Passing the Song Along (A little Dylan in the Day)

Dylan Words

A few weeks ago, my friend Laura put out a call for a project that she was doing that would feature the Bob Dylan song The Times Are a-Changing. When I first taught myself guitar, that was one of the songs I wanted to learn, and did. Laura was hoping to build a musical quilt of songs and voices and words, as part of a public performance.

I grabbed my guitar, re-learned the song a bit, and then choose the verse that I think has the most resonance for the times that we are in right now – the one where Dylan calls out politicians and writers to embrace change for a better world and be ready to defend the choices you make in the moments before you. I recorded the verse and sent it forth to Laura, to use as she saw fit.

A few weeks later, Laura shared out a video of the live performance of her Affirmation Quilt. As I watched and listened via YouTube, I was pleased to hear her cello layered in on top of my guitar and voice. She is a talented musician, and I was honored to hear her strings on top of my ragged singing voice. It was wonderful, particularly as she wove the music in with spoken words contributors by others, and other music pieces, too. She also performed the song, live. That was the quilt affect she was going after.

But this story doesn’t stop there.

Ron, another musician friend from another part of the world, watched Laura’s video, too, and he asked if she could share it on Soundcloud. He wanted a copy of the song. I figured he was up to something, and of course, he was. Ron, a talented keyboardist, took the duet of Laura and I, and made it into a trio (or more) by adding keyboards and other elements in Garageband, and then shared it back out again.

If you’re counting, that would be Song Iteration Three: me, then me and Laura, then me and Laura and Ron. (Well, Four, if you count Dylan, and you probably should.)

None of us (including Dylan, as far as I know) have ever met in person to jam. We only know each other through our networks, coming together for a shared purpose with shared interests. When collaboration comes together like that, it’s magical and powerful.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Ron.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Spill Zone

It’s a strange world that Scott Westerfeld and illustrator Alex Puvilland have envisioned in Spill Zone. Something tragic has happened. Something so immense and unfathomable that whole cities are evacuated and left to ruin. But what exactly happened? If Westerfeld knows, he’s not telling. Not yet anyway.

The graphic novel, Spill Zone, is a fascinating entry into the world gone awry, as our teen heroine, Addison, seeks to make enough money to survive, and to protect her younger sister, who was caught in the midst of the catastrophic meltdown or explosion or whatever it was when it happened and now, she is strangely silent. Her doll, though, is even stranger, communicating to the sister in some form of mind-melding that hints at something larger unfolding.

The doll needs to recharge so periodically in the spill zone. When Addison goes back to the devastated city on her motorcycle, where she takes photographs of the strange new world to sell, the doll comes for a ride, too. The doll is an indication of something really strange happening.

The story here revolves around a business offer that Addison can’t refuse, although she should refuse it. The work brings her deeper into the city than she would normally allow herself to go — right into the heart of the very hospital where her parents were working when the catastrophe hit, and died (as far as we know) — and then, even weirder things happen as Addison makes her escape.

Spill Zone is the first book in a series (which I think played out as a comic, too) and my middle school son and I were both hooked. But, a word of caution: this is aimed more for high school readers and older, due to some language and content.

Peace (strange, indeed),
Kevin

Inventing a Mirrored Self in a Mirrored World

Pensato WebHome

As Networked Narratives hits the last lap this week (it has been an interesting exploration of digital narratives, with a graduate class at Kean University and a bunch of folks, like me, out here in the open), I want to reflect on a project that took hold in the last weeks of NetNarr.

Specifically, the invention of an alternative, or mirrored, Self in the NetNarr world called Arganee. When I say “World,” I want to be clear that we never did enter or create a real fictional world – like video games do, for example — but one of creative imagination, through an online portal into Arganee. (Essentially, a blog site with hidden doors and strange text features). We imagined it a world.

Our task was to create an alternative personality for the Arganee World, and after some thought, I created a character called Pensato Scherzando. Both words in the name are musical terms, which come together to create a definition of “imaginary music created, playfully.” Or something like that. Music. Play. Imagination.

We created a “home” in the Arganee World site, and created a Twitter account for our characters, and our health and growth was tracked based on interactions with others and how much writing and media making we ended up doing. I also created an alternative home elsewhere, as a collection point for media files.

Prompts encouraged collaboration (although I never really found a place to collaborate) and connection, and the overall theme of Civic Imagination and Social Activism (through World Building) emerged in the final days.

