Slice of Life: Doodle Your Way into the Days

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

This morning, all of my students are going to get a huge, oversized calendar labeled October: Doodles of Place. And each day, when they arrive, part of their routine will be to look at the board, find the day’s theme, and doodle into the box for the day.

This is all part of CLMOOC’s October Doodle Month — a way to inspire art among the affinity network — and for the upcoming Write Out Project, the free online collaborative place-based project which launches in two weeks (October 13) and encompasses the National Day on Writing on October 20.

The daily doodle themes, which were gathered by crowdsourcing the list, are all about place — from rural places to urban spaces and areas in-between. Each morning, at The Daily Connect, a daily theme/idea will be released.

You can join in, too. (Today’s theme is Mountains). The Daily Connect site is here, and you can sign up for email notices (see the sidebar of The Daily Connect) or just keep an eye on the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter.

I’m curious about what my students make on their Doodle calendars, and I’m even more curious because we are starting up a connected project with some classrooms in California, and they are going to be doodling, too, and we hope to have kids share their doodle art via Flipgrid later in the month.

Why doodle? Well, first of all, making art is a great way to start the morning, and I know I have plenty of artists and comic book creators and more in my classroom. Second, it provides a connection point with another school on the other side of the country. Third, it will give us points to talk about how place informs stories, and how stories inform place.

And it’s fun.

I’ll be doodling at school on my calendar, but also, I am aiming to write small daily poems on the theme each day, too, here at home, as part of my own daily writing routine.

Here was the first poem, inspired by the theme of Mountain:

Handholds
and crevasse marks;
the scale of it nearly
overwhelms the senses
— you can’t look up
from below to understand
the scale of this place —
you need to gaze out
from above

Peace (doodling it everywhere),
Kevin

Book Review: The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life

I’m a sucker for books about writing. And add in an author who is part of the National Writing Project and you have my interest. So I grabbed a copy of The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life by Stephanie Vanderslice, and dove in. I’m glad I did.

With a folksy, honest, funny voice on the page, Vanderslice seeks to surface the ins and outs of a writing life, weaving in her own stories as a teacher and writer as well as setting forth some very practical advice on how to approach writing, how to publish writing, how to see yourself as a writer (no matter what other people say).

Among her pieces of advice:

  • Make time to do the writing, regularly
  • Invest in the revision process (and be ready to revamp)
  • Network network network
  • Be teachable as a writer — be curious about everything
  • Be methodical if you want to get published
  • Resilience is key
  • Believe in yourself, even if no one else seems to

My eldest son’s friend is a budding novelist and upon finishing this book, my first thought was: I need to give this to Sam. So I will. And I hope the practical advice here will be inspirational, and that the realistic advice (writing as a profession is hard) will leave him clear-eyed about where he is heading with his stories. And perhaps the long list of resources at the end — with notes on agents, publishers, etc. — will be most valuable of all (although, he may already be on this.)

NWP Radio recently did an interview with Stephanie, who notes her previous work as a site leader in the Writing Project (Great Bear Writing Project in Arkansas) as influential to her as a writer and educator.

 

Peace (writing it, daily),
Kevin

 

The Mess I’m Making (is the Poem I’m Writing)

Mess of a Poem in draft

I was writing and rewriting this poem during some quiet writing time in the classroom the other day. Not sure the framing of the poem works, but the mess of the page is how I often write (although when I write with keyboard and screen, all that notation and revision becomes rather invisible).

Peace (poems),
Kevin

The TikTok Kids and the Social Media Dance

There’s a fascinating deep dive into the world of TikTok in The New Yorker magazine (technology issue) this week. If you don’t know what TikTok is, other than hearing the alliterative name on the lips of every adolescent and teen you come across, it’s a good place to start.

Read How TikTok Holds Our Attention by Jia Tolentino (one of my favorite writers!!)

Tolentino notes how the quick edited, and remixed, videos made in the Chinese-company-owned app cross language and culture (although not without some significant bumps in government regulatory filters at times); is music-based, for the most part; involves elaborate edits for laughs and humor; reminds some users of the now-dead Vine app; uses AI algorithms to feed your homepage with what it thinks you want to see; has the usual strands of racism, sexism and other negative elements that invade many social media spaces; is built on the backbone of Music.ly, which I do remember; and is perfectly geared to the short-attention population.

(Aside: if you wonder why I wrote ‘Chinese-company-owned app’, it’s because I do pay attention, as much as I can, to where companies originate from, as some countries and companies work more closely than others to gather data from users of technology. China is certainly one of those. Tolentino doesn’t dive into that particularly issue, so there’s no clear line from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to the Chinese government, but she does bring forward the tension between the engineering division of the app that works in the US and the home offices in China, with one observer noting that the front office runs the show, despite any stated ‘independence’ of the US operations. So, always be wary of who has your data. You know that, right? Do our kids know that?)

