Resurfacing

A couple of recent comments–one by the inimitable Joe Lambert to my husband about missing “bg’s blogging days” and the other made both by @jonmott and @tuchodi on Twitter about whether a show I’ve landed some photos in could be viewed online–combined with a sense of missing something in my writing and connected life, have sent me back here. I haven’t stayed away all these months due to boredom or new avenues of reflection, but because I’ve really been at a loss as to how to write about my new work.

without peer

My storytelling work in small rural towns feels like such a gift to me, a chance to help communities recognize one another and their future in their stories. It’s really something to be in the presence of their story sharing. The participants in these towns are taking some real risks in putting themselves out there, giving of their own story, extending a hand, engaging in the storytelling work. Every time I see it, I am blown away by the power of story to build bridges within even a deeply divided town by identifying common ground but also by sharing a bit of the self, one’s own story, townsperson to townsperson. Life slows down for a moment; people look at one another and are no longer strangers–they live Bahktin’s words:  “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.110 as quoted here).  But precisely because of that, I don’t yet feel as though I can narrate or reflect upon much about the particulars in such a public space as this–some of these communities are not really into the Web due to a lack of broadband access and practice, mostly, and I would never wish to jeopardize the new relationships and the efforts being made.  It isn’t necessarily my story to tell.  Not yet.  And so I stay a bit quiet over here.

tracking time

But I can share my own personal creative work, my photography and fiction, something I’ve mostly done over on bgexperiments and Flickr.  I’ve been sharing lots and lots of photos this past year, thanks to the 365 group.  Today on Twitter I shared my news that three of my photos were selected to be part of a juried show, opening this evening.  I feel shy about this news (almost didn’t tell anyone here) because thinking of myself as a visual artist is new.  I’ve never seen my photos hung in a gallery, or had people look at them in that kind of formal space, or indeed had them juried, or had people consider buying them.  But hearing back from my Twitter network soothed my jumpy nerves.

My friend Barbara Sawhill tweeted that she sensed a bit of the imposter syndrome stirring.  I think she’s right.  Online, I choose to share my photos on my sites–it’s not as though I’m putting them into an exhibition.   There’s something quite different about this sort of formal publication of my work–I feel exposed, uncertain (I see all the mistakes in the photos)…and yes, well, shy in a way I never do in my Flickr 365group.  I see my work online as in process, evolving, part of a conversation.  If I write something half-baked on my blog or Twitter, or in a comment to someone else’s post, well, the next day I try to think and write better.  It’s all about the communication, the co-creating of  the learning conversation. It’s about stretching, playing, exploring, failing.  When you print a photograph, mat and frame it, then put it on a wall with a price tag, well, then it becomes an object, a thing, and DONE.  Gulp.

mystery framed

But I’m getting over myself.  I’m beginning to put my photos out there the way I do with my writing because I know I will become a better photographer from doing so.  And I like the idea of someone perhaps being moved enough by one of my photos enough to put it on their wall, to live with it.

Now the question is,  will I actually dress up and go to the opening this evening?  Face the public?

(The images I have woven through this post are the photos selected for the show, “Evolving Patterns: In Honor of Darwin’s 200th Birthday.”)

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Memories of My Ancestors, Thoughts of the Land

July 4

Being the daughter of a historian who spent his life researching, writing, and teaching about the early days of this country, I’m naturally thinking back today as I look out over the fields I call home…to the rich history of Vermont and its role in the country’s story, its public figures from Ethan Allen to Patrick Leahy, its deep land ethic, its commitment to social justice, its hardscrabble farmers then and now. I’m thinking about the Champlain Valley where I live, celebrating this month the quadricentennenial of Samuel de Champlain’s voyage and our connection to New France and Quebec.

