In case you’re wondering…

I’m moving (mostly) to a new blog, to a new chapter in this post-school journey.  Finally I think I’ve discovered how to weave together the various strands of my interests and abilities as I grapple with the relationship between the local and global: through a new LLC, Open View Gardens, I’ll be combining writing, photography, storytelling,–and my two other creative passions: cooking adventures and gardening.  Please visit me at Open View Gardens–I’d love your feedback, your conversation, your wisdom!

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Listening: International Day of Sharing Life Stories

Listening more than sharing. Exploring the periphery. Trying to stay out there at my shifting, or, what Seth Godin calls stretching, edges. Listening creatively. I’m celebrating the International Day of Sharing Life Stories.

loose ends

In the slim wedges between work trips, I gather stories. Pulling in nets filled with gleaming, writhing flotsam. With my camera, with my pen, (and now, thanks to Nancy White) with my pastels. Mostly half-glimpses of things that do not fully reveal themselves. Learning to have patience, to fill sketchbooks and journals and draft spaces on-blog. Not to speak out of boredom or dismay or monotoned criticism, but to wait for the nuances, the shades, the deeper insights. To listen.

at the farmers market

To stories of the land: spring wildlife stories of the comings of migrants, nestings, returns from burrows deep underground, wildflower blooms and garden volunteers reseeding themselves according to their whim, not mine. Deaths among the iris. The dopey robin who in spite of Bee and my best efforts did build a nest on the drainpipe just above the grill. Stories that are sharply different this year without Finn. To learn to listen without him.

checking out the dandelion

To stories witnessed from my new bike. I wrote recently about how Flickr’s 365 Photo Group has changed the way I that I take notice of the world. My bike has done the same–I see the small shifts of the season, and details of the landscape I never noticed before in all the many years of living around here. Stories of the nose. Of air against skin. Listening with the whole self.

Stories of deep learning: the adventure of starting a nonprofit: weaving together a brilliant hodge-podge of multi-colored, multi-textured threads and being okay if sometimes they clash, they break, they knot or fray or need distance to see the patterns. Of learning to tell a website story, not a slow-blogging one. Of learning to work in the rich tumble of local rural community instead of the rich security of a college classroom. Of learning to forge partnerships, to listen carefully and constructively and authentically.

Vermont schoolhouse

Stories of other people’s journeys. In story circles in small towns. In my writing group. On blogs, like Jen’s and Beth’s and Dawoud’s, who try to write/think/connnect better than they did the day before, and always always stay true to self. In galleries, online and off, confronted by Picasso’s aim “to give [us] an image of [ourselves] whose elements are collected from among the usual way of seeing things in traditional painting and then reassembled in a fashion that is unexpected and disturbing enough to make it impossible for [us] to escape the questions it raises.” More listening. And looking and, hopefully, seeing. Robert Pogue Harrison writes in Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, “…nothing is less cultivated these days in Western societies than the art of seeing. It is fair to say that there exists in our era a tragic discrepancy between the staggering richness of the visible world and the extreme poverty of our capacity to perceive it.” (p.114) Balancing on the razor edge of seeing.

Recently, with my Flipvideo, to prep for June talks, I’ve been asking all kinds of people to tell me stories, about “memorable moments from school.” Next, I think I’ll venture into Ear to the Ground-type stories –or having people tell me stories of sounds. Memories of sounds. Smells. Movement. I used to do lots of stories-without-words exercises with my students as a way for them to make language strange and wonderful again, and to encourage them to listen as well as to speak. Breaking away, for a moment or two, from the expected, the safe, the rut of routine that beguile us with comfort and belonging.

Life stories. Live stories. Living stories. Here’s an assortment of stories from and about Digital Explorations if you’re interested (note the brilliant widget Alex created for our gallery)–I’ll leave you with this story, Disturbing the Universe, about life and lives and learning:

The New Year: Resisting Action

As I learn to follow my own nose around the land instead of depending on Finn to set both pace and direction for my daily wander, I am coming face-to-face with some interesting lessons on the pull of inertia, and the challenge of creative thinking. I’m also finally grappling with my uncharacteristic (and to myself inexplicable) reluctance to rush headlong- into the Centers for Community Digital Exploration, the heart of my new nonprofit, Digital Explorations. I haven’t even pulled a website to its feet, yet I had imagined I would just dive right in and open the first center in my hometown as a pilot project and then see if such an idea could take off virally. The must-have-something-to-offer-every-day attitude.

