Mission Away from Berkeley

Jambo

I made it home from California only to find a heat wave sweeping through New England this week. Phew, it sure is hot!it might reach 100 degrees today. I had to catch a red-eye flight on Sunday night because my rock and roll band, The Sofa Kings, were doing a live television performance that I just could not miss. I paid the price with a tired body but received a jolt of energy to my brain from the performance.

Sofa Kings

The planning for our Monograph Book for the NWP at Work program went fantastic and the use of the web-based Writely as a tool for collaboration seems to be working great. My team members took to the program easily enough and it helped that I could show them the program in person and answer questions right on the spot. At the same time, WMWP Site Director Bruce Penniman was able to read through and offer suggestions to our writing from his cozy spot in Western Massachusetts. He could just have easily have been down the hallway. I really think Writely is the right tool for this stage of our project. Whether it will be the right tool as we move into the future remains to be seen but we all agreed that we could abandon Writely if it felt like it wasn’t working for us. (When I told our cohorts in Berkeley what we were doing with technology and collaborative writing, you can guess what NWP Associate Director Joye Alberts said: “You are going to write about this, right?

Meanwhile, Bruce and I are also using Writely to begin putting together our Tech Matters Minigrant Proposal. I just finished a draft of the application and now he will review it, offer suggestions and/or make changes via Writely.

This is my working summary:

If site leaders and teacher consultants are to utilize the possibilities of web-based applications for publishing, collaborating and communicating, then they need to have time and space to learn and understand the technology. This project offers three separate workshops for teachers in our site network, with an emphasis on project leaders, to create and use Weblogs, experiment with Wikis and begin creating and posting audio files. Another facet of the project is designed to strengthen our state network through a series of newsletter Weblogs as a way to disseminate information across the various sites. Finally, our site will use some of the grant money to establish our own content management system so that we can independently oversee an emerging Weblog network for teachers and project leaders.

Peace,
Kevin

Mission to Berkeley, Part Three

Our cohort of writers in Berkeley spent a good deal of time thinking about what we mean when we say continuity for our writing project sites. The book series we are working on is joined by a common thread of continuity and sustainability for various sites of the National Writing Project.

Here is what I wrote when asked about what continuity means for me:

At a very basic level, I see continuity as tapping into the energy of the Summer Institute for other levels of our site’s work. Teachers come out of the SI brimming with ideas, confidence and enthusiasm for implementation into their own classrooms – which is very important – but also with the sense that they are now part of something larger than their classroom and school. Many realize they can make a difference on a larger scale and this is where the seeds of leadership begin. That period of time following the SI seems to be most crucial for keeping people connected to the site. If too much time lapses, the energy begins to fade. Life impedes on the memories of the summer. If we can find connections that are relevant – and work on their new ideas and concepts and bring them to fruition – then we are more likely to have them emerge as leaders of the future. Continuity strengthens the site on so many different levels and outreach by the leadership team is important. For example, we tapped an SI graduate from last summer to be the editor of our online Weblog newsletter and I am now considering a replacement from this summer’s crop of teachers. There has to be a continual movement of people and challenges with support to keep people engaged. A site that ignores continuity runs the risk of fading away at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, the entire group brainstormed about continuity and came up with this list of ideas:

  • Capture energy of SI
  • Intellectual home – remodeled over time
  • Honor the mission of the site
  • Nourish and learn from NWP fellows
  • Leaders open to change and ideas
  • Having a place where people say ‘yes’ to ideas
  • Imagine the possibilities
  • Grassroots approach
  • Social aspect – friendship and professional level
  • Director gives out “keys to the office” – openness/access
  • Mentor for leadership
  • Challenges of diversity of teaching experiences/communities
  • Addressing tensions within site
  • “Never step into the same river twice”
  • Continuum of Continuity

Peace,
Kevin

Mission to Berkeley, Part Two

We had a lovely dinner last night with all of the folks who have descended upon Berkeley for the Monograph writing adventure. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Shirley Brown and our table had a long discussion about public relations and  the reliability of journalists I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter so I had some inside info); the pros and cons of Charter Schools; how to mainstream autistic children; and many other interesting areas. Today, we head over the main offices of the NWP on the campus and get to work on some initial writing and discussions with our editors. Susan and I get to work with Tish, from the Vermont Writing Project, which is very neat since it wasn’t that long ago that I stole their idea for collaborating with the local newspaper to feature our teachers and students.
I realize now what a great variety of projects are being delved into here on the topic of continuity and sustainability at the writing project sites.

  • Creating Learning Communities — New York City WP
  • Presenting Collaborative Networks — Rhode Island WP
  • Visioning Retreats — Prairie Lands WP
  • Study Groups on Race and Homophobia — UCLA WP
  • Leadership Inquiry Seminars — Philadelphia WP
  • Strategic Planning — Western Pennsylvania WP
  • Site Structure and the Role of Tech Liaison – WMWP

Peace
Kevin

Mission to Berkeley, Part One

Hello

Fresh from the cross-country trip to Chico, CA, just last week, I was airplane-bound once again today as I made my way to the bastion of liberal thought — Berkeley, CA,  (favorite sign so far: “Support Stem Cell Research — Grow Bush a Brain”) — for another adventure with the National Writing Project. A co-director at our site, Susan, and I are here to launch a Monograph Book about the way our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site re-organized itself a few years back. Some impetus for that change came as the site was relaunching its web site and the redesign of the web presence forced our leaders to re-imagine the structure of our entire WMWP organization.

I immediately noticed a difference between Chico and Berkeley — it was very cool here, and I completely underpacked. Apparently, I still had the 110 degree heat of Chico in mind. So, as I wandered through the streets of this very lively and fun place, I bought a sweatshirt to keep me somewhat warm for a few days. I wandered around town and the campus for a few hours today and sat under a grove of eucoplytus (I had to look up the spelling of that one!) and did nothing but think for a bit.

