Slice of Life: A Story, Nearly Done

(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.)

Back in December, I was struck so hard and so suddenly by an idea for a short story that I remember I literally leaped out of bed, sat down at the keyboard and started writing it for an hour. The narrative just untangled its way out of me. I could see the whole story clearly — the premise, the characters, the flow of it.

It was right around the same time that I saw a notice in our local newspaper that it was relaunching a popular Short Story Contest again after pulling the plug on it a number of years ago. I once got an honorable mention in that short story contest, which gave me about three seconds of fame among my friends in this literary city where I live.

The story that sparked me in December, I decided, is one I will submit to the contest, with the deadline looming in the coming days. Since that initial burst, I have been weaving my way back into the text, making revisions and tightening the story, expanding the characters. I’ve shared multiple drafts in a writing community that I am part of (called Yap.Net, which is a free but closed online space for writers and media makers sharing draft work), and have been helped in many ways by insightful readers in there.

Last night, I left the story for my wife to read. She’s a writer and teacher, too. She was asleep when I got home from band practice last night, but I see some of her notes in purple ink on the print-out of the story, including a helpful insight that I had missed about flowers and seasons and number of petals.

It’s interesting to be close to the end of a story, to know that soon, I need to call this revision cycle quits and be satisfied. To be honest, this revision process on this piece has been longer than I normally would have done for any of my writing, which I so often do in quick bursts. I’m proud of this story, even if it’s not a winner, and thankful for those who have helped make it better in the last few months.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: One of Those 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.)

The student arrived already grumpy on a two-hour delay day, as if the weather were plotting something against them, personally. They expressed that the bad day had already begun and would likely keep going, probably bound to get worse. All day. Today. There was make-up work to get started on, some daily things to accomplish, their friend was absent, a pencil wouldn’t sharpen, a paper was missing, and so on. All of it evidence of a world conspiring against them, today, this day.

I countered with a cheerful “good morning,” and made sure to check in with them a few times, smiling and being purposefully upbeat (not that I’m not anyway, but still …), and slowly, their mood seemed gradually to shift back towards some semblance of normal. By day’s end, as I was saying “have a great afternoon” when the dismissal bell rang, I saw glimpses of a smile and the carrying of a body that suggested some of the melancholy had dissipated.

One may never know what affects the moods of our students on any given day. What we can do is do the best we can to help them keep some balance and perspective on a swirling adolescent world, through our words and our actions and our caring dispositions. This has nothing to do with academics. It has everything to do with the child, and our role, as teacher.

Peace (even in the dark),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sitting Down with a Song

(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.)

I was following the Democratic election news out of Iowa about the first caucus, thinking about where we are as a country and where we might be heading (although, who can say with any certainty?) and this song began to write itself. Sometimes, writing is like that. So I spent some time with it, sitting with the words and the chords, scribbling in and scribbling out ideas, and letting it flow forth onto the page, and then into the microphone.

As usual, the notebook page is a mess of ideas.

Song notebook

It began as a song of resistance and defiance in this age of Trump and the GOP’s control of government – the title of Bend ‘Em ‘Til You Break ‘Em gives it away — but something arced for me about halfway through, and the third and fourth stanzas are more hopeful, more optimistic, more reasoned.

I’m not driven anger
not driven by hate
I’m driven by the chance
you might reciprocate

You hold out a hand
you might invite me in
we might find it in common
a place to begin

Take a listen to the demo:

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hand Dancing

(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.)

The ripple effect of Tik Tok in my classroom continues. Not just with synchronized dance moves — which seem to break out randomly during any down times — but also, hand dancing.

This elaborate, scripted dance of hands is pretty cool to watch, as each partner has a role and the timing of movement and contact is key to the magic. Think of a unique handshake, but add layers of complexity and you have an idea of what I see happening every single day as we wait for the busses to be called.

Many of these are either inspired or lifted from the popular (but sketchy) app that my sixth graders use and the hand dancers are mostly girls (although boys will sometimes try to get in the action for a laugh or do a variation of friend handshake, which is like a simple cousin to the hand dance.) When the dance is done with no flaws, it is sort of like watching something smooth and flowing unfold in the air before you.

