Slice of Life, Chapter 18

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

This is a musical Slice of Life, as I have been working on a new song, possibly for my band The Sofa Kings. It’s pretty rough now and the bridge in the song is going to have to go (it doesn’t work), but that’s what making a demo is all about — what to keep and what to remove.

Anyway, here is the song called Dance the Dance.

Listen to Dance the Dance (or click on the little blue arrow for the flash player)

Peace (in songs),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 17

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I was heading out to the mailbox to get the newspaper. On the corner, near the driveway, sat our trash cans and recycling containers, awaiting the Monday pickup. I noticed that the trash can was knocked over and thought about the vicious thunderstorm the night before. It must have been the wind, I thought.

But then I saw something black, moving near the trash can. A fuzzy butt poked out from behind the container. Oh, I thought, it must be out neighbor’s dog. No, wait a minute, our neighbor’s dog — a big black furry thing — died last year.

Uh Oh. Bear.

Sure enough, there was this medium-sized bear rummaging through our trash like some FBI agent, ripping open bags and digging in. It had a collar, so it was clearly being tracked by the local environmental folks as it perused a path through the neighborhoods. Bears are very common in the place I live, and over the years I have seen all sorts of creatures: deer, fischer cats, and even two moose wandering around our stretch of suburbia. But it still takes me by surprise.

I yelled at the bear. It looked at me and kept right on munching. I went inside to show my son and my wife whistled at the bear. Nothing. I went out and honked the horn on the van. Not interested, the bear seemed to indicate, turning its back on us. My wife finally started up the van and backed down the driveway and the bear jumped up with a start and then lumbered away, moving towards a neighbor’s house.

It’s funny how a brush with nature can remind you that we inhabit this world with others, even if we don’t often act that way.

Peace (in the wild),
Kevin

PS — I have a picture that I will try to share with PhotoFridays this week.

Slice of Life, Chapter 16

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I spent the weekend with a group of friends that I have known for at least 20 years: shooting billiards, debating politics, playing music and catching up on various aspects of our lives. (We also “compete” in what is known in our small circle as the Pool Championship of the World, complete with trophies and heartache and glory. I haven’t won in years. Darn it.). We’ve seen ourselves get married, have kids, get divorced and all sorts of things. Once a year, we gather together (usually in Connecticut, but not always) for a long weekend of re-connections and reminders that friendships don’t need to die off — they need to be nurtured and drawn upon, even when separated by geographic distance.

This weekend, as part of our gathering, we also went to the nearby military base, where two of my friends serve the country and work, and we all toured both a helicopter hanger (one of my friends is a pilot of a Chinook Helicopter) and the air guard base (where my other friend is part of the security detail and a small arms instructor). All of us got to sit inside the helicopter and check out the controls. It was pretty impressive to consider the amount of details that go into flying such a craft. Over at another part of the base, we handled rifles and machine guns (which I have shot before when I was in the National Guard many years ago).

But sitting in the pilot’s seat and feeling the cold weight of the guns also reminded me that we are a country at war. Both of my friends have done tours overseas in military hot zones (one year, we made a video of our annual gathering and sent it along to one of our friends who was in the Middle East on assignment) and the helicopter pilot is off in February for a year-long tour in Iraq. He seems non-plussed about it and says it is what he is trained to do, but the rest of us are nervous for him. This made our late-night discussions about world affairs (we are pretty much a divided group among Democrats and Republicans) interesting and heated and all the more important. We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure as heck got deep into the issues.

Peace (in peace),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday marked the first day of the Claymation Animation Camp that I run in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the local vocational high school (as part of their summer enrichment program). I have 15 middle school students and they are so cool, and so eager to learn about moviemaking and technology. I am also fortunate to have a co-teacher (shout out to you, Tina) and a visiting teacher who just wants to learn more about claymation for her school (Maria).

We started off the day with a talk about animation and then launched into a morning of hands-on work with Pivot Stick Figure software, which they just eat up. I showed a few how to use MovieMaker to create titles and do some editing and we will be using it more extensively today. They were just working so hard, and being so creative, it was quite a joy to just be in the room with them. This picture shows one of my students working on a movie with the laptop hooked up to the LCD screen and I loved the image.

Here is one little movie by a boy who was one of my students this past year. The title is longer than the movie, which can be typical at this juncture, particularly with Pivot.

Meanwhile, I followed the lead of a new blogger friend, TJ Shay, who has been espousing the virtues of an animation program called Animation-Ish and he is encouraging folks to download a free version of the program and give it a try. I did. And I gave it a try. I wasn’t quite impressed on the initial look. It has a nice interface, but the software seemed very simplistic in what you can do and not all that intuitive to use, in my opinion. I did like that you can draw your own pictures and the move them around. That is cool. I’m not making a final judgment on the software, just an initial reaction. It does not seem to be worth $60, however.

Here is a quick movie that I made:

TJ suggested I try the more advanced function of the program (there are three different levels for different age and experience levels of students), which I did, and again, I did find it all that intuitive or easy for me to use. I checked out the website for more help or at least ideas, but it appears to be under construction and the one tutorial did not do much to help me out. I don’t know. My feeling with software is that if I can’t see the “wow” in it or get my hands right into the act of creation within a short period of time, I don’t see how it will engage my students, particularly if it costs me something.