In his 1966 Discourse on Thinking, Martin Heidegger wrote, “…man today is in flight from thinking;” (p.45) we spend our time in calculative rather than meditative thinking. We want to do instead of looking at the larger implications of our doing.

happy new year

I’m learning. This new aloneness –without Finn– has me interacting differently with the land, the sky and its inhabitants. No spirited dog asking if we can please please please go hunt for rocks in the stream or frogs in the pond or head to the neighbors’ to see if their dogs are out or go along this way because there are surely turkeys over in the far field today or that way because can’t you smell the deer/coyote/bobcat/fox that was here a moment ago? I have to depend on myself to go out in the frigid cold in the first place. There’s no one to remind me (by a push of the head under my arm or a paw on the knee or a drop of a bone in my lap) that it is time to leave the book I am reading, the story I am writing, the project I am planning.

How extraordinary. I hardly know where to go. It is a new awareness that I have to develop.

by the barn

I thought it was exhaustion from years of throwing myself against the Academy walls that had me lay out a year of learning and listening and exploring before action. I secretly thought –and still do– it was self-indulgent and incredibly privileged to have this time. Nonetheless I imposed on myself a bit of the Buddhist “Don’t just do something, sit there.” Moving my office from the college to my barn studio means hours daily in gorgeous solitude. Losing my cellphone over a month ago stepped me even further into silence. I could choose a silent online experience, too, and engage only when I felt compelled to reach out or to learn via my networks.

I’ve never gotten so much done. In every part of my life. And yet, it’s hard to see the results in tangible places. Yet.

In the December issue of Orion Magazine,
Anthony Doerr writes a humorous account of his dark twin “Z”:

“Information, information, information—it’s all sustenance for that rawboned, insatiable, up-to-the-second twin of mine. I can stand in a river with my little sons beside me pitching pebbles into a deep, brilliant green pool with a flight of geese flapping along overhead and the autumn sun transforming the cottonwoods into an absolute frenzy of color—each leaf a shining, blessed fountain of light—and Z will start whispering in my ear about oil prices, presidential politics, the NFL.

What, Z wants to know, are we missing right now?

Addiction, neurologists say, changes the physical shape of our brains. Each time old Z finds another text message, another headline, another update, my brain injects a little dopamine into a reward pathway.

“You’ve got mail!” squeals the computer and—whoosh!—here comes a shot of dopamine. “

Inertia can come from doing too much. This is nothing new. On blogs and Twitter, people express their yearning for balance, their desire for more time for non-work pursuits–the North American plague–addiction to must-be-doing-a million-things-all-the-time-but-bemoan-the loss-of-quiet-slow-time. We seem to find meaning (or escape from meaninglessness) by moving fast, conquering, being the first, the most, the best. Little moves forward as we twirl around and around. Addiction to online spaces and practices can lead to this same kind of spinning in place, a stunned laziness if we simply acquire more and more surface information and relationships and do not stop to analyze, to synthesize, to reflect, to apply, to question. I wonder why so many people are suddenly following me on Twitter, people who do not interact with me on blogs or at conferences. Will they also find their way into deeper conversation with me on blogs, the in-between moments at conferences? For me Twitter is a way to deepen the connections with thinkers and writers and artists I can interact with and learn from in other spaces as well–hopefully face-to-face at some point. I follow people I don’t know if I see that I can learn from them in a blogging or wiki space, too–that a Twitterer new to me is willing to push my thinking.

winterwater

I am learning to read widely yet deeply just as I have recently become a spare eater though a lover of food and a passionate cook. I am slow reader, playing attention to the how as well as the what of writing, and I am beginning to hold still with my creative works before sharing them. Moving more deliberately helps me to get more done. It’s the same with shopping–my rejection of Big Box stores (I have NEVER been in a Walmart, for example), sprawl-malls, McDonald’s (still a fast-food virgin at age 51) comes from a deep belief in the local, in the recycled, in excellence. But do I avoid such places because I can afford to do so? Because I don’t have to work two jobs to support my kids? I wonder. I’m beginning to bake our bread (following Bryan Alexander’s lead) and make our pasta out of local ingredients (the savings defrays the higher cost of other local, organic foods). But it takes more time, people argue–really? How about all that time I save not driving to the mall? Or following a gazillion people on Twitter? Or surfing the Web (or TV)? (I ingeniously let my network do much of that for me–heheheheh.) Patience Gray, writing in her marvelous 1988 Honey from a Weed wrote:
“Good cooking is the result of a balance struck between frugality and liberality…It is born out in communities where the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons. Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature’s provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself.” (p.11) I want to remember this while also wanting to help rural communities explore the communicative and creative potential of the Web. Frugality and liberality.

