Quickfiction: chapter 5

This is a continuation of my forays into Quickfiction writing. I am also completing an entire collection of my quick stories over at Hypertextopia and I hope to share that project and reflection out tomorrow. It has been another interesting adventure, to be sure.

Here are the latest stories (click on the little arrow to hear the podcast of the stories):

Ghost

It was on his walk to work one morning that Jack noticed the white ghost bike propped up against the tree. A long thin chain held it against the aging Elm that looked bent from the weight of its mission. As if it might just topple right over. A rusty padlock dangled from one kink in the chain. Jack was sure the bike had not been there the previous morning. Sometime in the night, someone had placed the bike here. It spooked the hell out of Jack, this ghost bike. It was Tiff all over again. A little placard was attached to the handlebars. This was not just a bike, he realized. This was a memorial. He didn’t dare get any closer. Fear kept him back, although he was aching to know what the little sign said. Would it be a memory of some stranger he did not know, nor ever would. A tribute, perhaps? Or would it be another reminder of the past life he had tried so desperately to leave behind so many years ago. Tiff, and her bike, and how he had followed her everywhere, falling in love so many times over as he watched her legs in motion. Everything back then seemed to be in motion. He could still see Tiff, in the white athletic suit that she always wore on outings, as if riding a cloud in the midst of civilization.She was pristine perfection. Back then, he would follow her anywhere. Even to the end of the world. Or so he thought, but when the time came to stand at the brink, he had hesitated, and she had disappeared from sight. Tiff had never glanced back, never even acknowledged that he had stopped. She just kept right on pedaling. Then, she was gone. To think of this now brought on the pain all over again. Jack shuffled past the white ghost of his past and, again, he tried to not to remember.

Smog

It’s true. I went to Big Sur for answers. I had gone to Lowell, too, and felt lost among the brick facades of the old mills that had become nothing more than monuments to the past. Everything seemed abandoned and set to rust. I even sat on the edge of the river that snaked through the worn-out downtown, listening for the prose that had long since been extinguished by time. I wanted to hear echoes. All I heard was silence. So it was on to Big Sur. My car complained the entire time, the muffler spoiling any sense of silence and contemplation I might have otherwise had or wanted. There was no Dean to keep me company. No bottles of booze littered on the seats. No scroll of endless white paper on which to scribble my dreams. My America was not Their America. My America was shopping malls, neon lights, and long stretches of conformity. Route 66 had become just a long stretch of traffic lights. You could not gain momentum or traction anymore. Still, Big Sur beckoned and I answered. It became yet another false promise, however, and in the forests and isolation of the California coast, I found little of anything of value. Nothing other than my own preconceptions of him in this place, writing with abandon. I, on the other hand, am always too careful. Too precise. Instead of gaining illumination, I left Big Sur with a deep-seated impression that my own writing days were over. So it felt strangely comfortable to finally leave Jack behind and descend into the smog of Los Angeles and begin my life anew.

ER

The wait is endless. Yet you can’t help but notice that the stream of people continues unabated, hour upon hour upon hour. Is there this much suffering, you wonder? You shift in your seat. The movement does little to ease either your pain or your boredom. Your head still hurts. Next to you, the man in the brown jacket nurses a finger, wrapping and unwrapping a bloody bandage. From time to time, he, too, shifts and bumps into you. This makes you uncomfortable — like the crowded feeling of the middle seat on an airplane — yet there are no other seats to move to. If you get up, you know you will lose the seat. All eyes covet the row of chairs. People are sitting on floors, leaning against walls, pacing the floor. The nurse just stares straight ahead. She seems to have perfected the art of never focusing on anyone. Her glassy, sleepy eyes just move forward in time. You feel another jolt to your temples. The force of it almost knocks you out of your seat. Your fingers clench the armrests to hold on. They all thought it was nothing. They all laughed. You can tell. You remember the accusatory looks they gave you, questioning your intentions. If only that were the case. You know the truth: your brain is in a state of severe disfunction. The little girl, in her mother’s lap, moans again. You watch the mother pull the girl’s head closer to her chest and she whispers some soothing words into the little girl’s ear. You wish that were you, that the words were for you. You wish someone would hold you and absorb the pain. All eyes look up as a doctor enters through the double doors. He beckons for the little girl and her mother. Brown jacket man swears under his breath and re-adjusts the bandage again. Another jolt hits your head. Stronger this time. The world that was once nothing but light is now darkening, and still you wait.

