A #Western106 Song: Heading Out West

ImheadingoutWest

With all the inquiry of the symbolic meaning of “The West” in our #Western106 open course, I started to wonder if I could write a song that might capture the essence of moving West. I struggled with the writing of a song, though. I am no Western singer, so I began to rethink the narrative. Maybe the narrator is giving up on the East and heading West, and maybe the time period is rather elusive. It could be set today, or yesterday, or years ago.

The phrase “Everything is West of Here” began to settle into my mind, and as I heard the drum track — the loping, clip-clopping rhythm — I found the heart of the song, particularly when the chorus of “I’m moving out West, into the break of day” arrived on my paper in my handwritten scrabble (I guess I wrote it, right?) A variation is “I’m heading out West” in the second verse.

Moving Out West

So, this song is about leaving a life behind and moving West to start anew, with all the struggles and hardship both the leaving and renewal will bring. And hope, too. There’s hope on that pony as our rider head up over the mountains.

This is one of the slowest songs I have written. My bandmates often chide me for bringing in songs that I write that fall under the 3 minute mark. “Give it another chorus” or “Where’s the break” or “Write another verse” — this is what they tell me. I don’t often listen to them (they know this). I’m from the Elvis Costello School of Songwriting: Say it under three minutes, or risk boredom or repetition. But I kept myself patient here, letting the horse amble its way forward towards the last verse in this one.

I recorded the song first a scratch demo on the day I wrote it, but it sounded awful. (I’m no singer, so that doesn’t help). I then found time to use Soundtrap (my fav recording platform right now) to re-record, adding the drums, and then using some synth sounds to capture the twangy guitar chords and the slide-guitar-ish lead. I was trying to use some of the tropes of Western songs to give mine the same feel, even if it isn’t really a Western song.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Slow Crawl of Light

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. The aim is to capture the small moments of life. You write, too.)


flickr photo shared by dianecordell under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

A bunch of us teachers wandered down the hallway. After a long Monday of teaching (on the heels of a disappointing loss by the New England Patriots that seemed to cast a solemn glow on all of the classes), and then an even longer afternoon of a staff meeting, our working day was nearing an end. Many of us were checking our phones for messages from home or maybe glancing at a cat video to transition away from work.

We stepped out through the door towards the parking lot of our school and paused. All of us. Just stopped. Phones were put away, or at least, feigned towards pockets. The sun was shining, although the soft wind still had a winter bite to it. Faces turned upward.

“Last staff meeting, it was dark when we came out,” someone observed. “The days are definitely getting longer.”

We all just stood there, a small group in silence, nodding.

“I guess Spring will be coming,” another added, and we all gave quiet thanks that the storm that walloped the East Coast not far south of us had deemed us an area not worth visiting. None of us wanted to acknowledge that it is still only January, and New England weather has a way of making its presence known right through April some years.

“I guess so,” I said, and smiled, and then we all wandered off to our cars, making our individual ways back home after a short communal gathering in observation of the changing nature of Nature.

Peace (in the moment),
Kevin

Twenty+ Comics In: Checking In On The Internet Kid

InternetKid1

I’m past 20 now. Twenty-odd daily comics for The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid, an idea that was sparked by my participation in the open Western106 story adventure. I thought I would take a breather here to reflect on how it’s going for me, the writer (I make an appearance now and then in the comic, usually for criticism for not writing better comics or not paying attention to equity issues. Guilty as charged!).

Well, breather, plus today’s comic:

InternetKid12

So far, so good with my idea of a daily comic, although I have very little idea if anyone is reading them. A few comments and reactions trickle in now and then. I’m still more focused on the question for myself: Am I having fun making the comics? I am and so, I keep on going forward. In fact, I have at least another 15 comics in the bank, set to go forth, including one story arc that will invite readers to play a game. I also have an ending comic, for when I get there.

The way I have been writing them is in bursts. In fact, the first weekend when I had the idea for the Internet Kid, I had a deluge of comic making. I cranked out about 15 of them in a three-day weekend, just keeping up with the ideas. I won’t claim that every comic every day is great, but I hope they add a little entertainment chuckle value for folks now and then.

InternetKid8

What I am really trying to with The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid is to combine some of the elements of the Western genre (the cowboy, the horse, the villain) with some insights into the modern culture of technology. It’s trickier than it seems to pull that off in an entertaining way. I am often trying to make fun at the stereotypes of gender, making the so-called villain — Anarchist Annie — an interesting character, or so I hope. Her goal is to poke holes in the bias of our world. Sometimes, she blows things up to make her point crystal clear.

Attacking Annie ... Dumb move

In fact, a few of the storylines and comics are pulled directly from my reading of Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, a slow-read in the Digital Writing Month community. If you have read that book (and you should), and if you read The Internet Kid (which, of course, I hope you do), you will start to see some parallels of ideas around technology and learning and young people’s interactions in the Digital Age that surfaced there in that study of participatory culture by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd, and then got woven here into this comic.

