Storyjumpers 2: Holding a Map Up to the Light

(This is part two of a Storyjumper activity for Digital Writing Month, where we are handing off stories to each other on blogs and writing the story forward. Bruno W. started us off with a personal narrative, and I am taking part of what he wrote and moving into a story. — Kevin)

Story jumpers at digiwrimo

The paper note spilled out of the computer case, fluttering into in hands. I wasn’t expecting that. Not at all. But I was intrigued. Much of the wording on the paper had been smudged by water or by time, or both, but the story itself ended with these intriguing lines:

A few more days later, I realized it was again different: They are more proofs that I didn’t imagine this story, I didn’t dream it or exaggerate it. This part of the story is so trite you barely need a proof, other memories, encounters are more exceptional, surprising that I’ve been relieved to find some tracks of them. Like the sand that you find in the morning, in your pocket reminds you that a dream could have been more than a dream.

Most of my friends know I am someone who takes pleasure in old worn-out devices. I gut them out on my workbench in the basement, working at the insides with some magic that even I could never explain — I just know — finding a way to get the old machines up and running again, pulling them out of sleep.

This particular laptop and case – with the lettering saying “Bruno W., Strasbourg, France, 2015” and nothing more — was retrieved from an old shop that my friend, Sarah, visited while overseas on a trip searching for ukeles. She’s a uke collector. And she calls me strange for my obsession with technology.

My circle of friends, they know my hobby and they indulge me. An old phone. A cracked PC. An iPad with bad battery.  They all come my way eventually. And I often return the favor by fixing their devices for free. Sometimes, it’s only a reminder that “plugs go into the outlet.” Other times, it’s me, digging deep into the engine of the device. Is there anything more pleasurable than ripping out a hard drive? I don’t think so. There’s a certain satisfaction I find with taking apart something that others think can’t be taken apart, to see technology as story of parts.

I think of myself less as a fixer of technology than a reconstructor of stories.

I held the Bruno paper print-out in my hand. It was clearly the ending of some story, of a narrative. I tried to imagine who this Bruno was. I could hear his voice in his words.

Who was he writing to? Was it some loved one? Some invisible audience in the world? Was it a story he hoped others would read? Or was it some private tale, and now, as I read his lines, were my eyes were intruding on a private moment?

I turned the paper over, seeking understanding.

Faintly hidden, no doubt from the passage of time, I saw the faint pencil outline of what seemed to be a map. I held the story up to the light, trying to make the lines more visible. I was reminded of my childhood interest in detective gear, and the trick of writing in lemon juice as invisible ink. I squinted. The light filtered through the paper like an onionskin. An outline emerged. It was indeed a map and on the map, I could just make out some lines of text and a set of arrows that seemed to be leading towards ….

(the end of the chapter. Maha Bali now takes it from here …)

Peace (in the exquisite corpse story),


#DigiWriMo Slow Book Review: Reading the Visual

Someone, somewhere, in some space, mentioned Frank Sarafini’s book — Teaching the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy — and, well, if that was you, thank you. I had reserved it through our library system weeks ago, and it has just arrived … and right on time for November’s Digital Writing Month adventures, too.

I actually won’t do a full book review here. Instead, I have pulled out 30 quotes from Sarafini’s book that I will (try to) share one every day throughout November. Consider it a “slow book review” of sorts, where I hope my curating of Sarafini’s wonderful exploration of the changing world of writing and composition and the teaching of multimedia will inspire you, and me.

Us. Together.

We can get inspired, and what better month to do that and try our hand at digital writing, and share out our success and struggles and new understandings, than with Digital Writing Month, right?

Here is the first quote, which I will share out more widely tomorrow as DigiWriMo launches in my time zone (since we have all sorts of folks all over the world, Digital Writing Month posts may come earlier than it seems — or later than it appears — depending on your place in the world.)


Sarafini looks at not just the visual, as the title suggests, but also the various elements of multimodal compositions as a means to help teachers move this kind of literacy practice into their classroom in a meaningful and practical way.