Berkeley
Tomorrow, Susan and I begin some writing in earnest and begin planning out this book project. I am suggesting that we use Writely as a collaborative site for writing and we’ll see how my partners feel about that.

Peace,

Kevin

The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece

Transforming Words on the Page to Characters on the Stage

By Kevin Hodgson

Note Play 2

There’s a moment in my play where the main character – a little, confused musical note — discovers an exact replica of himself in the musical manuscript through which he is traveling. The other note is exactly like him, except there is one major difference: the twin is happy. Giddy, even. Dancing around with a big smile on his face, the twin of B-Sharp ponders the question of why he is so happy.

“I am in the most perfect place in the most perfect composition by the most perfect composer ever. When I am played, the whole world shudders with joy because I am exactly in the right spot,” the twin states happily, to which the main character, B Sharp, replies: “I wish I could find my spot.”

The character of the twin was something I added in late to the story, and I did that only because another young actor joined the theatrical camp where the play was being produced had joined the cast and desperately wanted a speaking part. How could I turn down a request by this young man to get involved? I sat at the keyboard and thought. The director of the production suggested a few lines for the twin that B-Sharp stumbles upon after escaping the Meter Police, the treble notes, and the first and second endings.

“Maybe you could tell why the twin is happy,” the producer suggested, and that made sense to me, and so I went back to the script that I wrote three years earlier during a month-long Summer Institute for teachers as part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece originally came to form as a novella that I wrote chapter by chapter during that productive summer, and I fine-tuned it with the help of other teacher-writers. When one of my fellow writers said the story sounded like a play unfolded scene by scene (which I called “movements”), I experienced one of those blinding moments of inspiration. I went home to my acoustic guitar, wrote a few songs and then proceeded to convert the entire story into a piece for theater for young actors.

The script then sat around for three more years, always in the back of my mind – I really liked the story of a musical note who must find his place in a piece of music and feel important and special – yet never produced. Sure, I had toyed with the idea of doing it with the sixth graders I teach and even began producing fractured fairy tales with my classes two years ago with the idea of getting my feet wet as a producer of plays. But my musical was a big production, and one I was wary about taking on while still trying to teach what I knew I had to teach. There is such little room in the current educational environment for a long theatrical production and B Sharp was forced to sit off to the side of the darkened stage.

I was inspired to return to the play when I read about a writing contest being sponsored by the Mult-Arts organization in Amherst, which was searching for stories to produce with its youth summer theater camp, and lo and behold, somehow, I won the contest with my B Sharp play. I later learned there were about 30 play submissions from across the country.

When I was writing the story, I could see it all unfolding on stage, in my own mind, but I was as excited as the twin of B-Sharp to imagine that the story would come to life, with real actors, in a real production. Every request made of me as the writer – such as scaling back some of the musical theory – I agreed to in hopes of helping the young actors find meaning in their roles in the limited amount of time they had to rehearse and learn their lines. I added in the speaking part of the twin. I conceded that my songs, as I wrote them years ago, could be replaced by new compositions by the music director of the camp. I was open and willing for anything.

I just wanted B Sharp and the rest of my characters to find their place on the stage.

And so imagine the wonderment of the writer when I slipped into a dress rehearsal of the play and watched the characters I had nurtured begin to become alive on stage with the help of a group of talented young actors. Little B Sharp was this wisp of a girl but her face and body was all emotion, capturing perfectly the confusion and frustration felt by the lost note. The bass notes were two high school boys and as they talked to B Sharp down below in Bass Land, they towered over her and the effect was exactly what I was going for on the written page. And then the note who guards the first and second ending got increasingly angry at the repeat dot that follows her around everywhere and repeats half of what she has said, it was almost like watching Abbott and Costello trying out a new routine on stage. They nailed the humor just right.

The day of the first public performance, I was as nervous as the actors, I think. Some friends had arrived and I even saw some of my students from a few years ago when I began doing fractured fairy tales in my classroom. The curtains opened on the stage and the set design was perfect – the backdrop were all of a musical motif. Although I was videotaping the performance for posterity, I sat back and enjoyed the show from start to finish, even singing along in my head with some of the songs they used from my original ideas.

It made me feel good to listen to the applause at the end of the show and one member of the audience – another teacher, it turns out, who has taught music to younger students – shook my hand and said, “If only we had something like that when I was teaching … even I learned some new things about music today.”

I felt the warm glow of praise, as much for my writing as for my teaching, and silently thanked the young actors who encompassed my creations on the stage. Later, I actually did thank them and, even more, I thanked the producer of the show.

“I just hope we did justice to your vision,” he said.

That, he did.

Trebleland

Here is a scene from the first act of the play:

Meter Police: There’s been a bit of commotion in this sector of the score and we want it stopped right now. You chords have to know your place! I swear, sometimes I think you notes don’t even know the difference between the mad rush of Allegro and the slow drone of Adagio. What’s the problem here? Why all the fuss?

B-Sharp (stepping forward slowly): Uh, sir. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: Leave? Leave? You can’t leave. You’re right where The Composer put you. Do you think you know better than The Composer what kind of chord is needed in this particular measure? Is this what you are saying? (glares at B-Sharp)

B-Sharp: No, sir. It’s just … I’m not wanted here. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: That’s for The Composer to decide, young note, not us. You must remain where you are until The Composer decides otherwise, if he decides otherwise.

B-Sharp (in a pleading voice): Perhaps, I could just go to that rest over there for a little while? Until The Composer comes back?

Meter Police: Absolutely not. Now you stay in your spot or you’ll be one sorry tone. (and with that, the Meter Police buzzed off)

(B-Sharp sighs and seems depressed. Then he perks up, looks over to the four-beat rest one more time.)