Elevator

He knew the time would come when he would die in an elevator. How many closes calls had there been? Too many to count. The most dramatic had been the time when he and his sister had gotten stuck in-between floors in their aunt’s low-rise. He had not meant to leave his toy truck in the gap. And he had been horrified to watch how the fireman, after dragging both of them up through the emergency exit in the ceiling, had presented their father with the mangled red fire truck and suggested that elevators did not make good play zones for children. There was the false alarm, too, in the office building and the scrambled rush to cram into the elevator to get to safety. He knew that had been dumb — no one rides an elevator in a fire — and it was that very stupidity that scared him. He did not trust himself to make the right decision in these situations and it was only a matter of time that the end would come in a vertical death machine. His sister had feared escalators. But at least on a moving stair, you can jump. You can’t jump to freedom from an elevator. He read books that reassured him that elevators were safer than cars. That engineers designed them to use counterweights. That it was rare than anyone might die in an elevator, as long as they stayed calm and were smart about it. That, of course, was what worried him. Panic made him stupid. And so, when the job he had dreamed about for years finally came his way, he was disappointed to learn that he would have to travel 45 floors up and down every day, in a so-called “smart elevator,” and after a nail-biting trip up to the interview and a harrowing trip back down, he decided he could not handle this. This tension was too much. The time might come when an elevator ended his life, but he would be damned if he would be a willing accomplice to the crime. His world was flat and level and he intended it to stay that way.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

The Staff Talent Show: Stray Cat Strut

I should have know someone would have videotaped our staff act at the Talent Show and put it up on YouTube. I don’t mind. In fact, it allows me to share it with you (I shared it with all of my students today since some of them did not attend the event).

That’s me on the saxophone — in white shirt and black hat. And we are playing live — no lip syncing for us. Everyone on stage is a member of our staff, except the drummer, who is a friend of the staff (he drums for us whenever we have a need).

Peace (as a real cool cat),
Kevin

Day in A Sentence/Comment Challenge Reflection

Since I have been blog-deep in the 31-Day Comment Challenge — visiting sites and engaging in discussions — I think it only fitting that this week’s call for Days in a Sentence go out to not only the DayinS faithful but also any folks moving through here as part of the Comment Challenge. After all, the sentence is a comment. (And my reflections on my commenting activities is down below)

Here is how Day in a Sentence works:

  • You reflect on your week or a day in your week
  • You boil it all down to a single sentence
  • You use the comment feature on this post to share your sentence
  • On Sunday, I gather them all up, write some quick introductions and share out as a community of writing/reflecting educators (and associates)

Please consider this your invitation to take part in Day in a Sentence and feel free to read through some of our archives to get a sense of the richness of the sharing that can take place. The Day in a Sentence also regularly heads off to guest blogs, so if you are interested in taking the helms one week, just let me know.

Here is my sentence and you can listen to the podcast version:

From the Goo Goo Dolls to Green Day to the Sofa Kings and my own song with a missing verse, my classroom was a rockin’, songwritin’, dancin’ kind of place this week, and Jack Black would have been proud.

Peace (in words),
Kevin

PS — Today’s activity for the Comment Challenge is to consider some lessons learned by the act of expanding our commenting activities.

external image comment_challenge_logo_2.png

Here are some of my reflections:

  • It turns out that I love Co-Comment as a way to track comments. I now realize just how much I have been missing in conversations. I am able to follow the comments of others, add my own thoughts, come back and see what has been added. It no longer feels like a paintball tournament, where everyone is just shooting scatter-shot into the wind. I am not so fond of the ads, as I have stated before, but I can live with it for now. I love that Co-Comment gives me a little indicator at the bottom of my browser when a blog post where I have already commented has been updated. That is a lifesaver.
  • I am coming to understand more and more how many different circles of bloggers there are out there, and it is cool to see them periodically overlap (through events like the Comment Challenge). We all have our friends but it is so intriguing to stumble into a network of others and realize they have been at it, too, and now there are some cross-connections taking place. It’s not that I felt as if me and the blogs I follow were the only ones, but still, it is eye-opening to find other groups of people engaged in similar conversations. I had this same experience one day when I came across The Two Writing Teachers site and realized what great work they were doing and how they were also building a sense of a writing community outside of my traditional radar. How many other communities of teacher-writers are out there, I wonder?
  • It occurs to me that we are all so lucky that there are so many people willing to give their time for projects such as these. I look at the Comment Challenge Wiki, and I know there is a group of wonderful people involved in this, keeping the project moving along and thinking and reflecting upon it, and encouraging others to do the same. Just think what a gift that is. The webbed world could have easily been different (and could still take a turn, I suppose). It is a place where people share, collaborate and support each other. I am grateful for the organizers of Comment Challenge and I realize how remiss I have been in mentioning who they are. So, without further ado, I send out some personal kudos to the organizers of the Comment Challenge:

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 6

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Poetry ended on a humorously macabre note in class yesterday as we wrote out some epitaphs for fictional characters, my classroom mascot (an old stuffed polar bear who has lost a lot of beans this year), and anyone they wanted, including themselves. Many of my young writers chose to eulogize their long-lost, but not forgotten, pets in their short gravestone poems.