I found it intriguing to invent a persona out of the blue, and although I had some ideas for her, the voice of my Pensato emerged rather on its own.

Pensato became a collector of sounds, a remixer, whose Sound Collector Array is pointed to the Universe, seeking music and messages from somewhere “out there” in hopes of some larger understanding of the world(s). I tried to infuse her speech with metaphysical tics, always urging her readers to “listen” to the Universe.

Pensato is a collector, a poet, an interactor, an actor on the virtual stage, an optimist with hope that there are ways to mend the fabric of the world(s), if only we pause and listen and help each other.

I went about creating audio files from the Universe that Pensato could share out (I don’t know if anyone was really listening, though).

My aim was to find ways to create music and mystery, never quite giving away what Pensato was hearing. I wish I had had some master plan that would have ended in some symphonic conclusion but alas, I was winging it.

Her voice was my voice, but not yet my voice. She became herself, or at least some projection of what I hope we could all become if we just took the time to pay attention to each other. Listening requires attention.

We don’t listen nearly enough. Pensato did, or does. For a final assignment, she wrote me a letter. You can read it, too.

Peace (the Universe beckons),
Kevin

PS – Special thanks to professors Mia Zamora and Alan Levine for inviting us to join the graduate students on this adventure.

Exploring with Parents, Kids and Coding

Family Coding Night

I helped facilitate a Family Coding Night event at my school last night, and we had about 25 kids and parents attend the event, which is part of our push to get more families involved in schools, to introduce the possibilities of programming, and to show off the new laptop computers that our community recently purchased for our school.

Family Coding Night

It was a great event, with kids and parents working together on some of the Code Puzzle challenges. My math colleague came along, too, because he wants to design a Week of Code for our sixth graders in June, and is seeking some resources and support.

As I both helped and eavesdropped around the room, I could hear all sorts of problem-solving and congratulations going on between moms/dads and children. We had kids as young as kindergartener and as old as middle schoolers in the room.

Code.Org, which sponsors the Hour of Code, has a lot of information about Family Code Nights, if you are interested.

Peace (coded for collaboration),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: On the Baseball Field

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

It’s youth baseball season again, and although only one of my three boys is playing ball, one is better than none (one of the three is at college and the other now is on the high school track team).

Duke and I enjoy sitting, watching, cheering.

Duke at field

Peace (around the bases),
Kevin

 

The Dilemma of Digital Texts: Who Owns What’s on the Web?


Close Open flickr photo by Kaarina Dillabough shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

An interesting, and quite challenging, discussion unfolded on Twitter this past weekend that centered on the concepts of crowd annotation tools and content that can found on the open web. Tools like Hypothesis (which I use pretty regularly) allow you to annotate most websites and blogs, creating a digital margin side area for discussion. The benefits seem obvious to me: crowd annotation provides a space for engaging group discussions about specific texts and ideas, generating new and expanded understanding of the digital pieces that we are reading.

But the provocative question was raised by a writer with a large audience (one whom I read regularly and support via Patreon): Who owns that original text (that content which is being annotated in the digital margins) and how much say do they have over whether the annotation should even happen in the first place? This particular writer used a web script to shut down Hypothesis and other annotation tools at their site.

It’s not a clear-cut issue, at least in my mind, and a long discussion on Twitter between nearly a dozen people (including the writer, for a bit, before they became angered by the discussion and asked to be left alone) revealed the complexities of ownership of content, and what relationship the writer has with their readers when posting something to the open web.

I find myself appreciating a writer’s desire to be able to control what is being done at their website or blog, and understand the sense of being concerned about what people are doing in the margins of an original text. Sure, comments potentially do open up that discussion, too, but let’s face it, the comment sections of many sites — particularly those run by women with strong opinions — often get overrun by those with nothing better to do in their petty lives than leave vicious comments and provocative, and perhaps profane, words.

The worry is that someone writing in the digital margins will be malicious, too, and the writer would have little (at this time, anyway) recourse. This is a legitimate concern, as any perusal of comments at YouTube will tell you. (Hypothesis is close to adding some new functions for flagging content and has been mulling over this very concept of writer’s rights). To be honest, I have yet to come across anything like that in Hypothesis.

