talk about writing.
I decided to give it a go, sort of as a rough draft approach, and recorded some of my own thoughts.

What about you? What does writing mean to you?
Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Writing With My Students

As much as possible, I try to write with my students, and share out what I am doing — talking through my writing process and asking them for feedback. This week, we brainstormed a long list of possible short story titles that we will draw upon in the weeks ahead for writing prompts. It was quite a creative adventure and the list has already provided some nice inspiration for students.

Here are a few:

  • The Day Cows Drove Cars
  • My Homework Ate My Dog
  • Personalities
  • Never Put 200 Pounds of Salt in Your Locker
  • A Demon Named MCAS
  • The Greatest Robot Ever
  • Magic Window
  • CRASH: A Journey into the TV
  • Alien Friend, Where Are You?
  • I Wish I Could …
  • Holy Monkey Muffins
  • Lord of the Springs

(The MCAS one is funny. The MCAS is our state test.)

Meanwhile, I took one of their titles and wrote this story over four periods of writing classes during one day (I teach four sessions). The title was one of my student’s ideas and it just intrigued me.

The Eye in the Hourglass

Who knew the genie would be so cruel? And would bring such bad luck? Surely, three wishes would change my life for the better. But, it turned out that I found a bad genie, a wicked genie, and he twisted my words around like a tornado until the meaning of what I really wanted disappeared into a storm of unfortunate events. My first two wishes should have given me some clues. First, I asked for a bag of gold. What he gave me was bag of stones, with one flint of gold at the bottom.
“It has gold, does it not?” the genie sneered.
My second wish was for a new house. I was thinking of the shack where my father and sisters lived. A new home would be a perfect for my family — a chance to start anew. So what did the genie provide? What was the answer to my wish? A house that fit in the palm of hand. No bigger than a pencil, really.
“Very nice structure,” the genie laughed as I gasped in astonishment.
I should have quit there, but I didn’t.
Instead, I wished for the one thing I always wished I could control: time. I wanted to be able to stop the hands of time and hold off the disease that was raging through my father’s bones. I wanted to hold back time so that I could find a cure for him.
“Done,” said the genie, and before I knew it, he had blinked his eyes, muttered a few words and — boom — I found myself trapped inside some glass compartment. It was curved, with the top being wide and the lower end being narrow. A hole was right in the middle of the floor and there was sand all around me, pouring past me, down the hole into a chamber below me. I realized with a gasp that I was inside an hourglass. I looked up at the genie, who was done with my wishes now. His huge eyeball was pressed near the hourglass, making me feel tiny and powerless.
“So, boy, stop time,” he thundered.
“What?” I asked, confused. “Get me out of here!”
“Oh no. I can’t do that. This is your wish, come true, boy. Stop time. Put your foot in that hole and hold back the Sands of Time. All of time will come to a halt if the sand stops. Your wish has been granted.”
The genie started to laugh again. I stared down at the hold, watching the sand drop. This was my wish? Stuck in an hourglass? I bent down and glanced through the hole to the chamber below. Something else was down there, I realized. Something buried in the sand. It moved and I jumped back. But I could not resist. I bent over again. The movement continued, as if something were shaking off the dust of time. I gasped. There, beneath me, was an eye. An enormous eyeball. And it was staring up at me. I was not alone.
In a panic, I looked for the genie. Surely, he would get me out of here. But he had left the room, apparently, so I scooted a little closer to the hole to get a better look at the eye below me. The sand kept on pouring past me. It formed a powerful current, like a the undertow the ocean, and I must have stepped too close because I suddenly felt myself being caught up in the motion. I started to slip and before I knew it, my foot had become lodged right in the opening itself. I felt another wave of panic and then noticed that the sand was rising up at my foot. I knew I was in serious trouble.
“Genie! Genie!” I yelled. “Get me out of here!”

Either he couldn’t hear me, or he was ignoring me. In either case, the genie was not going to help. That much was clear. I struggled again, trying to free my foot. I turned and twisted, with no luck. That’s when I felt it. At first, it was just a nudge. Almost gentle. And I sense some movement of the hourglass. A ripple, almost. Then, there was a sudden and powerful thud against the bottom of my foot. Then, another. Something was pushing up into me. Something strong. I realized what it was: the eye.
I was frantic now and feeling every more helpless. The eye kept pushing upward. Amazingly, I felt my foot starting to get free of the hole. There was now a bit space, just enough for me take advantage and wrench my body backwards, falling into a pile of sand. My foot was free. And then sand now continued its journey downward. I could now hear the grains of sand hitting something with a thwacking noise.
It must be the eye, I thought. It was getting pummeled by the falling sand. By helping me get free, the eye had put itself into danger. I ran to the hole and looked down. The eye was looking up, sort of sad and mournful, if that was possible. I realized that it had saved my life. And now I was watching it die.
“Hold on,” I screamed. “I’ll try to save you!”
I began digging fiercely to keep the sand from heading into the hole. It was fruitless. Time was running out.
That’s when I noticed the genie. He bent down his head until his eye was just outside the glass window.
“Having fun?” he asked, in a cruel voice.
I was just about to yell at him and demand he free me and the eye from this prison when he reached out, grabbed the hourglass and turned it upside down. My entire world spun around and I bounced from side to side, banging my head and getting sand all in my mouth. Suddenly, the hourglass was reversed. Sand was now pouring down on top of my head. And I could just make out the eye from above, looking down at me just as I had been looking down at it minutes before.
I opened my mouth to scream but sand came in and choked me. Yes, I realized with the cruelest of ironies: Time was most certainly coming to a stop.

