Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Doubts in Magic: How Marquez Makes Realism and Magic Doubtful

Note: This post discusses a reading. It is linked here for reference. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

There is a struggle to understand the concept of magical realism as a mode of literature. It is allusive and often very heard to define in terms of traditional literary terms. By reading a short story by one of the legends of magical realism, we can consider how useful this device, this troupe, this idea can be in saying something very important in terms of literature. 

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children by Gabriel Marquez brings to light the duplicity that can drawn out in magical realism. It is skepticism, belief, vision, and doubt all constantly swirling about what seems like poetry, fiction, parable, and doubt wrapped into one short story. 

As for the reader, part of what Marquez does so well is adding the possible with the impossible and allow the readers to judge those things on their own merits. In the opening lines: 


"On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross he drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench." 

While this is a strange event, it is very possible to imagine this kind of event happening, particularly in a tropical climate. What is interesting in the idea that these are difficult times, rain, crabs, and fever all build significant tension. It is when the main character, Pelayo finds an old man with wings, face down in the yard that we begin to see how the magical and the realism meet each other, seeking nothing more than an active curiosity of the reader. Between the flood of crabs and the crashed old man in the yard, nothing is amazing, but nothing is normal either. In fact, the old man with wings is dressed "like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had." The magical becomes normalized and accepted. Every possible insight into something extraordinary is then undercut with a healthy dose of reality. When they describe his being stuck in the chicken coup, he is seen "as if [he] weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal."

And everyone who sees the old man with wings comes to the same conclusion, that while it is different, it can't be magical. The church arrives on the Father Gonzaga realizes that he isn't an angel when he doesn't speak the language of the church (Latin) and doesn't respond to him appropriately. And he notices, "that seen up close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels." 

This story gives us a constant measure of how we perceive things and how they hold up to the skeptic, to the church, to the reality of the world. If you think of this story as magical, then everyone is a skeptic and whatever magic is happening is merely incidental to the ways the people abuse, ignore and cast off the miraculous elements happening. If this is a story about realism, it is about finding a hoax, seeing something that is possible but likely impossible. And in the end, something that may have never happened. 

In terms of the reader, it is an opportunity. If you are a realist and skeptic, you might side with the villagers and see this convoluted creature as a mere oddity, sideshow, natural oddity. There is even skepticism in the title. It isn't "The Angel with Enormous Wings" it is titled A Very Wold Man with Enormous Wings. Yet, if you are a believer in magical possibilities, this is a better read. While you are considering the scoffers, you can consider that not all magical things are what we expect. In fact, if the angel is there to take the feverish child (in the beginning) to death, it failed. But if he has come to save the child, he has succeeded. Marquez is constantly slipping back and forth through the elements of possible and impossible, magical and realism to make each sentence a puzzle to decode. 

This is a great text to contemplate the alternative ideas that are created here. For every magical idea, there is room for doubt. And the same could be said for every moment of realism, there is hope that magical things can be slightly tarnished, dirty or just a little tawdry.  



Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sand Eel by Will Millard



Will Millard 
Penguin Books / 2018
  • ASIN: B06Y62BYKZ
336 Pages

Fishing in simplest terms is an obsession. It is a complicated and often fluid set of skills that depend on season, weather, location, bait, technique and hundreds of other possibilities. Then there is the adrenaline rush of hooking into a fish and the battle that ensues. It is all here in Will Millard's The Old Man and the Sand Eel. Yet, this book is about something more complicated and visionary. It is about what drives and shapes this obsession to fish. And while his adventures hooking fish are exciting to follow, there is more to this book than a guided tour.
The beginning of the book opens with the author catching a record-breaking Sand Eel, one that would put him in the record books, one that would make his mark on fishing in the UK forever. And then it literally slips away. This sense of obsession and finding the next big fish had changed the way he was fishing, changed his mindset to be more than just being there and fishing, but being there only for a big prize, a record fish. After some thought and reflection, Millard moves back to his early roots in fishing and realizes that he shouldn't be looking for the record fish, but the essence of fishing. Using his grandfather's old fishing guide, and the ghosts of his past, he begins a different quest. He begins to search for the unforgotten species and getting back to the root of his passion for fishing.