Still, as much I can see the point of protest, another part of me (maybe the naive part of me, that voice that says look to potential and possibilities with digital writing) thinks, if you post something to the world via the Web, you can expect (hope/intend) that maybe someone will want to read what you wrote and maybe react to your words. Why else post your writing if not to engage a reader? (The argument against this viewpoint is that people do the writing, not technology, and writers should not be held hostage to the potential aspects of technology. Or something like that.)

I believe tools like Hypothesis give space for collaborative discussions, allowing the margins of the text to come alive with conversation and questions and associative linking that extends the thinking of the original writer. It empowers the reader, although perhaps that empowerment comes at the expense of the writer’s authority over their own words at that point.

Personally, I use Hypothesis to closely read online texts, to examine and think, and to bounce ideas off the text to others in the margins, who help push my own thinking forward or force me to re-examine my beliefs and ideas. Your text, if posted to the web, can become a source of inspiration for me, and others. That’s a real gift to your readers.

Clearly, not everyone thinks this way.

What do you think?

Who owns the text once a writer makes it public on the Web?

Peace (thinking),
Kevn

PS — There were other nuances to the Twitter discussion that I did not capture here — including the right to be forgotten in a connected world; obligations and compacts (or not) to readers who financially support the writer who is not wanting to be annotated; and what role a text has in the public sphere.

PSS — I purposely did not name the writer because they clearly were upset that their decision was being questioned, and I did not want to make their situation any worse. Besides, the individual case here is less important than the larger discussion.

Following the Poetic Muse

Gallery of Poems

It may be the last gasp of April, and therefore the end of Poetry Month, but I’ll be writing poems long after April has waved farewell to us all. I hope you, too, won’t be shackled by the rather arbitrary calendar. Still, it’s nice to have a continued and vibrant focus on poetry.

For the last three Sundays, I’ve been sharing out the poems that I have written this April, using (for the most part) the prompts at Global Poetry Writing Month/National Poetry Writing Month each morning before I do much else. You can read my first week here, the second week here, and the third week here.

You’re here at the fourth week of writing. I’ve been composing my poems over at Notegraphy, and my gallery is here. I’ve enjoyed using Notegraphy instead of my blog because it allowed me to keep the poetry writing separate from other writing, at least until I curate the poems, like now. There’s also the interesting design element of Notegraphy.

It hasn’t felt much of a burden to write 30 poems, one each day, but maybe that is because of my system of writing early in the day, fueled by morning coffee, and just going with the flow of whatever the prompt has sparked. I always say this when I do a bunch of writing, but I hope to someday go back and edit/revise the poems and pull them together in a more cohesive fashion. Someday. Maybe.

Here are some opening lines from this past week’s writing, with links to the full poem, if you are interested, from the week behind us.

I can always fit
inside the twisting bell
of the saxophone,
the tenor’s long shape
as dark as some cavern
of sound.

read full poem

 

Rabbits running wild
along the edges
of the book,
a sinkhole of words
opens up, forcing
a closer look.

read full poem

 

They’ll discover it
three feet down,
covered in rock
and dust, a little white
tail sticking up
from a rabbit hole.

read full poem

 

Bitter ashes;
That’s what we remember.
Bitter ashes on the tongue.
When we were young,
building fires
without abandon ..

read full poem

 

It’s coffee, not tea,
that fuels me;
Night’s disappeared.
Now, I can hear
the sounds of you

read full poem

 

Sand spills out,
time running through
my fingers, collecting
at my feet.

read full poem

 

Every day
I watch these same words
fall onto the digital page,
constellation stars dipping in
from above, dancing
along my fingertips.

read full poem

I hope you wrote, and that you write, too.

Peace (and poetry make the world shine),
Kevin

 

 

#NetNarr: Social Lifestyle or Ad-fueled Construct

via http://van-life.net/

I don’t know what to make of the piece by Rachel Monroe in The New Yorker about #VanLife, which focuses on people who have taken to living in their vans (mostly VW vans) for all sorts of reasons — economic, lifestyle, etc. These #VanLife folks then share their travels and world via social media, often with the hashtag of #VanLife, and mostly on Instagram.

That’s fine.

Our world is one built on sharing and community practice (yes, there is a #VanLife network of people) but where I started to shake my head and wonder is when the article shifted to the money being made by those who are living in their vans. Many now enter into financial deals with companies and organizations, and we watch in the article as the young couple in Monroe’s focus sets up photographic shots with product placement and endorsements in mind.