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 14

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

You would think that the makers of a movie that has at its center the preservation of the Earth’s ecosystem would be more attuned to the concept of “junk.” But if you, like me, were one of the folks who saw Wall*E this opening weekend, you too probably got handed a plastic bag with a bunch of advertising crap (known as schwag in the industry) from the Disney/Pixar company.

A neighbor of ours warned me about this, and he may even write a letter to the newspaper editor about it, but I was still surprised to find myself with a throw-away watch with a blue plastic rubber band (sort of like Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong bracelets but without the meaning of giving and awareness), some tattoos and other little cards advertising yet another upcoming Disney movie about dogs.

The movie itself was fantastic and it was a nice summer outing with my three boys on a hot summer day. Much of the movie is without dialogue but the animation and action, and just pure scope of the screen, held us all in rapt attention as we watched the little robot single-handedly cleaning up the junkpile known as Earth falls in love with a robot probe looking for signs of life on the planet. There’s a real message here about taking care of the planet and about avoiding over-reliance on machines to run our lives. Plus, Wall*E is a cutie-pie.

So why did Disney pass out a handful of trash to everyone?

Clearly, the marketing department forgot to talk to the creative talent or never watched the movie previews. It would be offensive for any movie, in my mind, but to do this during a movie about saving the environment just seems so strange and reminds us that many (but not all) movies are not really about entertainment of the audience, but about money and marketing power of the corporations.

Peace (in the dark),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 13

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, I had a few hours of empty time. A luxury. My school ended last week and my kids were still in their school for one last half-day of the year. I did some errands (of course), then some reading and then I pulled out this little musical instrument that I have had sitting around for a few weeks.

It’s called a Kaossilator and it is a handheld synthesizer that uses a touchpad. It’s mighty strange and I need more time to get a good feel for it. It reminds me a bit of the Theramin (know what that is? If not, think of the eerie sounds of horror movies of old or check out this Wikipedia link).

So I shot this little video for this week’s Slice of Life, featuring my thumbs getting a work out on the Kaossilator.

Peace (in musical movements),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 12

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I was sitting at the table, in a meeting at the end of the school year and thinking: although I am no meeting lover, this group of people is really special. There were such smart, dedicated people in here and it made me glad (once again) to be part of an organization like the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Our work as part of the National Writing Project is to connect with teachers and think of ways that best practices in the classroom around writing and learning can bubble up through the system to create positive change in schools.

At this particularly WMWP Executive Board meeting (where I sit as the technology liaison for our writing project), we were reaching a vote on a new mission statement. We have been on a year-long endeavor to craft a mission statement that reflects not only our core values but also our vision for the future of our organization. For the past two years, we have been working to view our writing project through the lens of social justice and equity, and now we are re-aligning much of our work in that direction. We’ve had to ask tough questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it, and we’ve had some interesting discussions on topics ranging from race to diversity to the role of our organization as a face of social change.

The vote for the new mission statement was unanimous. Here is our statement, which is a wonderful endorsement for the purpose and power of education in the fabric of life.

“The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.”

Isn’t that a great missions statement? We worked to make it inviting to all teachers and educators and also for students and their families. Now, as one board member noted in our meeting, we have an obligation to follow through with this vision and work hard to become the force for change that we envision. We hope this mission statement is a guide for the future, and not some emblem of the past.

And I can’t resist another Wordle, using our mission statement as text:

Peace (in change),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 11

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I have a student with a form of Autism and other health issues and the combination of those two elements make connecting with him difficult at times. That said, he is such a wonderful kid — full of insight and intellect and interesting things to observe about the world. I have loved having him in my class this year and I worry about his transition to a new school next year.

One of his hobbies is Guitar Hero. He comes in with cardboard guitars and shows me his latest moves on the electronic fretboards. He loves music. During our poetry unit, when students were working on a final poem, he was absent for a few days, as happens with his diabetes. He came back in and handed me what he said was his final poem but which was a song that he had written. He said he did not have a melody in mind but I was blown away by what he had done. Writing is an incredibly difficult task for him. To have written lyrics to a song was a major accomplishment. And to address the theme of Life, and the emotions connected with how he sees life, was just amazing.  I tried to get him to publish it as a poem in our book via Lulu, but he flat out said “no” to me.

So I began to ponder how to connect with him through music. I took his lyrics home and let them sit and simmer on the shelf for a few weeks. I’d look at them and think about them, pull out my guitar from time to time. I was not in a rush. I was still trying to wrap a melody around his words.

This weekend, it finally came together, and I recorded a version of his song. I am going to surprise him with a CD version of it and I printed out a copy of the words (only slightly modified to match the structure of the music I had written) in fancy print. My hope is that is shines a light on him as a songwriter and allows him to see some real meaning to his writing abilities.

