Quickfiction: chapter 3

I am continuing to explore the world of Quickfiction, reducing down a narrative to its essentials and creating characters and motivations as concise as possible. It’s quite a challenge.

But here are my latest stories:

Disconnect
The week there was no email, Chantel almost killed herself. Later, she would joke about it and laugh about it with her colleagues. Susan, who worked in the cubicle next to her, was astounded. “Come on, Chantel, you wouldn’t really kill yourself just because no one emailed you for a week, would you? That’s just ridiculous.” Karen cultivated the social gossip at the water cooler every day and she offered, “I wish I could go a week without email. I hate weeding through that junk.” Another one, Sam, who fixes the copier when it breaks down, added, “What did you do before email?” There was no life before email. Although Chantel played along with them, and even made detrimental remarks on her own sanity in order to feed the laughter, inside her head, she was, indeed, quite serious. Her lifeline had somehow come to rely on short missives on her computer from family and acquaintances. Friends might be too strong a word. She didn’t really have friends, just acquaintances. An empty inbox was some sort of coded message: she wasn’t important. She wasn’t needed. It had come to the point where she was now finding herself reading Spam, just to convince herself that someone out there was trying to communicate with her, even if the garbled words did come from some computer farm somewhere in the world. And so the week with no email was traumatic and it was only later that Chantel even thought to look behind her computer. That was when she realized that an Ethernet wire had come undone — it just dangled there like a noose — and she had been physically disconnected from the world the whole time. She breathed a sigh of relief as a flood of messages entered into her inbox, giving her a sense of relief not felt in many days.

Cat
He watches me from just outside the window, nose pressed against glass. I stare back. He opens his mouth to make a sound and yet, I hear nothing. It’s not cold outside today, not if you are wrapped up in a fur coat as he is, and I know he is in no danger of freezing. I find myself entranced by this creature that depends so much upon me for survival that I wonder, if the tables were reversed, would he keep me on the outside looking in? I smile at imagined acts of feline revenge against me. The cold nights. An unreliable source of food. Long hours of disappearance. No respect for gifts on the doorstep. None of this is likely, though. If I were the pet, and sometimes I think this may be true anyway, he would no doubt rush to the door, let me in and curl up on my lap just to keep me warm. He would understand that I just don’t have the stomach or fortitude for the world of rodents and Mother Nature. He has a different kind of spirit than I do. Me? I just stare back through the glass and write a story about him looking in at me and do nothing more. I have a story to write. He’ll just have to wait.

Tears
No one noticed me. They never do. I was dressed impeccably in my best suit, hands in my lap, a mournful gaze on my face. I was respectful and in a funeral, no one questions those who are properly contained in the skin of emotional reserve. The body looked handsome, given the circumstances. How it is that they can prepare such things is beyond me. Perhaps we would be better off if this weren’t the case, if we had to look at the dead as they are and not as we imagine they should be. The mother was weeping in the corner, being held together by what looked like one of her other children. The father was in the back of the room, drinking coffee with other men. All of them removed from action. I nodded silently to a few other people in the seats near me. We were in this together, our collective nods seemed to say, acknowledging the loss. The service was short and to the point. Life lived. Too short. Grief. I waited for the tears and again, they didn’t come. They never come. Two years gone and still, I could not shed a tear for her. What was wrong with me? I made a slow route around the room, drawing in as much of their sadness as I could and silently offering to be the one to hold it all in for them, to feel the weight of loss for them, to give them a moment’s reprieve. Such sadness and yet, for me, nothing. I left as I had come, with stealth and beyond the field of vision of anyone in the room. The obit crunched as I fingered it in my pocket. There was another up the street. A woman, age 52, cancer. I was already dressed and ready and hopeful, truly hopeful, that I would find some tears where tears had not naturally come for me two years ago this very week.

