Book Review: Ain’t Burned All The Bright

Ain't Burned All the Bright | Book by Jason Reynolds ...

I read Ain’t Burned All The Bright, the new book by Jason Reynold and Jason Griffin, five times in three days — the first, to just read it. The second, to read the words. The third, to read the images. The fourth, to flip and remix the pages, and wonder at how such efforts could surface even more stories. The fifth was to remix it … I’ll share that tomorrow.

How to explain this book? It’s a three-sentence text (long sentences, but still, just three) by Reynolds spanning over pages and pages of beautiful and evocative collage art by Griffin, and each flip of the page is another surprise.

The “story,” such as it is, can be read a few different ways, I suppose, but it has themes of the street violence and protest of the last few years, hints at the effects of Covid, and a family, in which the narrator is one of the children, struggling to hold it all together. The book is in three parts — three breaths – with a refrain of breathing in and breathing out.

It’s serious and it’s joyful — and it is this teetering of emotional zigzag that resonates so strongly through multiple readings. The mom is stuck in front of the television the whole book, watching the news. The dad is isolated in the parents’ bedroom, coughing up a storm. The brother is playing a video game and the sister is on her phone, and our narrator is just trying to break through all this clutter of life to get their/our attention.

These scenes of life inside an apartment, and the way the text (typed, cut and pasted) unfold against the small works of art by Griffin (really, every page could be framed and hung on a gallery wall) demonstrates the power of multi-literacies at work in tandem with each other.

Add the “is anyone still here?” question/answer authors’ section at the back of the book, where the two Jasons (friends since college), talk about where the seeds of this collaborative came from, and it’s all just a powerful, magical textural/artistic experience unlike any other.

I’m going back in to read it for a sixth time (rare for me). It’s that kind of book.

Peace (breathing in/breathing out),

Slice of Life: As It Once Was

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

It’s not that I don’t ever see my students without masks — snack, lunch, walks outside, etc. — but with our state now lifting mask requirements for schools at the end of the month and my school district likely this week to follow suit at the local level (although what that will look like, we don’t quite know), I’m trying to remember what it was like to see all those young faces, to see all the smiles, to notice the full looks and emotional reactions on faces, as it once was, all the time.

In class discussions, there’s a wide range of reactions by students to this possible news of ending the mask mandate. Some can’t wait. Others seem nervous. When something lasts two years, it becomes a sort of reality, the way things are. Masks have protected, hidden and defined us in many ways.

Maybe we can step forward, carefully and guided by science, into a new reality yet again (same as the old reality) and as a teacher, I will be able to better read the room again, the way things might yet still be.

Peace (thinking forward),

PS — the downside to loosening masks? Litter. This was my morning poem today after noticing our playground area yesterday:

Beneath this snow
and ice pack of winter,
abandoned masks
litter this place –

It’s confetti, like loose parts
and colored fabric bits,
so we bide our time
to gather on it

The ripped strings
as abandoned seeds,
but nothing here’s rooted
or anchored by trees


Book Review: The Most Important Comic Book on Earth (Stories to Save the World)

The Most Important Comic Book on Earth: Stories to Save ...

Where did I read about this one? I’m no longer sure, but The Most Important Comic Book on Earth (Stories to Save the World) certainly had a title that caught my attention. It’s a huge tome, filled with more than 100 comic/graphic novel stories about the planet from dozens of writer and artists, and all with a highly activist global bent.

And all of it designed to raise awareness about Climate Change and spur us into action – right now.

The quality of the art and stories is hit or miss, I’d say, but the stories and comics that resonate were powerful statements about taking action and the book itself is a fundraiser for various environmental organizations. Some of the stories here are one-pagers. Some are multiple page stories. There are fictional stories. There are non-fiction looks at people and organizations fighting against for-profit corporation and countries negatively impacting oceans and habitats.

More than a few of the stories here are painfully difficult to read, as they envision our planet and world where no or little action has been taken to address climate change and the impact on animals, ecology, humankind.

But as the book moves along through various themes (from changing the system, to protecting the world, to restoring the damage, to inspiration for the future), the collection ends with some positive stories centered on how regular people can’t wait for the politicians to take action — we have to have it in ourselves to make change, through collective organization and deeds. Interspersed with the comics are one-page informational texts, with research and information about individual action.

The overarching message of the collection: It’s not hopeless, but neither is it inevitable that we can do what we need to do to save our planet. The comics and graphic stories here are designed to alarm and to inspire us into action. The most important comic book on Earth? Maybe it is.

This collection might be appropriate for high school readers, but some unsettling stories of environmental and ecological collapse might be a bit too much for younger readers, in my opinion. Or not, if the point all along is to jar us into action.