There is a clear connection in this book between family and fishing. It is this connective linage that resonates through this quest. He connects to his grandfather’s fish encyclopedia and his wisdom to rediscover why fishing is important. He mentioned the influence of the tall tale in fishing and how it related back to his grandfather. He says, "I should clarify that Grandad was no liar; he had definitely caught a big perch, but we were both fishermen after all. Memories blur and sometimes the distance between our palms can widen with time. Grandma left behind an old plastic ice cream tub filled with pictures when she departed, and right there, somewhere in the middle, I found a picture of Grandad with his most magnificent perch." Not only does this connect with the myth and storytelling that comes with time and the “distance between our palms” but it also speaks to the fact that he was an accomplished fisherman. It also resonates with his father who brought home a lamprey and held it in a tank overnight to study it. This magical moment in time is important in the curiosity and development of an emerging angler. "I remember it like it was there for the entirety of my early childhood. For the under-fives, time lengthens and memories compress in unusual ways; that one-night stand with the lamprey made a massive impression." This alien creature sparked his imagination for years to come.

There is another message in this book based on the ecology of a country that has seemingly filled most of its wild spaces. With the permits and processes to fish certain locks and waterways in the United Kingdom, it is clear that some of these locations where Millard finds fish are just beyond the glimpse of the majority of the people. These forgotten waterways and locks, home to a variety of ecosystems and connections are often overgrown, filled with debris, and beyond the idyllic fishing spot that one imagines on a perfect day of fishing. These lost places are fascinating, unexplored areas that seem just as exotic and interesting as the fish that might be under the surface.



Along with some of these lost locations comes the fascinating connections that are made when he comes across homeless people, people in business suits, criminals, and the law. These interactions are a fascinating part of fishing - with the age-old question, “any luck?” always part of the conversation. One striking moment that captured the elegance of this book is when he is fishing in an urban waterway and he pulls up a beautiful fish on the shore. “A man with a suit walks right past me without even acknowledging our presence. Even with the fish out of water the canal’s secrets remain invisible to those incapable of belief.” The suggestion that modern man is so self-absorbed that we can’t imagine this natural beauty or even see it anymore is sad and poignant in the changing world of technology and twenty-four-hour news cycles.


This book is more about family, ecology, and life in relationship to nature than it is a field guide to fishing. Yet, as we read about the hunt for the right conditions, the first cast, and thrill of the hook, it will get you thinking about grabbing your pole and heading out to your favorite spot. This is a well-written, good read for fisherman, naturalists, and anyone who has ever cast their lineout awaiting the first strike.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Review / The Mezzogiorno Social Club


Ercole Gaudioso
Guernica Editions / 2017
ISBN 978-1-77183-165-9 
Paperback/ 290 Pages

It should be said, right off the bat that this is a story of cops and mobsters. Crafted with characters that wear the dust and the crime on their clothes, The Mezzogiorno Social Club is a sweeping novel that carries the weight of tradition, generations, and a code of living divided by a thin line between crime and the cops who keep the peace. 

This novel moves across a hundred years, woven through the years with a variety of thugs, bosses, scams, hits, and money all coursing through the veins of "the neighborhood." This is Ercole Gaudioso's world. While this book spans a hundred years in Little Italy, filled with mob hits, complicated crime syndicates, and the life of cops working the streets. Over the course of the novel, not only do we meet the characters and their motives in Little Italy, we also understand the culture that is "the neighborhood." And while it begins in a rustic, horsedrawn world of shops, carriage houses, and small dim bars, the emerging world is not only their place in the world, but it is well worth protecting and holding for the future. 

Beyond the legacy of the neighborhood, Gaudioso gives us a dynamic cast of criminals, cops, politicians, and their families. Detective Joe Petrosino is one of the most intriguing characters. A hard-boiled detective who knows everyone in the neighborhood knows how to apply pressure with a beating or some jail time, he is constantly working a lead, getting information, trying to figure out what it means to settle down and get married. Rosina and Lucia, sisters from Italy manage to find their way in the neighborhood when they are alone (Rosina a widow) begin running a dress shop that rises with the crime rate and the influence of the men who adore them. These families move through the early years in a feel that reminds the reader of Gang's of New York and Boardwalk Empire, we are hurled through the Great Depression and into the World War. As the book picks up speed, the neighborhood shifts into a new generation of bosses and organization. The more families, thugs, and bosses try to hold onto the neighborhood - the cops and history push back. 

