Slice of Life (Day Five): On the Possibilities of Collaboration

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

One of my hesitations in jumping into Slice of Life is my participation in something known as Networked Narratives, a ‘course’ being run at Kean University by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine (remotely) which has an open online invitational component, which I am part of. So, this Slice of Life sort of converges with Networked Narratives. That’s a good thing.

My good friend, Wendy, from Australia, has been tinkering with the app Acapella as a way to foster more narrative collaborations with the NetNarr folks, mostly those of us out here in the wide open spaces. The students in the actual course seem a bit more restrained and follow the course’s activity guidelines pretty closely. Out here, we just do what we wanna do. We’re not getting graded, of course.

Anyhoo … Wendy and I have been trying to navigate the potential of the Acapella app, which has strange quirks around collaboration yet has some potential that we find intriguing enough to stay with it. We’ve messaging back and forth, working through the kinks and frustrations.

This is one of our impromptu collaborations.

Next up is an invite to a few more friends (Sandy and Terry) and plan out something a little more creative and focused.

Peace (in collaboration),

PS — this is one acapella mix I made myself long ago, when I first tried out the app.

Slice of Life (Day Four): Watching Logan Run

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My youngest son, age 12, wants to see Logan. Ain’t happening. I went with my nearly-17-year-old son last night, and I have to say, finally, there’s a movie out of Comic Book Land that has a rich story and a real heart, overwhelming the magical wonders of watching a character with a superhero power. But man, Logan (rated R, for good reason) is very violent. This is not a kid’s movie. (By the way, one preview piece I read before the movie repeated that phrase three times IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I concur.)

With three boys who love movies and who love comic books, I’ve had to sit through some real awful doozies, in my opinion. The Avengers‘ movies were a mess. Same with Civil War. Iron Man? Didn’t do much for me.  If I never see another Batman or Superman movie again, I’ll be just fine with that. The new Lego Batman Movie? It was OK, but not nearly as inventive as the first Lego Movie. If they never make another Batman VERSUS. Superman movie again, the world will be a better place. Trust me.

Give me Ant Man any day, though. I enjoyed the lightness of that one. I wish Doctor Strange were a bit better, but I liked it. I am a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is my youngest son’s favorite movie of all time.

But so many of these Marvel and DC Comic movies are just so over the top with effects and glitz, with no attention to character and story. You get lost in the haze of fighting. Fighting for the sake of flashy violence. I often walk away from the theater, barely remembering what we watched.

Logan is deeper than most of the superhero movies (including the various XMen movies that disappointed me), as a character grapples with themes of age and family. There is a complex narrative that weaves through this flick, one that resonates most in the quiet moments. But the Wolverine has always been a dangerous character, so danger comes and so, too, does the fighting to survive. And the scenes are graphic, even as the violence and its impact on those who wield it is part of the thread of the story. I suspect some parents might make a counter-argument on the nature of the violence and why it is needed.

So yeah, our youngest son? He can wait a few more years on this one …

Peace (not war),

Slice of Life (Day Three): The New Cold War Kids?

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This is one of those slices that will be sort like a mirror of past year slices done on March 3, but from a slightly different angle.

Yesterday was Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Day, and we love that Mad Hat Cat writer around here in Western Massachusetts (where he was born and raised). I often use the opportunity to talk about Allegory with my sixth graders — connecting story to theme to overarching geopolitical ideas. And I almost always share The Butter Battle Book with them, as I did yesterday.

But where as in recent years I could talk about the Cold War and Arms Proliferation as some distant past — way distant for these 11 year olds but not so much for me — this year, I found myself musing over the recent headlines that link Russia and the United States, and we talked about the term “Cold War” coming back around again (particularly with Trump’s push for increased military and more Nukes).

I still appreciate that The Butter Battle Book ends on the unknown … and we talked about why Seuss left that cliffhanger in there. I also wondered if that stalemate between those crazy butter-toast-heads might not yet be something in the near distant future. Are we on a collision course again? I surely hope not. I’d hate to think of my students as the new Cold War Kids.