I will be sharing the 30 Frank Quotes (I hope he doesn’t mind this informal name calling .. hey, I see he’s on Twitter, too. I will give him a shout out to join in DigiWriMo) via Twitter at the #Digiwrimo hashtag and in the DigiWriMo Google Community, and anywhere else I feel it might resonate. I will also be creating a collection over at Flickr.

Don’t just read the quotes. Live them. Teach them. Write them. And do yourself a favor: get Sarafini’s book. You’ll get inspired. Now I need to get my own copy and remove the sticky notes from the library version …

Peace (in the depth of digital writing),


What’s Really Important: The Unofficial CV Activity

The “gearing up and getting ready” stage for Digital Writing Month is underway … with a sort of teaser, pre-writing activity in which we are encouraging folks to create an “unofficial CV/Resume” of what is really important. The title of the post is important: Your Story, Your Terms.

The whole idea is try to turn the act of making CV with its narrow focus on our world of work on its head … by tapping into various modes and mediums, and using those elements to better express the person you are, in your own terms.

Here’s mine, in comic form:

Kevin's Unofficial CV Comic

What will your Unofficial CV look like? Come share it within and beyond Digital Writing Month.

Peace (outside the frame),

Compelled to Write (Every Day)

writing in the head

Jeffrey posted this question as we gear up for Digital Writing Month in November:

Good one.

I can only answer for myself and say, that as Maha noted in her own response, I find myself writing all the time: either in my head (knowing I need to remember that in order to write that down) or on paper (that scrap will do) or on various screens (although I find that using my thumbs to write takes too long and is very frustrating to the train of thought … my words feel like a caboose).

Here’s how I end up finding ways and time to write: I stake out the morning. I get myself up early before my family (three boys, wife and dog) are all up and the house gets its crazy-time feel. I usually have about an hour or so before the day begins. I walk the dog, make my coffee … and sit down to write, either at my blog (the starting line) or in some other space.

But I am writing in my head all the time, too.

Years ago, when I was writing a long of songs, I used to walk around with melodies and lyrics humming in my head. I’d be lost in thought, literally, using my footfalls for rhythm, working out word choices based on rhymes and patterns and meaning. I still write songs, but not as much, and now, I find myself working out ideas around teaching and writing and art during the drive to and from work, while walking the dog, when waking up after sleep.

I’m blogging even when I am nowhere near my blog. I am a poet of ideas out in thin air. I am a storywriter, spinning characters out of clouds. I am essayist with no paper, a songwriter with invisible notes. I am a writer even without the physical tools of writing. (Or is that just a thinker?)

It’s as if I have this huge invisible notebook and pen, and I am mentally jotting down ideas. For a long time at this blog, I was writing two posts a day. But even I knew that was too much for any reader. But I felt compelled to write, write, write, and so I did. Now, I try to focus a bit more on a single post a day, and some things just never get written. Not every idea is a good one, anyway.

I’m not suggesting this all-day-writing-in-the-head works for anyone else. In answering Jeffrey’s query about writing management, I can only speak for myself: the words are coming all the time and I need my morning quiet time to write. When I don’t have that time, as happens now and then, I feel empty that day, as if the writing nourishes me.

I need to write.

Peace (in writing this from me to you),


Considering the Emergent (Or Waiting for the Unknown)

CLMOOC Emergent Branches

(Year One Emergence Ideas: CLMOOC)

The concept of “emergent ideas” has been on my mind this week through a few different lenses.

First, I am planning out a three-hour Make Hack Play session for the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) Conference next weekend, and the ethos of Connected Learning and the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration is driving my planning of the session. I hope to get teachers making things in a playful environment while also grounding the fun in Connected Learning ideas.

As I am pulling together an overview of the CLMOOC, and how one plans for the unexpected, the “emergent” projects that came out of left field and took on lives of their own, with little or only somewhat, guidance from the CLMOOC facilitators remains some of the more magical memories of that project.

