A Faraway Gaze
My friend Alan Levine who blogs with his dog out of Strawberry, Arizona, had a fun and interesting challenge up the other day. He and other blogger friends of mine are finding it fun to do a random blog post search of their sites, then interrogating that random post thusly:
- What, if anything, is still relevant?
- What has changed?
- Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
- What is my personal reaction to it?
So let me digress briefly into the alien guts of the English/Writing teaching profession. During my quarter century flapping my clipped wings in that particular zoo, it was very popular to have students collect their writing in portfolios–nowadays, e-portfolios. The one thing all the free range chicken writing instructors seemed to agree on was the value of metacognitive writing, which you might call reflective writing, but no, we gotta call it metacog ‘r nuttin’.
The concept here was that it would be good for students if they reflected on why they made certain writerly choices in their portfolios and not others. This is supposed to push them to do synthesis, the highest order of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and, in my observation, students hated it pretty much across the board. It was just another bloody hoop to jump through on the way to their dental hygiene or sustainable energy certification where most of them hoped to God they’d never have to either write or self–reflect on another essay in their lives.
And I don’t blame them. It never did much for me to read that pained and painful writing, and after a long, downward spiral of disillusion, I gave up on portfolios altogether. Now all I do in retirement is teach Technical Writing online. Students like it because to them it is more cut and dried, seemingly more objective than the navel gazing of the Frosh Comp writing sequence.
Okay, end of crawl through the murky craw of Alien.
Back to our regularly scheduled programing. I may have lost faith in the value of metacognition, uh, I mean navel-gazing, uh, I actually mean thoughtful self-reflection for students en masse, but personally, I find it interesting and useful.
That said, I spun the wheel of Mind on Fire. The arrow made distressed clicking sounds as it went back in time, but it finally hesitated and jolted to a stop, pointing firmly at Dec. 30, 2011, a blog post called “Boketto.” “Boketto” means “a faraway gaze.”
What were the chances?
Life likes to rhyme.
Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979. I am deep into archiving his legacy in a variety of forms–prints, books, and front and center is a new website Warren Brown Photography
This is a huge project I only dared begin after I retired. Although I have made stories about my dad before, this sorting of his slides takes me deep into my Myth of Psyche place where Psyche (who represents the soul–her animal aspect is a butterfly) is given the first of four tasks by Aphrodite to sort all the seeds in a pile of grain. The seeds represent all the possibilities that ever were for my dad and for me; they are all the emotions I have to sort through as I bring his legacy to order and to beauty.
Both the inner and outer challenges are overwhelming. I have to wrestle the great Bear of Guilt to the ground with every slide I throw into the “reject” pile.
But Psyche gets help from–of course!–the ants. Like the ants, I sort slides into piles called “Mountains,” and “Flowers,” and “Family,” and the heap of rejected slides grows like a giant ant hill in the center of the table.
So that’s where I am right at the moment I spin the blog random-o-matic meter and come up with a five year old blog post called “Boketto,” or “a faraway gaze.” The faraway gaze is in the photo of my father, and I write in the blog post about a dream I had that night about my father, who died of a brain tumor in 1979 at the age of 54.
When I woke up, I made a page in my art journal illustrating the dream, My dad is entering the Museum of Modern Art of MOMA, which is his soul mate connection to my MOM. (It was also five years ago that I began reviewing art on the radio for KLCC four months after this dream. So there’s that…)
Life likes to rhyme.
Now to the metacognitive questions:
- What is still relevant? I am still haunted by my legacy responsibilities to my father. He is still in my dreams, and I am still doing dream art.
- What has changed? Five years ago, he was still far away and ill. In my dreams since then, he has come back to us but still thin and not vibrant. However, now he or his spirit or how I internalize his memory, is much more with me on a daily basis watching me shoot, giving me advice on composing shots, clearly an active parental muse.
- Does this reveal anything about my discipline? I have had a lifelong connection with my father and have never given up on trying to provide a legacy for him. Before blogging, I kept and continue to keep, handwritten journals, so my discipline extends back to April 1964 when I first got serious about blogging uh journaling at age 14.
- What is my personal reaction now to the Boketto blog post? I value this piece of art a lot because it expresses and recalls what has been going on at the level of dream. Part of my father’s legacy website will be my videos and art (and that of other family members, too) about him, and I would have forgotten this piece.
This is just another piece of evidence showing how valuable the Daily Create is, and how valuable it is to have creative friends like Alan Levine to spin off new posts, new lines of thinking, and, dare I say it? Self-reflection.
My dad’s gaze is no longer boketto or far away. It is focused and interested. He’s pretty excited about having his very own website!
“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!”
And the origen of that infelicitous phrase? The online Urban Dictionary says, “The legend tells that years ago every casino in Las Vegas had a three-piece chicken dinner with a potato and a veggie for $1.79. A standard bet back then was $2, hence when you won a bet you had enough for a chicken dinner.”