Peace (sometimes it rhymes),

Slice of Life (Day Two): Searching for a Singer in the Band

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last night, we auditioned another singer for our rock and roll band. It’s been quite a journey for the past 18 months, after our band dissembled on a night when the singer left and the bass player, whose house we used for practice, said he was calling it quits. In the past six months, we finally added an outstanding new bass player, and have been bringing in singers. Last night’s Voice was about the seventh singer we have tried out.

There has been a wide range of talent. From the young 20-year-old kid who never sang with a band, ever (and that was clear from the first song) to another whose tenor-bass blues voice was interesting but forced us to change the key of every song to another who brought a friend who really wanted to sing, too, (eh, no) to another who just didn’t have the range or endurance (we already have that in a singer – that’s me). The Voice last night had some range and experience, and projected a rocking stage presence (he has played with other bands), and now we need to mull over the intangible: personality mix.

Band, Hanging Out After Practice

We’re going bring him back for another round next week, and try to get a better sense. Putting together a band is tricky. It’s a mix of musical tastes, personalities, musical chops and the strange unknown of working creatively with a bunch of people. In our group, three of us have been making music together for nearly 20 years now.

That reminds me of this satire site I once created:

boy band thimble

We’re hoping to get a singer in place and get gigging again in the next year. We’ll see where we end up from here …

Peace (sounds like),


Slice of Life (Day One): Unexpected Turns in the Story

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

You know that moment when you introduce an entirely new concept to your students, and even as you are watching their eyes take in the new information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they process it all? That was me and that was them, yesterday, as I began a mini-unit around Interactive Fiction (sometimes known as Choose Your Own Ending stories).

We began with a discussion about its basic elements — reader in charge of story, multiple narrative paths, use of second person narrative point of view, story maps, etc.)

Story Branches of Interactive Fiction

And then I read a book out loud called The Green Slime, allowing the entire classroom to act as “reader,” making “choices” along the way about where the story should go. Funny, each of my four classes took four different narrative routes, so each time I read the story, it was different experience for me.

I mapped out the different “branches” of the story as I read, showing them a visual of where we had been, and making note that they would be doing this kind of mapping, too, but from the writing standpoint, with every possible choice for the reader made visible.

Oh, they were pretty excited. Only a few had ever even seen these kinds of books, although some of my gamer’s make quick connections to the ways that video games use the same techniques. In the next days, we will be doing some writing and then some deeper reading and mapping of these books, and then move into a larger project using Google Slides as a launching point for Interactive Fiction, where hyperlinks become the way a reader “jumps” through the decision trees.

Peace (active and interactive),

Slice of Life: Reveling in a Quiet Room

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every year, for past nine years, I have looked at the March Slice of Life Challenge, and thought: I can’t do it. A Slice of Life post — looking at the small moments of the day — every single day? I have other things going on! But then, I seem to mostly do it, right through every day in March. Tomorrow will be the 10th March that I have dipped into Slice of Life with the folks and friends at Two Writing Teachers. It’s a reason to write. It’s a reason to take notice of the small moments of the world. It’s a reason to connect with others (commenting on other blogs is highly encouraged).

So, here I am on, on a regular Tuesday Slice of Life .. getting ready of the first March Slice of Life that starts tomorrow ….

We came back yesterday from Winter Break, and I returned with a cough and cold that lingered and returned from two weeks prior. It made for a long first day back, as you might imagine. I was sucking cough drops and chugging juice, and hoping my voice would hold out. It did, barely.

I also started the new week with an expected IEP meeting right at the start of the day. I had it in my calendar as being later in the day and made plans, and suddenly realizing that either I had it wrong or someone changed the time without me knowing about it had me scrambling like crazy for the substitute teacher, and that panicky sense of the day never left me.

At the end of the day, I just sat there in my chair in an empty room, taking in the quiet. It was one of those days.

Peace (in the room),


Television Review: Abstract (The Art of Design)

I only watched the first episode of this new series on Netflix, called Abstract, which is focused on design across the fields of art. I was curious to see how it might connect to some of the elements we have been talking about in Networked Narratives.

And I was intrigued by the first episode, which is about artist Christoph Niemann, whose name I didn’t recognize but whose art I certainly did, as he often does the covers for New Yorker magazine, and his views of the world — where technology and art intersect with humanity — often catch my eye. And I remembered the cover that is the focus of this documentary, too — the one which began an Augmented Reality cover, in which the viewer is immersed in the artistic New York of Niemann’s imagination.

