Day One: MoonSong

I realized that I needed to wait until the kind folks at Storybird moderated my picture book story until I could get the embed code for it. This is part of the Picture Book Challenge.

This book is called MoonSong.

MoonSong on Storybird

Peace (in the song),

My bank files are on Microfiche?

This is a tale of two banks but also about technology shock.

For reasons that I won’t get into here, I had to request some monthly bank records from the two banks that I use. One bank is pretty large and has been swallowed up any number of times by the larger fish in the money pool. The other is a credit union and I use it mainly for funding my car insurance.

I went to the big bank and asked for my records. The woman jumped on her PC, punched a few keys and we chatted as the paperwork printed out. She stapled it together and I was on my way.


I figured I had time to go the credit union, too, so I went there. I explained to the woman what I wanted. She dug around for a small form and started to fill it out.

“You understand there is a $25 research fee?” she asked.

“Research fee? For what?”

“To find your statements.”

“Aren’t they right there, in the database?” I pointed at her computer.

“No. I only have access to the last six months. The rest are on microfiche.”

I stood there in silence, baffled. I was caught in the memory of using the library in high school and in college, squinting at the tiny rolls of data in the huge machines.

She noticed my look. “Do you know what microfiche is?” I must look younger than I am, I thought. (Reader, you can laugh)

“I know what it is but I didn’t think anyone in the world used it anymore and I certainly didn’t think banks used it. Why isn’t all this on a database?”

Now she was the one silent. I knew she was not the one to blame for this, so I just shook my head. (Later, I rationalized that maybe the bank does not trust the digital age and sees microfiche as a safer way to store information. Or, my cynical side added, to get a few extra bucks in research from its customers)

“By the way, this could take a good week or so to get your request. You should know that,” she added. I envisioned some poor bank employee whose job it is to sift through piles of microfiche. I shuddered.

I took the form she was helping me fill out and looked at it closely. Not only was there a research fee but it would cost $12 for every monthly statement on top of that fee. For what I was searching for, the cost would run almost $200.

That’s $200 for data that I technically already own. Or not, I guess. Maybe my data is really the bank’s data. I am confused on this now.

“That’s why we remind our customers to save all of their paper files,” she kindly informed me, as I took the slip, stuffed it into my pocket and told her I would have to rethink my request. I did thank her for helping me.

What I didn’t tell her was, your bank won’t survive long in this digital age if your data base is a storage box of microfiche in some vault somewhere. But I held my tongue and walked away.

Peace (in the information age),

Bringing Collaborative Stories to an End

The three strands of this week’s collaborative storytelling — in Google Wave, on an Etherpad site, and in a closed network of teacher-writers — were brought to an end this morning as I wrapped up the adventures under the title The Datastream.

You can read all three stories together on a Google Docs website that I created. You also have the opportunity to read each story on its own through links that I put on that master document.


I did very little editing or tidying up of the text, although I wanted to re-form the stories to make more sense as we neared the end.  That was the editor in me. I resisted the urge, figuring that the way the stories get tangled and untangled is interesting in itself, and part of the process, and I did not want to lose the various voices of the collaborators. I loved how links, images, even Twitter, became part of the Wave story.

I struggled with how to end the three stories, even as I tried to steer the narrative towards each other in the last day or two. It became a science fiction-ized story at that point because I could not see any other way to bring the stories together and to a close. What I did not want was a project that never ends.

Ending are as important as beginnings, right?

I decided that I would write the ending piece as second-person narrative — an attempt to draw the reader into the collaborative experience as much as the writers (and there were more than 20 writers across the platforms collaborating on different strands of the story).

So, the obvious question: does this kind of collaborative story have a place in the classroom?

Absolutely, and as Tracy wrote about on her blog, you don’t need technology. Simply having students write the start of a story on paper, and then pass that paper around the room two or three times (it’s a good way to have them think about plot — one person does exposition, another person takes on rising action, etc.).

A few years ago, I used a wiki for this kind of student collaborative writing over a vacation and the students loved it, although the story made no sense whatsoever. Perhaps it would be good to designate some “student editors” of the story, to do sort of what I did here — gently shaping it.

This story project began because I wanted to know what Google Wave was all about. I figured a collaborative story might make sense, and I did learn a lot about Wave from the story writing. I don’t like Wave all that much but I learned how to use it. Then, it occurred to that I am part of a writing community already — the iAnthology — and why not draw them into the concept? So, a second strand began. Someone complained that they could not access Wave, so I started a third strand over at Etherpad, an online word processor that requires no registration.