As I was writing this, it occurred to me that this would make a great graphic novel story and maybe it is something I will try (someday). Short, sweet but creepy.

Peace (in short fiction),
Kevin

A Poem for Bella

We put our family dog, Bella, down to sleep yesterday and so it was a very sad time for all of us here, as our three young boys have known her as a friend and protector, and she was the first dog that I ever owned.

We also had a snowstorm here in New England during her final days and the pure whiteness of the snow, and its temporary nature, reminded me of her white coat of fur and those thoughts and the sadness of making the decision to end her life to spare her suffering sparked this poem in her memory.

All One of the Same (for Bella)
Listen to the Poem

I covet the unblemished snow —
the blanket of white replenished in this candlelight’s flickering glow —
knowing all the while how temporary this is
and how this earth will surely rise up to reclaim it
for another time;
another place.
It is all one of the same.
This flurry of contemplation brings on such a sudden sadness of loss,
so I reach out my fingers to gather up every flake falling
in order to watch the world disappear.
I hold tight to the memory of the moment
so that it
— all of it: the snow, the whiteness, the love —
may live on inside of me forever.

Peace (in dog heaven),
Kevin

Bruce kicks off tour and I am there

I got a call from a friend, asking me if I wanted to see Bruce Springsteen as he kicked off his Magic tour in Hartford, so of course, I said, heck yes. I think he is still going strong as a songwriter and the last time I saw Bruce live, he just amazed me with his stage presence and ability to command an entire audience from the stage. He is back with the E Street band, which is a mixed blessing. They can rock but it is all about loudness and power and not so much about finesse. Still, anytime a crowd of thousands gives a saxophone player a standing ovation for playing five notes, I have to cheer (as a sax player myself).

The show was fantastic — a mix of new stuff from his new album (which is out today, I think) that is pop and also lyrically strong, challenging the Bush administration on the loss of basic rights and looking to a new future. The older songs also rocked, and the highlight had to have been an over-the-top version of Reason to Believe, an old acoustic song from the album, Nebraska.

Here is a review of the concert.

Peace (from a tired teacher),

Kevin

My son went to Hawaii and all I got was this blog post

Talk about nervous. My 9-year-old son flew by himself yesterday to San Diego, and then is off to Hawaii today, on an epic journey (for him) to meet up with his uncle, who is a commander of a Navy Destroyer. The ship — the USS Milius — has been in the Persian Gulf as part of the war for the past six months or so, and they are now on their way home to San Diego.

As part of the return trip, they can invite one family member (not a spouse) to join them from Hawaii to San Diego, and my oldest son said “yes” (surprising us) when his uncle asked him to come along.

Needless to say, we were worried about him flying alone (things went fine) but also excited for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I sent him with a camera and my little flash video camera, and he has to write in a journal every day (that’s what he gets for having a mom and dad who are both teachers and writers) and give a report when he gets back to him in 10 days. This the longest we will have been apart, ever, so I am already missing him!

And most of all, we are happy that his uncle is coming home safe from the war.

Here is a picture of the ship:

 

Peace (in safe journeys),
Kevin

Four Slides and the Truth (kind of)

I was following Alice’s blog site, when she mentioned a “contest” over at the dy/dan blog in which people are asked to create a no-frills elevator pitch using slides (no video, no audio, no animation, etc). After reading through Alice’s variations of work, I decided to craft one myself, thinking of my students as my audience. Four slides …. not much room to work and forces you to get to the essence of your message.

But here it is:

[slideshare id=88903&doc=just-who-am-i-anyway3325&w=425]

Peace (in four pieces),
Kevin

Back on the Grid

I’m crossing my fingers here but I believe I have finally regained access to my Edublogs. It’s a long story that has to do with technical stuff that I don’t even understand but it seems to have been resolved (although now I see that James is doing more maintenance this weekend so I will hold my tongue).

Anyway, last week, I received my latest issue of Wired Magazine and, there, on the cover, was … me.

Back in February, the magazine had said it would personalize the July covers for the first 5,000 readers who sent in a photo. So, I did it, and then forgot all about it until it came in the mail last week. My sons were quite impressed and thought I was famous, although they could not figured out what Wired meant and why anyone would use that word for the name of a magazine.

It’s great to be back blogging again.

Peace (with consistency),
Kevin

Baseball Dreams

This video is part of my Collaborative ABC Movie Project and it deals with baseball and kids, and the connections between my own baseball memories and the experiences of my sons this year.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-8891800749316318329" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (with innings and outs),
Kevin

Digital Science Book

(thanks to Donna for some information and I updated my movie)

My students are in the midst of creating digital picture books around a scientific theme. We are using Powerpoint in order to move beyond the flat page and include animation, audio and even video. The audience for the books are first through fourth graders and we will publish in a variety of formats. The kids are just loving it and are fully engaged in their projects!

As usual, as they work, so do I, and I have been writing and creating my own picture book story about decomposition (sound familiar? This is also a term that my friend Paul Oh has proposed for digital writing — haha!) As I move along, I have been sharing my process with students so they can see how I work.

Here is a video version of my book and it loses all of its animation in this version:
Download: Posted by dogtrax at TeacherTube.com.
And here is a link to the actual Powerpoint file (click on the picture):

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

Cute Bday Card

I had a birthday this week and my middle son (age 7) drew this for me. That is one gigantic saxophone! I love that he sees music in me.

Peace (with portraits),
Kevin