I am determined to sit on my hands a while longer yet, and spend the next six months working with communities on the storytelling projects, going to (un)conferences that promise to push me, and continuing to read deeply across lots of fields as preparation for this huge endeavor. I’m listening to Edward O. Wilson who writes in Consilience:

“Every college student should be able to answer the following question: ‘ What is the relationship between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?’
Every public intellectual ad political leader should be able to answer that question as well. Already half the legislation coming before the U.S. Congress contains important scientific and technological components. Most of the issues that vex humanity daily…cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is, not as seen through the lens of ideologies and religious dogmas or commanded by myopic response to immediate need…..A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of the consilience between them.” (1999, p. 13)

He also says that creative thinking is characterized by “knowledge, obsession, daring.” (p.64)

We so good at “obsession” and less so at “daring” and “knowledge.”
Obsession but not Addiction? Daring but not just to be daring? Knowledge across boundaries but not feverish information surfing? Creative thinking, not inertia?

Alex Reid writes about
throwing out a first-year writing course syllabus completely and starting over. That’s rich daring–the kind I would like to emulate by questioning my instincts–all of them– about setting up the centers.

Of course all this could just be me excusing an addiction to the silence, to the stillness.

I hope not.

Walking the Land with Hard Thoughts

woodland floor One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from leaving the Academy is a clearer perspective on what matters. As layer after layer of those years slip from my shoulders, I can see, breathe, think more fully than I have in a long time. I often feel delighted by the promise of what is possible.

And I walk. Every day. In a slow-blogging kind of way. Usually without human companion because my communing on those walks is with nature, and people can be, well, so distracting. And so much of my life is about people, so the walks are for other connections and reflections.
water silence leaf
Right now, though, I struggle for perspective. I am scared. I am torn up by thoughts of friends who have recently been diagnosed with cancer–so many, so young–I have already lost one of my dearest life friends to the plague and sense the planet’s sickness in this. Here on the land, though, things seem so whole and beautiful; walking helps me move back to a more positive space. I am wracked, too, by the clatter and jitter of this crazy presidential race and find that I have to walk fast and hard before anger and fear subside. Voter suppression. Sickening robo calls and leafleting. Distortions of fact, even downright lies pouring forth from McCain’s and Palin’s mouths, and people cheering them on. Political pollution. Obama should win in a landslide. Should. Walk walk. I am so lucky to live in this place.

Over the next two days two different photographers are coming to accompany me on my walk to take photos of me in my fields (for articles about slow blogging, communities, and/or the new nonprofit). Today in a Skype call, Bud Hunt asked me about my deep ties to place and to community and how those two are connected for me. It’s funny. I write and think about these connections, but I never figured other people were interested in this part of my blogging. I roam, camera in hand, dog at my side, looking looking closely for the subtle shifts from the day before. And now someone will capture me in them. Strange. Meta-perspective, I suppose. I’m pulled out of the being to observe myself there.

Some days I leave the camera behind on purpose so that I miss it and so that I pay attention in a different way. I think that’s important, to keep things moving around, to stay a little off-kilter, surprised, ever developing my sensory awareness.

last wild apples winter stole

And almost always, when I walk camera-less, I come upon something I really want a picture of; sooner or later that image will burn so intensely in my head that it will spill out into words on this blog. Somehow. Yesterday was one of those days. One walk with camera. One without. And sure enough, Finn-dog and I came upon two perfectly pressed impressions of deer bodies–hoof-embossed snow all around two green patches in the shape of sleeping deer. Their warmth melted the snow as they rested. Snow angels into the grass. Now I keep seeing those two forms there, and feel glad that there are simple moments of incredible beauty in mad times.