down to the lake

This little nirvana, as friends call our home, could make it easy to be willfully ignorant of the pains shaking the human world, even locally. And there are days when I have little contact with that world. But even my relationship with the land keeps American history and its legacies from wandering too far from view. The early-Vermont-settler remnants in our house: the beams and floorboards from abandoned and torn-down houses and barns, the stones around our walls pulled from the piles generations of farmers heaved into the copses; and out in the woods, the signs of old foundations and pasture walls, the march of succession in the treescape, all serve as reminders that Vermont, now 80% forest and 20% cleared, was, in the nineteenth century, 80% cleared and 20% forested. And there is the very real drama playing out just beyond my windows: field birds struggling to survive in spite of the heavy haying schedule farmers adhere to if they want to survive as farmers; songbirds trying to bring their broods to maturity in spite of (what seem to be the increasingly) large numbers of hungry squirrels, crows, jays, ravens and hawks scouring the place for nestlings; the bats vanishing this year–not a single one has graced our skies this summer–due to a bacterial infection that has wiped out most of Vermont’s bat population; the smaller numbers of honey bees in the garden; the swelling numbers of wild turkeys. So much shifting in such a short time. The past few evenings as I turn away from the fields and gardens, I’ve headed intoAmy Seidl’s Early Spring, an alarming (and beautifully written) book that corroborates page by page what I am witnessing play out in my own surroundings.

marshhawk ballet

The garden, too, is behaving a bit strangely– all this rain, this relentless cloud cover to blame for greens (and slugs) outgrowing beans. Honestly, though, I’ve been more concerned about post-dog incursions by rabbits, deer and turkeys as my raised beds counter most weather vagaries. The rain has bothered my cycling far more than my gardening; I have worried, though, for my neighbors, farmers unable to get their corn in much less have it knee-high by today. I know all this, I see it, I feel it.

But the local paper has shaken some deep part of me, pulling me full circle back to this day and my family’s journey to this country. Ordinarily, reading the paper is about connecting with my town, not being surprised by what I read, for I usually hear most of the important news on the street or in the natural foods cooperative before the paper comes out on Mondays and Thursdays. I love the fact that my old student, Katie Flagg, now writes for the paper and has started their multimedia site. I am always eager to read her reporting on the goings-on in our county. The editor/publisher is one of my husband’s good friends, a wonderful writer and incisive editorialist.

Vermont portrait

But yesterday, Katie’s front-page article threw me back from the immediate changes and into my own family’s past. The same Late Blight as sent my people from their homes is apparently creeping to Vermont because “tomato plants sold at some large garden centers in neighboring states may have been infected with the late blight.” (Is this the garden world’s version of the salmonella outbreaks?) I grow both potatoes and tomatoes, almost all my own plants from organic seed, and the rest I buy from friends who have been in the small organic-garden business for thirty years. But as happened in Ireland 160 years ago, the winds blow the spores field to field, and so it might not matter a bit how careful I’ve been with my own gardening practices. Even if all the tomatoes and potatoes are wiped out in Vermont, my life will not be gravely affected. I do not earn my living growing vegetables; my family’s table does not depend on what we grow. I can drive or cycle down to our natural foods cooperative for vegetables or whatever else I need. I worry for friends and neighbors who do rely on vegetable sales. And I remember the famine that sent my own people unwillingly from their doors, and the famines, displacement and destruction we continue to cause through our poor Earth practices (pollution, war, over-population, greed and consumerism, etc. etc.) l think, too, about the recent Orion Magazine article, “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen, which scolds us for thinking that individual efforts will make a difference in the climate change crisis. We have to do more than find pleasure and worth in scaling back, in digging into the earth, and connecting with one another. We have to work for change at every level of society.

early potato harvest

And so with one foot in my garden’s lush world–where I will pick early potatoes and delight in their tenderness–and the other out in rural communities exploring the balance between the fast and the slow, and online, learning about how others are engaging with the pressing problems of our times, I’m spending this July 4 celebrating the Earth’s wonders, my family’s history, and I’m contemplating the future, how to tread lightly in spirit with the ecosystem I share with countless species, and also working for sweeping change as though all life depends on it. I’m celebrating the razor edge between taking time to dig potatoes and pinch back tomato suckers and getting out there in the human fray to learn, to participate, to embrace mindful connectivity. And finding joy in the struggle.

riding with style

Early July Return–Briefly, Perhaps

I am sorting out whether it’s time to mothball bgblogging as I move into the second year beyond school. Most mornings I think about writing a blogpost, but I want to write about life in a rural community, about my garden and the fields, and about the efforts people are making in their towns to find the balance between the slow and the fast, to relearn some of the oldest lessons of husbandry while also reveling in the opportunities afforded by Web connectivity. But I’m not sure I should do that here, or I even want to do that here.