Peace (planted and nurtured for the future),

Comic: That Dang Curve

Riding The Wave Again

As states, like mine, begin lifting the mask mandates, it’s a positive sign that we are somewhat nearing the end of this Omicron curve (although the CDC reminds us that plenty of people are still suffering from this latest variant). But what we don’t know is if another variant curve is coming. What could protect us all would be more vaccinations and more boosters. It feels as if that divide remains as large as ever, as people are divided as ever.

Peace (stay safe)

Slice of Life: Wandering Inside Immersive Art

(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, along with a friend of ours, took a day trip into Boston the other day to explore one of two immersive Van Gogh shows in the city, and it was pretty marvelous. The show had taken over a huge cavernous space inside a building in South Boston, hung massive black curtains, and set up a stunning array of high-definition movie projectors and sound systems.

After wandering through a poster display of information about Van Gogh and the technical mechanics of the show itself, you step into the room, and it’s like stepping inside a Vincent Van Gogh field of art, and not just his most famous paintings, either. Here, we wandered through his sketches, his period of art inspired by Japanese paintings, and so much more. Although this show did not feature any VR headsets or anything, the curation was thoughtful — the paintings moved across the curtains of the huge room, in a synchronized dance of visual experience. You could sit on a bench, and let the art unfold around you, or you could wander through the room.

At Immersive Art Show

What struck me was the array and choice of colors and the brush strokes, the way this kind of different experience brings you close to the canvas, like an insect crawling along the edges of an artist at work. It’s as if every decision by the artist is there, made visible, if you can read it, and yet that does not spoil the beauty of the art, either.

Afterwards, we chatted about the experience and what lingers with me is how the scaling up of the art gave a different perspective, and opened my eyes further, to what Van Gogh was attempting to capture, even with all of his financial and mental health difficulties. It gave another glimpse of how an artist of his caliber must see the world.

I also marveled at the technical aspects of the show itself, noticing the placement of computers in the rafters and the sound system setup, and the way the choice of music fit so perfectly with the mood of each round of paintings (there were themed rotations in the room, one theme segueing into another).

Peace (wandering through),

On Songwriting Part 7: Getting Back To Bare Bones

(This is the seventh of a series of posts about writing songs. Read the first postsecond post,  third postfourth post, fifth post, and sixth post, if interested)

In my previous post in this series designed to reflect and pull back the curtain on my process of writing and recording of a brand new song — Million Miles Away (From Finding Me) — I shared a somewhat slick, produced final track that featured a wide range of instruments and loop, layers upon layers.

But I could not escape the sense, as I listened, that the song in that particular version had come to seem a bit cold and over-produced to my ears, even though I had a lot of fun with the creative energy and the hours that went into making the song sound like that. Mixing and making loops, and recording real instruments to add on top, and playing with sounds — I love all that stuff and get lost in it.

When I finished the production and shared that version of the song out, though, I wondered aloud if I needed to get back to just guitar and voice.

I did. So I did.

Million Miles studio pic

And I know I can hear the difference with this stripped down version — it’s the version I hear in my head when I was writing the song. (Which makes me think to that old VH1 Unplugged series in which famous musicians showed up with only acoustic instruments to play their most popular tracks and how some of those performances were magical because they exposed nuances in songs that weren’t always evident in the electric versions — see Nirvana, as example).

Take a listen to my acoustic version of Million Miles Away:

I do think that all the work I did in polishing up the song in the production version in my, ahen, “studio” (ie, corner of my room) was worth it — it forced me to listen to the song closely, day after day, and to tweak the lyrics and timing of the voice, and all that planning and thinking and tinkering informed even this acoustic version, even though it very basic in nature.

What is most different here, though, is that the lyrics surface, allowing the song to take a breath in the space between the guitar and the voice. In the earlier version, every gap felt crammed with sound. The song got crowded. The words suffocated beneath the tracks of instruments and the steady drum track that allows no detour. Here, with this recording with no metronome and only one guitar as I sing, I think, the song and lyrics have found some freedom to linger in the air a bit longer.

Thanks for reading and listening along with me. It’s been fun. Now, it’s on to other songs and poems …

Peace (singing it),

PS — if you want to see a video of me recording the acoustic version I have shared here in this post, this link will give you a look at me, my guitar and my basic set-up.

Nerdwriter: Dark Patterns

This one has been in my blog draft bin for some time. Worth re-visiting for understanding better how companies try to manipulate us (users) to gather more information and to keep us inside their tents.

I support Nerdwriter through Patreon.

Peace (breaking out),

CLMOOC Calendar Soundtrack: February (Skies Falling)

We, those of us connected in CLMOOC ,put out a collective calendar for the new year. Download it for free, if interested. It’s got lots of cool artwork and collective energy. I composed a short piece of music for each month. So, here’s February’s track: Skies Falling.

Peace (listening in),