Slice of Life: What Happens to the Music

(note: Last year, I took part in the Slice of Life writing challenge with Two Writing Teachers. I won’t be doing this every day, but periodically, I hope to write and podcast about some moments. I encourage you to participate, too. It will push you as a writer and connect you with another network of bloggers. See Two Writing Teachers for more details).

What Happens to the Music
Listen to the podcast

I took the guitar case from behind the couch, clicked it open and stared at the pile of papers on top of and underneath the guitar. It reminded me that I have a lot of songs that have just sat around. Now that my band, The Sofa Kings, is kaput — perhaps temporarily, but more likely, permanently — I have an opportunity to dig up some material that I had shelved, knowing that it might not work for The Sofa Kings. Tuesday night came and went, and I was home instead of at our practice space, and it felt strange not to be up in the attic, playing music. I already miss the other people in the band because they were all friends as much as bandmates. That made calling it quits even harder. But the energy and inspiration had dwindled and we all agreed .. it was time. I’m already making plans with a friend to start doing some recording, and writing new songs, and maybe getting out to some open mic nights around town, so I know music will keep happening. But the end of a band, if it means anything to you, is like the end of a relationship — it leaves you conflicted with both some relief that you are not living in the shadows of better days and excitement that there are new paths to follow into the future.

A Slice of Life: the jet lag blues

(Note: This is part of a regular Slice of Life feature over at Two Writing Teachers)

Jet lag sucks. There’s no other way to say it, other than to use some profanities that I prefer to keep off this site. We arrived home from Japan on Saturday night — in a strange twist of time zones that allowed us to arrive in the US earlier than we left Tokyo — and Sunday seemed fine, even though our bodies were 14 hours behind the time on the clock.

Sunday night … not so good. I slept for about two hours, exhausted, and then … boom … my mind was on full alert and I had to get up. I tried to get back to sleep a few times, to no avail. Then the kids started getting up, too, and the house normally quiet at 2 a.m. was suddenly fully awake. We got the kids back to bed but not me, as my mind continued to dance the cha-cha-cha. Around 5 a.m.  or so, I finally drifted off for about an hour or so, and then up and at ’em again, to get ready for school.

It was a long day in the classroom, although the kids were wonderful and curious about my trip, and we got ourselves back into our unit on Parts of Speech — not exactly the most exciting element of my writing curriculum. I stifled yawns as best as I could and kept my head in the game. Then, after school, I had to drive to a meeting of my WMWP Tech Team, which lasted for about two hours. I didn’t feel too tired, probably because we have so many exciting things going on.

I got home, ate some dinner, and then conked out for the night. I was worried that the jet lag would keep me up again, but that didn’t happen. I slept a good deep sleep, and feel pretty good this morning. Yeah. That darn ol’ jet lag better keep away from me!

Peace (in days),
Kevin

Slice of Life on Ice

Slice of Life Story Challenge
(Note: it has been a long time since I have done a Slice of Life, which is a wonderful writing activity sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. But I felt the end of the year deserved a story of some sort, just to remind myself of the connection with that wonderful community of bloggers and writers. — Kevin)

Earlier this year, during the 24 Hour Comic event, I created a graphic novel about falling into an icy river and being saved by my brother (which I also wrote about for Memoir Mondays at one time). This week, as temperatures rose a bit, my sons and I have been taking a visiting dog (Bella, whose name was also that of our old dog) down to the river. There, I have watched as the older ones have discovered icebergs in the shallow parts of the water and it was as if I were seeing myself as a kid (without the near-death experience).

They kicked, prodded, threw rocks, used sticks as wedges — anything to break the ice free. They imagined they could board the ice and float down the river. One mentioned the waterfall downstream.  The sound was roaring off in the distance. “We’ll jump off the icebergs before we get to the waterfall,” the older one said, and that was that. No thoughts about the freezing temperatures of the water or the difficulty of swimming with winter clothes on. I could tell that they knew that these bits of ice would never hold their weight to begin with anyway. It was all about the imagination.

One the other side of the river, away from the ice, my youngest son and I stood, watching.

“When I get older, can I make icebergs?” he asked, as his brothers slipped around. I nodded my head “yes” and together, we both tossed large stones in the water, aiming to break up the ice chunks that had been set free by the older brothers.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

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