Dear Reader, We Write the Book of our Times

The latest activity in the Edublog Teachers Challenge is to consider our blog readers (that would be you, by the way — we were talking about you. We only said nice things). It’s easy to get wrapped up in the writing sometimes and forget that there are readers out there (have I mentioned how nice you look in that shirt today?) who read and sometimes write (make sure you keep a smile on today, even if it gets rough) at our blogs. We’re partners, often — the writers and the readers (so thank you for visiting).

I woke this morning thinking of this idea of visitors here (again, that would be you and don’t worry, the dream was purely platonic) and how nice it really is that anyone spends time to write with me. I do write for myself — I would write even if this blog were unplugged — but there is something nice knowing that there are a handful of folks who wonder what I am up (sorry if my wandering brain gets you dizzy, reader. It’s the writer in me).

So, I wrote you a poem, dear reader. I wrote you a poem to thank you for being on this journey with me (here, have a cup of coffee and a muffin and stay for a minute) and to show some appreciation for your end of this conversation (sometimes, you are silent, thinking, but that’s OK — I’m like that too, sometimes, on my own journeys).

Thank you.

Writing the Book of Our Times
(listen to the podcast)

Imagine my surprise in finding you
arriving here, so unexpected,
bundled up against the flow of ceaseless information,
seeking a place to land as temporary shelter,
seeking out a conversation.

Come in, dear reader,
and share this fire with me;
I’m tossing sparks into the flames
in hopeful optimism that change is afoot
out there —
it’s something we can feel, if not always see,
and it needs to be named.
I need your help, so perhaps your arrival is fortuitous,
a breath of air on the embers.

Ignore the rapping on the basement door.
I’ve locked up the Spam King and all of his cronies
trying to sell me their trinkets and lies
while scraping my blog for ideas —
they are thieves and scoundrels,
and I am sorry
if you have ever found yourself in their company.
Dear reader, you deserve better.

Take off your coat and grab an idea;
Feed the fire with me,
and tell me a story of your journeys
as I will tell you of mine;
Combined, we’ll write the book of our times.

Peace (in the poems),

Why Widgets?

This is another activity in the Edublog Teacher Challenge taking place the last month or so, and the focus is on Widgets, those boxes of stuff that we attach to the sides of our blogs. I’m going to sound a bit cranky here, but I often find widgets too distracting and wonder why people go overboard with them.

I know, I use them, too. I’m guilty.

A look at my blog shows a Twitter widget, an informational widget for my Teaching the New Writing book collection, a link to my Boolean Squared webcomic site, an internal search engine and links to posts on my blog.  Arrrr. I remember the first time I found out about widgets in my blog dashboard. I went a little widget crazy. I had a whole line of things running down the spine of my blog – maps, counters, videos, etc. Later, I removed most of them. But even now, every time I see that side bar of my blog, I think: that’s just too much stuff floating around.

And I often think the same thing when I go to other blogs for a visit or a comment. Widgets can produce information overload, and when we start thinking of design elements of blogs — of what makes an online site work from the visual and information angle, and what detracts from the site — I can’t help but sometimes think that widgets are nothing but clutter that can get in the way of understanding.

And yet … having a space for static information is good, right? I guess. And it gives a blog a certain identity, too. What we choose to include leaves our own mark on our blog sites, which most of us (me) don’t code or create ourselves. We (me) use templates. Widgets can give our sites a little personality.

I do have my widgets here for a reason, and that reason is that I want to provide easy-to-access information and links to my readers.  But this morning, as I was trolling through my RSS reader, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that I almost never actually see a blog itself. I see the feed. For the most part, I don’t even know what the blogs I subscribe to look like (for example, I went to a friend’s blog last night for the first time in who knows how long and saw that he had completely redesigned the thing. I didn’t know. Did it matter?), and so, I don’t really see the widgets either.

Maybe you never see mine, either.

Peace (in the crankiness),

Images and Multimedia: The Teacher Challenge

I seem to have fallen behind a bit with the Edublog Teacher Challenge, but that’s the beauty of online work — there’s always another day. I’ve missed two of the activities: thinking about how we use images on our spaces and thinking about how we embed media into our sites.

First, I use images as a partner to text, mostly, but this is something I have been rethinking or at least, wondering about. Am I using images with blog posts for the way it looks or for the way it means? I’d have to admit: it’s all about the visual. I guess that’s not that unusual or all that bad, but given this age of multimedia, am I doing enough thinking and reflecting around why I use a specific image and what message does it convey?

This had me thinking a bit about Bud the Teacher’s annual month of poetry picture prompts, in which he posts an image and asks folks to be inspired to write a poem. Each morning, I found something unusual and would let the image spark some words and thoughts, and then I would write. I love how that visual element really got to the heart of creative inspiration.