B-Sharp (to himself): I’ve got to do it. I can’t stay here any longer. I’ve got to at least try to get to that rest, no matter what it takes. (pause). It will take courage, that’s for sure. (pause). OK. I can do it. I know I can. First, I just need to get away from this measure. (pause as he moves slowly). There. I did it. Now, on to the rest.

F Minor: Hey, what’s he doing. Look at B-Sharp – he’s moving. He’s not supposed to do that! What will The Composer think!

(The other notes begin to move about in excitement, pointing to B-Sharp, whispering among themselves about what B-Sharp is doing. Meanwhile, B-Sharp keeps moving when suddenly a Whole Note jumps in front of him.)

Whole Note (in a bulling tone of voice): Uh-uh, kid. End of the line. No note gets past me. You’re not going to make me the laughing stock of the symphony. Get yourself back to your chord like a good little tone. You heard me. Go on. Beat it!”

B-Sharp (looking frightened by the Whole Note but trying to remain brave): No! I won’t go back. And you can’t make me! I’m getting to that rest, one way or another. (And then the two notes begin to wrestle each other, slapstick comedy, with the Whole Note much stronger than B-Sharp. After a minute, B-Sharp falls to the ground, yelling out: Ahhhhhh!!! and the curtain closes as the lights black out.)

Blink: A Multimodal Poem

As noted down below in this Weblog, I have been working on a multi-media poem that seeks to utilize some of the emerging technologies as a canvas for creative expression. My idea was to try to write something that could be reflected in a Read/Write Web format and see what happens with it. And so, my writing — can we call it that? — is a mix of words, images, and sound.
Are you interested in experiencing Blink Blink Blink?

This link will take you to my poem.

As part of the process, I also recorded an off-the-cuff audio reflection that is embedded in the poem page but which can also be listened to independent of that piece.

microphone Listen to an audio reflection about the poem

I would love to get any feedback on the poem — does it work for you as a creative piece? Does the technology get in the way or does it complement the writing? — and you can use the comment feature on this item to do so, if you would like.

Peace
Kevin

Reviewing Will Richardson’s Book

Will Richardson’s book about integrating emerging technology into the classroom — Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms — is a wonderful resource that is rich and instructive. I bought the book as soon as it came out this past spring and then wrote a book review about it for a graduate class.

Here is my book review

As an experiment for that class, I also created an audio postcard for Will.

microphoneHere is the audio postcardmicrophone

Finally, Will Richardson wants you to comment on his book, through use of a dedicated Wiki, of course.

Head to Will’s Wiki

Peace
Kevin

Reviewing Will’s Book

(Note: I wrote this book review for a graduate class semester — Kevin)

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom

Will Richardson

Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. 2006. 139 pp. $27.95. ISBN 1-4129-2767-6

To deny the tidal wave to technology at the fingertips of students these days is to deny the reality of the world. It is a losing battle. As educators, no matter what discipline we find ourselves in, we must not only be aware of this fact, but we must also be willing to explore, experiment and entice our students towards learning with the tools now emerging from the newest version of the World Wide Web.

Will Richardson, who has been a prominent name in the world of educator-bloggers for almost five years, argues strongly for teachers in his new book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom to embrace these changes and to utilize technology in all curriculum areas as a collaborative opportunity that weds the theories of writing to learn with emerging technology. While some experts in the field of composition’s Writing to Learn movement extol the virtues of the act of writing as a way to process information and provide critical thinking skills, Richardson takes it one step further and articulates an argument that technology is more than a tool for schools. It is a conduit of collaboration, critical thinking and cross-disciplinary learning.

In the course of this book, Richardson touches on a wide range of subjects, as the title of this tome suggests, but he does so with an even balance of pedagological theory, classroom examples, and practical advice on how a teacher can experiment in the various fields of emerging technology. He also writes with a very engaging voice, offering assurances and confidence to even the most neophyte of his audience. For teachers who worry that the shift into technology means more computerized scoring programs and more games for students to play on the machine during recess or so-called “enrichment” time, this book provides a path to something different.

Richardson notes that there is a growing gap between today’s students, whom he refers to as Digital Natives (a label generated by design guru Marc Prensky), who have grown up understanding the computer as a source of entertainment and resources and are not afraid of their desktop, and the greying cadre of teachers, whom he refers to as Digital Immigrants, who are trying to either learn this technology in context with pre-computer days, or are ignoring the wave altogether.

Giving credit to technology pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, who is often cited as one of the few visionaries who theoretically paved the way for the graphic-orientated World Wide Web that is now in existence, Richardson calls this trend of engaging writers via technology the Read/Write Web, and he strongly suggests that passive use of technology (i.e, gathering information) will be replaced by active users (i.e, the writers of that content) who will have to learn new skills around the concepts of collaboration, hypertexturalized reading and globally-published content. This, in turn, will change the term “literate” when considering students to mean far more than reading and writing. Richardson forcefully argues that digital literacy will be the key to the future. He postulates, too, that this influx of digital information and skills is creating an entirely new genre, which he terms “connective writing.”

With characteristics such as an electronic format, public audience, thematic-linked ideas, multi-media expression and collaborative tools, this new genre is “…a form that forces those who do it to read carefully and critically, that demands clarity and cogency in its construction, that is done for a wide audience, and that links to the sources of the ideas expressed (29).”

“Right now, teachers are employing Weblogs and Wikis and the like in ways that are transforming the curriculum and are allowing learning to continue long after the class ends. They are tapping into the potential of the World Wide Web that is a conversation, not a lecture, where knowledge is shaped and acquired through a social process, and where ideas are presented as a starting point for dialogue, not an ending point. In case after case, the walls of the classroom are literally made irrelevant by the creation of communities of learners that span oceans, races, genders and generations (126).”