Emergent Ideas of CLMOOC

(Year Two Emergent Ideas: CLMOOC)

Then, in a podcast interview this week with Chris Guest about the upcoming Digital Writing Month, my co-facilitators Maha Bali and Sarah Honeychurch and I were talking about how we are working on a plan for November’s monthlong exploration of digital writing, but that we most fondly remember “emergent” projects and collaborations from other open learning spaces (such as Rhizomatic Learning) that formed the anchor of those experiences, for us, as participants.

Our hope is that all sorts of emergent ideas bloom in Digital Writing Month, but how do you plan for that? First of all, you can’t. If an idea is open, then open is the idea, and facilitators have to keep the hands off the wheel as much as possible.

But facilitators can establish fertile ground for ideas to take root, and facilitators can “notice” these ideas and gently move them along. Facilitators can validate what might seem like a crazy idea and see it can work. Facilitators can become the conduits for collaboration.

Here’s an example already with Digital Writing Month, and the month hasn’t even begun (it takes place in November): the Storyjumpers Project.

It began with a tweet from Bruno, who was thinking of signing up for Digital Writing Month, and then after doing so, he wondered out loud, on Twitter, if a collaborative story, moving from blog to blog, might be possible. That was all we needed, and soon, we had an open Google Doc up and running, and now 18 people (including a youth writing group in Vermont) from all over the world (literally) have signed up to “pass the story” throughout Digital Writing Month, from blog to blog.

Story jumpers at digiwrimo

To be honest, we don’t know how it will unfold, and whether there will be chaos or beauty, or something smack dab in the middle. But that won’t stop us from trying this kind of collaborative writing adventure. There’s a story to write, and we’re going to write it.

Finally, I look at my own classroom of sixth graders, and wonder how I can best lay the groundwork this year for emergent ideas in that space, too. The difficulty is that waiting for the unexpected in a traditional school experience is often at odds with curriculum mandates. Learn this. Learn that. Teach this. Teach that. I struggle with this tension, and continue to ponder how possibly the “Genius Hour/20 Percent” concept of open student inquiry might prop the door open to emergent thinking in a more sustained way. I’m getting there … I’m moving there …

Meanwhile, Maha and Sarah and I wonder what will emerge next in Digital Writing Month. Who knows? I’m a facilitator and I have no idea. And I am fine with that. Expect the unexpected, and learn more about the world. That’s how learning takes root and flourishes.

digiwrimo 2015

Want to know more about Digital Writing Month?

Peace (in the unknown),

Exploring Mobile Webmaker: i am small on the screen

Merely ... A Webmaker experiment

Mozilla’s pivot to mobile makes sense from its worldwide view and mission of connecting people around the world and giving them tools to “make the web.”  Most people in global communities use mobile devices, not desktop computers.

While I personally mourn the loss of Popcorn Maker (oh, I miss it terribly, and all of its remix media possibilities) and celebrate the new and improved Thimble tool (with file uploads and multiple page possibilities), I was sort of left out the mobile app experiment because I did not have an Android phone.

Now I do (long story, another day), and I went about exploring the free Webmaker App this weekend to see what Mozilla has been up to as it focuses in on mobile technology. I know the app is only the beginning (or so I think, as it seems in beta) and it wasn’t bad.

Nothing overly impressive yet, either, as far as I can tell, but I was able to make a website poem within minutes, and once I got myself situated, I found it fairly easy to use. I could see the threshold for using this app to be very low for most people. You can make the web within minutes.

View i am small on the screen

I purposely did not include any images or graphics with my small poem, as I was trying to keep the design simple, with words and links to side stanzas broken off from the main trunk of the poem. Basically, the editing mode gives you branches to create multiple pages and buttons as links to those pages. The downside is that viewing of the finished project is best done in the app itself. On the web, the poem looks scrunched up, at best.

But maybe that claustrophobic effect is effective for a poem whose theme is the smallness of the web. I’m going to nod my head and say, that was my purpose as a writer all along. (You believe me, right?) The poem became digital within the constraints of the technology.