This is a blog about teaching and learning, mostly in formal contexts. When I look over the many posts since 2004 here and the ones before that on various class blogs with my students, I feel as though I have covered what I have to say about formal learning. What I wrote about blogs and social learning five years ago still stands. What I have threaded through about formal education hasn’t changed. Why repeat myself? Why repeat what others are saying and have been saying for a long time? I understand why each person coming to this way of teaching and learning needs to reflect on it and share it–just as I did–that’s how it will grow and ultimately shift the way teaching and learning are done in schools. My experience giving two keynotes recently brought home my struggle to bring something of value back to school: one keynote was playfully interactive and went over well; the other was neither playful nor well-received–all I managed to do in that one was to scold people for not changing their practices enough in spite of whatever obstacles they face. My impatience was not helpful.

nasturtium gossip

When I told Bryan Alexander this over curry the other day, he –as he so often does–came up with an idea I’m mulling over. “Start a rural blog,” he said. “Chronicle the experiences of rural people trying to stay connected to the land while finding connection on the Web. I’d read that.” And so, this early morning, as I look over the top of my computer screen to the field beyond, I’m thinking I might just do that in the spaces between immersion in Digital Explorations and the book I’m writing. If I do, I’ll let you know where to find me.

so cute but they eat my chard

Dear Charles…

You’ve taken me to task. Rightfully so.

I thought of you yesterday as I spent a couple of hours with a remarkable group of students (some of whom you see here) who touched my life four years ago during the Project for Integrated Expression (PIE), a program I co-created and directed for incoming student leaders and artists, a program cut three years ago. last These final PIE participants, about to graduate, reminded me of the magic that can happen when you put as diverse a group of people as possible together with some powerful creative and intellectual challenges. They made me think of what Cory Doctorow wrote on boingboing a couple of days ago about Daniel Pinkwater’s novel, The Education of Robert Nifkin: “…the slow, delightful realization on Nifkin’s part that learning — especially eclectic, self-directed learning undertaken with your peers and with engaged teachers — is incredibly fun.” They made me think of your response to a recent post of mine:

Barbara,

I hope we all weren’t such acquiescent, diploma hungry minions. You are too hard on yourself. And wrong about us, too. Or maybe just me. Because I’d like to think that my battered notebooks past and present are filled not with the “easy” stuff, but with sloppy helpings of actual sustenance. The napkins are piled up; my belly is still rumbling. The lasting impression you left on me – and I know I’m not alone – speaks not to skinny learning. My time spent in EL 170 and my subsequent follies in writing and learning and teaching (you are an inspiration, you know? a frustrating and disorienting and gleeful prompter of my ideas and my role in the larger communities, personal and professional, I now call home) are more than polite forays from a “nice” Midwestern boy. I look at the relationship and knowledge we built in Rohatyn as a fat (and phat) helping of something real and caloric, stirred from prose and poetry and the interstices in-between. (Perhaps Carver’s slim words were an attempt at a diet…though he only urged me to eat on.)

What’s more disconcerting for me is that I now model my own teaching in large part on my Great Teachers, and that means, to a large extent, my experience under your tutelage. I fear to think that you were just scratching the surface. I’m curious: what would’ve the “really challenging spaces” looked like in EL 170? I ask because, shit, if you failed, then I’m doomed. Or maybe this is just another Mad Dog moment, a question and a silence and a chance for me to fill the quiet with my own answer. I’ll speak, but know your voice is speaking too. And that’s no failure.

You’re right. It is another Mad Dog moment. But I’ve been careless, too, perhaps to the point of recklessness in my critique of formal schooling as it is now. You’re not the only one dismayed. School has worked for some, especially for those who now work in schools. Makes sense.