Godzilla
A life in miniature. That was the answer Stephen would give when asked why he spent so much time with his trains. It’s true that by the age of 32, he should have outgrown them, placed them in a box for storage in the attic and be happy with the memories. Still, here he was, crouched down low with a piece of broken track in one hand and a blue engine in the other. Curtis looked on, almost antsy with anticipation but respecting his uncle’s request for both silence and stillness. Not easy for a seven year old. Spread out before them in the basement studio was the largest railroad track that Curtis had ever seen. It seemed to go on for miles and miles, twisting through tunnels and moving over mountains and careening around buildings, slicing off at various junctures to create two trails out of one and then one out of two. Stephen ignored the boy. He was angry at Karen for allowing his nephew to come down here. The boy had no business here. So Stephen kept at his task of restoring order through repair. A life in miniature and also, a world completely under his control. Curtis, though, could feel something rising inside of him. He kept it contained, whatever it was, and continued to eye the tracks. Everything seemed so perfect. Everything in its place. Curtis’ world was never this neat and ordered and despite his love for his uncle, the only thing Curtis could think about was ripping up this entire world and feeling the power of destruction. It would be like King Kong! Or Godzilla! Stephen remained patient with the track. A small screw was coming loose. “I need to get a screwdriver, Curtis. Upstairs. Don’t touch a thing.” Curtis nodded and watched his uncle go up the stairs. It was the moment. The moment when Godzilla came alive and wreaked vengeance on an unsuspecting world.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

The New York Giants!

Writing and teaching and parenting aren’t the only things on my mind these days. My football team — The New York Giants — slogged through to another victory last night and are on the way to the Superbowl to face the fearsome Patriots. Living here in New England, but growing up in Southern Connecticut, I am constantly in conflict with the fans around me (Yankees, UConn Huskies, Giants — the trifecta) and those fans include my own kids (Red Sox, UMass, Patriots).

The Superbowl matchup makes for an interesting home and classroom (many of my students are avid Pats fans) for the next two weeks and I just hope my team doesn’t leave me humiliated on the Day After.

My sons are in sports glory — the Red Sox won, the Patriots are on the verge of an incredible season with only the Giants in the way, and the Boston Celtics are steamrolling everyone, too. I try to tell them, in my grumpy dad voice, that a year like this for a region only comes once in a blue moon and they should enjoy it for what it is and be prepared for those pitiful down years. They just nod their heads and acknowledge my voice. Ha.

Peace (in close games),
Kevin

Day in Sentence: Jan. 20

This was the week of creative brevity as I asked folks to boil down their days into six words. This is not so easy for the writer and leaves out a lot of context for the reader, but I hope that folks found it informative.

Here are the sentences:

Bonnie was off on a trip, although our virtual connections remained very much intact — another indication of the flat world. She even emailed me her sentence as a podcast (you can do that too!) so we could hear her voice. “Tucson, western romance, we arrive Tuesday.”

Amy usually tries to podcast through PodcastPeople but has been running into some slowdown on their network. That’s OK. We love getting her words even without her voice, particularly she is having such a good teaching week. “Introduced writing project, students are excited!

I’m happy to report that four of my colleagues from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project contributed sentences this week (see what some timely placed emails will do?). Mary is part of our new Tech Team and she is doing fantastic, thoughtful things in her classroom. She writes, “New faces emerge as ideas grow.

Another WMWP colleague is Anne, who is also our site director, a co-editor on a book we are developing on technology and assessment in the classroom (k-college), and one of my former professors. Anne shares this regional New England thought: “In frigid Northeast, I welcome sun.

Cynthia is thinking of drawing people together. Food helps is one meaning I get from her six words, but I may be wrong. “Retreat bound; roast in Crockpot; enjoy!

Delaine has business on the mind and the continuing education of people. “A week with adults studying entrepreneurship

Jo used to post her sentences over at our old friend, The Reflective Teacher, from whom I took this Day in a Sentence mantle. I’m glad that the breadcrumbs left behind led her to my site and our feature, even though her sentence surely gives all of us pause: “A threatening e-mail arrives amid exams.” (She notes that the email came from a student.)

Ben B. has politics in his head, and not all good, apparently. Does this have to do with Mitt? “I’ve lost faith in Michigan Republicans.

And then there is Ben D. who puts his passion very succinctly and with literary references. “Gatsby loves like I teach grammar.”

I wish Elona did have to write this sentence. But I am glad she feels comfortable enough with us, as a community, to share her thoughts both in writing and as a podcast (she sent me her file and I am hosting for her — did I mention you can do that too?). “Death- a celebration of Angie’s life.” Elona reads her sentence.

Yeah, Liza! I am sending some virtual flowers your way. “Principal observation survived; I did well.

Susan, another friend from WMWP, hopes these words will carry her through some tough days of dealing with administrators (she is our innovative and resourceful professional development coordinator). “Honoring teachers’ own learning–nothing less.

Connie keeps seeing new potential in networking, on many levels, and asks this question: “Networking is an art form, yes?” (Kevin answers: Yes, and one that requires patience and support and careful nurturing).

Matt, who has an amazing site for considering video in the classroom, captures the flux of time in eight (I hereby grant him two extra words in my role as blog-o-sentence-master) words: “Bills, books, time gone, going back to school.