When I asked one particular adept students how long it took to learn a certain complicated move that involved the hands going in and out and under, and then fluttering to chest and back to partner, they roll their eyes and say, “hours and hours,” and I have this vision of them, hanging out together, teaching each other how to do the latest hand dance moves and gestures, and laughing at the mistakes.

“Again,” is the word I hear a lot as they play the dance. “Do it again.”

It’s all about perseverance and muscle memory, and connecting with friends with no devices (at this point), and that’s something worth celebrating.

Dancing Hand by antopoke on DeviantArt

Peace (in handshake),
Kevin

Slice of Life: No, Virginia, Minecraft is NOT Shutting Down

(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 year, Minecraft players in my classroom suddenly became a ‘thing’ again after a few quiet years. I have clusters of sixth graders talking about building, playing, exploring, and as we are in our Video Game Design unit, there’s plenty of chatter about how Minecraft is different from other games they play.

There’s also been a lot of conversation about Minecraft shutting down. A lot of worry and concern. Questions. Some heard it here. Some heard it there.

This news of Minecraft closing up by the end of the year is false, just so you know, but the fact that so many of my students have heard it and passed it along to each other in our classroom space — never mind across whatever apps they are using — gives me a chance to revisit with them a Digital Life lesson from earlier this year about false information and the viral nature of social media sharing.

And how to debunk fake news.

Last night, I did a little investigative work. I was already wary of the reports because of the “this doesn’t make sense” common sense test — Minecraft, owned by Microsoft, has more than 100 million users who pay a pretty hefty fee for the game. If Microsoft were truly closing it up, it would be more than a ripple. It would be an uproar.

I searched “Minecraft Closing” and saw a slew of articles, including the one I was really looking for at Snopes (don’t know Snopes? It’s a site dedicated to researching news items for veracity).

Snopes clearly labels the news of Minecraft’s demise as “FALSE” and then goes into the back story. It all began with a prank that went viral when an openly prank news site first published it as a joke (sort of like The Onion does) and Google’s algorithm temporarily grabbed it for a news item. Oops.

You know the rest: prank becomes news, becomes shared.

Here’s a Minecraft Vlogger, explaining all this, too (while wandering Minecraft world)

I’ll be going through this thread of discovery with all of my classes today, to remind them of techniques for investigating fake news and to ease the minds of my Minecrafters.

And it looks like I need to add a new slide about this into my Fake News presentation …

Peace (true and truth),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Noticing 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.)

When the Winter Solstice hit us last month, my wife made note that the days would start getting longer again. Then I forgot. Yesterday, I noticed, and remembered. I was driving my son to track practice at a time about 30 minutes later than usual, and the day still had light. A few weeks ago, we would have been drenched in the dark of the short day/long night.

I pointed this out to my son — this observation of more daylight — and he looked out the window of the car, nodded, and that was that. But I kept my eye on the trees, the lawns, the people, the clouds across the blue sky. It’s still the heart of winter, no doubt, but the day pushing itself larger is a sign that somewhere down the road, spring awaits us.

And there will be plenty of sunshine and daylight to see it.

Peace (in the view),
Kevin

Slice of Life: No Guitar … No Problem

(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 often during in-between moments — the lull of the evening — where I will grab my acoustic guitar and just play for a bit as a way to step aside from the day. A sort of acoustic reprieve. Sometimes, new songs emerge from these burst of playing sessions. Mostly, not. Usually, it’s just a chance to play.

I had this inspiration to maybe try to write another holiday song because I had challenged my teenage son to make a holiday song, as he is an accomplished beat-maker with Logic, and he just laughed me off. I went upstairs to get my guitar … only to suddenly remember that I had left my guitar in my classroom at school. I have been doing some guitar playing with a student who is writing his own holiday song that he wants to perform in front of classmates.

Hmmm.

I still had this melody and idea of bells jangling around in my head, so I queued up an online music production platform I use quite a bit — Soundtrap — and plugged in my small MIDI keyboard, and then began to compose the holiday song. It’s built off the echoes of the main Jingle Bells riff, and I had quite fun laying in sounds. The song structure is pretty simple: melody-break-melody.

