Slice of Life: A Musical Moment

(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 guitar has been sitting in the corner for a few weeks as I have been busy with school, family, etc. I picked it up and within 15 minutes, this entire demo song was done — lyrics, music, demo. Sometimes, the muse flows through with the Pen and Paper Blues.

Peace (singing it the best I can),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Looking Next Door For the Neighbor No Longer There

(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.)

There was a time when every Veterans Day, I would keep a special eye out for my neighbor, who served in the Korean War and who volunteered for years to help other vets out at the nearby VA Hospital. Of course, we connected many other days of the year beyond Veterans Day, but on that day, I made sure I was looking for him.

I’d see him, go outside, and we’d chat, and I’d make sure he knew we were thinking of him and remembering others who served in war and came home to restart their lives. I’d tell him about the Veterans Day event at our school — the breakfast and ceremony and music and celebration. He knew I had been in the military, too, but even on Veterans Day, we spoke little of those connections.

He passed away earlier this year and yet I found myself yesterday looking towards the fence, to where his rake would often rest near mine as we chatted, the leaves fluttering around us in the Autumn wind.

Peace (remembering Sarge),
Kevin

Slice of Life: She Has My Vote

(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.)

Today will be the first day I get to go into a voting booth and cast a vote for my wife. She’s running for the board of trustees for our city library, and she’s the most qualified, smartest, thoughtful, and beautiful candidate I know.

🙂

Years ago, I took out nomination papers to run for City Council but then never took the steps to get a political campaign in motion. We had three young kids and there was an incumbent, and …. now I have been able to cheer and support my wife, Leslie, in her first electoral run, inspired by the movement of women to get more involved in local politics.

Leslie for Library!

Leslie for Library

She’s a natural fit for the city’s library board. She’s a school librarian at a vocational and agricultural high school here in our city and she is involved in many local projects, including volunteering at the cot shelter (she was there, serving dinner, last night). She has been working in the field of literacy for 25 years, as teacher and as consultant. She loves books.

Leslie for Library!

There are five people in this one race, for three open seats, and two of the candidates are incumbents. All five are solid candidates, with lots of ideas for improving and supporting our public library. My wife is hopeful for a win on the board but she is realistic, too. The library will be in good hands, no matter what.

The larger picture is that we are seeing more and more people here getting involved in elections, which we hope will spill over nationally into the larger elections, leading to real change in our country’s leadership. Momentum begins local and builds national. It all starts at the ground level.

Leslie for Library! Catchy, right?

Peace (vote it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Visiting the Woods of Vermont for #Writeout

(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.)

With the start of the Write Out project, getting outside to observe the world has been on the list. Yesterday, my wife surprised my youngest son and I with one of her “magical mystery tours” in which she doesn’t tell us where we’re headed until we get there.

Yesterday, it was an hour or so north, up to Brattleboro, Vermont. We had hoped the Autumn foliage would be more brilliant than here, in Western Massachusetts, but that actually wasn’t the case. There’s more green to the north than here, which was sort of disappointing, but the drive was beautiful, and our hike along the Sunrise Trail loop through Fort Dummer State Park in late afternoon was lovely.

Since “discovering stories” is a theme of Write Out, I did a little research on the Fort Dummer State Park. It was one of the first settlements and was built in 1724 with an overlook of the Connecticut River. Soldiers there, along with Mohawk Indians, protected the area from the French and other tribes.

Later, I had this idea of a music composition running around in my head, inspired by our hike through the woods, so I spent some time, creating the soundtrack — I call it Woodlines — and then used SoundSlides to put the music with the images from our walk in the woods.

Peace (in light and color),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Rhythm of Autumn

(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 walking on the campus of UMass Amherst — traveling between lunch and a workshop session for the annual fall conference of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project — when one of my walking companions told a story of moving to the Northeast and being asked by a friend from elsewhere how to know when the Fall Foliage has reached its peak.