Now, I shift into songwriting, and it always makes me a bit nervous. But I know it is a lot of fun and something completely different for my students.

Here is what we do:

  • We examine some lyrics and songs that they are (hopefully) familiar with. Today, we’ll be listening to the Goo Goo Dolls (Better Days) and Green Day (Good Riddance) and thinking of how the poetic devices we have used in poetry is used in songwriting and lyrics. I will be bringing in my acoustic guitar and trying to coax them to sing the Green Day song with me.
  • Tomorrow, I will bring in my electric guitar, drum machine and set up a little PA system with microphones in my classroom. I then have a worksheet that has them reflect on songwriting, and then I play them a song that I wrote called Just Believe. My song has a missing verse, and their job is to write a verse, and then … come up to the front of the room on the following day, and sing it the song with me.
  • Last year, I tried to record some of the kids singing, but it was too loud and distorted even for me to listen to. We’ll see about this year.

I love the intersection of the arts and writing, and I see some of my students suddenly think of songs in a different way after these lessons. And I try to remind them that anyone can write a song and everyone SHOULD write a song (at least once in life). The combination of words, music and rhythm are a powerful medium of expression.

And speaking of music, tonight is our school’s Talent Show (the teacher who organizes it whispered to me yesterday, ‘we’re going to start calling it Variety Show to be a bit more accurate in what it is ‘ and then laughed). Each year, the staff puts on an act, and this year, we are performing Stray Cat Strut (by Stray Cats) as a live band. I am playing the saxophone and singing some of the lead parts, and we are going to ham the whole thing up as much as possible. It should be fun.

Music will be a big part of today, that’s for sure.

Peace (in rock and roll),
Kevin

Day in a Sentence gets released

This week’s Day in a Sentence was a low-traffic affair. Perhaps you are all busy, or wandering elsewhere, or just not all that interested in VoiceThread. It’s OK. I understand. I hope to have your words back this coming week when Day in a Sentence returns to its traditional form of a sentence, and nothing but a sentence.

At least one person, Stacey, had a heck of a time with VoiceThread and she got plenty of frustrated, which makes me feel sad since I want to have us explore new technology but not to the point of tossing the computer out the window. (I’m sorry, Stacey). If you had problems with VoiceThread, can you let me know?

Stacey’s last email to me could have been her sentence: “Literally gets stuck on the screen.” I think that sums up her Day in a Sentence VoiceThread experience. Bah.

But some of you made it through and here are your sentences:
And, believe it or not, you can still add in a thought, if the inspiration strikes. I am keeping this VoiceThread open.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Comment Challenge Video

I just uploaded a video into the Flickr Comment Challenge Group in which I try to give a video tour of some of the blogs I visited yesterday on the 31 Day Comment Challenge. I hope others might also give the video option a shot. The Flickr idea comes from Kate, who posted her own video at the start of the project.
Take a look and please, consider joining the Flickr Group or the 31 Day Comment Challenge (it’s never too late)

(The music is original and part of another song)

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Reflecting on Comment Challenge

Yesterday, I decided to try out the 31 Day Comment Challenge, and I am so glad that I took the plunge. I already feel as if I have connected with entire new worlds of educational bloggers that were outside of my comfortable circle of “regulars” (cue: theme music from the old TV show Cheers) but are worth the connections. One blog mentioned around town was The Bamboo Project and so now, that blog is in my RSS.

It was interesting to read through their Comment Audits, and notice some themes. Many of us do visit a handful of blogs per week, make comments, but don’t track them and rarely return to further the conversations. It’s like a hit and run. If commenting is an integral part of blogging, I know I am guilty of not doing enough on my part as the reader/viewer/commenter.