A single experience, one teacher (in school or not), can help a young mind open to the world’s wonders. Absolutely. Some of us have extraordinary memories of teachers and classroom experiences. And it’s enough to provide the spark. We all need such teachers, absolutely. But do we need school?

seven

School as it is– twelve to sixteen years of desk-sitting for the most part, participating (some of us) in largely contrived discussions (I am, of course, generalizing), doing the same kinds of problems and papers year after year? Do we keep kids in school all in the hopes that somewhere along the line, they’ll have such an experience, such a teacher as you? Or two or three? If they’re lucky, or ready to be moved by the potential of that moment when it arrives? Or lucky enough to land in one of those fabulous little schools like Urban or Fieldston? Or like Pinkwater’s Nifkin, who “… is drummed out of Riverview and convinces his father to send him to The Wheaton School, a free-school frequented by beatniks, idiots, criminals, dropouts, freaks, and misfits.”

My loud shouting from the sidelines should not make you wince. We need you, Charles, in our classrooms as long as we have classrooms. We need creative, passionate teachers who can “sing from the chains” as Rita Dove describes the writing of a sonnet. I tried. And mostly failed–but I believe in making mistakes, in errors, in pushing past the comfortable. As long as my students were finding their way and not being dulled or altogether overwhelmed.

When the impact of even a one-week creative workshop such as the Project for Integrated Expression can have such a profound impact as it had on the group of young men and women who returned to my house yesterday–I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they had spent less time throughout their formal schooling years in conventional classrooms and more time interacting with each other and the world through games and simulations and solving real problems with people of different ages and backgrounds. I love that in Vermont, you can still “read the law.” What if primary school were more like a cross between 826 Valencia and Zeum? Middle School like the North Branch School? Exploration. Collaboration. Communication. High school as a cauldron of problem-solving, a place that invites flops and sustained reflection and study of those glorious failures? And college as a combination of the slow (solitude for deep contemplation and reflection) and the fast (internships/apprenticeships/fieldwork within diverse communities) instead of being a tsunami of readings/tests/papers?
pickled eggs
What if we moved even beyond these modest shifts and questioned formal schooling as the sole avenue to accreditation?
What if we questioned what a teacher is and does? That we based our selection of teachers on curiosity, creativity, caring and sense of humor as much as on scholarship?

bg and students in the classroom, a typical day

Thanks, Charles, for reminding me not to run over great teachers and the positive parts of formal education in my zeal to explore other learning models. I’m now a year out of the classroom and still learning from my students–that’s as it should be! I hope that’s your experience as a teacher, too. Yes, I wished I had shaken things up more in my classrooms. Moved beyond the unclassroom, the unsyllabus, no teacher-grading to active engagement in the everyday world–using the skills we practiced together out in our local community, and learning more about writing and reading from those we encountered beyond the school walls. Adaptive expertise. Writing and reading and conversation and collaboration–way more collaboration–just as the PIE students experienced, to better ourselves, sure, but with the wider aim of bettering the world–now, every day, little by little.

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:

You’ve Always Wanted to Visit Vermont…

the middle field before mowing

I’m not blogging as much these days, but I sure am busy, and online. I’m also on my bike–post coming soon about that.

You’ll find me on delicious, Twitter, Flickr and, most of all, improving our new website and planning our summer workshops. Let me persuade you to venture up (down?) this way, explore the lovely countryside of Vermont, and join us for one of our creative workshops.

From the website:

Over the course of the year, we offer a sampling of our innovative, experiential workshops, here in our Vermont barn, ranging from three to five days. We bring together community activists and organizers, teachers, nonprofit staff and anyone interested in weaving the rich promise of storytelling and social media into the fabric of their lives, their work, their art. Be inspired by our surroundings and our creative exercises and expertise. We are committed to tailoring our workshops to meet the needs and interests of the participants.

We hope you’ll join us!