We agreed that, if you have lived in the Northeast long enough, you start to get an internalized rhythm of the season, the flow of change, the shift in the forests. To answer the question “when it is peak,” you have to trust your instincts.

It was a beautifully sunny afternoon as we walked and talked about it, and we agreed that we were still in the days “before” the real change from summer to Autumn. There were certainly leaves of red and orange, but still plenty of green, too.

Now, three days later, with a few days of breeze and rainfall and chilling nights, I sense the shift is now underway. Maybe another week to ten days, with some sunny days, and the trees will soon be barren, readying for winter. I can see many browning leaves on the ground now, and some of the early harbinger trees — those wonderful isolated trees that reliably begin their movement early — are becoming all limbs, with fewer and fewer leaves.

If you live in a place long enough, you do sense the rhythm of things, the way the years and even the days progress, and you become attuned to the possibilities of the world in motion. In this, we become sensory scientists, gathering data about the changing world. You only notice, though, when you pay attention.

It’s nearly peak.

Peace (arriving in splendor),
Kevin

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

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

Invasion of the Memes: The Rise of the VSCO Girl

What to make of this? Since the first day of school, I’ve been hearing references and seeing references to being a ‘VSCO Girl’ in some of my students’ work and discussions. I did a quick search, and found that VSCO is a photo filtering app, and when I asked one of my students if calling themselves a VSCO Girl was related to photography and app filters, they gave me a look of confusion.

So, eh, no, maybe not?

Yet, sort of.

Their own explanation of what VSCO Girls meant was confusing to me, something about scrunchies and hydro-bottles and clothes, and so I decided I needed to do a little more research.  Doing so uncovered this summer-long viral meme of the VSCO Girl that had been completely under my radar. (To be fair, I am a middle age white man with three boys)

Centered mostly on Tik Tok, but now moving over to Instagram and YouTube and SnapChat, being a VSCO Girl is related to how a girl perceives themselves, and apparently, certain products and clothing are key elements.

Another element of this is the saying and typing of “sksksksk” (which seems to stem from slamming fingers on the keyboard or keypad) and “And I oop.”  (A meme reaction people use to show surprise on social media.) VSCO stands for Visual Supply Co. – the business which invented the app that sparked the meme that fed the movement.

One site, StayHipp, described it this way:

A VSCO girl is someone who is active on the VSCO app and/or whose style matches the aesthetics of VSCO. This trend has grown to the extent that “VSCO” is used as an adjective to characterize something or someone who embodies a VSCO girl lifestyle.

The VSCO girl trend is largely based on owning a specific set of items including Birkenstocks, scrunchies, hydro flasks, metal straws, and anything from Brandy Mellville. Many of the items associated with the trend are brand-specific and may be pricy, but things like homemade friendship bracelets and oversized T-shirts are just as important to the trend as AirPods and Instax cameras are. Each individual has the power to put their own spin on this trend, whether it’s through their attitude, style, social media presence, or just the good vibes they radiate.

Most importantly, being a VSCO girl, or even just dabbling in the trend is about keeping a positive outlook and having fun! — via StayHipp

It then goes on to list all of the objects that a VSCO Girl might have, and the cost, and how to buy them.

  • Birkenstock shoes
  • Scrunchie hair ties
  • Hydroflask water bottles
  • Brandy Melville clothing
  • Instagram-able meals
  • Metal straws
  • Slip on Vans shoes
  • Choker necklaces
  • Multiple rings worn at once
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Polaroid cameras
  • Pastel nail polish
  • Mario Badescu skincare products
  • Fjällräven backpacks
  • Stickers on laptops and water bottles
  • Carmex lip balm

Which makes me think this is all part of some larger Product Influencer Campaign, to sell stuff to young girls by targeting their Girl Identity through social media. Which makes me wary of the trend, yet I’m amazed at how much the concept has filtered through my entire sixth grade classes in just a few weeks of summer. In a small activity yesterday, many tried to add sksksksks and I Oop into what they were writing. That includes boys as well as girls, which makes me wonder if the meme is turning into something else altogether.