The book is divided logically into sections on Weblogs, Wikis, RSS feeds, the Social Web, digital images, podcasting and screencasting, and what Richardson calls “the big shifts” for educators now and into the future.

As a brief primer:

Ø Weblogs and Wikis are online publishing tools, with Weblogs providing more security for owners while Wikis are the ultimate in open publishing, as anyone can edit and post their writing to a Wiki site;

Ø RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds are applications that allow you to collect and collate information from the web by bringing it all to a single source, such as a Weblog;

Ø Social Networking is a model of collaboration, as users connect information with others in the field through websites and bookmarking systems;

Ø Podcasting is the publishing of audio content to the Web;

Ø And screencasting is the marriage of image of a computer screen to audio narration.

Technology clearly has a place in the world of Writing Across the Curriculum, as Richardson provides multiple examples of ways teachers in the various disciplines can use technology. For example, a Weblog could easily become an e-portfolio for students in any discipline, as they collect and highlight their best work and provide immediate research links to data or relevant information. The interactive feedback from readers, which is the backbone of a Weblog, provides many opportunities for revision and editing, and the audience for the writing can be the world, which is an incentive for any student. Or students in science, for example, could use a Weblog to post questions for real experts in the field being studied, or collaborate from a distance with other students on scientific inquiry experiments where data is shared and compiled as an online report, with revisions made as others outside the group offer feedback. There are no geographic walls when using a Weblog, and educators could use this to their students’ advantage.

Any disciplinary class could create an online Wiki encyclopedia for their field by having students work together to compile knowledge (think Wikipedia on a smaller scale) and some examples are already out there as models. One site that Richardson touts is a Wiki called Planet Math, where teachers are compiling information about every known mathematical concept, with experts and observers adding their thoughts. But he also suggests that students in any class could create a similar project on any subject, creating a resource pool of collective knowledge.

Even more radical, Richardson suggests, would be teachers and professors who opened up their curriculum content and syllabus for addition, deletion and editing by students taking a course. Students could add pertinent links, provide questions and topics of discussion, and lead the course in directions that interest them. The Wiki allows such a student-empowered movement, and Richardson does not shy away from the reaction some educators would have over such a possibility.

Creating audio recordings, which would come after extensive research and writing, might be used in the field of history or social sciences as students give “virtual tours” of places and capture the sounds of the present in order to study the history of the past. Richardson even suggests that the free Internet phone service, called Skype, could be accessed by students in any content area to interview people from around the world, then save the file as an audio file and post to a Weblog or Wiki. Prior to the interview with a scientist, or politician, or someone else, the students could use the Internet to research issues and consider questions for the interview subject. It would be a full circle of technology, with student inquiry and publishing at the center.

The RSS feeds would be a perfect fit for the field of political science, as students learn to compile current event news stories or sites about issues that are having an immediate impact on the world (Richardson notes such events as the tsunami in Asia, and the hurricanes of the Gulf Coast as examples of students using real-time information from people on the ground to understand the world). And digital imaging sites, such as Flickr, are loaded with tools that can be utilized in any classroom. For example, at Flickr, students can add “notes” to a photograph and Richardson mentions one elementary student who used a picture of a model she had made of Jane Goodall’s camp in Africa and then added notes, so that when the mouse was dragged over the image, descriptions of various sections of the camp would be displayed for the viewer. Such a tool could easily be used to document a Civil War battlefield in social students or the dissection of an animal in science, Richardson notes. Or a student may create a poem with imagery, and then connect key words to images found on the photo site. All of this echoes the multi-modal work of theorist Gunther Kress and his views on image, design and literacy.

The end result for any teacher, however, is the act of teaching these new literacy skills to their students, and then loosening the reigns of control and authority so that students can actively engage themselves in the learning process. Instead of the sole voice of authority, the teacher must become, in Richardson’s words: a connector of information, a content creator for students to tap into; collaborators with their students; coaches to help guide their students; and change agents who understand the pace of advancements is rapid and unforeseeable.

There are numerous strengths to Richardson’s arguments about educators needing to lead the way with integration of technology into the classroom, not the least of which is that our students will be immersed in even greater amounts of data and content as they move into adulthood and they better be prepared. The software and programs he highlights are often free, or inexpensive, and designed for novice technologists. However, access to computers remains a daunting issue in education and educators cannot assume that their students will have computers for use at home. Some school districts are loaded with computers (often the wealthy districts) while in other schools, the computers are held hostage by technology coordinators uneasy with the idea of data flowing in two directions. This book is more user-friendly for teachers and students with access to the technology than those without such access. Meanwhile, Richardson amply addresses the privacy issues of students, and this is one thing educators should be considerate of.

For anyone in any curricular discipline who is interesting in understanding the emerging world and wondering how they can podcast or blog their way into the future with their students, this book is a wonderful resource. It provides both a theoretical framework, solid examples and practical steps to integration of writing and technology.

The Long Road to Chico

 THE LONG ROAD TO CHICO
A Collaborative Story of Adventure and Chaos on the Way to Tech Matters 2006

I was lucky the rain had finally stopped. For two days now, with little relief, the water had poured from the sky on my head as mile after mile faded into painful memories. I was on the road to Chico and it wasn’t pretty. My legs hurt, for one thing, and my tricycle – well, it wasn’t technically mine but ‘borrowed’ from some savvy kid who lived outside of Boston – wasn’t designed for cross-country travel.

Maybe I should back up a bit before you think I’m one of those unreliable narrators because, to be honest, even I can’t believe how I ended up pumping my knees on a pink tricycle along the byways of America on the way to Chico. I really should have been on the airplane, kicking back in comfort with my MP3 earbuds in and the sounds of the Eels and Green Day in my ears and a cold Heineken heading down my throat.