And of course, there’s Lil Nas X and the hit song, Old Town Road, which was built and engineered purposefully on and for the TikTok community — short, funny, catchy — in hopes the viral nature would filter over into the larger music world. It worked.

I still know I need to learn more. (see TikTok trending videos)

Each afternoon, the students in my sixth grade classroom line up in groups, and some “do TikTok” as they say, and what they mean is that they act out the elaborate quick-edits of some popular TikToks, sort of like social media coordinating swimming but on concrete. I can only watch.

It’s strange, and funny, and weirdly elaborate, with foot moves and arm movements, and hand gestures, and short vocal phrasing. Given as I am not immersed in TikTok world, I have no anchor to know what it is they are even trying to emulate.

So imagine my surprise when a group of students informs me that we — they and me — will be making a TikTok at the end of the school year. This was not a question. It was a fact. I give a quizzical look and they all smile.

“Um. Ok. Maybe.”

In my head, three ideas rattle around:

  • Learn more about TikTok
  • Maybe TikTok will no longer be “the thing” in seven months
  • Time to brush up on my dance moves

Peace (sustaining your attention),
Kevin

When Trolls Come Calling for Kids: Is This The Path Forward?

Silent Sunday Climate Rally

… the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

In my classroom, one of the things I hope I am encouraging is not just dialogue among young students with different views but also support if their passions are moving them towards action, small or large. At age 11, they’re just starting to view the world from beyond their fairly supportive, and mostly protective, sphere of the small suburban town where they live.

Look to the global stage, and you will see that it is mostly the kids, and mostly led by girls — Greta Thunberg and others — who are leading the efforts around Climate Change. At a Climate Change gathering in our small city last week, the crowd listening and protesting and rallying was decidedly young, and some middle school students were featured speakers on the stage set up on the steps of City Hall.

And yet, news of the president, and his Fox friends, tweeting out disparaging, sarcastic remarks about Thunberg following her speech at the UN was soon followed by articles like this one in Buzzfeed with the headline Teenage Girls are Leading the Climate Movement — And Getting Attacked for it that have me concerned about any future activists in my classroom.

Whether following passions from the Right (and we do have students and families who are strong supporters of this president) or the Left (many students are passionate about the environment and Climate Change), what I hope for is a safe place for this to unfold for them. None of my students are remotely on the same level as Thunberg, but who knows? Maybe someday they may be.

… it’s not just Greta. Other young girls in the movement are facing a flood of online abuse. It’s less clear where those attacks are coming from, but they involve a mix of regular accounts, trolls, and bots. While the youngest activists are often shielded from this, due to constant monitoring of their social media by their parents, there’s no filter for many of the teens. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

Does my teaching to advocate for yourself and for your positions in the world make them vulnerable to the terrible side of the online world? Does helping them have a voice in the world expose them to the terrible tactics of trolls?

These are the questions that give me pause.

It also reminds me that the explicit teaching of the other side of this equation — here is how you protect yourself in online spaces — is as important as the support to find and follow your passions. We can give them places to work out their ideas — like collaborations with other schools and online spaces like Youth Voices and Young Writers Project in Vermont, for example. It just makes me sad and frustrated to think that an entire generation has to keep an eye on the shadows, to triple-think every online move, to worry over the nuance of parsed words or past posts, to fear the attack by trolls.

And, just as important, whose voice will never be heard because that possibility of what might happen if they do so has already silenced them before they even began to talk, to lead, to engage? (This could be said for all of us, I suppose)

We don’t live in a perfect world. Of course, I know that. Maybe technology has made it both better and worse. It sure seems that way at times. Still, things sure could be better. And when kids are in the crosshairs, it’s something we all need to be concerned about, and vigilant against.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Peace (across platforms),
Kevin

Two Books. Two Gimmicks. One Worked. One Didn’t.

From Mead Art Museum: The Bookcase

I’m not one to complain about experimental fiction. While I love a traditional text as much as anyone, I am also eager to discover the ways an inventive writer can pull me along into stories and characters from some new way — either from the writing approach or from a format approach.

I finished two books, both of which are fairly non-traditional. Each has a gimmick (I don’t use that pejoratively here) involving photographs, but only one of the books really worked for me as a reader.

