I share this family tradition out each holiday season. I hope you are connecting with family and friends.
Peace (for all of us, everywhere),
I had the strange experience recently of deeply misunderstanding a situation because the interaction was online, where I misread nuances of words, and was not face-to-face, where I would have been more in tune with things. I don’t want to get into the situation itself, since it has passed and I am fine with it. In the end, I am glad that I was misunderstanding the whole thing, though.
But in my misunderstanding, I started to wonder about the act of remembering in the digital age, and how often, our worlds and daily writing become so ephemeral. Words here. Images there. Videos here. Sounds there. I’ve written along these strands before, I think, but I keep circling back around on it.
It must be important.
How do we remember where we were (and how do our loved ones find us) when what we write and share are scattered in so many online places? Maybe this is why so many people like Facebook — it’s the one-stop social space where. We trade privacy and information ownership for the known anchor point of social media.
I guess I must have been sort of on a morbid path the other day, but I realized: my wife would not likely be able to find much of what I am writing and sharing, if I were suddenly gone. Do I make a list of sites and passwords for her? Honey, here is where all of my songs are … here are my poems … these are my games …. here are my book reviews …. my videos are here and here and here …
Or my sons. They know only a bit of what I do when I am pounding away on the keyboards here. My world as teacher and artists and writer in this space intersects with my world as father at home, of course, but only at times.
Sometimes, I have this vision of my sons, years from now, deep into the future, uncovering the things I have made and created over the years, and realizing: that’s what he was doing: writing songs, writing poems, writing posts, making connections. I remember once finding a vinyl record that my father (a drummer) cut with a band, and it was a sort of powerful magic of listening to him as a musician.
What if that never happens to me and my sons? What if they never find it? What if what we create, just disappears?
We are scattered, and in danger of being lost, forever.
I don’t curate myself nearly enough. Do you?
This thinking, sparked by the misunderstanding, led me to this melody that I found myself writing when thinking of this act of “remembering” the past week. I am not much of a guitar player, as a solo guitarist, and this is where my muse took me. The haiku is part of a daily poetry that I am doing on Twitter.
Will I ever find this poem and this song again? I need to remember …
In a recent discussion before the launch of Digital Writing Month, the idea of writing comments in the margins of collaborative documents as an act of shared composition became a topic of conversation for an edition of HybridPod. We were talking Google Docs, in particular, and it occurred to us (Chris Friend, Maha Bali, Sarah Honeychurch and me) that students probably need some explicit teaching of how to write in the margins of documents, particularly shared writing pieces.
This is fairly new to the teaching of writing, right? How many of us design a lesson around writing in the margins of books or stories and what that means to write? Mostly, this is because we traditionally all had only one story or one book or one text, and it was ours to write upon, highlight in pretty colors, mark up with Sharpies or crayons or whatever. It’s readability was only dependent on whether the writer could read it and make sense of it.
One text. One writer. One reader.
Collaborative writing in a digital space turns that on its head a bit. Now, it might be one text, but it might be multiple writers crowding into the margins, and it might be multiple layers of readers — the ones doing the writing, together, and maybe even an outside audience of readers.
One text. Many writers. Multiple readers.
Interestingly, I noticed this idea of “conversations about the writing” unfolding in my own classroom after a lesson on using Google Docs for peer review for short stories. My lesson had each student connecting digitally with another student, but once they knew how to share and get comments, they were sharing and asking for feedback from all sorts of friends … even students who were in our school district but not in our school.
I had to quickly give an impromptu lesson about the role of commenting, and the word “resolve” in Google Docs. Actually, that word become an anchor point in the discussion that Chris, Sarah, Maha and I had: what does it mean to “resolve” a comment? And who makes that decision? How do we un-resolve a comment? Does “resolve” mean I agree with you or does it mean I don’t want to see your comment anymore?
In a recent professional development workshop with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I had a group of teachers annotating an article together by Victoria Alessi, to show the power of collaborative writing in a “close reading” activity. I actively encouraged “conversations in the margins” about the text, and told them that I would be sharing the annotated document back to the writer, who is part of the Long Island Writing Project.
The results were interesting and fascinating, as this room of educators, who did not really know each other, began to unfold a conversation about teaching writing. In the margins, sharing and understanding were taking place in a room of clicking keys, which then led to a wonderful conversation about teaching and writing and teaching writing.
Peace (off the sides and everywhere possible),
We huddled our kids outside last night, just after 9 p.m. It was clear skies, beautiful clarity, here in New England, and the Super Blood Moon Eclipse was underway.
I don’t know what my kids were expecting, but the slow-mo effect — which my wife and I found fascinating — was a bit too slo in the mo for them, particularly the youngest child.
“This is so boring!” he moaned, from his spot on the pavement, sitting there in his pajamas. Another of our boys was running up and down the street with our dog, teasing the creature with a banana peel. “Why are we out here?”
He knew why, because not only had I explained an eclipse (“Imagine you are the moon, and I am Earth, and that light is the sun …”) but I had also mentioned he would be in his 30s when this kind of natural event would occur again. However, unlike the apps and games he likes to play, this event unfolded slowly, and required patience.
A little quiet would have helped, too.
“Why are we out here?” he asked again, but I did notice he kept his eyes up on the moon, which by now was being taken over by the expanding black sliver to its left, a section disappearing even as we were talking. Ten minutes later or so, the partial eclipse was clearly underway.
I mentioned the need to read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which led to a discussion about Mark Twain, and scientific knowledge. The moon and the Earth and the sun kept working. More of the moon was now in shadow.
Finally, after hearing more than our share of groaning about the pace of the event, we sent the kids inside. They had seen enough. They had experienced the eclipse, at least. And we had heard enough. In the house, they went, leaving the movie to unspool by itself.
Upstairs, getting ready for bed, my wife and I raised the curtains on our window, and gazed up at the sky. The window framed the moon, perfectly. The eclipse continued.
“Why did we even go outside with the kids?” my wife joked, as we watched the magic of the skies in the peaceful, warm house. She started to hum “If Moon Were Cookie” from days of listening to Sesame Street songs on the van.
“We could just show them the time-lapse video in the morning,” I joked back. We both know that being “in the moment” of the natural beauty of the world is what was important and that even with the complaints, it was worth it.
Interestingly, the theme of our church service that morning was all about connecting and reconnecting back to the Earth and the environment. The guest speaker talked about the firebrand preacher, Jonathan Edwards (whose home church was our very own church), and his writing about seeing wonder in the world around him. The guest speaker connected Edwards’ writing to the Pope’s visit and the recent papal environmental report on Climate Change.
Earth, and its future, was on our minds for much of the day. The skies, too.
In the middle of the night, I woke up, thinking someone was turning on the lights in the house. But it was just the moon, coming back from darkness, filling the skies with a brilliant glow, as if announcing, Here I am.
There it was. Welcome back, moon.
Peace (on moonbeams),
I’m going to skirt around the specifics of an issue here because, to be honest, I don’t want to get my bosses mad at me for writing publicly about an issue even as they continue to work behind the scenes to revise and update what I am referring to here. I also remain hopeful that this issue that has been bothering me the last few days will be resolved in a thoughtful way.
It has to do with the idea of form and function.
I know there is plenty of design theory out there around the ways in which the format of a thing shapes the content of the thing, or how the medium is the message and all that. I see it and I understand it, and I even often work as a writer in those very confines, even as I seek to push at the edges of the possible within forms.
But there are times when, well, the function has to influence the form of the thing. That is, if the structure of the container takes so much away from the content and message of what goes into the container, then you probably need a new container, not a new bag o’ content. Not if the content is important enough, anyway, or not if you are so passionate about what is being said that you can’t fit that fish in that fishbowl, you know what I mean?
Get a new fishbowl.
In this particular case, I have made some suggestions about some content being proposed in a sort of new container but I haven’t been able to articulate this perception (and I am not alone in this) that the design goal of the container itself is greatly impacting the content that will go into the container.
We seem to be wrestling cats into a box, and the cats refuse to fit. You don’t cut the tails off the cats to make them fit in the box. You get a bigger box. Or something other than the box you had in mind. Maybe a mobile home or something.
I haven’t entered this particular design fray discussion because it has taken me a few days to mull over what has been bugging me about it so much, and I realize, we were never really asked for input over design. The shape of the container seemed to have been decided already, in advance. So, we might have tail-less cats and dead goldfish on our hands (if you take my comedic, metaphorical thinking to a tragic conclusion here).
I realize, as you read this, you may be scratching your head as I dance around the specifics here on the page, wondering what the hell I am talking about. Fish? Cats? No. Neither. Sorry. Again, I am hopeful this issue all gets resolved through a process now underway, but I found I needed to get down on the page some of my thinking about form and function, and which trumps the other, and when.
Thank you for the reader therapy session … I’ll pay my fee on the way out the door. If I can fit through the door. Maybe you need a new door. It seems a bit too small ….
Peace (that fits in all boxes of all sizes everywhere),
I remember the first book I encountered about a writer writing about writing. It was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and then I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which led me to Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard, and then onward into the world of authors unveiling the art of writing. (Stephen King’s On Writing is a more recent one in the mix.) It was a magical experience for me to find those kinds of books as a young writer, and I continue to devour these “let’s pull back the covers and show the inside” stories even today.
I am most intrigued about the relationship between writer and reader, and the narrative gaps between them. And I am conscious of this, as best as I can, when I am using technology and digital media to create a piece of writing. The role of the reader, I think, is changing, becoming more assertive, more part of the “story of the story.” Mulling over how an image replaces text, or how a video disrupts the narrative flow, or the well-place/misplaced hyperlink, or the use of an audio to add a layer of sound … these are all part of our emerging world of writers in the digital spaces, right?
The question of how far does the writer go and how much space does the reader need/want is one of those running rails that always seems to hover over my keyboard when I am trying to create something that I hope will find an audience. When I am working on short-form writing, in particular, I am keenly aware of the reader and work to find a balance between the gaps. Of course, there is a lot of unknowns in the writer’s perceptions, too.
This week, I came across an insightful piece about writing in The New Yorker by writer John McPhee, who shares stories about his life as a staff writer and teacher of non-fiction writing but he also helpfully narrows his piece to the art of “omission.” What to leave out. The dictate of the Green # (see article for reference). Not just for publishing reasons (we need more space so get cutting) but also, for the sake of the reader engagement and involvement. Parse your story down and let the reader build it up.
McPhee cites Hemingway, of course, and others, and he says that consideration of the reader does a writer well.
“The creative writer leaves white space between chapters and segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Let judgment be in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author.” (John McPhee, New Yorker, Sept. 14, 2015)
Taking his advice, then, I bid you leave.
Peace (_______in the gap________),
I’m trying out the idea of writing posts over at Medium, a publishing site that I have been following and reading for some time now, but never took the plunge into posting to beyond a comment here and there. For now, I am revamping some of the material that I have posted here, at my blog, for over there, at Medium.
Medium is an interesting site, as it is trying to find some ground between long-form journalism and small form writing. It seems a bit as if other journalist groups are linking into Medium to publish/republish content. There are a lot of technology-related pieces (and too many tales of the “start up” culture for my tastes, as it feels as if companies are using their Medium stories of being a start up to get publicity to get funding … is that too cynical of me? It may be that I don’t quite know Medium’s audience)
Still, some of the education pieces that I have read have been pretty insightful and intriguing, and my reading of those pieces gave me the courage to wonder if I might add my voice to the site, too. Why not, right? Writing and posting to Medium is certainly easy enough with the publishing tool they provide.
I’m in …. how about you?
Peace (in the new),
August had me stepping away from blogging for a stretch, but not from writing. The last weeks of summer vacation, I had been trying to write a bunch of short-form fiction pieces on Twitter. This is what I was up to:
Peace (in the write),
In just a few hours, I will get to meet and hang out with my new crop of sixth graders for the school year. I’m excited about that, and nervous about the first day. Even though I have a plan in place for beginning our community-building, and even though I have been doing this for a few years now, I still get nervous.
But I slept mostly OK. So, there’s that.
I spent part of the weekend working on student learning and professional practice goals for the year, but those are still “under development” for now. We have some class schedule changes this year, so the timing of the day is a bit disjointed than in the past; and I have some students with specific needs that I need to be cognizant of on a regular basis, and we have a new lunch count system; and add to all that, I have reading assessments already hanging over my head; and ….
Still, this is where we start … at the beginning.
As we begin this new school year, I wanted to share out my latest post over at Middleweb, in which I write back to a former student, as writer to writer more than teacher to student. (I write a monthly column there called Working Draft.)
Peace (today and everyday),