Michaela came to the rescue (but let’s hope she doesn’t need rescuing herself). She writes, “Household flu transformed me: Florence Nightingale.

A friend from the Dakota Writing Project took a trip and brought the winter with them. (I hope it passed through luggage check). “Dakota snow followed me to Atlanta.

Larry has been running into walls, apparently, even as he continues his incredible journey to document and share some of the more amazing Web 2.0 tools, particularly those with applications for ESL students. But, “I’m frustrated with District content filters.” Who isn’t?

Testing in Texas with the TAKS makes for nice alliteration but a whole heap of stress, I bet. Joyce tries to explain in the limited number of words I have given her: “Worries, packets, bubbles: TAKS-time in Texas!

 Gail used more than her six words (which is fine) to relate the highs and lows of her week: “The low point of my week was the TV version of Comanche Moon, and the high point was starting a new project with a middle school English teacher from my district, who will connect with an English teacher in Northern Italy, to share their writing, especially poetry – and whose writing does not sound better when translated and read in Italian?!?” (Gail, who is a friend, hopefully won’t mind that I translate this into six words: “TV show, bad; Flat world, good.“)

And Tina (added late here), also of the WMWP and a new member of the Tech Team, reports a week of mixed blessings, I suppose: “Snow day. Sick day. Field trip.”

Bonnie will be hosting the feature next week so be on the look-out for a post and email notification. We are always encouraging folks to do some hosting of the feature, so let me know if you are interested.

Peace (in short sentences but deep thoughts),
Kevin

Wow! Two Weeks of Tech with Students

My sixth grade students and I have been totally immersed in technology these past two weeks but it hadn’t really dawned on me how much until I had a moment to reflect. So, here is a quick recap of the past two weeks:

  • We used our class weblog — The Electronic Pencil — to post their short stories that were inspired by the picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. We worked on the laptops for a few days, editing stories and using the computer for writing. The blog was our publishing venue and about 20 students sent their stories into a contest being sponsored by Van Allsburg in which students use Harris Burdick for inspiration.
  • We used the comic creating site (thanks, Bonnie) Make Beliefs Comics to create comic strips around the theme of the PeaceBuilder’s Pledge. Our school is part of the PeaceBuilder network, which is built around positive social interaction among students. We then took their comics and created a website (using Google Page Creator and Flickr) that we shared with the rest of our school. Incidentally, I used the Make Beliefs Comic site in a workshop that I gave around technology and writing across the curriculum, and the roomful of teachers were having the time of their lives.
  • We went to our Youth Radio site and tried to listen to some of the programs there, but our wireless network was being a bit funky so only a few students got to post comments. We need a return visit. Soon.
  • We began to create avatars that I hope they will use for a future project. We used two sites — Portrait Illustrator and Lego Mini-Mizer. The Lego site was easier to use but harder to save. The Portrait site was harder to use but easier to save. Go figure.
  • We used a wiki to build a collaborative dictionary of made-up words (we are studying the origins of the English Language) that now has invented words from the past four years. The Crazy Dictionary now has close to 300 words from my sixth graders and they use the wiki to add their own. That blows me away and gives them quite a thrill to know they are contributing to a “living” document in a virtual world. This is the site for just this year’s words.
  • We did podcasting, as they recorded their invented words and definitions. The audio files were then attached to the entries at the wiki, giving a new dimension to the dictionary. A couple of favorites:
    • Toxf – The act of growing a sixth toe on your left foot! Listen
    • Zwig– An orange ostrich, wearing a pink tutu and eating a frozen mash potato TV dinner. Listen
    • Jujuba— A giant piece of bacon used as a weapon. Listen
  • They were also creating their own music loop songs, with my Super Duper Music Looper program, and they loved it!
  • Next week: I want to begin to teach them how to build their own websites and I just need to find the right tool. (Anyone have suggestions?)

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

Hugo Gets Award

Some of you may remember how much I loved the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. In particular, I thought its use of mixed media made it an unusual book that told a very powerful and intriguing story. The audio book is also pretty amazing and it comes with a DVD interview in which Selznick talks about writing the book, which I show to my sixth graders.

Well, Hugo netted the esteemed Caldecott Medal for 2008.

What? Never heard of Hugo? Maybe this award will serve notice on this great book. (See the Hugo Cabret website too.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Peace (in picture books that are not quite picture books),

Kevin

Day in a Sentence (in six words!)