His adroit and often matter-of-fact descriptions are very satisfying in describing some of his characters. "The Digger was Marcello Ulina, a loose limbed man with a long face that grinned on its own. Doctors had told him that the nerves and muscles, not the devil, made his face happy. A priest agreed and splashed him with holy water." In these finely tuned descriptions, we not only understand the vision of the character, but we also understand how they relate to the neighborhood. In describing Philomena Matruzzo, not only do we understand where she has been, but where she might be going when he says, "When Philomena Matruzzo, the strong, contented woman whom Lucia Burgundi envied and respected, got off the boat in 1903, she had no baby and one husband. A year later she had one baby and no husband." These characters carry the weight of the neighborhood struggles, crime, and the life in this evolving world. 

The threads of plot and connections in the story are innovative and connective. Amazingly, this novel arcs across time, there are connections and story elements that connect one generation to another. This is more than just a mob book, this is a sweeping vision of family, connection, crime, and people who made their lives around generations of tradition, crime, and money. Gaudioso knows a thing or two about mob families and history, serving as a New York law enforcement officer, he spent five years in the investigation resulting in the arrest of forty Gambino Family members. This is a brilliant, poignant, and well-crafted debut novel. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: Chasing Coyotes: Accounts of Urban Crises

Chasing Coyotes: Accounts of Urban Crises
Debora Martin 
Atlas Publishing / 2017
ISBN / Kindle Verison / 190 Pages

Chasing Coyotes is based on Debora Martin interaction with coyotes over the course of the last ten years. Her experience interacting with this canine is relevant as urban edges have encroached into more and more habitat. 

Coyotes move into communities for a variety of reasons. In some cases, they are moved or relocated due to development or habitat change. As a result, these adaptable relatives of the wolves can start off as a curiosity and end up being a significant menace. Martin uses her personal stories to share how these hunters move into communities and begin to pray on house pets and other neighborhood animals. Eventually, it is their habits and their adaptability that makes them so hard to manage in an urban setting. As the coyotes become more and more brazen, they also become more protective of their territory, their dens, and eventually their litters. 

The personal narratives in this book are interesting and helpful in fighting off a coyote issue in a community. And while most of her experience is on the West Coast, it still seems very helpful and useful regardless of where you live. Where the book becomes helpful is when she taps into studies and researchers to help expand the scope of urban incursion.  

There is some misinformation out there and this guide helps to inform myths and erroneous information. Beyond that, this book does provide some behavioral tips for hazing coyotes and making them feel unwanted. This book speaks to the displacement of habitat and the way we proactively and reactively face shifting animal populations. There are times when this book really informs about the behavior and the ideology that goes into these interactions and cohabitation. While the personal narrative is sometimes long, it helps to inform readers about the complicated nature of hearing complaints and attacks, attempts to trap, laws, meetings, state and federal response, and how it can all make someone feel like no one is really listening at all.  Martin is the Director of Coyotes in Orange County, Califonia and works in the insurance industry. 

Parting Words: This easy to read guide is a good resource for unwanted coyotes and wildlife interaction. Written to be understood with some practical and clear guidelines to help.



Endnote: I selected this book because we are facing a similar coyote outbreak in our small Connecticut community. The review was not solicited by the author or publisher. 


Ron Samul is a writer and college educator. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: ActivAmerica by Meagan Cass


ActivAmerica 
Meagan Cass
University of North Texas Press / 2017
Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction
ISBN 978-1574416947 / Paper / 192 Pages

ActivAmerica is a collection of short stories drawn from America's obsession with fitness, sports, and how we re-envision ourselves through sports. If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you are probably wrong. This book is a dynamic, funny, ironic, brilliant, and often biting commentary on how we live our lives through the perception of sports. This collection tackles more than just the concept of sports but reframes the American dream in tangents and connections that often feels at once hilarious and so ironic 


This selection of short stories meditates on the ideas around sports. And one thing that Cass does so well is that she is able to bring out the absurdity and the complexity of these ideas and bring that forward into a complex and often poignant vision of America in the face of changing times. Stories range from traditional sports and teams to a more visionary look at how people embrace things like Soloflex, ping-pong, and infatuations with famous athletes.