You should have seen me bouncing around between the three stories, trying to keep plot lines and characters straight in my head. It was fun but strange, as if I were dancing with three partners to three different styles of music, all at once.

If you were a participant in this particular collaborative adventure, I want to thank you. If you are just a reader, thanks, too. We’re in this together, you know.

Peace (in the stories),

Why I compose with digital tools

This is the last post in my series of “Why I …” (I’m tempted to add the word ‘oughta’ and say it as a podcast in the voice of Ralph Kramden) reflections that were not really all that planned. I wrote about why I blog, and then why I read, and then why I write songs.

Today, I am thinking about why I work with digital tools for multimedia compositions. I like to think of myself as someone who is an explorer, and when a new digital tool comes along, I often wonder if an existing piece of writing can fit with it (using something old within the structure of new affordances) or if the new tool sparks a new way of looking at writing/composing on the digital canvas.

This world of technology — this expanding canvas of possibilities — is something that really does excite me. I love how all elements of media — image, voice, video, and more – are converging in so many different ways and opening up the doors for interesting possibilities.

One of the first digital compositions I did was a poem that I wrote called “Blink Blink Blink” with three video shots running at once, and with NWP friends helping me out with it, saying the words “blink blink blink” many times. It was also my first use with a Flip video camera. However, I just noticed that my Googlepages platform where I kept the composition is not quite right — the video placements are all off and there are some missing media elements to the page (I think Google has ended Pages in lieu of Sites) so now, I need to migrate my work to something else (Glogster? Might work). I remember having this vision for using the three video pieces and got really caught up in how to plan it out — how to make it a real experience that really used digital tools in a way that I could never have done on paper. And I wanted viewers to lose themselves in the experience, so that even with all three videos running at once, you would find yourself experiencing them together as one composition.

One of the multimedia pieces that I am most proud of is called Capturing Myself in Hyperlink. It is a series of poems that link in and out of each other, with matching themes and words. Again, this piece would not have been the same if I had just typed out the poems. The associative links between the poems are important and the path is purposely non-linear, moving the reader in different directions.

I also have another set of poems called Inside Kaleidoscope Dreams over at Hypertextopia. My aim was to write quickfiction and then organize them around themes that I saw emerging, linking some stories together. I added podcasts for my voice, and choose images for some stories. I was working to create a mood for the stories, and also, to bring them under one larger digital umbrella.

In most of these adventures, I submerge myself into the tool as both a composer (I like the term better than writer) and also as a teacher. I am exploring possibilities for myself and my students. The hyperlink poem project, for example, led to a project with my students where they created their own linked poetry (they used powerpoint). I’ve done short fiction with my students and published as a webpage. I have not yet done work like Blink with them, but why not? They can learn moviemaker and by now, most either have or have used a Flip camera.

And then there are all the new Web 2.o tools emerging. It’s an incredible time to be a creator of content. There are more and more possibilities for making things new or recasting old thoughts, and all it takes is some courage to explore and try and not be roped in by what the developers think a site or a software platform should be used for.

So, here is where I am at: I spent much of last year writing a fairly large poem/story about the life of this one character, and I have about 14 new songs that are part of the story. I envision this as a multimedia production of some sort. But what sort? An interactive timeline? A modified Prezi? An idea that came to last night — why not post the entire poem, one part at a time, from the end of the story first to the first of the story last (like that movie where time moves backwards — Momento) on a blog, so that this man’s life goes in reverse (like Benjamin Button). Wouldn’t that be fascinating? And then, repost the entire production on an entirely other platform — like a timeline of his life.

See? I am getting jazzed up just thinking about it because I can see how the elements of each of those technologies might play a role in the unfolding of the story. It’s an amazing creative experience. And those possibilities keep me going as a writer. I compose with digital tools because I am, first and foremost, a writer.

Peace (why I need it),

Why I read …

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Why I Blog (please add your reasons, too, as it helps me in my own reflections). Last night, as I was reading the essay by Nicholas Carr entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the Best Technology Writing of 2009 (I know I know — everyone else in the world has read it and discussed it. I’m late for the party), I realized that much of the argument being made by Carr is similar to what I have been experiencing with reading lately. Still, something about his reasoning did not quite sit right with me.

But, why do I read? And is my presence on the web impacting my reading habits?

I’ve been a reader since I can remember and spent much of my childhood curled up next to books. I’d read voraciously and in all kinds of genre, although my favorite was and still is good science fiction. (There is plenty of bad science fiction). I read because it transformed me into other places, through the eyes of other characters. I could escape. I could explore, and I could do it alone. This appealed to me as a reader.

