Slice of Life: Artwork in the Mail

(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.)

For more than a year now, I have been involved in a postcard writing/mailing project with folks in my connected circles, mostly through the CLMOOC clan. This year, a subset of the Postcard-ers is doing Data Postcards along agreed-upon theme (So this month, it was “love”).

Postcards from friends

Yesterday, I gathered up a bunch of postcards that had arrived in the last week or so, and took a picture. We like to share out, if only to show arrival. You can see a woodcut postcard of Woody Guthrie, and a 3d keychain (and 3D shovel!), and messages about art and collaboration. And a mallard duck.

Postcards from friends

Then, yesterday afternoon, just after I posted my collection of recent arrivals, I received this gem of a postcard, and poem, from another friend, Sandy, in my mailbox. She and I connect in other spaces, such as the current Networked Narratives. Sandy does a whole other kind of postcard adventure around a magical art theme (I think). Her postcard — right from the beautiful colored handwriting on the envelope — was a work of part, and her poetry was pure beauty.

I’m lucky to have found my way into such a creative tribe.

Peace (in the post),
Kevin

Further Folding: A #NetNarr Multimedia Interpretation

Zeega Folded Story

I took the audio of the collaborative Folded Story that I shared yesterday and put the audio into a Zeega production (Thanks, Terry) and began to construct a media interpretation.

I grabbed out phrases, and met those words with images. The reader moves at their own pace, so the Zeega may not be in sync. That’s OK. I think the Zeega is a poem in and of itself, influenced by but different from the original.

You can move and read and listen at your own pace.

Experience the Unfolded Story as Zeega

(NOTE: Some browsers don’t like Zeega because of “unsafe scripts.”  This has to do with Terry hosted a version of Zeega on his own, I think. You can click on the option in the URL bar to allow the scripts to be read by your browser.)

Peace (unfolded),
Kevin

What a Folded Story Sounds Like

Folded Story as Word Cloud

I was happy this week when a handful of folks in the Networked Narratives course took up my invitation to join me in writing a Folded Story. The idea is that you only see the fold above you as you write and then you pass it off to someone else (sort of like an Exquisite Corpse story).

The result, after 25 folds and about 10 different writers, is very strange, and I would argue it is an example of a networked narrative — a collaborative story written and told across time and space, with technology as the platform for telling the story. (The word cloud above is built with the words from the folded story).

Take a listen to the story. I narrated the whole thing, reading from start to finish all of our folds. I added a little music beneath it, just to keep the five minutes of story moving along. It was strange to read in one sitting, from start to finish.

 

You can also read the story here (or view it as a PDF):

So there you are, holding the thread and wondering whether to pull or not. The thread leads to something beyond your eyes. You stare at the thread. And then you pull. You feel it tug back three times and then a warm hum springs from the thread as it begins to sing. The words are faint at first, like the far away tinkling of cheap wind chimes, but the it becomes clear, ” This is not the beginning of the story. This is merely an obscure edge of the tale.” The wind chimes continue to shimmer. Out of the music, something appears. Paper, with burned edges and forgotten words. You read it aloud and the language is runic and foreign, full of sigils and elementals, EarthAirFireWater. The sounds at first are glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Meaning transmutes from lead to gold and a measure of understanding rises, “So say we thus: Within these words, within this fire, within this alchemic mixture, we discover the truth of the hermetic motto “As above, so below.” Turtles all the way down never swimming in the same time stream twice. Nothing to be had but to start pulling on the thread and following it into the labyrinth. It felt like you were tugging against something. So you pulled harder, knowing that the tail of the tale was still in play, even if it remained invisible beyond the sight line. One final tug of the thread and the world around you unravels. You watch as plants are replaced with twine, earth with yarn, and people with string; yet they all seem to maintain their form. The people notice you are not from their stringy world. They walk over to you and Touch your slender form. Your straight back and gentle hook is perfect for this stringy world which often becomes a net, a filter, a sort of flexible valve of ideas. You grip whatever you can hold on, searching for substance. There. You sense how this one story might spring forth others. You twist it counter-clockwise, surprised by I was surprised by a single CLICK! What?? This is a triple barrel lock, how could I not crack the code? All those lessons in safe cracking, gone to waste. All those hours studying codes, deciphering, hacking, tracking. But wait, I heard something… It was a tiny metal on metal sound–I recognized it right away–deep in the tumblers a nano cricket from the lab was worrying apart the intricate mechanism. Someone had planted the nano bug Its tiny clanging told me it was dangerously close to interfering with the network’s mainframe. One nick could shut down all central processing. Reserve power won’t be enough to sustain our work here. The bug has to be found and extracted. Fast. The bug started to burrow, deeper and deeper. It’s main food was bits and bytes, tasty morsels not found on the surface. It devoured the 1’s and 0’s trying to pass its fat body. Lost words for the child’s bedtime story. It feasted on and on until it disgorged what seemed to be a book, a bound contraption of words and magic. Its binding was wire mesh, nearly collapsible. You yank at the dangling thread. The whole thing expands into place. You stare and wonder at the title: An Alchemist’s Manifesto. Your mind races. Within seconds you are compelled to consume the words revealed to you. Page by page is devoured by your soul until you are, at last, filled with the knowledge of a thousand years. When the last word from the last page is written, then you will know. Until then, you must find new ways to intuit your inner life, making it connect with the randomness and fragmentary experience of this so called world. For what is the network effect, but a schizophrenia born of distraction. You know truth of course, you just need to pull the telescope from your pocket, reverse-engineer it into a microscope, and then find the focus. You know that. Find focus. You fiddle with the ****, turn the crank and another world arrives. Something is moving on the surface. Something quite extraordinary. Not one thing, but a multitude of beings, moving in coordinated fashion. They seem to be communicating with you, and somehow you are understanding their message of hums and whirs. Minute sounds that somehow converge into meaning. These creatures have something to tell me. Something important. Their meaning is fuzzy though. I get glimpses of an idea. Nothing totally clear. But, I think they’re trying to say truth exists though it can be hard to see. Though it may just be a tiny bit or a little it. Thing is you can view from so many different perspectives. Up top or down below. From the right or left with the light casting shadows just so. You never know but you have to go in, you have to answer their questions. You’re going to get up there on the witness stand and tell the truth as you know it. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth about what they did on the 4th of July. And if you don’t know the “they,” then you don’t know the truth. But you know there is time. There’s always time for the story to unfold or take a new turn, even a new beginning — like when you come into an improv performance and have to re-imagine what you missed. Every of us has our own beginning, and then we cross paths. Or not.