The story based on the collection title, ActivAmerica is a hilarious story based on securing a new health plan that requires the participants to run a mile every day. In some cases, the sport is a mere reflection of who we once were or who we never tried to become. Cass captures the absurdity of a moment and then turns it into a poignant and emotional connection to how we live our lives. Every line in her stories hold value, depth, and often humor. Nothing feels wasted in the prose. 

In the story Hawthorne Dynasty it reveals life in a typical girls’ soccer league, with a sassy coach and her all-star daughter Alana. The girls admire Alma and watch her become something beyond them. “When the starting whistle blew, she snapped her fingers, rocked onto the balls of her feet and didn’t stop moving until it was over…. She wore blonde hair loose, and on breakaways it would stream back behind her, catching the afternoon sun so it looked like her whole head was on fire.” It isn’t until later that we see Alana in a different life, away from her coach (her mother) and away from the life of suburbia. When we see her again later in life, Alana is a shadow of the woman who played soccer – free from clutches of her mother but haunted by the past. In Night Games, a group of late night, high school ruffians draw out a figure skater to join them in their secret hockey matches in the middle of the night. “Afterwards we sit and drink and the stink of our gear and our sweat rises around us. I breathe it in. It feels good to be a woman with a smell.” And the longing that these games, reminiscent and tribal would be lost in the next cycle of the season, it draws out change, doubt, and loss.

Some of the stories shift a bit from a traditional sports theme into ideas of what it means to be an American on the go. The Body in Space is a visionary story about a science teacher that is selected to go into the space program and the repercussions it has on his family. Ping-Pong, 12 Loring Place also intersects with competitive siblings staying clear of their fight parents. As they kids master the nuances of ping-pong “top spin and back spin, experimented with the flick, the block. … Our rallies grew longer, more heated, our bodies slamming into the gray walls as we struggled to return the push, the loop, the lob, the chop shot.” Through the winter, brother and sister continue the competitive ritual of playing in the basement. Finally, with the death of a marriage, and the coming of spring, the two must leave their bunker. “I was going to college and she was selling the house, buying a smaller one without a basement, without room for a ping-pong table. By then our paddles were barely functional, the stippled rubber worn away from the faces, the red and gold paint dulled. Before we left, Ari put them in one of our grandfather’s old cigar boxes, buried them in the backyard. A time capsule, we called it, as if some distant, future family would know to dig it up, would decipher the hieroglyphics off our nicknames, blurred with sweat. As if nothing was passing away.” In the end, it is more than the sports and activities that draw significance to these stories, it is a sense of measuring the world as it was and how it may become – and the forecast is often fraught with a myriad of emotions that Cass masterfully controls like musical notes on a staff.

Some of these stories reach into the absurd, but it isn’t without value. Cass has the ability to bring stories into focus using humor and satire to make even strange stories build with meaning and emotion. These stories were made for workshop dissection and discussions. Evocative and meaningful, Cass continues to innovate her own voice and style with every new idea and concept in this collection. These stories are not only entertaining and deeply poignant, but she innovates the push and pull that haunts what it means to be an American. Every story is layered in a complex tumult of emotions, action, and vision. Her voice, character, and mastery of the form creates brilliant opportunities to examine more than just themes on sports, but delves deeper into compelling elements of the American dream; to be competitive, physical, aggressive, and beautiful at the cost of our hopes, guilt, longing, and loss. This collection won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. 


Ron Samul is a writer and college educator. 


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Atmosphere and Ecological Constructs / Part One

There has been a lot of conversations lately about crafting ecologies or places where our characters exist. And while this may sound like a familiar conversation, it is also no surprise because of the massive push to discuss "world building" as a means to write epic fantasy or sci-fi stories. But it feels like the concept of atmosphere and ecological emersion is less about world-building and more about finding a tool that is useful in creative writing, pushing setting from a static archetype to something more meaningful and tangible. In a world of virtual immersions and screen time, it is relevant to talk about stories that emphasize place and atmosphere. As we disconnect through technology, writers seem to be finding ways to reconnect in fiction. 