After finishing the track, I decided I wanted to make the audio track into a video version, so I searched around for some copyright-free video of snow falling — I wanted the visuals to be simple but moving — and then used iMovie to quickly pull the audio and video together.

So, you know, happy holidays and all that …

Peace (play it forward),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Symmetry of the Stubborn Dogs

(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.)

 

We were dog-sitting a neighbor’s pooch the other day. It’s a small Whippet-breed — full of love and snuggles and personality. We took it outside for a walk around the neighborhood, with our dog, Duke. Ollie, the Whippet, decided he did not want to walk, and sat on the driveway, refusing to move an inch. This is not the first time his stubbornness has reared its head (and not just with us, either). We gently pulled his leash, called his name, pretended to run, used Duke as ploy (Duke was confused by this). Nothing.

Finally, my wife gave up and began walking back to the house. That’s when Ollie decided maybe it was time for a walk and now the stubbornness pulled the other way, guiding my wife back down the driveway to join Duke and I.

I thought of this yesterday as I watched a similar scene unfold in our small village. I was in my car, looking at a small boy, maybe seven years old, trying to lead an old Black Lab across the street at the walk light. The dog sat and sat and sat on the sidewalk, and I could see the boy doing his best to get the dog moving. He pulled the leash, he bent down to talk to the dog, he started to feign walking, he threw his hands up in frustration.

Finally, the dog got up, rather slowly, and began moving in the reverse direction of where the boy wanted to go, only to have the boy finally guide the dog back towards the street. But by then, the cross light had turned red red and the whole thing would have to happen all over again.

Dogs. Right?

Peace (stubborn for change),
Kevin

Slice of Life: I Heard Me on Pandora

Gift of Peace on Pandora(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.)

Last year, my friend and I released a holiday song called A Gift of Peace (For Christmas), more as an experiment than anything else. We did the whole thing — copyright lyrics and music, went into a recording studio, enlisted CD Baby to distribute the song through streaming services, and even hired my son to create a video story for the song.

Pandora was one of those services that took a long time to allow our song into its mix, but yesterday, while doing other things in the kitchen, our song started playing onto Pandora (I had created a station called A Gift of Peace) and I rushed to give it a thumbs up and to call my wife. We then danced for a bit around the kitchen to my song playing on Pandora.

If you hear my song on your station, give it a thumbs up, won’t you?

Peace (gifting it to you),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Moment Too Late To Forget

(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 was only as I was watching it on the screen that I suddenly remember why we watched only PART of this video last year. At the reference to Whale penises, I was up and at the computer.

Let me explain …

We are working on a lesson around Fake News, and hoaxes, and one of the earliest hoaxes that used the aspect of global news to its advantage was the Nantucket Island Serpent Hoax of 1937, in which a local puppeteer maker teamed up with the local newspaper to report on sightings of a serpent off the coast of the island. It was a publicity stunt for tourism, but the newspaper’s role and its connection to wire services made the story go viral.

That part of the video is fine. Interesting. Nicely paced. Funny, at the right moment of the reveal.

Then the video shifts into a wider discussion of other fictional serpents, in places like Loch Ness and Lake Champlain, etc. Still, fine, and the kids are tuned in. They are curious.

Suddenly, the video takes a shift into explaining what people might have seen and thought were mythical creatures. Thus, not only a reference to the, um, whale’s large body part, but also a flash of pictures to, well, prove the video’s point about said whale body part. By then, I was at the computer, moving things along to the next slide in my presentation in front of a now rather-silent classroom of sixth graders.

Funny, but not one of them asked me about it, although I heard some surprised mutterings at the video references, and they didn’t blink an eye as I kept the lesson rolling.

Me? I was all professional on the outside, just moving things along, folks, just moving things along. Nothing to see here. Inside, though, I was kicking myself for not taking the time to watch the whole video in the morning. I had relied on my using the video last year for using it this year … but I didn’t leave a note for myself from last year. (Self, leave a note for yourself … Self, just did that … thank you … you’re welcome … now, remember … Ok).

Note: feel free to watch the video yourself

Peace (some days),
Kevin