First, there was feast your eyes by Myla Goldberg. In this novel, the story unfolds as the text of a photographer exhibit, but you never see the photographs the texts are referring to. Only the exhibit information, and various journal entries and interview transcripts as a daughter tries to understand her mother. The absence of the images might seem odd, given the structure of this book, but it actually works because the reader has to imagine the photos, and how the photos work with the story. It’s as if we readers are in the darkroom with the main character, slowly developing the images as we dive into the story itself. This worked for me.

Second, there was Guest Book (Ghost Stories) by Leanne Shapton. This experimental text is built on a quilt of sightings of ghosts, with each small section centered on the semblance of a story. Shapton uses images, captions, architectural layouts, and other assorted media to hint at the spirits wandering the world. I wanted to like it. I really did. But I found the use of different media here distracting. I don’t mind odd, but a non-traditional book has to have a story running through it, and I never really found that here, which was disappointing to me. Here, the gimmick overtook the story.

Writing these kinds of texts — and reading these kinds of texts — is difficult, and worthy of experimentation. Sometimes, a writer pulls it off (Goldberg). Sometimes, they don’t (Shapton). I should note that Guest Book seems to have garnered a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads and other places (I think I first read about it in New York Times Books), so it may be that the book just didn’t work for me.

Peace (reading it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Play(ing) it Loud(er)

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

My wife and I were enjoying a day on the bike trail, heading to downtown for some lunch and wandering. As we were coming off the trail to connect with the road, I could just hear the faint stands of music.

“Someone must be cranking their radio,” I thought, and then as we got closer, I added, “and it’s pretty loud.”

We rounded a turn and there, on the lawn of a house that was kitty-corner to two busy roads, was a man in his 60’s — donning a fedora hat on his head and wearing a bright tie-dye t-shirt — with an electric guitar and an amplifier. He was strumming power chords and singing at the top of his lungs, but the guitar was so loud, there was no way you could make out what he was singing. He didn’t care.

No one was watching, and he was not playing for anyone other than himself. The look on his face was perfect – eyes half-closed, mouth in a near smile, and his posture in the classic rock and roll pose, bent slightly forward over the body of the guitar. He hit another power chord, and the distortion blew out over the neighborhood.

I slowed down a little, gave a little wave, but he hardly noticed, and continued on my way, a fellow rock and roller giving silent thanks to some loud music on the lawn.

Peace (in the city),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: They Called Us Enemy

For the past few years, I’ve been involved in a growing partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service (I work closely with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site). One of the regional partnerships in California involves the Tula Lake National Monument, but I didn’t quite realize — until I read George Takei’s  graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy — just how big a role the Tula Lake site in California played in the terrible ordeal of internment of Japanese-American citizens in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

It’s not that I haven’t been educated about the historic site from various projects and sharing out by NWP colleagues from the Tula Lake partnership. Their work to surface stories of those who were segregated from society in one of the most awful legislative actions in modern times (and something I know I never learned about in any of my history classes) has been powerful and eye-opening.

(See more about the partnership between Tula Lake and the Bay Area Writing Project)

In fact, the focus on stories dovetails nicely with the upcoming free, connected Write Out project in October, which seeks to connect place to stories, particularly those stories that have been suppressed or hidden by time and historians, or just by our own ignorance or denial. Write Out is hosted by the NWP/NPS partnership.

Takei’s graphic memoir brings all of that past to the present, and the use of the graphic novel format is a powerful narrative tool. Takei, who is best know for his role of Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek and as an activist on social media, recounts his own childhood experiences of being rounded up, unexpectedly, and sent off to three different internment camps with his family, including the first stop where they lived in a horse barn stall.

The last camp they end up in is Tula Lake, where bitterness and rebellion, and in-fighting among those held captive against their will, is the most tense and violent of the scenes here, particularly as Takei’s father emerges as a leader of groups, seeking calm and peace in order to protect families.

Takei’s father is the real hero here, and Takei’s flashbacks to arguments they had and Takei’s own later understanding of what his father was going through becomes the emotional center of They Called Us Enemy. Stalwart, smart and compassionate, his father is forever trying to keep his family together in hopes that confinement will not last, and that they will be able to rebuild a life after the war is over.

Early scenes on the train where Takei and his family are shipped to the next internment camp linger with me, too — of the armed guards and of the forced closing of shades when the train goes through towns, so that the United States citizens won’t know who is passing through in their midst on the way to confinement camps.

And the book’s storylines such pledges to renounce US citizenship (which would later lead to deportation), of persecution of immigrants seeking and building a new life in America, of government overreach and reaction, of camps where families are held behind barbed wire for unknown periods of time, and more echo with today’s times, too, unfortunately.

Will we never learn?

George Takei visits NWP teachers during a summer institute — from The Current

 

Peace (in stories),
Kevin