I also used Co-Comment for most of the day. Other than the annoying advertisements (which I know are necessary for a business, but still annoy me), the platform for tracking comments on blogs is pretty amazing. I use Firefox, and CoComment is now embedded right in my toolbar and browser. I just click on the little blue CO and I am at my homebase in CoComment, looking at the trail of comments I have left, and any responses. This tool makes so much sense and I am kicking myself for not using it before. But I guess that is yet another reason why I am glad for the Comment Challenge.

Here is one example of connections.Over at Kate Foy’s blog — Spinning a Learning Web, she posted a video welcome to the Comment Challenge. It was neat to have some multimedia as part of the challenge, and I wrote a comment, saying that it might be cool to have folks use video to reflect or even to comment (although not all blogs allow that, I think). She agreed (I saw this via CoComment) and now Kate has set up a Flickr Group for Comment Challenge, and she hopes folks will upload videos (you can do short ones via Flickr now, with Pro Accounts) as part of the challenge. Great idea! If you want to join this Flickr Group, you can ask Kate through the invitation at the Flickr site.  I’ll work on a short video reflection later today.

Meanwhile, if you are visiting here from the Comment Challenge, I would like to invite you to consider a weekly feature called Day in a Sentence, in which teachers boil down a day or the week into a sentence (or some variation) and share it out as part of a reflective community. This week’s Day in a Sentence is on VoiceThread but you can also just leave your sentence as a comment, and I will embed into the final VoiceThread later.

Go to the post about this week’s Day in a Sentence

Peace (in connections),
Kevin

The 31 Day Comment Challenge

31 day

I’m probably not going to go full depth into this challenge, but I love the idea of connecting with others and I want to be somewhat involved. The idea behind the 31 Day Comment Challenge is to engage bloggers in developing more meaningful discussions and dialogue with other bloggers through the comment/discussion feature on the blogs.

There are prizes and all that, although that doesn’t interest me at all. And although the organizers have suggested using co-comment platform to track comments, I may not do that either. The program seems to have bugs. So, I may just move among the 100 (yep, 100) bloggers who have signed on and engage in conversations that way.

A starting point are these three questions that formulate a sort of self-assessment:

  • How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week?
    • During a typical week, I comment at about 7 to 10 blogs that I track through my RSS. Many of the bloggers are friends, but I do try to leave comments on blogs that I don’t otherwise have a connection with. If a blog has a theme or writing style that seems interesting, then I will often put it into my RSS and follow the blog from there.
  • Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking?
    • I track my comments only if the blog has an option to track the comment, and I admit, it does get difficult to follow discussions. It often feels like a hit and miss operation. And I don’t always return to the discussion, even when I am tracking comments.
  • Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
    • I do tend to comment on a set number of blogs (mostly through connections of various projects that I am engaged in) but I do try to comment once in a while on new blogs, just to extend those connections outward.

And now, I am off to explore some new blogs and leave some trails behind.

Peace (in dialogue),
Kevin

Converting VoiceThread to Video

I experimented for the first time with converting a VoiceThread into a video file, using the new feature over at VoiceThread. The process cost me three dollars, but if you have a paid VoiceThread account, I believe you get a few of these for free. The VT comes back at you as a Quicktime movie, and it is interesting to see how it looks in this different format.

I uploaded it into Google Video, but the darkness and shrinking of the screen does not do justice to the video that I received from VoiceThread. I also notice that Google Video no longer allows you to adjust the size of the screen (look how tiny it is!). Next time, I should use TeacherTube or YouTube, perhaps. Oh well.

My idea is to archive any of the Day in a Sentence VoiceThreads that we have done and so here is one from February 2008.

Speaking of Day in a Sentence and VoiceThread, the invitation is still open for you to boil your day or week down into a sentence and share it out via this week’s VoiceThreaded Day in a Sentence. (You can also use the comment feature either at this post or the initial post from a few days ago, if VoiceThread is not your thing)Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Stop-Motion Lego Exploration

Yesterday, I finally got some students working on using our stop-motion software (it’s free for PC!) on the laptops. I carted in a HUGE bucket of Legos from my kids’ closet (don’t say a thing … top secret) and let my students just explore the use of creating short stop-motion movies.

In about 30 minutes, all five groups had created something and most had begun to understand how to capture frames, how to get your hand out of the way (crucial) and how to be incremental in your movements of objects.

This will all lead us to a Claymation Project very soon (this year’s theme: climate change).

I uploaded two small Lego Movies via Flickr and share them here. These are raw — no sound or anything. So, hum a little song in your head as you watch, OK?

Peace (in ssssslllllllloooooooo mmmmmmmooooootttttiiiiioooooonnnnnnn),
Kevin