A piece at Slate, in which the writer interviews some high school teenage girls, indicates that the whole VSCO Girl concept can be seen in two lenses — one way is that some girls view it as a connector point through social media, a way to “fit in” through style and choice, and another way is some girls see it as a way to mock the whole consumer-driven marketplace, making fun of the idea of products defining a girl. (And did you know there are not just VSCO Girls, but also Soft Girls and e-Girls?)

For the teens I talked to, most said being called a VSCO girl was a bad thing, something to be avoided. They were mixed on whether anyone would own up to being one or proudly proclaim her VSCO girl status, or any strong connection with it, to the world. — from Slate

Why do I have a sense that these two competing concepts of empowering girls and mocking girls, making its way over social media, are going to collide and the girls who just want to fit in are going to be the very ones who are going to get the most hurt?

How do I have a meaningful discussion about trends like this to give my students the ability to make decisions about social media and memes and empower them to question the viral nature of their world?

I suppose I can do that best by empowering them to be critical of the world, and to think on the power of real friendships, real connections, real people. I want the wonderful girls who spend their days in my classroom with me as writers and readers and members of our community to be true to themselves, and not just become some product of influence from the technology they use.

Peace (confused but trying),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sharing Songwriting Notebooks

(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 appreciate that so early in the year, I have already started to make some strong connections with students.

Yesterday, one of my students told me in the morning that they had “something to show me” but we didn’t get around whatever that was until the afternoon. I met the student in the hallway coming back to our classroom, and reminded them of our earlier conversation. They asked me to hold on a second, and then rummaged through the backpack to pull out a small notebook.

“My notebook,” the student told me, “for writing songs.”

I asked permission to look, and was eagerly granted it, and my student noted that there is only one song underway. I, of course, celebrated that they had a songwriting notebook and expressed appreciation for sharing with me. They apologized for the messiness and for having only the one song, but I celebrated both.

I know there is a vulnerability with sharing words and songs not yet completed. I’m the same way. I also know that finding another songwriter to share with is special, too. And I know this student was trusting me because of the fact that we both write songs, and that we both play guitar in order to write songs.

I may dig around this morning and find one of my messy songwriting notebooks, too, just to extend the sharing together as songwriters making a mess of notebook pages, all in the name of writing and of making music, and of deepening the connections as writers so early in the year.

Maybe I’ll even share this photo my workspace …

Songwriting Work Space

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Begin at the Start (again)

Today will be Day Three. Already. We had students for two days, then a long weekend, and now a short week. In some ways, it’s a perfect way to start the new school year, with a slow roll forward.

It’s too early to get a good feel for this crew of sixth graders, but they seem a bit lively, a bit more social for the start of the year than usual, and a little less focused on instructions. I’ll need remind myself to slow down a bit, although we had great success the other day with activating all 70-plus Google accounts, getting them into Google Classroom spaces and beginning to work on a basic slideshow. There were quite a few steps to the process. Everyone is in! (high five)

I mostly have the names of my homeroom students down, and now need to begin to learn the other three class full of student names — this is always a challenge at the start of the year, but I find being systemic about it helps. Names are important. The sooner I have that down, the better I can begin to understand each student as a person.

This week, we’ll begin to talk about stories, and I will be reading aloud Rikki Tikki Tavi as a means to frame discussions around literary elements, as well as just letting them listen (and sketchnote ideas) to a story with a low bar entry point — my own reading, and our group discussions.

Over the weekend, I started to have a chat with a National Writing Project colleague from the West Coast who asked if we could connect classrooms this year for some projects, and I immediately began to think about the Write Out project for the National Day on Writing. I am hoping their classes and my classes can share images and stories of the spaces where they live, and get to know both sides of the country a bit.

It’s going to be a great year ….

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin