Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Story With Light

So, for the 5th Make Cycle in my online workshop, the challenge was to make a story with light.
Some people made really cool boxes with lights in them that projected stories on a wall.  Some people wrote little stories and attached LED strips to make them glow.  I thought of the children's book by Eric Carle The Very Lonely Firefly, and how pleasing the surprise lights are at the end.
But, what I wanted to do was something with iMovie so I could learn how to use it better so I can help my older students use it (or Moviemaker).
So, I went out and started gathering footage of lights in the night while the idea of a plot wrestled around in my mind.  Really, I found this so exciting!

(Actually these are all pictures from a year ago, and may already be on this blog.  But I do so love the city at night!!)

Ultimately, I decided on a kind of free form improvised poem that rambles along with the images--kind of like Jack Kerouac did in Pull My Daisy.  I had to write a lot of my words down and back up and rerecord so they synced with the images.
I have tried to load the video here many times, but it just won't work, so to watch it you will have to go to the sidebar.  Ah well.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Writing Hack--Thinking Back to Istanbul

View from my apartment in Istanbul
Boy selling mussels
One of my Turkish notebooks

Typical drawer crammed with writing

Travel notes
Travel plan photocopied and folded up to take either by bicycle or motorcycle.
Writing done by a friend.  We used to (unbelievable, I know) write essays for each other!

I've always been a writer.  I mean, since I was a little kid.  I used to make up and write stories in school to stave off boredom.  I dreamed up characters and drew them and made notes for plots.  On the school bus I took notes of what I saw and thought.  I just write and write and write.  I love words, and the way these abstract arrangements of symbols create images in people's heads and those abstract things connect people in some startlingly concrete ways.

So, when the online educator challenge of the week was to "hack" our writing--use writing as a base, and turn it into something else, I was at no loss for material or ideas.  I started out thinking I would find something from my high school days and maybe make it into a cartoon, but I ended up choosing the Turkish book which was ready at hand, and pairing it up with a picture I took.  The pictures of Istanbul above, are ones that I thought about using, but ultimately didn't use.

I thought about using lists I made (I made a lot of lists about what to take on trips), or the fleeting poems I dashed off here and there to capture a place or moment, but ultimately I chose to "hack" or rather, reinvent, the notes I had taken about meetings and appointments.  I did a lot of roaming around that city, going places and meeting people.  I mean, several times a week I was off to meet someone or other.  At first I took taxis, and then I drove.  I was incredibly self reliant and bold even.  I did things I never expected.  And incredibly (to me when I think back), I did it all with a baby in tow.  So, when I made the "agenda postcard" with my notes, it reminds me of all of that.  I'm not sure what it communicates to others.  To me, its mix of languages and the photo kind of present an overview of the city and my experience there.

In writing, I see a similar characteristic within myself that I discovered about myself and those Winnebago videos.  The part I like is the making of it, the creating part.  That's the essential part.  The sharing is so secondary--and sometimes doesn't even exist.  It's like a game; it's fun.  It's about intrinsic reward rather than external.

Anyway--here is my finished "hack."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How To . . .

For the past several weeks, I have been involved in an online learning community for educators.  The focus is on making things and reflecting, often using technology.  The first "assignment" was to make a "How To."  I was just starting to make another one of my silly, terrible-on-purpose Winnebago videos, so I thought, why not just make a How To along with it?
Ha!  Easier said than done.

For starters, this third Winnebago video was way more complicated than the two previous ones.  Those first two are super short (like about a minute long) and involve no special effects.  I soon realized that I could not actually lay out the whole processes in a video without it becoming longer than the Winnebago video itself.  And in the end, no one would really be able to follow my process to come up with their own project.
And honestly--who would want to?  These things I make are intentionally so very, very bad!  The joy of making these is in the creative problem solving that comes with winging it, which is why I don't have a precise, professional end product.  The energy is in the process--like spuriously deciding to add the John Cena bit and an explosion.

Cast of characters and the script laid out on a tray
My assistant tediously photographs each frame while I tediously manipulate the props
Making sound effects
Synchronizing the sound with the images
In the end, I scrapped the idea of making the How To about the Winnebago.  I started thinking about other things I could make a How To about.  And in thinking about this, I got to thinking about how often I use How To information. 
Here's some things I have recently looked up:
How to knit continental style
How to fix a dropped stitch in knitting
How to knit a long stitch
How to load string on a weed eater
How to get rid of mice in your garden
How cure yellow/brown spots on tomato plants
How to recolor or replace floor tile grout
How to make a meme
Of course, recipes are How To, and crochet patterns--

And then there are ones I go back to again and again, like How To reset my students' passwords on Edmodo.