What will you make?

Peace (here),

Digital Writing Month: Push Up Against the Edges

Check out this quote from a blog post by Michael Manderino at his blog, Pedagogical Consciousness:

.. we should treat songs as texts and albums like literature …

In this wonderful analytical post, Michael deconstructs the experience of listening to the band, Best Coast, and makes the case that the act of listening is akin to the act of reading (so, I am going to flip that, and suggest that the act of writing music is akin to the act of writing. I don’t think he would disagree.) He goes after mood, and sound, and then image and video sequencing. He touches on the lost art of album design. He views the experience through multimodal eyes.

The overall impression that I get (or I should say, gets reinforced by Michael’s analysis) is that the “composition” here is the collection of media parts that wind their way into the whole experience, and when thinking of how technology is shifting our notions of what writing is, this kind of analysis is insightful and metaphorical: if technology allows us to move our stories into multimedia, what does that do the story itself that we writers write, and that our readers read (or our viewers view, or listeners listen).

Michael, in fact, even notes that the use of a blog makes a difference in the writing of the analysis itself, and of course, he is write. The affordances of a space where links can be embedded, and media shared, and more, lends to something deeper and richer.

Analyzing the individual modes are insufficient to recognize the cross modal dependency to communicate the narrative.  We need to foster instructional opportunities to recognize these sites of multimodal intertextuality.  Music is an optimal media source for doing so. — Michael Manderino

It’s as wonderful muddle that we (writers, teachers, readers) find ourselves in, mainly because we are still in “the moment” when all of this is unfolding. When you are in the midst of change, it’s difficult to know where it will end up. Writing is in the midst of change. I don’t know where it will end up. You don’t, either. That doesn’t mean we give up and moan about the old days. It means we are in the midst of adventure, so gather up your compass and backpack, and head out into the edges of the world.

So, what do we do? We play and reflect.

In November, I am helping to facilitate this year’s version of Digital Writing Month (DiGiWriMo) with my global friends, Maha Bali and Sarah Honeychurch, with support by the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy. We’re inviting all sorts of people in all sorts of fields to write guest posts and we hope to suggest some activities that will get participants thinking about what we mean when we talk about “writing” in this digital age. Interestingly, November is also NaNoWriMo, so lots of folks are digging into traditional writing and storytelling. Maybe some will find some convergence points in November.

We’ll be facilitating discussions to explore the shifts in writing, the way image informs a composition, how audio and listening tap into something intriguing, and how transmedia/multimedia composition might alter the experience of text for a reader/viewer/listener/player.

Need help to consider what it is all about? How about this interactive?

We hope you come along for the adventure. Come on over to the Digital Writing Month website. If you add your name to the newsletter, we’ll send you updates on posts and activities in November. Get making and creating.

Peace (inside the text),

Digital Writing is Untethered Writing

Digital writing is untethered writing

I’ve been having an interesting backchannel discussion about digital writing with some friends of mine, whose opinions I greatly respect. An issue in our discussions arose around the idea of curating writing that has been posted in one site on the Web and whether or not the writer needs to grant approval for someone else to curate that writing into another digital space. (There’s a slight twist here, in that the topic that sparked this conversation concerns inviting specific people to write for a specific site for a specific reason.)

On one hand, I think the argument that a writer should have some say over where and when their writing is re-used once it is published makes sense. They wrote it. It’s their ideas. They took the time to craft it into something worth curating. They created something.

But …

… on the other hand …

… digital writing is untethered writing.

Therefore, I think that if you publish it as a digital text, you have to be aware that someone else might find what you write interesting and useful, and the might just pull it into some sort of curation, either for personal saving (like Diigo, for example) or for community sharing (like via a retweet, or a magazine, or Flipboard). I might email a story to you, or recommend one via our social networking. I wrote about a similar topic with the automated curation that is built on algorithms. (I don’t know where that post ended up, but I hope it found a home somewhere nice.)