Yesterday, I pulled him aside during library time and brought him back to our room. I told him I had a present for him, reminded him of his lyrics and let him know I found them to be powerful and I wanted to put them to music. He looked at me with big eyes. Then, I handed him the fancy lyric sheet and popped in the CD and we listened to the song together. He smiled a huge smile and said, “It has been great to have you as a teacher, too, Mr. Hodgson.” We did our own special handshake and later, he told the paraprofessional that he now had a “sacred song.”

Yeah.

Here is the song and you can listen to the podcast version, too (complete with my cold/stuffed nose voice):

Life

When I look into the sky
And I see the butterfly
It makes me want to cry
to think it could die

So I strum on my guitar
I know it can get me far
It doesn’t matter who you are
you’re a star

It’s sweet notes make me happy
Forgive me if it sounds sappy

Life can be bad – bad
Life can make you mad – mad
At times, it even makes you sad
But if you look around and focus
You might see the blooming crocus
And then you’ll know to be glad
because life can’t all be bad

Good things come and go
You have to go with the flow
Some thing we just don’t know
take it slow

Enjoy all that life brings
Like the glimmer of strings
So I sit here and play my guitar and I sing

It’s sweet notes make me happy
Forgive me if it sounds sappy

(repeat chorus)

Peace (in connecting through music),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 10

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, we all sat around and wrote. It was another freewriting opportunity for the kids and for me, too. I didn’t give them any directions, really, just space to write. We didn’t share. We didn’t talk. We wrote and then when it was time to leave, we put our notebooks away and that was that. While they were making comics or writing stories or reflecting on their past weekend, I was hit by an urge to write some poetry, and my mind was wandering around the idea of the End of the School Year.

So, these are three of the four poems I wrote during the freewriting times of my four writing classes yesterday. The fourth poem didn’t make the cut, but there still might be some fragments to pull from the fire on some other day. Words are never lost, they just await their time.

Let You Go
(listen to the poem)

I’d count the days
if I had the time
But time is elusive here
as the days slip past.

I am torn
between who you were,
who you are
and who you are becoming,
and wonder where
my place in your story will be
when the years have washed ashore.

You are more than
what my pen can hold
and beyond a form
to take shape on this paper
beneath fingers.

I watch you — I whisper
farewell
and let you go.


Stage Presence
(listen to the poem)

On stage
you were transformed
into something unrecognizable
even to me —
the silent one no longer silent
but with a voice
like a wolf
pouncing on those words
like prey.

I was there, with you, on stage,
in the moment
behind the curtain
I believed you in a way
I (perhaps) had not believed in you before

I wonder where that person lives
in you —
when I call on you,
I am only met with confusion.

Thunderstorm
(listen to the poem)

Another summer awaits you;
your parents are content to let you sit
and simmer in the heat —
and you, thinking your thoughts of no way out;
I know you need structure
an excuse to write,
to learn;
to move among us in the living
from your world behind the mask.

In the days ahead,
I will mail you a book — some pens and paper —
anonymous, as always —
and cross my fingers that it reaches you
in time ….

before the doldrums move you
into the path of the thunderstorms
of summer.

Peace (in the waning days of the school year),

Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge: Chapter 9

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Remember Spy Vs. Spy?

In Mad Magazine, the two nutty spies would try to outdo each other each episode, but you always got the sense they were just two sides of the same character.

This week, I have been thinking of Bella Vs. Bella. As some of my regular readers know, we had to put our old dog, Bella, down at the end of last year. She was my very first dog, and good dog for the most part, and that is her picture that you see as my avatar (in case you ever wondered why I have a dog head for my avatar — plus, my nickname is Dog before ‘Dawg’ was slang). I figured the use of her image would be a nice way for me to remember her.

Bella has been on my brain because we have been dog-sitting a friend’s dog this long Memorial Dat weekend whose name, get ready, is … Bella. And so, I take this Slice to compare and contrast the two Bellas in a fun exercise of reflection and rememberance.

Here is my old Bella:

Bella headshot

Here is the visiting Bella:

As part of Slice of Life, I give you Bella Vs. Bella (the breakdown)

  • Fur Color: Our Bella (white) and Visiting Bella (black, with some white and brown markings)
  • Breed: Our Bella (German Shepard/Husky mix) and Visiting Bella (Bernese Mountain)
  • Size: Our Bella (medium) and Visiting Bella (large and growing)
  • Demeanor: Our Bella (energetic) and Visiting Bella (goofy)
  • Intelligence: Our Bella (extremely smart) and Visiting Bella (kind of dimwitted)
  • Child-friendliness: Our Bella (protective) and Visiting Bella (loving)
  • Guarding the House: Our Bella (always vigilant) and Visiting Bella (a welcome wag for anyone – friend or foe)
  • Other dogs: Our Bella (mortal enemies) and Visiting Bella (potential friend)
  • Cuddle Factor: Our Bella (great) and Visiting Bella (great)

There are no winners in this game, except for us. We loved having the visiting Bella here, although her large size and goofiness put her right in our path wherever we went. We could barely get in the house when we came back home as her big body just filled the doorway.

Peace (in dogs),
Kevin