2009 Summer/Fall Offerings

Connections, Conversation and Creativity: A Social & Expressive Media Workshop
July 8 – 10

How do we harness the connective and creative potential of online practices in our communities? How do we move beyond simple information sharing to fostering creativity and sustained collaboration? In three days of discussion and hands-on activities, we cover a range of social and expressive media practices to enhance communication and collaboration, to foster creative culture, and to engage our communities actively in our work. Limited to 10

Storytelling in Our Communities
July 30 – August 1
October 1 -3

In this workshop, we explore storytelling in community-based efforts. We help participants design storytelling projects for civic engagement and participation, using a range of old and new media to enhance bonds and build bridges across community while creating a vision for the future. We cover traditional and digital storytelling methods in an experiential, fun-filled three days. Limited to 10

The Whole Story: Deep Creativity and Balance
August 6 – 8
September 17 – 19

During three days of storytelling, movement and meditation, we will deepen our practice as artists, activists and citizens. Learn to listen deeply and actively, to share stories, and to incorporate the serious play of creativity into your life. Led by Barbara Ganley and Cynthia Fuller-Kling (yoga teacher and artist extraordinaire)

Workshop Leaders:

Barbara Ganley, Director and Founder of Digital Explorations. Known for her energy, her creative exercises, and her deep knowledge in the field, Barbara brings over twenty years of teaching writing and creative thinking, and eight years working in the worlds of social media and digital storytelling to our workshops. Read more about her on our About Us page.

Remy Mansfield, Storytelling Fellow. Remy brings his great skill in digital storytelling, in designing and leading storytelling workshops for youth, and his gifts as a photographer to the workshop setting. Read more about him here.

Cynthia Fuller-Kling. Cynthia joins us for The Whole Story workshops this year. A former modern dancer, she has been a noted yoga teacher for twenty years and artist who draws upon movement, photography, video and language in her installations and performances.

Daily Schedule for All Workshops:
9:00 -noon Morning session
noon-1:00 Lunch
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Afternoon Session

Location:
Tucked away at the end of a long dirt driveway, and yet just two miles from the center of Middlebury, Vermont, you’ll find our barn studio, fields and patios set in glorious surroundings with pastoral views reaching to both the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks.
Workshops meet in the barn studio and porch, and, as weather permits, out on the nearly 70 acres around us. At the end of the day, you’ll have time to explore the countryside (lakes, mountains, villages) by foot, bike or car.

Lodging & Meals: For overnight accommodation, many charming inns and bed & breakfasts dot the area. Contact us for recommendations. As a college town, Middlebury has an array of dining options. We will cook and eat together the first evening; Digital Explorations will provide local-ingredient based lunches.

Costs: $400 per three-day workshop includes all instruction and materials, three lunches and one dinner. Lodging not included.

Take a peek at our setting through this Flickr slide show

For more information:
Email: Barbara@digitalexploration.org
Phone: 802 989 1885

Well, what are you waiting for?!

Digital Explorations: If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me here

to be a bird here
After months of dreaming, planning and working flat-out with my merry band of advisors, board members and Fellows, and with the encouragement of so many of you, the new nonprofit, Digital Explorations is now officially launched online. What a nine months it has been–the gestation period has seen us immersed in a variety of projects ranging from storytelling in rural communities as a way to engage people in civic life, to helping mentor teachers trying to deepen creative learning experiences for their students in spite of NCLB, to developing our own workshops and taking the first steps towards opening our first Center for Community Digital Exploration.  There’s so much to share about what we’ve learned, to reflect upon, to puzzle over that I hardly know where to begin other than to share our site with you: Digital Explorations.

picture-22

From the website:

We’ve made it–onto our website–after a couple of years of dreaming from inside the walls of higher education about a different model of learning: townspeople coming together online and in person to share their collected expertise, their community-based projects, their processes through connecting, creating, collaborating and conversing–here, in town, online, and all over the country! From talking through the possibilities with The Fab Fearless Five and convincing my fabulous board and staff to join me in this adventure, to securing our first contracts and collaborations, I am thrilled by the response to our vision for bringing storytelling (both old and new), connective strategies (both old and new), and Centers for Community Digital Exploration into the heart of rural downtowns. We’d love to hear your feedback, your ideas, your wisdom. Let us know where you come across like-minded adventurers. We’ll keep you updated as to our news and projects, including our reflections on our work, our discoveries out there in the blogosphere, and our plans for future directions. Please wander about the site, read all about us, and let us know what you think!