Carr, in The Atlantic piece, suggests that our reading on the Internet has become that of “power skimmer,” cruising across the surface of information as opposed to going deep into one thing. Carr admits there are benefits to this (he is a freelance writer and so he now has a world of information at his keyboard) but he worries that this kind of reading is rewiring our brains in a way that is making sustained deep reading more and more difficult. The joy of being lost in a test for long stretches of time are fewer and fewer, he writes. His metaphor is that of someone jet skiing over the top of the ocean as opposed to scuba diving down into the world below.

So here is where I found an echo in my own thinking lately.

This past year, more than most, I have started and abandoned an alarming number of novels. I’ve tried to keep my interest up, gotten far enough to know it was not just laziness and then, poof, decided that the book was not worth my time. I’d toss it aside, and then worry: am I losing my skills  as a reader? Can I no longer sustain my attention? Carr suggests, yes, and puts some of the blame on my brain being rewired by my time on the computer.

I’ve also delved into graphic novels and one thing I do like about them is that I can finish them in short bursts. I love the intersection of art and writing, but I can’t help but wonder if the ability to read a graphic novel in a day or two isn’t part of the appeal for me (and for others, perhaps).

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if I am just being more judicious in what I read and have less patience for what I consider bad writing. I used to feel an obligation to finish a book when I started it, as if I owed the writer something (even though I paid the money for the words). It’s possible, too, that technology has made me a more engaged reader, in that I think I know what I want and I am reading more and more kinds of writing.

The world of words is open farther than ever before and I don’t have to sit still when I am not being moved by a writer’s craft. I may have an obligation as a reader to immerse myself into the writer’s head, but the writer has an obligation to give me a path there that I can believe in. In some ways, technology makes me see this relationship in a new light — at blogs and other sites, I can engage with writers and books directly. My expectations as a reader have changed.

Life is too short for feeling like I am stuck in a book just because I cracked it open and my time, too valuable. I want a book that engages and entertains me, not bores me. As I get older (more a factor than my use of technology, I am convinced), I am less likely to remain patience with books that don’t engage me.

I read because I want to be inspired. The moments when I put down a book and think, “My Gosh, that was an incredible journey,”  may be few and far between, but when they happen, they are like thundershots in the night and spur me on as writer. (The last book to that was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer).

A good book makes me want to run out and write. Just as I wrote about why I blog, I read because I am a writer.

Peace (in the books),


Why I blog ….

I am reading a collection of articles from the book The Best Technology Writing of 2009 . I’m not very far in yet (the first piece is about Griefers, people in online worlds who try to make the games a miserable experience for others, which was unsettling to read) but last night,  I was very deep into an essay by Andrew Sullivan about why he blogs.  The piece is called “Why I blog.” In it, Sullivan goes deep into the value and pitfalls of the blogging world and it made me think about the same question: Why do I blog?

It seems to me that people blog for different reasons, at least in the circles that I wander. Some just post links to resources. Others write about their experiences as teachers, or as parents. Some share actual writing (short stories, images, etc.). Some use their space as a journal. Others, for a platform for videos and/or audio.

So, what I am doing here at this blog?

First, some background. I created this space about 1,250 blog posts ago (in years, that is about 3 1/2 years ago). I was spurred on to do it by a friend from the National Writing Project, who was blogging herself as a special education teacher in DC (see her blog) and she could not believe that I was not doing it, too. I was using blogs with my students at that time, so I knew about what blogging was and how to use it. But I was not blogging myself. Not as a writer. Not as a teacher. This was during my wonderful summer of technology known as Tech Matters, out in Chico, California, and Maria’s excitement and encouragement was all that I needed to check out this Edublog platform. I signed up and was off. I named it Kevin’s Meandering Mind because I knew I would be moving in different directions, writing about teaching but also music, writing, family and more. It’s a wide path I follow, which may frustrate the reader (sorry) but that freedom keeps me thoroughly engaged. I started out with some reflections on Tech Matters (see my very first post here at this blog), and then later, I began doing some podcasting of my history as a songwriter.

Many, many posts later, I am still here in this space I created in 2006 in Chico. So, why do I blog?

I blog because the act of writing gives me a chance to reflect on what I am doing. I am one of those who learns by doing and who understands by writing, and although I could do that writing in a paper journal, I admit that I like the stage of the world. The act of reflection in this space collects my thoughts as a portfolio (God forbid, the whole thing crashes, right?) and I often go back to see what I wrote about certain projects or ideas.