In the spirit of fostering the creative spirit amongst us, I am proposing that we try to use the six-word-story format for our sentence this week. The Six Word Story is a way to tell a tale in just six words. Not easy but interesting. You can see the Six Word Story project that I did last year with some folks in the National Writing Project, using a wiki site to allow folks to add their own stories.

Day in Sentence Icon As always, podcasts are welcome and encouraged.

If you are new to Day in a Sentence, the process is relatively straight-forward:

  • Boil a day or your week into a sentence (in this case, a sentence of just six words)
  • Use the comment feature on this post (comments are moderated)
  • I collect them all and publish them on Sunday (when the Giants beat the Packers, says this avid and nutty Giants fan)

I look forward to your words. (Look — I just wrote that in six words)

Here is my Six Word Day in a Sentence:

Snow, plus kids, equals complete craziness.

Peace (in brevity),
Kevin

A good intro to XO

This librarian, Robin, has created a very nice intro video about the XO laptop computer. She is very thorough and clear in her explanations, which is always welcome in the world in which I live. She’s lucky to have other XO users near her, of course. My neighborhood view is awfully empty.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/quJIAucDOU0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in XOs),
Kevin

My Annual Report: 2007

There was a contest of sorts going on over Dy/Dan’s blog in which people are sharing information about their prior year in the form of an annual report. Interesting, and inspired (yet again) by Alice Mercer, I gave it a go (although it turns out I was one day late in submitting my report — oh well):

(I used Letter Pop — a Web 2.0 site — to create these reports in a newsletter format)

What would be in your report?

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Day in a Sentence: new faces, new words, new year

It’s always a thrill to peek into my comments bin during the week to see what words are coming forth for the Day in a Sentence and, as much as I love seeing the returning names (please keep contributing), I also love that new folks are joining in as our community slowly expands. It’s a wonderful thing.

With further ado, here are your words:

Ben, who lets us know he is new to blogging but invites us to visit his blog, had this to say about his week as politics began to take center stage across the nation and in our classrooms: “The moment I heard my kids argue about Obama’s experience and Clinton’s capacity for change, the poetry and prose of each campaign and the effectiveness of either on leadership, I knew I had my hook for the rest of the semester.

Barb, who is part of a past Collaborative ABC Movie Project, had week of highs and lows. “Excitement comes in the form of an emotional rollercoaster with the loss of two of my students who were removed to South Carolina after the death of their caregiver on Monday to the high of my daughter’s wedding and the gathering of family on Saturday.”

Melinda finds herself in a reflective mood. “Expectant: I am sitting in a still, warm summer evening in Sydney ready for a gorgeous week’s holiday with my children and extended family (beginning tomorrow) with a year of work close on its heels – where did Christmas go?

Angie started the new year out on a positive note, even though a few of her students apparently had a difficult time keeping track of their papers (maybe they used them for airplanes?). She writes, “New (and improved) schedule, two new (pleasant) students and positive signs of improved organizations skills in three paper-loosing boys in my class has made my first three days into the school year uplifting and refreshing!

Connie continues to blaze a trail in social networking with her students (and with the world). She explains: “My students, who are completely immersed in their ning net-work, have happily settled into a collaborative learning community, sharing their multi-media, multi-linked current events productions; we’re viewing each other’s work with awe.”

A friend from the Dakota Writing Project (no name left in the trail but anyone from the writing project is a friend) shared this thought (although I think there may be a typo — is it an eight-year-old uncle? who has money to loan?): “A trip to North Carolina (organized by my eight-year-old uncle, who gave money to my son for college) in the midst of completing our Writing Project site grant really added spice to my week.

Liza worried about the Grumpy Teacher Blues as she returned from holiday break, but what she found was the opposite. “I was so worried that this week would be too hard with tired, whining students and a grumpy tired teacher but the break left me energized and ready to work and seems to have left the students with a need for structure and learning — hurray!

Delaine had to scramble with a field trip fiasco that apparently turned out OK in the end (for one group of students, anyway): “The senior marketing class did not get their permission slips in on time for a field trip next week to our local baseball stadium thus causing us to cancel their trip and offer the same thing to the junior class who immediately took us up on the offer.”

Poor April suddenly realized that she is not a superhero after all, although her thoughtfulness and reflective nature should qualify her for a nice cape and mask, in my book. “Cramming grant writing, night classes, and letter of recommendation writing into one short week, I realize I’m not superwoman; in fact, I’m not even Lois Lane — which means, of course, that I need to concentrate more on teaching and not the myriad of tasks surrounding the education field.