That was before the NTS (National Testing Standards) Virus moved its way through the computer terminals of all major airports, efficiently deleting all travel plans of technology liaisons for the National Writing Project. A call from the airlines informed me that my tickets were null and void and there was nothing to be done anywhere to fix it. Sorry. Not only that, but all of our names were now on airport security lists as “potentially dangerous geeks.” Someone has it out for the National Writing Project, I was told in a hushed whisper on the phone late one night. The caller hung up before I could even clear my throat. The whole NWP affiliation was in limbo and for the few of us invited to Tech Matters 2006, it was all we could do to hustle up some alternative transportation and get out to Chico to figure out who was behind this.

Out here in the Northeast, I figured I could rent a car and leave a few days early and still make it to California in time for Tech Matters. The Western Massachusetts Writing Project was paying my way, at least. My wife and kids weren’t too happy about that plan and it took some convincing and begging on my part to release me into the wild. I rented a car, but I had to go into Boston to get it due to some computer snafu. Imagine my surprise when I went to my assigned parking space and found a long, jet-black Cadillac sitting there. The man behind the desk explained that this was the Kennedy Family Reunion weekend and all of the cars in eastern Massachusetts had been rented out by the Kennedy clan for cruising along Cape Cod. The caddy had just been returned by Aerosmith after their world tour. I sighed, thinking of the dollars to be guzzled and vowed to use my expense account to the fullest. Trouble knows no bounds, however. When I stopped at a gas station in Charlestown to fill up, the car got grabbed by some Whitey Bulger thugs as I was buying a package of Funny Bones inside the store. My only option now was to grab the closest set of wheels available. I had to make it to Chico. I just had to. The Writing Project was counting on me.

So there I was, sitting atop a pink tricycle, just short enough for my knees to knock on the handlbars with every rotation. Some fast-talking kid with a thick Boston accent was renting it to me for some future free tech support. The kid even made me sign a contract of some sort and I am still wondering just what was in that fine print. Something about Runescape. Luckily, I wasn’t going alone. Inside my waterproof backpack, and wrapped in three layers of Hefty trash bags, my laptop has been my faithful companion. I also strapped a waterproof GPS device to the handlebars and have kept a careful watch of the road ahead. My MP3 Player is snug in a ziplock bag and the headphones have been crackled with the moisture. It’s a bit worrisome because even I know that electric current and water don’t mix. Still, I couldn’t do this kind of journey without music.

I took the Freedom Trail as far as it would take me, passing by the old North Church Tower where Paul Revere saw the lamplights of the American Revolution and I caught a glimpse of Old Ironsides docked as a testament to the battles of cannon-wielding iron-clad ships of old and then headed west along the Massachusetts Turnpike towards the Berkshires. This was the route that James Taylor sang of in that song from the 70s. It was all hills and valleys in Western Massachusetts and a few times, I almost tipped over from the backdrafts of the trucks bearing down on my three wheels. I couldn’t help but notice the sign that said, “Northampton,” which is where I live and imagined a dry, warm house.  I was just over the line into New York when the rain began coming down with a vengeance and just when you think riding a tricycle across country couldn’t get any tougher, it suddenly does. I kept pedaling, wiping the water from my face with one hand and waving off unfriendly single finger waves from drivers in vehicles with the other hand.

There was no doubt about it – it was going to be a long road to Chico. I wondered often about how everyone else was doing and whether I would see anyone else on their way to Tech Matters.

As I was peddling down the New York State Thruway and into New Jersey (being really thankful that the roads were still open in the Garden State since the rest of the state was shut down) I saw a rainbow and thought of the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania!  Fortunately the factory was spared the recent flooding in downtown Easton where the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers flow together. The adjacent National Canal Museum heard of my plight.  They offered me a break from peddling while still being able to continue my journey by boarding a mule pulled canal barge up the Lehigh River to historic Bethlehem. It was a relaxing and fairly quiet trip, but it made me realize how far technology has come in the last century. After disembarking, I peddled up to the Moravian Book Shop.  While poking around this fascinating and historic store, I met up with the Lehigh Valley WP’s SI on their writing mini-marathon.  They all talked about wonderful events in the area  like Musikfest which might be a possible stop on my return trip from Chico later in the summer, but I could stop by Sportsfest this weekend where the LVWP’s TL will be demonstrating and showing her beagles in the dog agility competition.  If she’s not running her dog, it’ll be easy to spot the TL, she will either be taking digital pictures or resting in the shade listening to her ipod.

It’s a heck of a long ride from Western Mass to West Virginia and that spunky technologically gifted youngster made it in record time!  Of course, he brought along that doggone rain, but we needed the break from the hazy, hot, and humid weather familiar to those of us who live in the valleys of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  It’s still early in the season – summer just came this week, according to the calendar at any rate.  The Marshall University Writing Project was happy to provide this tenacious tricycling traveler some hospitality and a tour of the soon to be famous campus about which the movie We Are Marshall was made.  A short break is all there is time for –  it’s still a long way to Chico.

After a couple of day’s rest in West Virginia, I decided to pedal to South Georgia since the journey would be mostly down hill, allowing my tricycle to zip along quite quickly and saving me from the rude finger gestures of many drivers hurrying to their summer vacations spots.  Once I got to I-95, I soon found myself near Savannah, GA, and decided to make a quick pit stop, having never seen but often heard about the historic city.  I enjoyed a stroll and lunch along River Street.  When I got back to my tricycle, I found my parking meter expired and a ticket clipped to my handle bars.  Having no time for such trivialities and so looking forward to Chico, I quickly deposited the small yellow envelope in the closest round file.  Having a little extra time, I decided to spend the afternoon watching a minor league baseball game; after all, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch a game featuring the Savannah Sand Gnats.  After all, sand gnats has to be the most unusual team name in the nation.   Once the game began, I quickly found out how the team got its name as pesky little flying bugs began swarming around my sweat laden face.  As soon as the game was over, a few hundred sand gnats (the bugs, not the players) and I headed back toward the interstate and began looking for I-16 so I could make a quick visit to Statesboro, GA, home of Georgia Southern University.  I knew the Georgia Southern Writing Project was in the middle of their summer institute and thought I’d enjoy a day of writing with a few of my new best friends.  While there,I spent some time milling arond campus, taking in the sites at the Botanical Garden, the Center for Wildlife Education, and the Museum.  What a treat!  But soon the high humidity and the intense heat of the southeast urged me to resume my journey, for I still had many miles to pedal and only a few days to get to Chico.