This concept also comes from significant and overwhelmingly profile landscapes from Tolkien, Herbert, and Martin. These epic sagas have created more than just setting to cast characters, but the setting themselves (Game of Thrones and Dune) become active and significant protagonists in terms of the stories and the development. Other worlds come from Star Wars, Star Trek, and other expandable settings that are being developed. What has also given rise to this kind of world building is the rise of the expanded TV series created and shaped by on-demand television binge watching. It has allowed cinema to move into a greater arc of storytelling and allow for expandable ideas through character and platform.  

Having said all that it is this sense of ecology and atmosphere that I've been hearing about more than "world building." To me, world building is based on the construction of things that aren't relatable at all to a common narrative. In fact, it is the burden of the world builder to create a bridge between the possible and the impossible. But to connect atmosphere and ecology to the concept of setting and atmosphere is less grandiose and more about pushing on a literary element that enhances the experience. It is writers like Jon Krakauer and Into Thin Air that connects the complete epic moment of gaining the summit of Everest and being so close to death, that it really doesn't matter. The balance between the world that is vastly different and the characters in it comes with vivid and compelling stories. In fact, I haven't written a fictional scuba diving piece because I struggle to connect the story with this uniquely remote and often isolating place. Nonfiction seems to show better in terms of writing about underwater, but without dialog, without grounding, this is a hard place to write for me. 

It is classic writing like Jack London, Melville, and Steinbeck that I think of these elements as being an important narrative quality. Cannery Row is not a whole new world, but there are moments that are stunning and vivid and so close to my own that it makes me awe. When Doc finds the dead girl in the rocks, it is a stunning literary element of the shore and what it can reveal. 

When and how do atmosphere and ecology evolve into a type of antagonist? In simple terms, does a war, or the sea (Moby Dick), or the jungle (Heart of Darkness) become an extension of the antagonist? Or can it be the antagonist alone? Or perhaps it was always the antagonist by design. How do these concepts arrive in stories and how does nature, while always described as an archetype, become more than a theme and plot construct and move into something more dominant in a novel, or in a selection of stories. 

"Setting" can be a backdrop, but with the discussions and workshop topics that cover world-building and ecology, it makes sense that perhaps "setting" is evolving from the backdrop of the production to a more significant and complicated element in creative writing. And in an emerging generation of writers and thinkers who have embraced "An Inconvenient Truth", recycling, and ecological preservation of the planet, it makes sense that atmosphere and environment would also mean more than fancy background curtains, but something that is coming, shaping their stories, and even acting out against their characters as a harbinger of change, conflict, and resolution of their dying world.  


Over a series of articles, I want to work out some of the setting-to-antagonist ideas that are out there and map them. It will be interesting to see where they go and why we should consider putting more value into them.

If you have any suggestions or connections and want to share, please feel free to post in the comment section. Feedback is always welcome.  


References
Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space. Vol. 330. Beacon Press, 1994.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Para-Text and Tangible Books

This post was designed and dedicated to Linda and her students. Keep up the great work. @LLumiss 

For Teachers:

Did you ever flip through a book and find a surprising artifact inside? I frequent a really good used bookstore and I often find random and often strange things tucked into books. Imagine, someone in another time, reaching for something to tuck into their books to hold a spot, mark an idea, or just keep something hidden from someone else. Some of my favorite finds are a four-leaf clover, a letter from one person to another about the poet of the book, and pictures tossed as a place holder. 

More than just holding a book and leafing through it is this idea of inserted things. When J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorset set out to make the book S. they took this concept to an extreme. The book is merely the vehicle in which the story is given through inserted things, letters, postcards, margin notes, and other things. For a better understanding of the book, The Story of "S": Talking with J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst from the New Yorker will give you an insight into the complexity and the focus of this fascinating book. Showing this book to readers in better than just showing them a book, because it shows the mystery and the complexity of what could also be added and inserted into the mix. This is a great book to show to a group of students and let them see all the elements inside. 