Matt, who graciously hosted the Day in a Sentence last week, had a strange epiphany in the lunch room. “Back from break, I sat around the lunch room with a bunch of teachers and found out that the favorite vacation activity of each of us at the table was cleaning our houses.

Elona admits that her week was so crazy, she almost forgot her sentence, so she emailed it off to me. I hope she buckled up. “I was reminded again that life is a roller-coaster ride — sometimes you’re on that exciting ride to the top and then suddenly you’re on that scary ride down.

Bonnie had one of those experiences as a presenter that you hope never happens (but it also happened to my friend, Susan, this week) — a sea of blank faces. “Generally my moments are high points but this week the climax on Friday was truly low, working with a group of teachers who did NOT want to be working with me, with our writing project; it was hard to get beyond the frozen faces who refuse to believe that reading/writing connections will move the formulaic essays to a new place and imagine, elementary kids come to their classrooms without any life experiences beyond TV watching…a tough crowd for sure…but the sun is shining and snow is on the way…

Mother Nature and the Guv are conspiring against Gail. “Last week’s big storms across California caused major power outages and zapped a few school systems and servers, including the gatekeeper and border controller that allow me to do videoconferencing from my district’s K12 classrooms. That, on top of the Governator’s prosposed $4 billion cut to schools, has not made for a great week…ah, but the sun is just now making a spectacular appearance in the Sierra foothills, bringing with it the promise of a better week to come.

Sue has been tinkering with recipes as metaphors for learning (I’m not sure I want to try her recipe but a few friends in college were on that diet). “To be creative is to live life with an open mind and in return receive the opportunity to more fully experience the unfamiliar and grow from it! (The example I share with my students…Who would have thought that ketchup and mayo would make Thousand Island dressing!)

Yes to RSS! Michaela discovers its potential. “Discovering and utilizing the ease of an aggregator this week has helped me restructure my daily stay-at-home-mom routine radically- here’s to being a late bloomer in technology’s garden!

Nina has her hands full of the Web 2.0 World. “After chatting at Tapped In and Skype for over an hour with webhead friends while doing laundry and drinking delicious coffee provided by my dear husband, I plan to participate in the EVOnline kickoff at Worldbridges/Skype, after which I will take a Greek artist friend to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but sometime today I also have to help my daughter prepare for her upcoming exams, so it’s going to be a busy day indeed!

Jeff is in the same time zone as me, watching the weather channel and thinking that a snowstorm would be wonderful and awful (for me and my week of activities). “It’s so hard to grade projects when there’s a forecast for a major winter storm tonight.

Nancy is cleaning up, getting her memories together before her BIG transition out of the classroom. “One week to go and I’ve been cleaning out my classroom, and wrapping loose ends before my last day with the kids.

Christine also had a California story (like Gail) and not so sunny. (She also provided this link for us to enjoy): “Teaching in California is discouraging; it’s like playing for the Cubs.

And Larry, who almost passed this week, added his sentence at the last minute and we are richer for the experience. “I took my grandkids to see the movie ‘The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,’ which is the only movie ever made which shows a fictional seat monster suffering from wartime-inflicted post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Wow!

That seems like a record number of entries!

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

XO as eReader

I’ve been exploring my XO computer as an eReader, although I didn’t quite know how to begin. Then, I found this very cool (free) eBook site called WOWIO that has a growing list of free titles for registered users (the collection does not seem to include many new novels, etc, and the selection is kind of iffy at this point).

But I have been checking out a few graphic novels from the site on my XO. I like the eReader mechanism on the XO. The lighting is nice, the resolution is pretty good, and the ability to swivel the screen to multiple positions is pretty nifty. Plus, the entire laptop is very light and easy to hold and balance on your lap or stomach (if you are reading while in the sleepy prone position).

My sons were getting a kick out of reading some comic strips (Peanuts, Garfield, etc) that I downloaded as a comic book collection from the WOWIO site. I have also added a Beowulf graphic novel, and a book about myths from around the world, and a few other odds and ends into my Queue bin (you can only download three books a day).

Right now, I am reading a Stargate graphic novel (I have a sci-fi interest).

I recently installed a little 4 gig memory chip into the XO so that I could store a bunch of books and other data without sucking up the memory on the hard drive. I continue to explore this little machine but feel stymied by my inability to get deeper into the Linux programming through the Terminal application. I need to peruse the user forums a bit more and figure what they are all talking about (ie, geek speak translation for dummies is what I really need)

Peace (in the world of eBooks),
Kevin