Meanwhile in a secret underground installation on Antelope Island on the brine fly-infested shores of Utah’s Great Salt Lake (and, incidentally, not far from the home of the Utah Writing Project), Dr. Ho was plotting his next move.  “We’ve got him under surveillance, using his own tool — the GPS on the handlebars on his tricycle.  Send out the minions!”  Two sinister beings appeared.  “We’ve got a signal coming from Statesboro, GA.  Do what you want to him, but bring back all his technology to me in one piece.”  Dr. Ho (who bore a remarkable similarity to NWP’s own Paul Oh) smiled sardonically as he watched his minions set out to intercept our intrepid traveler.  After years of painstaking attention to detail, his plan was now fully in motion.


Listen to the doctor speak! And be afraid! Be very afraid!


On my way to Chico, I decided to detour a tad out of my way and visit Woodville, MS, for I had heard that hospitality was king there.  And it seemed that it was when I stopped by the office of The Woodville Republican to ask for directions.  The editor was quite interested in the story of my journey and after a quick interview, asked me to pose by the historical site just outside the door for a picture.  My story was going to appear in the next issue of the paper.   Just as he snapped the picture, a small, black car came speeding down Depot Street, making a U-turn right in front of us, coming to a screeching halt.  The door flung open, and a madwoman jumped out.  “If I miss the visit from A. C. Repairman because of your foolishness, you will live to regret it.  What are you and David up to now? Where are those blasted pink flamingos?”  Then she noticed me and immediately turned on the charm. “Well, I do declare.  Where are my manners? This is no way for a southern lady to behave,” she drawled as she extended her hand, then laughed, “And if you think I talk like this all the time, well…”  Her eyes drifted to my pink tricycle.  “Just why did you call me down here, Andy?”

 

“If you had listened to me instead of assuming the worst, you’d have heard me say that this young gentleman is looking for your house.  He also said something about Chico, but I thought he meant Chick-o Stick, so I offered him one.” 

 

At the word Chico, she stiffened.  Turning to me she said, “You must be famished.  Let’s get your tricycle in my trunk and then we’ll get some catfish at the Back Porch Café on the highway.  I’m sure you passed it as you came into town.  And on the way we’ll stop at Woodville Car Care.  Looks like your trike could use a tune-up and new tires. My brother David will fix you up.  Besides, he owes me big time.  Let’s just leave it at that.”

 

As we put the trike in the trunk, she whispered, “Don’t say anything else about Chico.  There’s no telling who or what is lurking in those azalea bushes.  Some strange things have been happening around here. When we get to my house, we’ll talk. My house is surrounded by pine trees, so we should be able to talk freely there.”  Then she turned to Andy, the newspaper editor. “Bye, now.  Sorry about the misunderstanding.  But you and David know how I feel about those pink flamingos popping up in the most unexpected places—like Adair’s wedding reception!”

Twenty-three hundred miles west of Woodville, an unusual booming sound echoed across the skies above Chico, California. The source, as many small children noted with shaded eyes pointed skyward, was a private jet, painted a deep indigo with blood-red lettering spelling “HO Industries” along the sides, with the number “16-42” on its tail. Newspaper reports in the Enterprise Record the next day stated that the plane made exactly eight high-speed, low-altitude passes over the city. Local landmarks, including the One-Mile swimming pool, the Bidwell Mansion, the 100-year old Hotel Diamond, hiking trails in Upper Bidwell Park, and campus buildings at CSU, Chico. Unconfirmed eyewitness accounts claimed that small electronic objects were dropped on the university campus, particularly on two buildings: Taylor Hall, and 25 Main Street. These buildings house the CSU, Chico English Department and the Northern California Writing Project office, respectively. The jet, which was first noticed at 4:15 pm, sped northwards out of town exactly 23 minutes later. No further information was forthcoming from the usual sources. All of this I discovered when I decided to add the keyword “Chico” to my cell phone’s rss aggregator.


Back in Woodville, I surreptitiously slipped my cell phone back in my pocket and, while digesting these odd developments, continued on my strange journey. Still riding with the mysterious stranger, we picked up the catfish and headed down Highway 24 E to her house, taking time along the way to tour the small town.  We drove around the courthouse square, my hostess pointing out the sights:  Polk’s Meat Market, the Wilkinson County Museum, Boston Row, the new African-American Museum housed in the Woodmen of the World building which was also a territorial bank building, Main Street Market, and the Town Hall.  During our tour, she pointed out that composer William Grant Still was born in Woodville.  Then came the churches: Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian.  Most of these church buildings are very old, dating back to the early 1800’s.  “At one time,” she told me, “before my family moved to Woodville, there was also a Jewish synagogue here.  In fact, a couple of the old houses still have the Star of David on the front.”  She continued, “It’s too bad we don’t have time to drive west to Ft. Adams. It used to be on the river, you know.  But back in, well, I don’t know exactly, but a long time ago, the river changed its course, and Ft. Adams, once a thriving town, was left high and dry.  Then there’s Lake Mary, Pond Store, and Clark Creek Natural Area.  You’ll just have to come back for a visit so I can take you to all these places and to some of the old homes.  There are so many stories our county has to tell.”

