The latest prompt in Walk My World is a look at a “turning point” in our own narrative stories — a place where something shifted and took you in a new direction. Of course, every life has many of these decision paths, and some are too personal to share in a public space like this.
My comic is about a moment as a new teacher — just coming out of ten years as a newspaper journalist — when a friend, Paul, shared an idea and a technology so new at the time, we didn’t even know the word: blog. But I immediately saw the possibilities for my students as connected writers in shared spaces, and for how technology might add to my writing curriculum, and I never looked back.
All of it, thanks to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project.
The latest Learning Event for Walk My World is about the Shape of Stories, and for some reason, I went literal in my mind, thinking of the triangle as a metaphor for sharing a story. I’ve explored the elements of Shape of Story before so I figured I’d think about it at another, eh, angle and let a poem, eh, take shape.
So, I wrote a poem using some of the vocabulary of math and triangles, and then, because we had a snow day and I had some creative time, I took the poem in all different directions just to see how I might twist its shape a bit more. I wasn’t all that sure what I was after. A traditional shape poem didn’t seem to capture it for me but this isn’t too bad. With shape poems, sometimes, the shape takes over the poem, and the words let lost.
* Where this hypotenuse slides ever downward *
* into angled corners to form an imperfect *
* vertex of legged lines is where the *
* shape of story finds its point, *
* then rests itself upon *
* another teetering *
* edge of the *
The straightforward text formatting is OK. Just nothing special. But the focus is solely on words, not shape. Here, I was more concerned with where a line ended, and where one began, for flow. I was less worried about that with my shape poem experiments, where the overall shape dictated line breaks.
Where this hypotenuse
slides ever downward
into angled corners
to form an imperfect vertex
of legged lines is
where the shape of story
finds its point, then rests
itself upon another
of the world
The following collage shows three different visual takes as I tried to play with how to put the poem into a triangular shape or to least add words to visual imagery.
The top image (also at top of this post) became my favorite, although I wish I could have thought more deeply about the line length numbers to make them mean something. (they don’t). The bottom right was sort of interesting, with the edge of the world falling off the edge of the triangle (that one was done in MS Word). The bottom left was done with the Pablo site, but the image gets lost behind the words.
Then I found myself composing a soundtrack. My aim had been to use more “triangular” loop and sounds (which are often rough edged due to the jagged wavelengths) but in the end, those didn’t work for me as I had hoped because they were too fuzzy and too raw.
So I made some other loops and tracks, and added a literal musical triangle ringing at the start and at the end. I also ended up reading the poem forward (ending at an imaginary musical vertex point) with audio effects and then reversed some of the words to traverse the poem backwards along the line to an end.
In doing all of this, I pretty much ignored the activity instructions but that’s the best part of being an open participant in any network — I can go my own way and not stress about it.
The second learning activity for Walk My World centered around poetry and memory and culture, and I just went with the concept of a memory of childhood place — an isolated wooded area that our parents never went, and so we always were there, like our own insular outside world.
I actually wrote this as completely free-form poetry in the app (TypiVideo) I used to make the video (and had to reformat it all as stanzas later for the screen as text for my daily poetry site).
Interestingly, this transition out of the app to my screen forced me to “hear” the poem differently, in different rhythm and space and line breaks and flow when moved to writing the poem down. The app does all of the decisions about which words get its own screen, so it’s difficult to control when a pause might happen there. Moving to writing it myself, I regained some agency.
I like how the words are slowly moving there in the video version, dancing, to some original music of mine, though.
And in my mind
I try to find
my way back
to the paths
of the wood,
the place where
we could still be kids –
often kind –
sometimes mean –
navigating the in-between
of the world,
outside, and the world,
inside – stories lost,
but still believed
Like some others (such as my friend and collaborator, Wendy), I might tangle the two together, bundling my learning and explorations across platforms and networks and learning programs. Both NetNarr and Walk My World are situated primarily in college classrooms, at the university. I’m not there. I’m here.
I know there will be convergences around identity in a digital age; what learning looks like; how to be creative and collaborative; and much more. These are all things that interest me as a teacher, writer, learner, musician, creator.
The comic above, as I played with identity and media, was for the first introductory activity for Walk My World.
I’ve been in and out of the Walk My World Project a bit this year, following when I can and adding when I find time and inspiration. The most recent Learning Event for Walk My World has participants exploring “turning points” in their life — a time when that metaphorical fork was there and you made a choice (or had a choice a made for you).
I suppose Life is made up of these Turning Points, and all the “what ifs” that come with reflecting back. I chose a strange period in my life when the music in me went mostly silent. I had been playing my saxophone and guitar since childhood and teen years, but in my mid-20s, I packed them away.
That was for about 10 years.
I could probably point to all sorts of reasons, from the relationship I was in at the time, to the cramped apartment I was living in, to the confusion about the present and the future, to …. maybe I was just tired of music at that point. Maybe all of the above, with a little swirling action to stir the mix.
What changed that — what became my turning point — was a chance lunch. A colleague at the newspaper where I was working as a journalist was leaving the office to become a self-employed editor, and before he left, I suggested we have lunch. On the day of our lunch, he wasn’t feeling great, but he invited me to his house for coffee. I agreed, and we were hanging out when he brought me up to his “office” in the attic.