Here’s an image he posted about refrigerator art:

magnetic poetry

And here was the poem that he inspired for me, looking at some art of my young son on our fridge (Creative Commons License photo credit: surrealmuse):

Oh, Luke, how could you
flash that light saber at your father like that,
there, with your stick arms and fat head,
drawn from some innocence yearning for conflict
and placed right next to the phone numbers
of people whose numbers we should remember anyway.
Luke, you’re not going anywhere anyway,
not with that magnet stuck to your head,
and I hope you don’t mind sharing your space with a report card,
a few coupons,
a reminder or two,
and that flier for a summer camp.
Space has become a cluttered place, Luke, and you’ll have to make do
until the Force of gravity releases you.

The next Teacher Challenge activity was all about embedding media, which I do quite regularly. I am always trying out things and sharing my process as best as I can here at my blog. I figure learning is an adventure, and the more I can reflect, the more I know about what I am doing. Media such as videos and interactive applications are becoming more and more portable, allowing us a chance to engage our readers in different ways. There is also a wide range of skills that go into creating a multimedia piece, and embedding them into our blogs gives us wider publication.

Since we’re on the poetry kick, I figure I would embed a Voicethread that I had created when I did a 30 poems in 30 Days project a few years ago, and asked folks to add thoughts or comments.

Peace (in the kickstart),

Teacher Challenge: Avatars and Us

The most recent Teacher Challenge challenge is to think about Avatars, and how we visually represent ourselves and our identities in the online world. It got me thinking a bit about the various avatars that I have used since I began blogging and networking.

The first avatar I ever used was my old dog, Bella. I figured that since my nickname was dogtrax, having a dog as my avatar made sense. And she was a beautiful dog, so I enjoyed seeing her image on my posts. I think, at the time, I was erecting some protective walls around identity, and my dog didn’t reveal a thing about me, really.

Later, I shifted to an avatar image that I have of me playing guitar with my old band, The Sofa Kings. It’s a picture from when we went into the recording studio. I liked how it captured my love of music and my identity of being in a rock and roll band.

These days, I am more apt to use a drawing I made myself in MS Paint. It’s pretty basic, but it seems comfortable to me. I got tired of seeing myself in an image as my avatar. The self-portrait is not really me (maybe an older version of me, with more hair) but I like that I drew it myself, with my own hands (mouse) and I see it and think, yep, that’s me.

I uploaded a bunch of my various avatars to see how the embedded gallery will work.

In general, I guess folks have to think about hwy they want to use an avatar: is it for flash, for fun, for privacy or for something else. There are certainly tons of avatar makers out there now, and it is always good to take a step back and consider how it is that we represent ourselves to the world. And when we talk to our students, and work with our students with avatars, it’s a good way to get into visual literacy: what does this picture say to the world?

And the ease in which we can make the switch of our visual representation means we can easily shed and recreate our online visual identities with a click of a button and swipe of a mouse.

Peace (in the avatar),

PS — Later, it occurred to me that I didn’t mention the use of Voki and other animated avatars. I have tried them and found them … too disjointed and too odd. Maybe it’s that whole robotic human thing. And the eyeballs following my mouse just makes me unsettled. I know plenty of folks like Voki. Not me. I prefer a static avatar that doesn’t talk to me.

Teacher Challenge: All About Me is really All About You

This blogging  activity, as part of the Edublog Teacher Challenge, is to consider the use of “Pages” as opposed to “posts” on a blog. Essentially, a page is a static site (sort of like a common webpage) while a post shows up as the homepage, in reverse chronological order. Specifically, we are being asked to examine our All About Me pages and think about the message it sends, and maybe do a little spring cleaning.

I did a similar preview a few years ago, too, and although today I made some quick tweaks to the language there (I used to moderate every single comment and now I have it set differently, so returning users don’t need to be in my moderation bin), it is still a pretty inviting message,  I think. My All About Me page is actually All Ab0ut You (the reader).

You can view my All About Me Page here.

I’ve avoided using too many pages because I feel like it clutters up the blog homepage site. The only other pages that I used to use was for an ongoing short story called Mac’s Music Shack (and is really The Canterbury Tales, retold through music themes), and I was working to embed video introductions to each chapters and podcasting the chapters. (You can tell it’s a bit dated because I was using Google Video).  It was an experiment around using audio and video and writing, and the static quality of the Page made sense to me at the time. The page is still there, if you are curious, but it remains a Page Under Construction and is not currently linked on the homepage.

You can view Mac’s Music Shack here.