Peace (folded into place),
Kevin

Civics Education and the First 100 Days of Trump

I sure was busy with online Hangouts this week, and I spent Thursday night with some teachers talking about Civics Education in the age of Trump and how educators can grapple with the start of this crazy presidency. The Educator Innovator session was quite interesting, I thought, as host Rachel Roberson used the Letters to the President concept from the Fall as a central focal point, and asked us to explore where a teacher goes from here.

I talked about the fatigue I am feeling in relation to the political stage these days and about striving for political balance in my classroom. I was interested to hear about the work being done by others in high school  classrooms, libraries and programs that reached out to children of migrant workers. We all talked about finding ways to create and nurture the space in our classrooms for discussions to happen, no matter the political viewpoints of students.

Since one of our themes at the end of the discussion was finding ways to help young people focus on change at home, in their own community, as an empowering educational opportunity, I want to share out the new collection of resources from Educator Innovator called Local Election Toolkit. It has some great ideas and lesson plans, and uses Letters to the President as a rich resource.

Peace (one day at a time),
Kevin

Visual Notetaking: Sketchnoting The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

I wrote a few weeks ago about implementing aspects of “visual notetaking” into my classroom as we were watching the presidential Inauguration Ceremonies as a way to keep them in “active listen mode.” I pulled the technique out again a few days ago as we hit the two chapters in the novel, Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963, that I always read out loud to them. One is about a near drowning of the main character, Kenny, and the other is of the bombing of the church where Kenny’s sister, Joetta, is attending Sunday School (she’s is not hurt but Kenny sees things in the bombed-out church that no child should see).

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Both chapters are high drama, and emotionally charged, as author Christopher Paul Curtis shifts the tone of the story from a whimsical tale of family and childhood to one of Civil Rights and violence. Reading these chapters out loud gives me a chance to pause, and coordinate the pace of the narrative for high effect and for questions that students might have, right in the moment after listening.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

With sketchnoting, I was hoping my students would actively listen and pick up on some of the main themes of the chapters, with visuals as reminders, and it was very effective in many ways.

You can see the thinking of the student as they listened, and the sketches provided anchors of discussions afterwards.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Peace (let it be),
Kevin

#NetNarr Invite: Come Fold a Story

I have used this Fold that Story site in various online collaborations and, well, you never know. That’s why it’s perfect for Networked Narratives. So, come join in. The way it works is that you only see the “fold” (what the other person wrote) just before yours. You can’t see where the story started or earlier folds. So, the story zigzags quite a bit. I’ll share out the entire thing when it is done (I have it set at 25 folds).

Go to: https://foldthatstory.com/join/322503

Here is a visual tutorial I made to help newcomers write, fold, share and tell the story.