There, beyond his office area, was an attic full of musical instruments: guitars, bass, keyboard, amplifiers, drums. It was the outline of a band, and it turns out (unknown to either of us) that he was not only a musician, but he was also in the midst of starting a new band. When he found out I once played saxophone, he asked if I wanted to jam.
The rest is history … I did jam and he and I and the drummer have now been playing in various bands for nearly 20 years (we’re in the midst of reforming yet another new band right now as our Duke Rushmore band fell apart last year).
I am grateful for that particularly turning point, because it reminded me of what I loved about making music, and about writing songs, and about playing my saxophone, and about life, too, being more than work and family (though, of course, that is very important) and about having something just of your own.
I’ll never be a professional musician — I not good enough nor am I dedicated enough, and I have long been at peace with that — but I can’t imagine life without it, either. It’s odd now to think of that ten year gap — as if it were another false life being lived at the time, as if I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing.
I am dipping in a bit to this year’s Walk My World project. As always, Greg and Ian and company are encouraging people to think of identity of Self, and the connections to the Larger World. One of the early prompts has to do with thinking of Culture, and how we reflect the Culture we have inhabited.
I’ve been thinking a lot over time about my own privileged role as a White Man from the Middle Class teaching mostly White Boys and Girls from an insular White Suburban Community. (All those capital letters make what I wrote look strange and sort of gibberish.) Listening to Macklemore, and thinking of the controversy the year he and Ryan Lewis won the Grammy as white rappers, is giving some focus.
But I don’t have answers. Only questions.
Recently, I was in the audience of an event for Martin Luther King Day, at a local church in our small progressive city (Smith College sits at the center), and the guest speakers included college representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement. I glanced around the audience and saw mostly White Faces. The moderator of the panel was a white college representative, who dominated the discussion in an attempt to put the movement into some cultural context. I just wanted to hear the young organizers talk.
The raising of a Black Lives Matter banner sign on City Hall after that same MLK event continues to cause support and dissent and ripples and indignation in our community, as much for defending and criticizing the movement as for using City Hall as a backdrop for political statements. We’ve had our share of newspaper articles about the flying of the Confederate Flag in local communities, too. Not even our liberal Western Massachusetts is immune to the ways of the world.
I know I grew up privileged, even though we were by no means wealthy and even though I suspect my parents struggled at times (and kept it hidden from us kids) to keep us in the town they chose to raise a family (coming from New York City to do so). In fact, when I signed up as an infantry soldier in the National Guard, it was the first time I spent any extended time with people of other races, mostly Black soldiers, and most of them were from a deep urban setting that I had little understanding of. Until then, I was blind to the ways of the world. Now I was the lone white man in a platoon of black men. Mostly, I kept quiet and tried to learn from them about the world I did not know. It was a culture shock, but one I am very grateful for. It taught me lessons about life.
And it is in life that we make change, right?
As part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we make it part of our Mission Statement to focus on Social Justice themes and to find ways to work with school districts in urban and rural centers that often are left out of things due to socio-economic issues. Race and access and equity issues remain on the forefront of many of our decisions of programming.
The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.
Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.
Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.
I won’t deny that where I come from — the World Where I Have Walked — has opened up doors because of the color of my skin (white), my gender (male), and the place where I grew up (suburban Connecticut), and other factors that I was born into. But I can try to make a difference for the young people whose lives I can impact in my own classroom as teacher or in other classrooms as profession development leader. I can lay the foundation for tolerance in the hearts of my boys.
We can all make a difference. We just need to try.
For the past several weeks, I have been intermittently involved with the Walk My World project, which is a series of learning events designed around reflective practice on the themes of identity, composing with digital media and connected learning. It’s been a blast, and I appreciate the work and support that Ian and Greg (in particular) do to invite people in and keep them active in the Walk My World spaces. I’ve mostly tinkered around in the #walkmyworld hashtag.
And now, as we near the end, we are asked to consider pulling together our various “makes” and reflections into a single digital portfolio. Some folks are using Storify, which I used last year, but I wanted to keep trying out the Diigo Outliner tool and dig into something new. It’s merely an online collection of links and notes, organized in an outline format, which can be shared out.
On one hand, I like the organization of this Diigo tool. On the other hand, it seems rather bland as an experience. I’m feeling mixed about it, particularly when you consider how best to share a range of digital media projects. In many ways, if I were doing this right, I would create a website, linking and embedding media right into the experience of the reader (that would be you). With this tool, you need to follow my links out, moving into different spaces to experience what I made.
I know there are a few more learning events for Walk My World (including the last one around heroic myths and the current one around the Story of Us) but I had pulled together a sort of digital portfolio via ThingLink as a way to capture the projects I had been doing since the start. I like using the visual, with links, although it does not leave room for post-project reflections without cluttering up the page.
Oh well. I am also keeping a Diigo Outline that I can share out another time. That might give me more reflective room to write. For now, I hope you enjoy a walk through my work and tinkering.
Wondering what Walk My World is?
The #WalkMyWorld Project is a social media project in which we share and connect online at Twitter using one hashtag. Groups of learners across the globe are connecting and sharing for 10 weeks using the #WalkMyWorld hashtag. — from https://sites.google.com/site/walkmyworldproject/home
The theme of the current Walk My World is the Heroic Journey, and it reminded me of this project that I did years ago with my sixth graders after reading The Lightning Thief and our immersion into mythological stories. We used Google Maps to map out the stories and then viewed them in Google Earth, too.