The app I used to make comics — Comics Head — has limits, particularly to expressions of characters (although an upgrade this weekend with a ton of new art seems to open the door for adding more elements .. still checking that out). But I do appreciate the flexibility of the Comics Head app for what I am doing as a comic strip writer. (And I have not yet used the Audio element on The Internet Kid … which allows you to layer in audio tracks on top of the comic .. on my list)

I am purposefully posting the comics in different places — on Twitter with the #western106 hashtag, in Flickr in an album, and on a Tumblr site that I set up just for the comics (it turns out Tumblr is a perfect space for daily comics). Sometimes, I share on Google Plus. I also have the feed of the Tumblr site spilling into the DS106 course. I wonder if anyone else other than me uses an RSS Reader to peruse the posts going there and make comments?

Can I just give a shout-out to my favorite character in my comic?

The Horse with No Name just cracks me up. I hadn’t even thought of a horse until I had the Kid in mind, and then .. of course he needed a horse. The Kid is a cowboy. But not just any horse. The Horse with No Name (cue: America song) has his own personality.

He refuses to let The Kid ride him and the Horse even negotiates an agreement with the Kid on this matter (The Kid agrees but worries what other cowboys will think of him). Yet, the Horse with No Name remains a funny and insightful sidekick to The Kid.

I think, as the writer, I am the Horse with No Name more than I am The Internet Kid. (Maybe I have some Anarchist Annie in me, too.) This particular comic of the animals having a farmyard chat about The Kid, in particular, still makes me giggle. I love how the Horse has the tablet and the image of The Kid on it. Look at The Kid’s posture and expression. Priceless. We know who is really in charge of their partnership.

InternetKid13

Peace (more comics to come),
Kevin

Book Review: Book (My Autobiography)

You know those moments when serendipity hits?

I had one of those moments yesterday, as I brought my son to the library and stumbled, just as I was thinking of creative non-fiction that would make sense in my classroom, on Book: My Autobiography by John Agard (illustrations by Neil Packer). There the book was, just sitting on a bookcase, with the word “Book” facing me. I picked it up and was immediately lost in the story. Took it home. Kept on reading. Kept on thinking.

Book tells the story of the book, in a very creative narrative style, bringing us Book as the narrator of the book through the ages. It begins with:

My name is BOOK and I’ll tell you the story of my life.”

And from there, it moves briskly through ancient times of writing across cultures, through the refinement of paper, to moveable type to the Age of eBooks. The voice is poetic, and funny, with enough research behind the story of Book to provide multiple in-roads for discussions about various cultural advancements (Egypt, China, India, Sumar, etc.). The text is also complimented with rich illustrations and a handful of poems about reading and writing and books as physical objective manifested with imagination.

Book is my kind of book.

As I was reading, I was remembering an old unit I used to do around the printing press and newspapers (it was a Student Teacher project). I had this activity where students created their own moveable press device for printing text. And as I read further, I could see timeline constructions, argumentative writing, and mapping activities and more as I read this story. Mapping the changes of how we write and how we read … that’s a perfect text for the kinds of discussions we have in our classroom on a regular basis, to be honest.

As it happens, this year’s class parents are asking about how they can give a “gift” to our grade from fundraising money they have, and they wondered if a book set might be possible … so I see this as one possibility. (Cost might be prohibitive, though, as it is only in hardcover right now).

It also has been reminding of me this cute video from a few years ago (which is a version of the picture book). The video is a trailer for It’s a Book by Lane Smith:

Peace (in the love of books),
Kevin

A Story West of Here: The Elk of the Stars

The Elk of the Stars

I’ve been thinking of Tall Tales with the #Western106 open course, and have even pitched the idea to everyone to collaboratively write and record a Tall Tale radio program. We’ll see how that goes. (Hey, of course YOU are invited, too. Invent a persona. Add to the script. Venture out West with us. It is loosely labeled Smoke Signals.)

I went into Storybird, a picture book story-making site with an interesting art/writing twist, thinking I was going to start writing an original Tall Tale. Instead, I came away with this story that is definitely not a Tall Tale. I went with the Muse. This one is informed by my reading, listening and watching of Western narratives — of the incursion of White Settlers on traditional American Indian lands, and the great and devastating Changes that would happen. That did happen. That are still happening.

What came out was this story entitled  The Elk of the Stars.

I suspect my story has stereotypes and pillars of the Western genre, but I hope it comes across as a heartfelt ode to remembering the power of Stories to heal and to help the Earth. I know Stories are not enough. But they are something.

Storybird is a site that allows you to write stories, by using professional illustrators’ work. It’s an interesting process because you call up art based on keywords or artists, and then build a story around the images you have available (not the other way around … traditionally, you would write a story and then make images to go with the narrative). So, I took time to absorb the artwork before beginning the story after searching “West” as my keyword. I like how it came out, so much so that I paid a few bucks to get a download of the picture book to save (and share).

I later moved the PDF over to a Flipbook creator for better sharing but you really have to use full-screen mode to get the flavor. Or you can read it over at Storybird.

Peace (in this tale),
Kevin

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Old School)

(Note: I wrote this review a few months ago and then it sat in my draft bin, so some of the time references are past now.)

I’m not sure how Jeff Kinney taps into the experience of my kids, but every Wimpy Kid book seems to have done it. With his latest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School, Kinney touches on a push to pull back on technology in our lives in order to reconnect with family and community (which Greg Hefley, our protagonist, has qualms about, in a funny way) and a school trip to a week-long outdoor camp adventure (with very funny results and a new connect with dad).

So, we just had a discussion about lessening our technology in our home AND my youngest son — still a fan of Wimpy Kid books and Jeff Kinney — just came back from a week-long school trip … to an outdoor camp adventure facility.

Weird, right?

Listen, Kinney’s writing is fun and engaging, but won’t be pushing any deep literature thinking. However, his use of visuals to help tell the story continue to be a mentor text on how simple illustrations can impact a story. You want to know who is carrying around Kinney’s books in my classrooms? Mostly the boys. Mostly the boys who don’t like to read. They sit and read quietly with Kinney’s books, though. (Some girls, too. But mostly, the boys.)

So, yes, it would be nice to see them choosing deeper stories with larger themes. But to see them reading? That’s a deep “thank you” to Jeff Kinney. One step at a time. My job is to keep moving them forward from that book to this book to that book to this book. And if we can laugh along the way, I’m all for that.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

The Wide Open Aural Landscapes of Chris Whitley


flickr photo shared by WilliamMarlow under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Here, in the #Western106 open course, we are tackling into the idea of the Western narrative and genre. I am an East Coaster, so as the saying goes in the hashtag, Everything is West of Here. But I have traveled a little bit in my life, and been in some areas on the other side of the Mississippi, and I have been stunned by the majestic beauty of the Western areas of my country.

I was mulling about these memories the other day as we were working on a Daily Create related to remixing the words to Home on the Range. I was also thinking of the references that some participants have made to Country Music as touchstones of the West. For me, though, the Country reference just doesn’t work. I am drawn to Nashville more than Montana when I think of Country music. Nashville and Country feel South, not West.

When I think of Western music, all I can hear is Chris Whitley in my head, and the way his steel guitar, falsetto voice, stories, and production created an aural landscape of open skies and landscapes when he came bursting into the music scene in the 1980s, and how for me, his music became the West when I listened to it.

Listen to Big Sky Country and pay attention to the space in the song, the way Whitley is purposely leaving aural gaps for us as listeners. It’s guitar as mood and setting. You can see forever in those spaces. We’re taking in a view of the modern West with the music in our ears.

Chris Whitley died young, of lung cancer. He went West of somewhere, and still is there.

Also looking west for aural inspiration was U2, with their Joshua Tree album. As Wikipedia (so it must be true ) notes:

“Throughout the sessions, U2 sought a “cinematic” quality for the record, one that would evoke a sense of location, in particular, the open spaces of America. They represented this in the sleeve photography depicting them in American desert landscapes.”

I happened to be listening to Joshua Tree (one of the earlier titles of the album was Desert Songs) the other day in my car, not long after revisiting Chris Whitley in my headphones, and again, I could hear the wide open spaces in the production.

The East coast is crowded; the West is wide open. Music has a chance to bring us there.

Peace (in the sounds),

Kevin

 

A Cup of Coffee, with Connections and Conversations

On Blab with Maha, Sarah, Maha

Yesterday morning, I had the good fortune to hang with out with friends from Egypt and Scotland. At 6 a.m. my time —  but later in the day for them, of course — Maha B., Sarah H., Maha A. and I held a discussion on Blab (a new platform to me but reminds me a bit of The Brady Bunch opening sequence .. it’s still in Beta, and there were some minor technical difficulties) about Digital Writing Month reflections. Maha B. and Sarah are presenting to a TESOL conference soon, and they hope to use parts of the video chat in their presentation. The video eventually will be live on Youtube, I believe.

For me, the conversation brought home yet again the concepts of connections. Yes, we were reflecting on the experiences of facilitating Digital Writing Month back in November and yes, it was recorded for a presentation to other educators, but here I was, at the break of day, chatting it up with some friends from other parts of the world on issues important to me, and all from the dining room table as my kids were getting up and getting ready for school.

Pretty amazing — this small world.

I am fortunate to have connected friends like these three, and many others, and I am fortunate to be living in a time when connections can be made and nurtured and extended time and time again. Now, how to help my students see those kinds of connections and extend their own views of the world ….

Peace (in the shift),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Trilogy Comes to an End

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing adventure hosted by Two Writing Teachers.)

Scenes from Movie jan2016

This past weekend, my son finished filming the third of a trilogy of home movies that began about four years ago. I have been on board as videographer and advisor, but the script was written by him (with help of friends now and then) and the acting direction is mostly his, and all I can say is: I am proud of him for making three movies but also glad to be done with the third movie, too.

He’s eleven.

He is now working on the editing in iMovie. I’ll give him some technical advice, but mostly, I let him do it. I want him to have as much ownership as possible.

My only parting advice to him as we finished three hours of shooting video for a movie that will be under 10 minutes long — next time, go for comedy and leave the action/adventure genre behind. (It felt as if each movie’s story was the same story, told over and over. Or maybe that was me.)

Peace (in film),
Kevin