And mad times they are. Throughout the world. But so shockingly here, playing out across our screens in full color, the smear campaign, the robo calls and leaflets–how corrupt, how vile, how cynical and deeply frightening. I can hardly speak to people who continue to support McCain in the face of the lies, the distortions, and the transformation of this man into a crazed, desperate figure who will go to any lengths to win. And what does that say about me?

caught

My California sister-in-law is in North Carolina volunteering for the Obama campaign. My California brother is in Nevada doing the same. I have friends who drove from Vermont to Ohio, another who has gone to Virginia. I make phone calls, link to articles and videos on the Smalltown Mamas (and Papas) for Obama blog, will help out in New Hampshire on Sunday and Tuesday, but mostly I walk the land and fret, send out links on Twitter to the Voter Suppression wiki, freak out when Chris Lott’s tweets articulate my own fears. My 75-year-old mother, who has been volunteering for Obama in her retirement community, has said she will take to the streets if the election is stolen from Obama. If McCain wins, it will be a moment of intense disgrace for the United States. Unconscionable. Unspeakable. As another of my sisters-in-law said to me today, we like to condemn corrupt politicians in developing countries for their abuses and evil, and here we’re seeing in bold relief our own corruption.

arcadia lake late fall

Walk walk. These next five days. Hope hope.

Two last talks from inside the Academy: not playing it safe

WALKINGTHROUGH LANGUAGE

In my ridiculous (and exasperating) fashion, I have two talks coming up, of course during the busiest time of the semester. Fortunately, I don’t need to be in class to be in class (the audio from Thursday’s class meeting–yes, they’re having class without me– will be posted to the blog, and I’ll be interacting with students on their blogs, and who knows, perhaps on mine).

That I don’t give the same talk twice has kept me up late for several nights reading, thinking, designing, creating, as I try to push my thinking. (Another habit I’ve got to do something about, I suppose, but really, if I’m not learning something each time I put a talk together, how can I expect my audience to discover anything?) This time I have pushed myself to get more creative and effective with my media as well as my message–and I walk the edge here trying out something new during a talk that means a good deal to me. Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I’m taking to heart what Yi-Fu Tuan writes in Space and Place: “Experience is the overcoming of perils…To experience in the active sense requires that one venture forth into the unfamiliar and experiment with the elusive and uncertain. To become an expert one must dare to confront the perils of the new.” (p.9)

I don’t really have anything against Powerpoint slides–PPT is a great tool in the right hands and in the right venue. It’s just that anyone who gives keynotes knows that bad slides, even pretty good slides, can induce a Pavlovian response in the audience: slides-right,ok- zone out time. And so all along I have played around with other ways to share visuals: Flickr sets being my mainstay, with a dose of wikis and even the old bgblogging, Slide.com and iMOVIE for good measure. Sometimes I use no media at all –we just have a conversation. Lately, though, I’ve been inspired by some of my mentors in this work–Jim Groom, Brian Lamb, Nancy White, all of the TEDTalks, to name a few–to push beyond the notion of the slide altogether, to be more creative while going deeper. And so, for my upcoming talk at NITLE’s Conference on Teaching Writing in the Digital Age, I have created a collage of links, images, videos, text, you name it, as a way to try to capture the tensions and the promise, the perils and the pleasures, of moving the teaching of writing into this new century. I think the collage-as-presentation makes a lot of sense for what I’m trying to show. We’ll see how it goes, but I sure had a lot of fun (frustrating fun) putting it together with vuvox.com’s new beta collage tool, a fabulous tool in its flexibility and its connectivity. Now we’ll see how it works during a presentation–I designed it for people who wish to go back and spend some time in the collage, exploring the links and media, long after the conference itself has faded away. Ultimately I’d like to add an audio voiceover from my talk, to contextualize and create a narrative flow over the disparate pieces. And I’ll be tinkering, adding more links, more video, more, well… see what you think…

Balancing Acts: The Collage

November Rolls in…fretting about the ends of things…

Two nights ago four young deer made their way into my flower garden, the same four deer, I am certain, that we have watched grow this summer (two sets of twins), leave their mothers and band together in their own tentative herd.

yearlingintheflowergarden

As this weekend is Youth Hunting Weekend in Vermont, ushering in three weeks of rifle shots cracking open fear and dread, I have been fretting about the foursome’s safety while scolding myself because around here the people who hunt care deeply for the wildlife and the land. They just have a different relationship to it than I do, hunter, too, every dawn and sundown with my camera. And to survive, those young deer have to learn to read every sign in their world. They need to get fieldsmart now.

sunsetinthegrove

So for the next weeks, I will keep the dog in his hunter-orange collar, and close to me on the trails on our land; we’ll both shudder at the crack of gunshot, and I won’t be taking many pictures. With the swift flight of afternoon sun today as daylight savings time pushes back the clock, I’ll turn my attention inward to reading and writing and teaching and learning.