I was struck by the men who made the weed eater videos.  How is it they decided to do that?  "Hey, I'll take my camera out to the shop and show everyone how to . . . " So very modern.  So many questions so immediately answered.

I started to wonder what everyday thing I do that other people don't know how to do?
Stick to or start running
Make rice
Keep rabbits
Pump a bike tire

There are whole programs like those Nanny shows that tell people How To take care of their kids.
And that got me thinking about psychological How To's I could do:
How to be patient with teenagers
How to help your child through cancer
How to live in a foreign country

Of course, my job is a full day of How To:
How to find the summer reading list (that just today)
How set up a grade book
How to negotiate parent conferences
How to teach to a student's potential
How to read, to write, to stretch, to see-- 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crazy 4th Again--this time with Fire!

This place again--the state line fireworks warehouse.
We scrambled over here on July 3rd, and it was hoppin'.

Check out this guy's cart piled high with explosives!  Carts like his were the norm. (Though we didn't buy nearly that much.)

I only took a few pictures.  You know, blow up your favorite founding father (there is some kind of double joke/metaphor in here too, as these are presidents whose faces also appear on money), and then the one with the rather dubious--for several reasons--name.

When we went to blow up our fireworks in the street, we realized that we usually don't blast them on the 4th.  We are often traveling, so observe fireworks shows in other places.
So, unlike on New Year's,  a lot of cars kept going by and getting in our way (I'm sure they thought we were in their way), and we had to move to our neighbor's driveway because the trees around our place have too many leaves at this time of year and we needed a clear open space.

Our regular Mr. Fusco came out to watch our antics, and some new people too, who encouraged us.   Two people came out and yelled at us to stop, which I thought was pretty crabby, it being the 4th and all and only about ten o'clock.  But maybe they had scared dogs or something.  When they called out we were on our last one anyway (though it was our biggest with 25 shots).

After everything was done, we left the spent fireworks at the end of the neighbor's driveway, as we usually do (well, we usually use our driveway) and went in.  A few minutes later one of the crabs (it was the flower lady from down the street), knocked on our door and said in a nasty kind of tone, "You're the people who didn't clean up your fireworks and now you have a fire.  A big one!"

Well, I looked out and one of the fireworks had become inflamed (though it was not what I would call a big fire).  I quick went and got a big old towel and went out.

"You just left them here," the crab continued.

"Well, yes," I said, "You can't very well take hot fireworks and put them in a bag and leave them up beside your house!"

A car stopped and a lady rolled down her window.  "Isn't that dangerous?" She said as I swooped out my towel to contain the fire.

The crab, "You bet it's dangerous!"

I pulled out the neighbor's hose and we drenched the whole lot and then put every dripping thing in a bag so no one could complain about a sodden mess in the morning.

In the morning though, Mr. Fusco exclaimed how much he liked our final big firework.  And I was glad.  I liked it too.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Mystery of Small Places

Sometimes a ghost town is called a ghost town and it appears on maps and people go there.  But sometimes, especially out west (where I grew up), a town is really a sort of living ghost town.  A ghost of what it once was.  A small nowhere place that used to be important because a train stopped there or there was an industry or opportunity that has since expired and the people associated with it moved on. When you pass through those places, I always wonder what it was like before all the buildings became empty.

Green River, Utah struck me that way, and Winslow, Arizona, and even Gallup, New Mexico.  And other places too, that I don't even know the name of.  You roll through town and the dust moves across the road with a few tumble weeds.  There is maybe one movie theatre still operating in town and the movie announced on the marque is over a year old. (And if you do happen to go to the movie there, like I did, the sound doesn't quiet sync with the pictures).  If your car breaks down there, you could be stuck for a few days.

In Europe, I found towns like this in Bulgaria and Romania in the mid 1990's.   There would be this big statue (in Bulgaria) of a man with the name of a town hammered on it like it was once something grand, and then, a few miles later, the town was a remnant of burnt out factories or defunct cooling towers and apartment blocks with collapsing iron balcony railings and broken glass.  (--But all that is a story for another place and time).

Out west in the U.S., there are the ghost towns and small places that aren't really towns.  Places that are places for reasons unfathomable to people like me.  Yet, I love them.  I know I move too fast in these places.  I make idiotic small talk like, "Slow night eh?"  when the clerk of the store doesn't show his face for five or ten minutes after I enter, and he responds, "Not really," and I think: Oh. Yeah.

These are places where you can put up a teepee, or raise bison or a camel or an emu, or hold church in what used to be a pawn shop.   These are places that make me think of  The Last Picture Show or stories by Sherman Alexie.