 

Just east of Woodville, we passed the entrance to Rosemont Plantation.  “That’s the boyhood home of Jefferson Davis.  Quite an interesting place to visit.” Three miles later we turned down a narrow gravel driveway, and after maneuvering a few sharp curves and avoiding some deep potholes, we arrived at her house—a log cabin.  We went in the backdoor, and she fixed us some of her famous ginger tea to have with the catfish.   Soon we were deep in conversation about Chico and the problems all the TL’s have encountered as they made reservations and planned their trips to Tech Matters.  “My ISP was down the other day.  Do you think that had anything to do with the NTS virus?” she queried.  “And, I had a strange dream about a Dr. Ho, but that was just a dream…wasn’t it?


About that time, her phone rang, and we both jumped.  “It’s just David,” she explained.  “Your tricycle is good to go.”  We made our way back into town.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my pink tricycle: it was gleaming; the handlebars didn’t squeak any more; there was a new, well-padded seat; and replacing those skinny, tread-bare tires were brand new oversized tires with deep treads guaranteed to take me many a mile.   And, right there on my handlebars was a basket to store my backpack and other necessities—like lots of bottled water to get me across the hot, humid South.    

 

We said our goodbyes, and then I was own my way down Highway 61 N, refreshed and ready to travel.  As I peddled off, I heard, “Y’all come back now, you heah!”

 

There is one thing I’m still worrying about, though–all those strange happenings with our TL’s and Tech Matters and her strange dream about a Dr. Ho.  Who or what is Dr. Ho?  Oh, well, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, “Fiddle-dee-dee. I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”

I decided to focus on the road ahead today…and the road ahead was a long one. I began to believe the heat was altering my consciousness or that I was just delirious as  I heard a muted version of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Maybe its an omen, no maybe its…its my cell phone. I didn’t even realize I had packed it. As I rifled through my backpack and snaked my hand through the three layears of rollled Hefty trashbags, I wondered who would be calling me. “Hello, Oh hi, no that’s not too far out of my way….oh I’m so sorry to hear that.” What else could happen? The Mobile Bay Writing Project Tech Liaison has asked me to backtrack to Mobile , Alabama (along the Gulf Coast) and pick her up. She got my cell number from Lizzy and said they were in the middle of hurricane season down south; a manditory evacuation had just been put in place due to a tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. She explained that she is directionally challenged and would never make it to Chico in time without a co-pilot. How could I refuse? And besides, we do need all the tech liaisons we can get to Chico to deal with what lies ahead. 

I made it to our agreed upon meeting place, the Original Oyster House , on the Mobile Bay Causeway. She was right about the gumbo, it was delicious, and it was only the appetizer. We headed a little further east to Ed’s Seafood Shed for the Yo Mama’s Platter full of fried seafood. The food was almost surpassed in quality by the beautiful view of Mobile Bay and I only privately wished we had time to tour the USS Alabama Battleship that I was staring at in the distance as I ate fried crabclaws, shrimp, and oysters. But I knew we had to get moving, the causeway traffic was picking up.  As the water began to wash over the road, and the wind blew anything not anchored down off our outdoor table, I could see the anxiety increasing in our MBWP liaison’s eyes. So, after paying the tab, we quickly descended down the ramp of the restaurant to my Pepto Bismol pink tricycle. We used bungee cords and duct tape to attach the faded red and white Little Tikes wagon to the back of my suped up Barbie trike. Although I was concerned about my mode of transportation when I recived the request to hitch a ride, I never dreamed my new companion would come equipt with her own “trailer.” I was still worried about my ability to pedal, pulling the additional weight, until she pulled a hurricane leftover generator contraption out of her bag that she claimed would propel us with minimal physical effort. She was right…a southern girl will survive! Additionally, the wind was at our back and we effortlessly headed west on the Causeway toward the Bankhead Tunnel.



Once we emerged from the Tunnel, I took the thoughtful advice of my new co-pilot and switched places to relax for a little while in the “backseat.” As I lounged in the Little Tikes wagon, with the cooler of adult beverages, I was amazed by the magestic oak trees that lined Government Street in beautiful downtown Mobile, and learned that Mobilians argue they live in the city that is the original home of Mardi Gras. She explained that Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile in 1703 when it was a colony of French soldiers. After having survived a particularly nasty bout with yellow fever, they decided to celebrate, but since party favors were few and far between in the New World, the men opted to paint their faces red and just act crazy for a few hours. They must have had fun because it became an annual event. As we passed “the headquarters,” I also learned that I was in the midst of a host family member for another of Mobile, Alabama’s claim to fame events, the America’s Junior Miss competition.

As I was listening to stories of tail gating at the Senior Bowl  and considering letting my guard a little to really kick back, an unnerving booming sound echoed across the skies above downtown Mobile. We looked up to view a private jet, painted a deep indigo with blood-red lettering spelling “HO Industries” along the sides, with the number “16-42” on its tail. The Mobile Press Register  reporters were in the street snapping pics. After about eight high-speed, low-altitude passes over the city, we heard the reporters wondering aloud “what are they looking for?”  Although we never said a word, we knew it was us.

Le Chemin a Chico?  ou Chicot?–Un Melange Louisianais Cajun

Moi, j’ai raconte a mon vieux voisin Cajun, Ti’ Joe Delahoussaye, que je m’en va en Chico in quelques semaines.  “Mais, neg’,” Joe dit avec excitation, “C’est un bon saison pour aller en Chicot!” (http://www.stateparks.com/chicot.html).   Il ajoute, “Les sac a lait vont mordre bien!”  

Obvieusement, Joe m’a pas compris bien en Anglais (ou Espagnol?) quand j’ai dit “Chico,” parque le “Chicot” bien connu parmi nous-autres, c’est le Bayou Chicot State Park dans le sud de la Louisiane.

Quand meme le confusion de pauvre Ti’ Joe, on va nous voir en Chico (en Californie), pas “Chicot” (en Louisiane).