This leads to the idea that books are influenced by what surrounds them. Gerard Genette, literary critic, coined the phrase "paratext", he described these around-the-edge-of-a-book elements to influence not only how a book is read, but what expectations might be found there. Paratext includes blurbs, authorial comments, reviews, illustrations, footnotes, endnotes, and more. To dive into that world, check out his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, which is worth perusing to understand his vision of thinking. His vision of how text around the main text influence the reader is significant. 


Ideas and Starters for Students 

For some students looking at a book and holding it is not a familiar thing to consider. Book lovers and librarians ruminate about how they adore books, but we are in the minority. 

Part One: Have students look at books and consider all the parts. Books with prefaces, introductions, indexes, endnotes, table of contents, footnotes, and other texts help them see the connectivity. Ask them to identify the different elements of the book and why they think they are important. 


Then ask them what they think of a fiction writer using a footnote in a story that they made up. Why would they do this? Why would this be useful? 


Louis Borges used made up books and connections to make his story seem more applicable and ground some of his more abstract ideas. Other books like the confusing and complex House of Leave by Mark Danielewski also works to confuse matters. 


Part Two: Collect random ephemera, postcards, sticky notes, napkins, little slips of paper, notes to friends, receipts, anything that can be concealed in a book. Have the students flip through the book and consider what the book is about. Then have them take out all the things in that book. Have them write a story of who they think owed the book and what happened according to the found things. 


Part Three: What kind of artifacts would students like to leave in a book? Would this hide a letter, underline the funny words, or make the entire book into a complex cipher. (I don't condone defacing books for the sake of these ideas). Have the students create a statement on an index card that makes a statement or a request from the reader who finds it. What would happen if someone read this card? What would happen if it was found in 100 years?


A cross-over type of social activity would be tapping into BookCrossing where students could read books and then release them in their environments and see where they go. This is a fun way for physical books to be considered in real time as they travel about. 


This would probably entail using donated books and then sharing them back into the community. It is a free resource and it shows that books can have a life of their own and a lot of people who may not have access to books, still love to read. -- # September 2017





by Ron Samul from We Are the Curriculum
Please send fun classroom feedback, pictures, or general connections to this post to ronsamulwriter@gmail.com / Would love to see what you are doing in the classroom. 
Ron is an expert at the Digital Human Library and connects with teachers all over the world to inspire creativity in writing, books, and critical thinking. 


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CLMooc 2017 Maker Cycle: Animation

I've always been interested in telling stories in different ways. And when I saw the makers cycle for this week, and I read the description about telling a story through pictures, it brought me back to a concept that I had a long time ago. 

The idea was to create the image of a house destroyed by a tornado and bring that to the computer. By clicking on the interactive screen, people could read about the various clickable pieces of debris and from the story they think is important, based on their desire to click on elements in the debris. That being said, I never found the right way or even the possibility of doing that project. 

For this cycle, it is important for me, as a writer to hold on to the writing part of my projects but still do something that is animated in some way. I still wanted to create something similar to the tornado story, but I had a vision. The concept and the vision came all at once. I would write The Fire. It would be 10-20 flash fiction stories woven together based on an image of a fire. Using an image from the tragic London tower fire, I am trying to connect and make the story work. 

The first part will be the stories and how they connect. The next part will be navigation. And finally, the overall look will be important to the story. While I know that not everyone will love reading this and connecting the concepts, the most important element is to try it. Prezi seems to do the job right now and I think it will work out in a linear fashion. I think my vision of clicking into a space and having it tell you a story would work, but for this first prototype, I will have to let the presentation play itself out in order. 

CLICK HERE TO SEE MY EXPERIMENTAL STORY 

Storytelling can be interconnected and there are a lot of different elements now to teach and tell these stories. I worked with students to create panel cartoons to tell stories. I gave the students complex stories and asked them to tell those stories in five panels. In some cases, it was near impossible, but there is something important to cutting it down to just the basic story and attempting it. I also had them create their own superhero or (as some preferred) anti-superhero to create their own satirical space for storytelling. I created the Dyslexic Man comic because of my own issues and created the dread "homonym brothers" who always confused people with their confusing words. 