What’s interesting here is the approach the filmmakers use to showcase Niemann’s fertile artistic mind, bringing us into the cartoony world and using “meta discussions” to show how hard it is to understand what makes an artist tick, and in fact, by trying to show the process, you ruin the artistic inspiration. Time and again, Neimann resists the filmmaker’s urge for “reality” and instead, Niemann calls for more “abstractness” and the collision of these two is often funny, entertaining, insightful.

I was most interested in the moments where Niemann talks about the creative process and his realization that working hard — doodling, sketching, trying new ideas — is the way to pave the way for inspiration to hit, but if you just sit and wait around for the “big idea” you will likely be disappointed.

I am reminded of some of what Howard Rheingold told NetNarr during his “studio visit” about how artists pave the way for possibilities, even if you are not certain yet what those possibilities are. You follow your interests, and make art because you have to make art, not because it is required. Even though Niemann works as a design artist for a living, he still tinkers with the unexpected, such as this interesting Instagram series called Abstract Sundays, where he meshes found objects with drawing and painting … just for the fun of it.

In other words, an artist has to keep working, even when the art is not. You have to have faith in the creative sparks, and Niemann’s keen observations of the world are what fuels his work, but he notes that he has to withdraw from the world in order to create his abstract versions of the world. He also talks about the “editor mind” and the “artist mind” that often comes into conflict with each other as he works independently.

The Abstract documentary is a fascinating look at the mind of an artist, and while we see him talking about and struggling with the design of the Augmented Reality cover of a paper magazine — indeed, he often wonders whether the two ideas will ever be in sync with each other — I wanted to see more of the technical aspects of how they built the cover to actually work for the reader/viewer. There’s less of that, and more of Niemann as artist, with brush and pen. Which is great, too.

I have not yet seen other episodes in the Abstract series, but I aim to.

Peace (make art),

#NetNarr Astronaut: Roaming the Underside of YouTube

from Wired Magazine


When you go to YouTube, you are often pulled into the homepage of videos that others have watched. You’re drawn by the activity of others, because the underlying algorithm suggests that the more eyeballs, the more interesting. Maybe. But what about on the other end of the spectrum? What about the videos that people post which gain no views or only a scattered few? The site Astronaut takes that idea and provides a way in, by showing you the videos with almost no views and with obscure video titles.

This is what it says on the homepage of Astronaut:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

I was drawn to that idea, of being the sole viewer of scattered videos, and such an interesting collection they were, too. Yes, there were puppy videos.

Always puppy videos:

But was also this tender video of a grandmother reading Knuffle Bunny to some faraway grandchild, using video to shorten the distance between family.

There this short shot of a machine, likely in some museum somewhere. The marble is up to something there.

And there was this beautiful musical performance to what seems to be a small audience, but whose audience now includes us:

What you quickly understand is the way that people all over the world, in all sorts of languages and visuals, are documenting their world, even when there is no real audience there for them to see. This is a view into the global humanity that you don’t see anywhere else, and it harkens back to the very first YouTube video of an elephant in a zoo (if I remember correctly).

In fact, this use of video for every documentary is the argument for YouTube as a human experience — it’s not that we expect polished productions or expertly edited videos. We still understand that the raw parts of life might be visible, and connect my life to yours, and our life to ours.

Using Astronaut is like flipping YouTube upside down, and seeing how average people are viewing the world through their lens, often through their mobile phones. Put on your helmet and float in.

Peace (upside down and inside out),


Making, Coding, Writing


Check out this video archive from the National Writing Project that lays out the theoretical and pedagogical connections between the Maker’s Movement, the use of code for understanding and the writing process.

How would we teach reading if our end goal was that people became strong, powerful, authoritative, engaged, participatory writers? If that was our goal, and then we saw reading, actually, the ability to access the knowledge of others as something that you do on the way to what you produce, would we think about both of them differently? And I think there’s probably actually both on the coding and the making side this notion that if your real emphasis is not on the consumption side, but on what somebody will produce themselves or with their peers, we would shift a million things in teaching.” — Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, NWP Executive Director

Peace (in the shift),