This ability to curate and be curated doesn’t mean that someone has permission to scrape your content off a website and put out there elsewhere as if it were their own. That’s theft. That’s not what I am talking about (although digital spaces does make that easier than ever to do).

What I mean is that while we — the writer — might put some writing at a certain website, such as this blog or that digital space over there, someone else might come along and pull what we made into another project via RSS or hyperlink or some other format, and the writing moves onward.

Or, as Cory Doctorow wrote in his book — Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free — that I recently reviewed here in this space (maybe you curated it or bookmarked it?), we can think of content that we create (writing, media, etc.) as a dandelion in its puffy seed phase, casting ideas to the wind with hope that something will catch root somewhere, in some time. If you write it, someone may read it. You just won’t necessarily know when and where your writing will find its reader.

You need faith — faith that your writing can withstand the sharing world. Faith that your ideas can travel and still have impact. Faith that the digital world is not taking away from the writing experience, but adding to the potential: of audience, of medium, of impact.

It’s complicated and frustrating and liberating, too — this idea of ownership with digital writing. Sites put up paywalls, I know. Others use technology that resist copying or sharing. I’m all for Creative Commons designations. None of this seems to really matter, though. The writing moves on at its own pace, in some form or another.

Again, Doctorow’s “think like a dandelion” metaphor seems apt.

I find myself coming more down on the side of “let the ideas go free as much as possible” than the side of  “keep the writing tethered to the extent possible.”  I know that makes a lot of writers uncomfortable. It may be that those writers will avoid the digital spaces, and hope that the dandelion seeds still take root somewhere.

Me? I’m one of those fools who takes a deep breath and sends the seeds scattering.

Peace (in the shift),

Both Sides of the Telescope: MetaWriting and MetaComic

Last week, I started to work on a sort of meta-comic because comic creation has been on my mind — both for a guest blog post I have submitted for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing and for the upcoming Digital Writing Month in November.

I began with this:

Eat the Words

And then ended with this:

I wanted to explore if I could use one comic platform and then pull back the lens a bit, and show how one comic was part of a larger comic and idea, and then those were part an even larger idea, and so on.

I was shooting for the idea that inspiration comes from all different places, and different platforms change the way we create things. And in the end, well, I don’t always know where ideas come from. I just know, the string is getting pulled.

The lens was pulled back, showing ever expanding views of the comic in creation.

I put that comic project aside when I got caught up in some other things, but a post by my friend Terry Elliott, inspired by friend Ian O’Byrne, entitled 140 is Dead, 14o is Dead! Long Live the 140! caught my eye, as Terry writes about how Twitter changes the way we write. In doing so, he played around with editing and revision, moving from a wide view of writing to something smaller and confined.

Terry writes: “I think in the end that Twitter has made me a different kind of writer.  Perhaps it makes me better because I need to reconsider and edit based upon a simple set of initial conditions, fairly rigid editorial guidelines like the 140 character limit. Perhaps it makes me better because it makes me write more then less then more again like the exercise above until I get it right enough.”

The lens was pulled in, showing ever narrowing views of the writing in creation.

It struck me that Terry and I were looking at each other through either end of the compositional telescope — him, with his writing; me, with my comic.

What I wondered was, where do we meet in the middle? Maybe the telescope is the world, and this blog post in the place where his view meets my view.

Peace (in the view of the world),

From Tweet to Poem and the Spaces In-Between

The drawing of this Constellation Conversation continues … as I engage in discussions about modalities and writing and mediums of expressions with Yin Wah and Anna, ping-ponging back and forth across these spaces.

I took a line from Yin Wah’s latest post, surfacing an important idea, which I agree with as a writer.

YinWah Quote

And then I decided to do some “line lifting” to build a poem around this concept of hers.


Notice how her writing piece influenced mine …. and how a tweet became a blog became a quote became a poem … and where does it go from here? Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere. Maybe you take the thread and extend it a bit further. Or not.

Peace (in this whatever it is we are doing),