The infusion of image and word and the evolution of the digital age has brought us to an interesting time and space. In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, the visual need to engage the world is returning. And the coded (male dominated) alphabets and convoluted languages are falling away. Storytelling and the modes to tell our stories will certainly change. With abbreviated text-language and memes evolving into shorthand, we are already speeding along in a new way of seeing the world, laughing, and making complex and satirical points about society, politics, and our own experiences. 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Projects and Tools: Small Project and Tools that have Big Impacts

Over the last five years, it feels like my passion isn't in creating a lasting digital legacy, it is about contributing to something. When I was a student a Western Connecticut State University getting my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing, I started a digital literary magazine. This is where I saw my imprint on the world as a publisher and editor and I really enjoyed it. But what I thought was a project turned into a very significant organization. To this day I am grateful to that community that fostered my experience in editing and publishing. However, it was a massive undertaking and the saving grace was how naive I was about creating something like that. After more than three years, I finally let Miranda Magazine. Not because it wasn't productive, but I couldn't keep up with the hundreds of submissions, deadlines, and the support of the people who were helping me. 

In 2015 I started immersing myself into a community that was different than poets, writers, and artists. I immersed myself in teachers and learning gurus. I joined the Rhizo15 - a Massive Open Online Course and my whole world shifted. There were so many ways to approach learning, creative things, and there were tools and connections to make these things happen. Not only did I meet some of the most prominent thinkers in the field of online learning and thinking, they were also some of the kindest in supporting the course and the community. I then participated in Digital Writing Month and then continued with groups as they emerged over the last few years. During this time, my thinking shifted. I didn't want to make websites that created massive organizations, I didn't want to create three hundred page websites. I wanted to make projects.


I introduced the concept of Digital Humanity Projects to my students and why that is important. How to create a directory of resources is better than explaining one source. I spoke to them about collections, curation tools, and learned that students would gravitate to their own interests in a project. For example, we wanted to catalog historical buildings on campus using an interactive map that would explain how and why all the building are campus came to be. We discussed and created QR codes that we put on bookmarks for virtual book reviews that students could read. I wanted to make tools that connected. 


What does that mean? I didn't want to create a massive product and sell it. I didn't want to create a service and sell it. I wanted to make something that connected people - students, writers, scholars, and just browsing people. In CLMooc - creating and making things digital and real is the cornerstone of the community. But I had been thinking about websites, blogs and connections that were smaller, different, and useful to other people - if only in how they might use it. 


This year I made a few specialty blogs including a political art blog Art from the Resistance and a literary science blog about the ocean titled The Ocean Journal: Writing and Art from the Sea. These two sites are collectives of ideas and connections and not meant to be a complex web magazine. And they create an opportunity for writers and artists to collaborate on topics and ideas that wouldn't find mainstream acceptance. If a fiction writer wrote one obscure piece on falling into the ocean, then it might be an excellent match for the Ocean Journal. Beyond that, perhaps there are marine science writers who like to write essays on their favorite locations and connections. And of course, everything would be a welcomed consideration. 

This year, I created a website called The Experimental Novel Index. Every entry is an explanation of an experimental novel and connections. While there is room for people to write critically about these books, share links to scholarly articles, the point is to connect. Creating tools and resources is practical. And while you create them, you may also find a community who would also use them. We see the all the time as teachers using shared resources. It doesn't need to be epic, you don't need to create an LLC, it just has to connect to something that is meaningful. 

Ultimately I want to create fiction. But what is fascinating to me -- is to take up the challenge. Look around you, what resources are missing in your creativity, in your life, and why? And then start thinking of a process, a way, and creative entry point to make that resource and sustain it. We are in a new era of making. Building something electronically, physically, artistically, or methodically is easier now than ever before. It is a form of creativity, just like writing a poem or painting a canvas. All you need is a little inspiration. The rest will happen. 


Feel free to discuss what you make and how it came about in the comments section. Would love to hear from you. 