Like Andrew Sullivan, I see the blog as a different kind of space than writing for publication, which requires more in-depth thought and work to sustain an idea over a stretch of time. A post on the blog is what is on my mind right now — right this minute (although sometimes, an idea peculates for a spell before it spills out of my fingers). The immediacy of the action of blogging has always attracted me. I write fast, and when I write, I let my mind take over and just let it go (see reference to Meandering Mind above). Sometimes, I am surprised by what comes out on the screen. It has always been this way with me as a writer. I let myself surprise myself. A pencil slows me down. A keyboard is the perfect companion to my thoughts. And a blog to me is a perfect platform from which to write.

I blog to explore. There are so many cool tools out there, and so many more just bubbling up, that it becomes difficult to gauge the value for the classroom and for learning. We could rely on others to test things out and evaluate, but why not do that ourselves? I am one of those fools who jumps in, tries it out and then comes out the other side, ready to write about what I see as possibilities and drawbacks. I blog to share that with the world, and hopefully, here and there, I spark some interest in others. I would never have had that possibility before the world of blogs.

I blog to bring ideas into my own classroom — from webcomics, to stop-motion movie making, to creating publishing platforms for them as writers. I blog to see possibilities.

I blog because it has brought me into a rich world of collaboration and friendship. I have people all around the world with whom I have joined together with to create videos (the Collaborative ABC Project), photos (Photofridays), writing about our lives (Slice of Life), reflecting within the confines of a sentence (Day in a Sentence) and many others too numerous to name. This blog is the heart of much of that activity and I love how it expands my world exponentially.

Why do I blog? I blog because I am a writer.

Peace (in reflection),

Teaching the New Writing (book project)

It’s been a long, long road but the book collection on writing with technology, and assessment, is about to be put out by Teachers College Press. I am a co-editor with two esteemed colleagues — both well-respected college professors (one now retired) in the field of literacy — and also I am a writer of one of the chapters (on digital picture books).

The book collection, due out in May but now advertised in TCP materials, is called Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.

It was about 2 1/2 years ago that they approached me about the idea of the book collection and that began an interesting adventure of seeking contributors, weeding through submissions, editing and proofreading, and writing, of course. Our hope is that the book provides some focus for how to not only institute technology into a writing curriculum, but also, how one can balance the creativity of student work with state assessments (not easily, we conclude).

Cynthia Selfe provided us with this nice quote:

“One of the beauties of this collection is that it explores multimodal composition and assessment across levels of schooling, demonstrating that elementary, secondary, and collegiate teachers work best when they share understandings. Perhaps most importantly, this book reasserts a value on innovation and creativity within composition classrooms.”
Cynthia L. Selfe, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University

I’ll write more when the publishing date is upon us.

Peace (in publication),

To Obama: A Poetric Thought

Wishing on a star: Senator Barack Obama speaks at a town hall meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

(photo by Getty images)

Here is a poem for President Elect Obama.

To Obama
(listen to poem as a podcast)

I don’t know who they think they are
carrying on about Change
when the reality is that change comes so fast to us
that it’s never visible until the aftermath
when the shadow of reflection is cast upon the landscape
and we understand how everything is different now
and the old order,
come and gone.

Yes, I am one of those,
the guilty many who is doing all of this carrying on,
with hopes in my heart that the course will be altered
by fresh ideas and fresh faces and the intellect
that guides you
even as I refuse to let my dreams shackle you
to my own expectations.

No, it is my children who speak through me
to you
and whose nightly whispers you must heed
in your head as you sit through briefings
and meetings and dinners with dignitaries
and consider the World from your seat up on top of the mountain.

Will others do the same?
Will they temper their expectations
and accede to reality?
Or will they claw at you with visions
of how it should be, how it could be,
how will it never be
even as you hold them off with a misplaced word
to soothe the lions outside the fence
whose only instinct is for blood.

Change us, perhaps, but don’t change yourself
and let us look back in ten years time
to finally understand that our path was forged amidst all of this chaos
in such a way that we never even knew
we were moving.

Here’s hoping for the best in the next four years ..

Peace (in the world),

Publishing Poems

I have been in the midst of a year-long project to write and publish and podcast at least one poem per month, and part of that effort is to collect enough poems to self-publish some kind of book later this year. Until that moment, however, I submitted a few of the poems to the New England Association of Teachers of English journal — The Leaflet — and two of the poems were just published.

Very cool.


The two poems (which are poems about poetry) were:

Peace (in poems),