Have a close look at the last picture here. Who took some pot shots at that deer?  I mean, he was way up on top of a building.  What stories can I make out of that?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ghost Town: St. Elmo, Colorado

Ah!  Colorado--

While here, we visited a ghost town--St. Elmo.  It is an old time western town that reminded me of a movie set we had at my college.  Except that these building weren't just facades.

This had a jail cell in the very back, and a safe up front.  My sister and I checked around back of the building.  Someone could easily have come up with a saw and cut an escape hole in the back of the place. 
The school house
Inside the old school house.  Of course this was the high point of the place for me!  Doesn't my nephew look like a ghost? (All of this was behind glass--dang!)

St. Elmo apparently has three citizens these days.  It must be the three who run the gift shop and keep the hummingbird feeders filled, and the seeds available for all of the little chipmunks and prairie dogs around the place.

We also saw this guy--a bull snake. He too was interested in chipmunks, no doubt.  I think he was hit by a car right around the time we arrived.  

I guess he is a ghost of the ghost town too, now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Canoe Story

Ah look!  A canoe!  This excellent watercraft was recently featured at a yard sale held in my yard.  As you might imagine, it attracted a lot of attention.  A great old friend of mine once told me that a successful yard sale needs to have a large attractive object prominently displayed.  Even if that object isn't for sale, it will get people to stop, and they may buy something else. (He was right!)

Well, this canoe was actually for sale.  And it fact, it sold for an excellent price.  One of the first guys who tried to talk the price down eventually returned only to find it had sold before he had second thoughts and come back. (Ah, the sweetness of that moment for the seller).  The seller was not me, but another neighbor--now known in these parts for his gardening.  You may remember that I have written about him before.
So ironic that he was selling--of all things--a canoe.  Because it took me back to an infamous story about him and a canoe.  Right back to the olden days on 199__?

So, here we are--well, I am behind the camera in this one. This was not my sale, but our good friends'  long ago when we were all first married and they were expecting their first baby.
Anyway--here these guys are having a yard sale.  I remember "Kay" and I laughed and laughed at the horrible things people would buy.  Like a tan shag toilet seat cover and matching U-shaped mat--not even clean.  Ugh!

Not long after this, I moved away. Eventually, Kay and her husband moved on too, but not before this wacky incident with the canoe.

Kay's husband owned a canoe (not featured in this sale), and the gardening neighbor--who hadn't settled into gardening yet--wandered over, in the way that he did then, and sometimes does now, though less so, and asked them if they would be interested in selling him the canoe. They were not.

Now, this young neighbor made some people around here uneasy.  He must have been about sixteen or seventeen at the time.  The elderly lady next door called him, "a big strapping fellow" which he was and is.  Often he walked up and down the street in a sort of medicated, or unmedicated, daze.  He mostly went barefoot--even in winter (in fact I saw him barefoot mowing a lawn even today).  He sometimes went around in a batman cape.  He sometimes wore a false mustache.  He was skilled with nunchuks, throwing stars, and had a punching bag strung from a tree in his back yard, which he beat at all hours. He sometimes dress as a ninja.  He shot steel arrows from a bow (which sometimes turned up in our yard).  A few times he sat on his roof with binoculars.  He sometimes crept around in black clothing and appeared to be a peeping Tom, though he may have been doing some kind of reconnaissance mission only he could understand.  At times he wore fatigues and ran in combat boots and carried an ax.  If a crime were committed, people looked toward him.  Police knew him.

So, he inquired about the canoe.  And then, not long after, the canoe came up missing.

Kay's husband then did a wild and brave thing--he went over to the young neighbor's house (think eerie little unkempt place like Boo Radley's house in To Kill a Mockingbird)  when he was sure he and his mother were not home.  He snuck into the back yard looking for the canoe.  Not only that, but he persisted in his search so that he looked under the house in the crawl space.  There indeed, was the canoe!  It was partly buried.  Hidden!

Well, he didn't take it back right away; he was afraid to.  Like I said, people were a little uneasy about this young neighbor.  Kay and her husband had two small children then and didn't want any trouble.  So, Kay's husband waited until the night before they moved away from town, and then--bold man that he was--he snuck back up under that house and stole his canoe back!

Haha--so it was pretty ironic to me that this same young neighbor (older now of course) brought a canoe to our sale.  Of course, he has evened out now.  Better medicine these days probably.  He said he is going to move away himself--off to work the land he will inherit.  And that made me sad.  Our neighborhood is getting to be so bland.  Orderly, with big ordinary new houses.  Inevitably, if he goes, someone will tear his little shack down, raze his garden space and backyard jungle and put up a mega-mansion of two.  And who will embark on such extraordinary ideas then?