Peace (in the reflecting),

Edublog Challenge: Deconstructing an Effective Blog Post

The most recent challenge with the Edublog Teacher Challenge is to find a blog post that we admire and write about it. I am choosing one particular post by my NWP friend, Andrea Zellner, entitled “A Community of Readers.” I am hoping she won’t mind me deconstructing her post a bit. (Actually, she just tweeted her OK. )

Andrea begins this particular blog post with a recent news item (Kindle sharing of ebooks and the reaction that the move has received) and then branches off into how we develop our community of readers that we can turn to for advice, suggestions and feedback. Finally, she ends by asking us, her readers, to write about their own reading community and its value.

What I like here is that her wedge issue — reading and technology — became a stepping stone for something larger — how people read and how reading remains important to our lives, even with the transformative qualities of technology.  She also nicely addresses her own mixed feelings about ebooks and physical books. And then, she reminds us that technology has the potential to expand our reading community (via Goodreads, social networking, etc.) in interesting ways, although this technology should supplements and not replace our reading communities.

I love this bit from her post:

Reading, after all, is a solitary experience. Yet we yearn, especially after reading something profound and transformative, to turn around and thrust the book into the hands of those we know.  “Read this,” we implore.  We can’t contain ourselves. — Andrea Zellner

She also quotes from other sources, and provides valuable links. These are important elements to a good blog post because I can travel ahead or stay behind, whatever I want. I sort of wish more readers had responded to her (maybe you will? Go ahead.) and hope that that will still happen. She posed a question that is open-ended enough to spark comments and discussion, with no real time limit. (The limit? Exposure to more readers.)

In the end, she had me thinking and wondering. Yes, reading is solitary in the act of reading but the desire to share what we have read, and to find like-minded readers (and maybe, not so like-minded readers) is a powerful urge that most readers have. Technology and social media can be part of that community building, but I agree with her final thoughts about physical books being precious in their own special way, in part because they are something we can put into someone else’s hands and hope for a similar rich experience.

I realize now that I am doing the same here, passing her blog post along to you. So, maybe I am conflicted about it, too. That’s OK, as long I keep reflecting on it.

Peace (in the post),

An Audio Interview with my Blog

I am keeping an eye on the Teacher Blogging Challenge now underway with Edublogs and saw this post by Ann, asking advanced bloggers to be reflective on their blogs. One of the options was an interview with your blog, which struck me as fun and odd (something I can’t resist).

So, here I go, and I included an audio version, giving “voice” to my blog with some effects to separate the interview from the interviewee.

Listen to the “interview”

1. Good morning. Are you always up this early? I’m always up. I’m a blog.

2.  True. Well, I hope you don’t mind that I am going to drink my coffee while we chat. Now, your name is Kevin’s Meandering Mind. Can you give me the lowdown on your name? Certainly. When Kevin created me, he didn’t really know what he was going to write about. He knew that teaching would be part of it, and writing. But he figured that music and some other areas that he is interested in would also come into play. That led to the meandering.

3. And meander it does. I’m surprised you have any faithful readers. Do you worry that covering a wide range of topics might be, well, confusing for the reader? It is a potential issue but I think Kevin often writes for himself, as much for an audience, and he has some faith that readers can come along with him. If not, they can make that choice. But I am grateful for readers who come around on a regular basis, particularly those who make comments and leave notes.

4. Do you encourage comments? Of course! I’m a blog! Comments from readers are what we crave. Of course, I have my trusty spam filter, too, so not all comments come to my attention. I really don’t need new shoes or desire to send money to someone on the other side of the world. Not that I have money.

5. So, your blog does not generate revenue with advertisements? No. We don’t do that. In fact, Kevin pays to keep ads off of me. Some of my cousins out there do have advertising tattoos, but I would rather do without them. And Kevin agrees.

6. So, why does Kevin write on you? He writes because he is a writer, and he has found that our partnership — him, the writer, and me, the blog — gives him a chance to explore, compose and connect with others like him in the world. He’s been writing for years, but never quite like this. I think I opened up a door for him that will be difficult to shut. Plus, he often uses me to explore sites and technology that he is considering for his classroom.

7. You’re some sort of techno-guinea pig? That’s a harsh way to put it, pal. But I suppose it’s something like that. I don’t mind. It’s what I do.

8. How long have you been around? More than six years. Can you believe that? Kevin started me up after a week-long technology retreat with the National Writing Project. A friend of his who had been blogging (and still does, I should add) in Washington DC urged him to start a blog. In fact, he had already been doing blogging with his students. But I was his first push into a personal blog. It’s been a nice partnership.

9. What advice do you have for all of those new blogs out there? I’d say find a niche, but you know, I never really have. So, instead, I’d suggest you find a voice. Establish a voice and project your thoughts into the world.

10. It’s been nice chatting with you. Any last thoughts? It’s been a pleasure. Kindly take that coffee cup off the mouse pad, would you? I don’t want you to leave any lasting impressions with the interview.

Peace (in the conversations),