 

“What just happened?” I asked my co-pilot, as we pulled over the side of the road for a quick break. We had switched positions again and my legs felt tired from the tricycle. “It felt as if I were speaking another language for a second.”

“You were,” she replied, shaking her head in a knowing way. “I am assuming that we must have hit a Global Language Distortion Cloud.”

“Global Distortion Cloud? You mean, like the one that villains often use in stories composed on Wikis? They drop those kinds of clouds from the skies, don’t they? It’s Dr. Ho, I bet. We know he’s up to something. Remember the RSS feed? The passes overhead by that private jet?”

“Exactly,” she answered, and was now deep in thought. “I think we should contact Lizzy as soon as possible and get a handle on whatever else might be happening in Chico. Something strange is going on here.”

I pulled out my laptop, booted up and checked my email. Sure enough, there was an priority message from Lizzy at the NWP main offices.

To: Techies
From: Lizzy
This is an urgent message to everyone who is on the road to Chico for Tech Matters. Dr. Ho is on the loose and is trying to stop all of you from making it to Chico. We have someone on the inside, providing us with some information. First, he let loose the National Testing Virus and now he is tracking everyone on their way to California. He is up to his old tricks! Thanks to our spy inside the Ho camp, I have also uncovered a strange phenomenon on a SeedWiki site, where Ho appears to be monitoring the progress of a certain pink tricycle.
Is anyone using such a vehicle?
If so, please go to this link and see for yourself what the evil scientist is up to:
http://www.seedwiki.com/wiki/the_long_road_to_chico

I imagine not all of you will make it to Tech Matters, so I just wanted to say, it’s been nice working with you.

Sincerely,
Lizzy

“She says that Dr. Ho is out there, trying to thwart us all from getting to Chico, and that there is a story about us on some Wiki,” I gasped.

“A Wiki? Well, go there and let’s see what it says,” she answered as I clicked the keys and found my way to the Wiki site. Sure enough, there was a story about me and my tricycle and the long road to Chico. Very strange. It was as if someone — or more likely, a group of people, judging from the disparity of the writing styles  — was not only watching me, but also documenting every step of my journey from my first steps in Massachusetts.

“Look! At the bottom of the page! It’s dialogue and …  we are talking. You and I. Talking, right now. The words are being typed as we talk. That’s rather odd,” she said, pulling on my shirt and pointing to the page. We both stared at each other, and then up at the sky, and then at the tumbleweeds rolling around us. Where had those tumbleweeds come from? There was no doubt that something was keeping a sharp eye on us and it was as if it knew what we were going to do before we did it.

I looked up at the sky and cupped my hands to my mouth, shouting: “Hey, you! If you can hear me, can you do us a favor and move us along towards Chico? We could use a little help. My legs are getting tired and Dr. Ho is getting close.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“The writers,” I answered. “Maybe they can help.”

That’s when we both noticed our call for assistance had been answered because right there in front of us was …

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain… Blowing those darn tumbleweeds across the panhandle as we arrive at “The Merc”, the panhandles last resort, for one of Allan’s famous pan fried burgers and a chat with the locals.  Can’t believe it’s For Sale…  Won’t be the same without Allan!  2:11 am and time for a quick wink before travelin’ on.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzz


The writer returns, not from a slumber or sleep (the writer is trying to avoid the cliche of a dream sequence, if at all possible, even as it becomes clear that this story has to end somehow) but from a data mining adventure for the imperial presidency. It is clear that the characters set into motion in the Wiki story so many days ago are stranded in middle America and have little chance to make it to their destination on their own before the start of Tech Matters. The energy of the collective voice — always a tricky balance in a collaborative writing space — is starting to wane and so, therefore, the writer must do something. The end is near, but how will it end?

The writer thinks. And thinks.

And this is what is decided: rocket-powered turbo jets.

With little more than a punch of the keys on the computer (power is wonderful, the writer now understands), the pink tricycle is transformed into an amazing piece of three-wheeled trajectory as two solar-powered rocket booster engines are placed on the little trike and the two tech heroes are zooming across the country at top speeds. Newspapers give accounts of something strange careening through the byways and highways. Little kids watch with amazement and will write stories about the sightings of a pink bombadier in high school non-fiction classes. Teachers in classrooms who are staring out the window in a brief moment of reprieve will see the flash of light and suddenly become inspired to join the National Writing Project in order to write their way towards understanding this vision.

And the characters? They can barely catch their breath as they move through the country on the way to Chico. They can only hold on to the handle bars and suck in wind, dust, bugs and freedom of the open road as the Beats might have imagined it (minus the illicit substances) while still keeping their eyes peeled to the sky for Dr. Ho. They appealed to the higher authority but they don’t quite trust the writer (and neither do I) to be talented enough to bring all the strands together. They go north, and then accidentally east, before resuming a westward trail towards the Pacific Coast. As they bump along, the GPS transponder tumbles off the tricycle and is buried beneath a Prairie Dog mound (but that is another story).

And what about that Dr. Ho? The writer decides that the disembodied voice is a bit too freaky for this story and so, with the fecklessness of a creative mind, the writer has decided to banish Dr. Ho to a corrupt flash drive like a genie trapped inside of a lamp. It’s over before Dr. Ho even realizes what is happening. The menace has disappeared. (If only such a thing could be done with the real menacing forces in the world, the writer realizes, then perhaps the nuclear uncertainty of such places as North Korea could easily be dealt with but that is a ramble not worth rambling in this virtual time and place …)

The road to Chico is now free and clear!

Wow, I am so glad to see the pink tricycle made it through the rolling hills and prairielands of northwest Missouri without getting caught up in a buffalo stampede.  Its riders must be faster than the Pony Express and sneaker than Jessie James.

THE END OF THE STORY.
(phew)