NetNarr Fold1

NetNarr fold2

NetNarr Fold3

NetNarr Fold4

Peace (like origami),
Kevin

Hanging Out with Teens with Dreams

Katie Eder and Crew on EdInnov Hangout

I am thankful I was asked to host an Educator Innovator session the other night with Katie Eder, the teen founder of an expanding project called Kids Tales, which provides free writing camps with paths to publication for young writers, often in communities that are struggling.  All camps are organized and run by teenagers. The teens write curriculum, pitch for funding, and created a non-profit. In fact, the entire Kids Tales organization is completely run by teenagers.

When we talk about Connected Learning, about how to empower young people to engage with the world through networking and through learning and through making, the Kids Tale story shows how a vision by one young person — Katie — can lead to an entire network of other engaged teens, reaching out to help young writers. And all with minimal help from any adults. It’s also a good example of how technology does not have be a central aspect of Connected Learning — it’s about the connections.

Katie and some of her fellow members of their Board of Directors, Shreya and Morgan, as well as my teaching friend Charlene Doland, joined me for the hour-long discussion about writing, empowering students and making change in the world. I was inspired by the work they are doing. I hope you will be, too.

Take a look at the archives and resources:

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

Where Satire and Social Media Converge: Netprov at #NetNarr

NetProv hangout for NetNarr

I was able to join a “studio visit” video hangout yesterday afternoon with the fine folks over at Networked Narratives and the strange (compliment!) minds behind what is known as Netprov. Essentially, Netprov taps into the possibilities of digital and social media spaces to create a sort of “networked improvisation.”

Netprov Quote

You can read more about the Netprov idea at the website, but these points stuck out at me, in reading and listening to the Rob Wittig and Mark Marino (I didn’t talk much in the Hangout because Mark and Rob had so much to say, and it seemed best to give the Kean graduate students time to ask questions):

  • Netprov creates stories that are networked, collaborative and improvised in real time
  • Netprov is collaborative and incorporates participatory contributions from readers
  • Netprov is designed for episodic and incomplete reading
  • When somebody makes a fake Twitter account of an object or a critter — that is Netprov
  • When somebody creates a make-believe event  and blogs about it in real time — that is Netprov

They gave some examples from OccupyMLA to a sort of flash mob project on Twitter where a group people pretend to be watching a television show and live-tweeting it to a I Work for the Web fake campaign against the tech companies using users’ sharing to make profit. There are other, stranger, odder, cooler projects at their site, too (including a recent 5-gender dating Netprov project. Do I have that right? Really?)

Here’s what I am pondering now, asked by Mia Zamora in the visit: how does a Netprov parody and satire move beyond humor and into changing the real world for the better? (This is part of Mia’s continued reference to “civic imagination.”)

Can it?

Rob and Mark, both college professors, say Netprov can and Netprov does, because the satire element forces the “actors” to be attuned to the why and what they are doing, and that often brings to the surface deeper cultural constructs. Rob also talked quite a bit about the “fake news” element of our media world, and how projects like Netprov can showcase the absurdity of the PR-spun alternative realities that politicians and media like to spin (as well as that lone person in their basement, pumping out fake news for clickbait profit).

Bowling Green Massacre, anyone? (Maybe the new administration is pulling off some epic, large-scale Netprov on us all? I shoulda asked that question in the hangout).

Terry Elliott has put the Hangout video into Vialogues for further study, and he invites you and us to listen and add comments. Oh, and he may have begun a little comment/margin/annotation Netprov there, too. All in the spirit! Get improvising!

Peace (improvised but real),
Kevin

 

Musical Slice of Life: Love and Defiance

(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.)

In the days after the protest marches in Washington, I started to write a song about what I was seeing here at home, and how I was galvanized by the gatherings. I recorded a raw demo, but I knew I wanted to do something more with it.

So, when I had time to myself the other day (ie, family was out of the house and the world was silent), I finally got to record the song more properly, and I am happy with how it came out. When I first started writing songs, in college, all I wrote were protest songs, and my band would play them on campus to small audiences (mostly friends). That was during the Reagan years. I wonder if the Trump years will spark a new age of protest songwriting …

Well, here is Love and Defiance for you …

Peace (and resistance),
Kevin

 

 

#NetNarr: Making a PeaceLove& Twitter Bot

PeaceLoveBot

Yesterday, I wrote about diving into the world of Twitter Bots for Networked Narratives, and my interest in creating my own Twitter Bot, if only to understand the process of how it is done.

Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.

Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.

The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).

First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).

Peace Love Bot Code

Second, I had to figure out the coding of Tracery. I looked at Kate’s example, and how it worked, and followed a link to her tutorial (which was more complicated to me, a non-coder, than I wanted it to be). I tried to tinker with the program and kept failing. Hmmm. I Google searched Tracery and found an interactive site called Bother that allowed me to replace its code with my own, and generate a code that Tracery would use. Phew. I still spent a lot of time tinkering but it worked. You can look at and remix my code, too, if it helps.

Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.

Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.

And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.

Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),
Kevin