Early November also marks the semester’s waning weeks, something I see in my students as they plop down on the chairs in our lounge-classroom: the newness of college has worn off for these first-years, and fatigue, as I remark at this time of year, has set in. This moment presents a wonderful challenge, actually–how do I not only help my students remain truly excited about their learning when teachers are ramping it up out of fear of not covering every last bit on the syllabus, but also continue to make bold strides in their creative work. This year I have brought online and multimedia expression to their month, a unit designed to give them a chance to explore hypertext creative nonfiction, integrating image and sound in their writing, and to play around with blogging and digital storytelling. They are already more than meeting the challenge. They have found writing online useful and dangerous and frustrating, both as a way to think about writing with language alone (having to think about which words in a sentence merit links puts all kinds of fresh pressure on diction, structure, & ordering choices) and about what it is we do when we do it online. Indeed, I bet they feel a little like the young deer frantic in the fields, vulnerable and confused.

eveningshow

They are being asked to have their words stand for something, to matter to them, and potentially to a reader. A real reader. They’re experiencing the difference between broadcast and conversation, between self-congratulatory bombast and thoughtful reflection & questioning. Many are trying out posts about their internet use, about Facebook, about balance in their lives, and now about events in the news, in the world. They are figuring out how to respond to one another energetically and respectfully. They are also lucky to have a University of Mary Washington student interacting with them through comments, (out of her own interest) giving them a sense of the potential reach of their blogging, and also the fact that they still have a lot to consider about public vs. private issues of their online lives. Here’s an example and anotherof just such a discussion on their blogs.

I’m especially pleased to see them writing about their awareness of the college bubble and how blogging has put them in direct contact with the issues of our time. Reason enough to get students blogging. Their posts are getting very interesting indeed. As a result, in spite of the blogging STILL being artificial in that they are doing it as part of a course, (and most will, I wager, drop it as soon as the semester ends because at this point in their lives, Facebook fulfills their social needs, and they are not yet looking for more ideas-based, or subject-focussed, ongoing conversations that blogging promotes), the experience is giving them an opportunity to examine their own and the world’s online and offline social & cultural practices through a critical lens, something they probably would not have been as likely to do otherwise. All while doing the discipline.

Hypertext & Blogging DiscussionHypertext & Blogging Discussion 2Hypertext & Blogging Discussion 3Hypertext & Blogging Discussion 4

In their playing around with how image and text and sound intersect, collide and make magic–early experiments vary from text-based hypertext (with links to image and video) to several examples of Flickr notes and text/image work on picnik. In class we are also putting the finishing touches on our grading rubric –a process worth every second of discussion (and argument, heated) it has entailed. I’ll be back next week to share that outcome.

So, yes, the semester rolls on to its end. In seven short weeks, this band (I won’t call them a herd ;-)) of achievement-oriented, excellence-driven, talented but blog-wary, traditionally trained students have become bold explorers of creative nonfiction forms, of engaged ideas-centered discussion online and off, and of learner-initiated evaluation. Wow.

Okay, I take it back. It makes no sense to compare these learners to frightened yearling deer scattering at the shatter of gunshot. The dangers they face in this course are nothing like the dangers the deer encounter every day from coyotes and cars much less three weeks of hunting. Yes, the students feel vulnerable. As they should. Frustrated–as we all do from time to time with technology (we had a Twitter disaster and server problems and eyes-are-bigger-than-our-skills moments). But practice with these tools and accompanying literacies builds awareness of the need to protect their privacy, to interact responsibly, and to understand that these tools and practices afford them with creative means of expression and reflection, with scholarly and vernacular research resources, and with opportunities to connect with the world outside their own small orbits. Sounds like deep learning to me.

sunsetconflagration

Vodcast of Digital Storytelling Talk for First Person Conference

If you’re interested in hearing & seeing a version of the talk I gave in Melbourne on digital storytelling in higher education, you can now, in addition to reading the text version (which includes all citations and links to the original files of all sorts). Here is the vodcast–be forewarned–it is 20 minutes long! I do know that ACMI plans to link the audiocasts of the talks off their site at some point. (Also, to keep the file size manageable, I’ve compressed it to a bit of a tinnier sound than I’d like… And so, I am also adding the audio file on its own.)

Start with the Introduction, and then watch the digital story. Originally the voiceover consisted of me talking live at the conference, so I am sure the recording will come off as much less interesting than the real thing. Give me a group a people, I say, and watch me get passionate about a topic!

Introduction

Digital Storytelling and Higher Education: Context, Community and Imagination

Audio version only (with long silences where the digital-stories-within-the-digital-story play)