The collapsing distance between brand and life has led to social-media influencing, in which advertisers pay for endorsements from people with strong online followings. Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of “celebrity” to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs. Advertisers work with people like Smith and King precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers.  — Rachel Monroe, from #VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement, via the New Yorker.

For so many reasons, that just sits the wrong way with me.

Maybe I am thinking of authenticity in the world (so, they want to live in van to escape the pressures of a stable life but then sell themselves off the company with the biggest wallet?) and the authenticity of the stories that we are creating with social media (some would no doubt argue everything we do is a social construct made larger and magnified by social media). I don’t wander around social media sites with my head in the sand but I also don’t buy into the notion that everything we do is for sale, either.

Imagine if we started to put placement ads in CLMOOC or DS106 or Networked Narratives (although spoofing that in those spaces might be sort of interesting and often is) and made money off the creative energies of the people in those networks?

Ack. I’d leave those spaces in a heartbeat. Here, these folks court and encourage advertising, fit their social selves into the schemes of advertising, and seem to live through the lens of advertising.

Not my cup of tea (I won’t tell you what brand I drink, either).

It’s fine. Go live in your van.  Take pics. Share them out. But don’t sell me some “experience” if it is sponsored by Coco-Cola or Pepsi (god forbid) or whatever. Keep that part of your journey to yourself.

Peace (homebound),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: The Stone Heart (The Nameless City)

You know a book has captivated your attention when you find yourself on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next, and then stare for a long time at the cliffhanger at the last page. Such was the case with the second book in The Nameless City trilogy by Faith Erin Hicks entitled The Stone Heart. (I wrote about the first book — The Nameless City — here).

Hicks has tapped into the very elements that make graphic novels so special to read and experience — using her artwork, historical research and development of characters, Hicks has created an imaginary world (based on Ancient China and the Silk Road) that feels alive and real. The artwork is really exquisite and detailed. Reaching the end of The Stone Heart is a disappointment but only because Hicks is still working on the third, and final, installment of the story.

Now we have to wait …

And what is this story? A city of mixed tribes and people that has two potential paths — war and conquest, or peaceful transition in which all tribes determine the future. For now, war has won out, or the prospect of war, and our two main protagonists — Rat, an orphan girl raised by monks in the Nameless City, and Kaidu, son of a Dao warrior — are faced with a dangerous task that may shape the Nameless City for years to come.

The mysterious backdrop to the story is a past people — the ones who first built The Nameless City and whose reign mysteriously came to an end  — and a hidden book that contains a power of great destruction, a book once protected by monnks that has now fallen into the hands of a young leader who has killed his father in order to ascend to power. He believes the book will forge his way forward. Others, like Kaidu and Rat, understand that the book was hidden for a reason and fear what it may unleash on the world.

The Stone Heart is an adventurous book that stays true to its historical (if fictional) roots of Asian culture. It continues the magic of the first book, and I am hopeful Hicks will bring the overarching story to a close with the third book with all the elements that has kept me reading (as well as my middle school son). The Nameless City series is appropriate for upper elementary, middle and high school students, with some violence as part of the plot of palace intrigue.

Peace (hoping),
Kevin

Book Review: The Poet’s Dog

The title is what caught my attention: The Poet’s Dog. Poetry. Dog. Book. I’m in.

But it was the story that kept me reading, devouring this short but sweet story in one sitting, and wanting to read it again. Then I realized that the author, Patricia MacLaughlan, lives in the town right next to mine, and I felt an even deeper connection. (I admit: I have not read her other books that have brought her much attention, including her novel Sarah: Plain and Tall.)

The Poet’s Dog has beautiful prose, with whispers of poetry everywhere, as the story explores the notion that dogs can talk to children, and to poets — both of whom have open ears and open hearts to the world. Here, a dog saves two children in a winter storm, and then the children save the dog from his sorrow, and in-between, we learn the real story of Teddy, the dog.

There are no wasted words in MacLaughlan’s book. Each sentence, each piece of narrative, is there for a reason, and I found myself in the poet’s house, huddled up amid the fierce winter storm, as the dog and children become part of each other’s lives with words and love. The ending, too, is very satisfying, if not too surprising, allowing us a glimpse into the kindness of the world, and the possibilities of poetry.

Dogs. Poets. Kids. Kindness. What’s not to love about all that?

Peace (after the storm),
Kevin