Remembering ‘The Rising’ and More

On this, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I am remembering and listening to The Rising album by Bruce Springsteen, who wrote new tracks in the aftermath that, to me anyway, touched an emotional nerve of how the world had changed, on a small human scale of the stories of loss and survival of his characters in a landscape changed in a single day.

A few years ago, a bass player in my band unexpectedly shared his experience of being in New York City that day of September 11 over a band dinner, and later, he and I continued the discussions, as he shared his writing and poems from those days. I took some of his pieces and crafted a poem as gift back to him and his memories.

And finally, today is also the birthday of my youngest son — born a few years after 2001 but on the same day — and each year, as the world grieves in memories, my wife and I remind him and ourselves, and everyone else we know, that his presence is a gift of beauty and love to the world on a day often shrouded in loss.

Peace (to all),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: Amber & Clay

Amber and Clay | A Mighty Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz’s Amber & Clay is an epic, all right, and told with a variety of narrative styles — Greek poetry, traditional prose, artifacts — that bring us deep into Greek Culture in Ancient Athens, as the lives of Rhaskos (a boy born free who becomes enslaved) and Melisto (a girl of means who dies too young) are entwined by the magic of the Gods.

Clay is Rhaskos, whose talent with art and clay is enhanced with the help of Hermes and Hephastias, among others, and whose role as a slave in Athens fuels the story forward. Amber is Melisto, the wayward daughter of an aristrocratic family. As a young girl honoring Artemis, she is struck by lightning during an important ceremony, and then bound as a spirit to Rhaskos by his mother (a slave in Melisto’s family).

As the story progresses, we come to learn that the trial of Socrates in Athens (and his death sentence) will play a large role in Rhaskos’ decisions that eventually free him, with the help of Melisto as his guiding spirit.

I appreciated the story, and the ways the story was told, and Schlitz’s talent for recreating Athens in all of its glory and follies (the sentencing to death of Socrates for being wise and questioning is long been viewed as a monumental mistake of hubris by the leaders of the city) is admirable. She weaves in voices of mortals and gods with verve and characters, and brings the loose ends together by the close of this novel.

As someone interested in writing, I also thoroughly enjoyed her author’s notes, where she writes about the struggle to balance verse with prose, and how her characters helped her find a way forward. She also explains how she used her research and historical records to underpin the story of these two young people, whose trajectories collide just when they need to, with the help of the magic of the gods and something akin to love.

Peace (pray the Gods hear),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Library With No Librarian Is Still a Place of Books

(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 I started teaching at my school, many years ago, a budget crunch meant that our school had no librarian. The library was mostly dark during the school days. It was a travesty I could not understand as a new teacher, as a lover of books, as someone who knows the power of a library and a librarian to spark a love of reading and learning.

Well, we’re back to that situation again.

The community where I teach voted down a budget last year that has meant many cuts at the school, and one of the most dramatic is that we did not replace our librarian, who left for another job, and the library is dark again.  I don’t know if we will even have a paraprofessional or volunteer in there to check out books. It’s unclear right now.  I also don’t know if we lost our budget for buying new books for the library. Gaw. (Another ramification of the budget cuts is a reduction in hours of our amazing school nurses — something else I have trouble wrapping my head around, particularly in a Pandemic).

I don’t cast blame on my principal, who did the best she could with the budget she was given, and she was able to keep Art and Music and Physical Education through creative scheduling, etc. I’m grateful for that.

But to lose the library (not lose, maybe, as I am sure we will come up with a plan to bring students there to get books .. I hope) from our regular school day, as a place of literacy and instruction and fun, is difficult and unsettling, and I am still grappling with that change as our school year begins.

Peace (and books),
Kevin

Book Review: The Anthropocene Reviewed

The Anthropocene Reviewed (Signed Edition): Essays on a ...

John Green is a talented writer, and is curious about many things. Both of those skills come to the surface often in the short essays that make up Green’s non-fiction collection entitled The Anthropocene Reviewed, one of the first books I have read that was written during the Pandemic and is not afraid to make that time period of writing very visible (and which I appreciated).

Subtitled “Essays on a Human-Centered Planet,” this collection of writing spans the observational world from Halley’s Comet to Diet Dr Pepper to sunsets to Piggly Wiggly stores to The Mountain Goats to the world’s largest ball of paint. That just scratches the surface of the pieces here, which originated in one form or another with Green’s podcast. (Green is also the well-known author of young adult fiction like The Fault In Our Stars and often does video-blogging with his brother, Hank).

Green never shies away from his own struggles with mental illness, and seeks to understand the ways the complexities of the modern world challenge and stress him out to exhaustion (at times) and breakdowns (at others), and how he finds comfort in the small moments of the world, too, and the people around him. This balance between explaining the larger picture of a world of complexity and noticing the moments one needs to survive become the emotional pivot points of these essays.

What is the Anthropocene? It’s the name for our current geological age that we humans are in right now as we impact the planet with all of our use and misuse, with all of our potential for good and all of our potential for harm. Green uses this term to frame his thoughts on what it means to be a human right now, and not just right now, but … right now … in the midst of a Pandemic, which he never shies away from (and hopefully, those references won’t make this collection only pieces for these days … I appreciated the references to how our lives were disrupted by Covid).

Green’s writing voice, too, is like a friend, as if the reader and writer were having breakfast and Green poses a question, and then invites you in to follow the thread of the answer. Each chapter ends with Green giving something a rating of one to five stars (playing off the need in the modern world to rate everything as social practice). So, for example, viral meningitis gets one star while the beauty of sycamore trees gets five stars.

I give Green’s book five stars.

Peace (in the world we live in),
Kevin

Slice of Life: And So The Year Begins …

(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.)

 

 

 

On this day
before the
first days
of school,
the dreamers
in us remember
long nights of
wonder and
worry, the
unknown spinning
us forward
into something
unfocused
and still a
bit blurry;
each year begins
with a single
step of pause,
then comes
the hurry

Peace (at the start of it all),
Kevin

Pondering Scenius and the Collective Inspiration

UGA's Medical Robotics Lab: Mission Possible « The ...

My good friend, Michelle King, introduced this concept of “scenius” (from music producer Brian Eno) to a three day gathering of educators, park rangers and environmental educational partners that I was part of. We were all on Zoom, alas, but the facilitators were thoughtful in the ways they used the chat as a generative channel for feedback, support and questions to be generated throughout small group presentations and discussions. The chatter flowed.

When someone mentioned how powerful that chat-side sharing was, Michelle (who was joining in as a featured guest poet/educator/creativity instigator) shared Eno’s term of Scenius to mean that a collective working together within a common theme or “scene” has an elevated power to it. Genius might refer to a single person; Scenius refers to many people, together, in a single “scene” with shared passions.

It’s a term that has surfaced through others, too, such as Austin Kleone, who has done a deep dive into the idea. In an interview, Eno explained that he realized that what he had learned in art school about individual genius working solo was more likely the result of the cultural scene that created the possibility for an artist to flourish. It didn’t likely happen in isolation.

What really happened was that there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people – some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists, people who were fashionable and knew what the hip things were – all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work. — Brian Eno

I am thinking how this concept connects to Connected Learning and Affinity Groups and other concepts in which the larger energy of creativity sparks individuals to raise their game, take a chance, and find others for collaboration. For me, I think of CLMOOC, and DS106, and the National Writing Project, and the organization that was hosting the gathering, Parks in Every Classroom.

Also, of course, I wonder how this conceptual understanding of how we learn within given cultural moments might translate into how educators approach learners in schools.

scenius | THIN|SILENCE

Scenius. Interesting.

Peace (thinking it),
Kevin