The Ocean Journal 
Experimental Novel Project
QR Code Project 


Hollihock Writing Conference / August 25-27

The Hollihock Writers Conference will be held on August 25-27. It is a three-day immersive event meant to write, inspire, educate, and network with the writers, educators, publishers, and other writing community. This event is for all kinds of writers from new writers to published professionals looking to network. This year's keynote speakers will be Jabari Asim and Ken Liu

This year I will be presenting on Experimental Novel on Sunday. This is a great opportunity that won't break the bank. All weekend tickets are only $69 -- which doesn't include lodging. Hotels and accommodations nearby make this a great space for new writers to meet and connect with a writing community. Check out their website and make plans. 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Space for Writing

Every since I was writing, I had some kind of desk. But desks can be distractions and then can be places where things just sit. In thinking about spaces that are important to creation, workshops, or quiet spaces, it is also important to think about how much you need.

When I am working, I don't really care what's around me, because I am working. But all the time spent supporting the creation of something is what space means. For me it isn't that I need a big office or a nice desk to write, I can write at work, or in a public space. But to practice something and get good at it, you need a space that is ready for you and a place that is reliable.

When I was in college, I lived in my parent's attic. It was a great space for college students, but with my bed, TV, drum set, and everything else, I ended up moving my desk into the storage space. And not a lot of it, but just one little corner. Even though it was still just around the corner, it was enough to separate my living space, my "I work at a restaurant" space into something that is my own little writing space. And it was little. I used a small computer desk and my word processor and that is where it happened.


My space!
When I moved into an apartment, there was really no place I called my office, maybe the kitchen table. And it wasn't until I moved into my house now that I set up an office in an unused bedroom and worked on my masters. In the last five years, I refurbished my attic space into a great den, TV space, and a wall. And around the corner is my office. Lately, I've expanded my shelves and made this space more productive and more useful.

Part of what I need in a working writing space is not really for the writing part. Sitting in front of my computer typing along can happen (literally) anywhere. But when I I look around my office, I see touchstones and books that remind me of where I've come from, and they whisper to me that I am ready, that I am a writer. And from there you can choose the limitless path of creativity.


  • Why is a writing space important to you? 
  • What do you need in that space?
  • How does it make you feel? 
  • How do you arrive in that space? (Pajamas, dressed to work, with coffee, with headphones on?)
  • What were the most productive times in your space and why was that really productive?
Bonus thought: Write a detailed description of your perfect work space. And make sure the reader is left with very specific things that are the focus of that space. 



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

CLMOOC 2017 Make Cycle #2

Postcards are interesting in that they can convey things and give us an image, an idea, data, connections, and they are often welcome, unlike ads or bills. 

This weeks postcards was a combination of ideas I had kicking around. One was to write half truth, half fictional newspaper articles that might resonant with people. I find that no matter how big the town, people have their share of quirky people living around them. This is a project to document some of those stories, and capture some interesting jump off points for stories and anecdotes. 

This group has turned my thinking around and while I know the type of content I want to include, I started this with template making and finding the right application to make this work for me. I tried a few different programs and apps, but landed on Publisher. Even though I don't love it, it worked for this layering of textboxes and other elements. 

Postcard #1 was about a screaming lady and while I don't love the content, I was more concerned with the entire look and size. During our Makers Hangout on 7/18/17 we considered the idea that the post card has two sides -- the content side and the address side. While these two sides may be different, they also may be connected - one showing part of the idea and the other the answer, or the reveal, or a clue. 



We also discussed the personal nature of writing and sending a unique correspondence to someone and what that means as a transaction of social or connective significance. When I was creating the back, I wanted to create an orientation to the article and project. But I also wanted to number them and personalize them like numbered prints or series collections so people would be excited about finding and reading a series or collection. (More in the collection here). 



Data Postcards
It sounded like the group had been working in data and using data cards to establish a connection. I have to say, thanks to Kevin, I was able to watch the data video Big Bang Data which really helped me understand the concepts and the connections. I really love this concept and idea. And I think it will be a fascinating connection to do with writers. How often to you think about your characters, novel, plot -- or how often did you write a poem. Part of collecting this kind of data for writers is not only for the collections of data, but to see productivity. Writers have a terrible self view and they always feel like their work is kept behind closed doors. This proves their worth, their working, and that they are constantly seeing the world through the lens of a writer. Fascinating and an evolving thought pattern in creating connections to writers.