That said, today’s little huzzah! Is my first place win in the video contest sponsored by Discover Your Forests.org/U.S. National Forest Service celebrating the 25th anniversary of Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Prizes? Well, to me the big prize is having my video posted on the Forest Service website as happened when I won a similar call for videos at Denali National Park, but I got some cool swag, too:
- $30. Gift certificate to the East Lake Resort Restaurant
- $75. Gift certificate for boating on East Lake
- 4 (one in each season) ranger guided hikes (isn’t that a cool prize?)
- An owl pin
- A decal
- A framed Newberry NVM poster, hence the goofy picture
Why was this fun? There’s something satisfying about completing a creative cycle. The second I saw the ad for the video competition, it isn’t that I wanted to win but that I wanted to do the project. I love Newberry National Volcanic Monument and have been going there since Peter first introduced me to it in the early 1990s. It’s beautiful. It’s intellectually intriguing. There are lots of fun things to do and see there.
A video contest just gave a focus to all the photography I had been doing around the park already.
Yes, it’s fun to win, but the joy is in the creating.
I made two videos for the competition–one is narrated; the other tells a story, which is why, I was told, it was selected over, honestly, a much better photographer.
Peter and I drove over to La Pine, about two hours away, where we found a rodeo, carnival, apple pie baking contest and Quilt Show all enlivening this otherwise sleepy little backwater, which nevertheless is at the gateway to Newberry. People wandered in out of the heat for our little film festival, so there was someone to applaud.
The sign of a successful poetry reading, Peter says, is there are more people in the audience than poets on the stage–so again, huzzah!
I am honored to be featured on the Creativist.io website as a Creative Leader. The Creativists are all about what they call “creative empowerment,” with a variety of different approaches. They say things like,
Creativity is a way of thinking that allows you to see possibilities.
Besides challenges and Paying it forwards, they feature interviews with “creative leaders,” of which I am apparently one. Before the interview, I looked over what other interviewees had said, and maybe it was just the mood I was in, but in that moment I felt tired of hearing about creativity rather than the thing itself.
So I answered the interviewer’s questions with a series of short digital stories, as it seemed to me I had already made stories out of all the primary issues. The result may not be as clever as I would wish as it would take a reader who might be dedicated to hearing/viewing/reading every golden word I said an hour to get through it all. And there are none among the short-attention-spanned populace who would actually do such a thing. Sigh. Fame, sweet bird of fleeting youth and all that.
But just for the record, just so I can look back in my fast-approaching dotage upon the immortal moment, here it is in giant, hot linked purple letters (clickety-click!):
I was at Eugene, OR’s Holiday Market and videoed these talented young musicians tucked away in the vegetable section of the Farmer’s Market. I loved their intensity, their country funk sound with the eerie sound of the saw violin soaring over all.
I posted a clip on Facebook, which they saw. At their request, I made them this little promo video based on what I had on hand.
Austin Bertak – tenor banjo
Rooster – guitar
Helen Long – accordion
Saxon Hidgon – saw
Nolan – wash tub bass
Max O’toole – slide guitar
You can lay a like on them here:
TURNING TECHNOPHOBIA THROUGH
By Sandy Brown Jensen
If you’re looking to fund a curriculum around digital storytelling, or, more broadly, digital humanities, do what Anne McGrail of Lane Community College (LCC) did, and go after a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
In Summer 2014, McGrail asked me in the hallway if I wanted to get on board with her idea of having a summer institute for educators here at LCC called, “Doing Digital Humanities at the Community College,” aka “Doing DH @ the CC!” I pitched an idea, she wrote it into the grant, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a full house of NEH Fellows from across many disciplines and states.
Everybody was smiling at me as if they were thinking, “Oh boy! Now we’re going to have some fun!”
I had them start by writing using their five human digits to answer this prompt: “What is it you don’t want to forget when teaching digital humanities?” During the round table session, they were asked to come up with at least three metaphors to represent what they didn’t want to forget; it was a useful mental exercise.
Next, the fun really did begin! I sent them all out of the room into the bustling streets of downtown Eugene with their pocket technology. Their assignment was to film each metaphor they found for 10-15 seconds while explaining its relevance to teaching digital humanities.
Fellows pointed smartphones at busses, bicycles, graffitied walls, flowers, Venetian blinds, and hammocks; they created their pieces and emailed their video files to me, so I could splice them together using iMovie for iPad. On day two, we had collectively created a digital story to watch on the silver screen.
As intended, that low stakes activity got the Fellows excited about doing their own digital stories. We met for an hour each day that week, starting with basic theory, then discussing how to use the Pixar story spine to generate a script.
Afterwards, we initiated Story Circles to workshop scripts, finally ending with the mad, late-night scramble of production where we all felt like undergraduates again. On Friday, the “lightning rounds” commenced, giving each Fellow an opportunity to introduce his or her digital humanities project and to play it for the group.
I saw full grown professors go from nervous to radiant in a five minutes as their productions were enthusiastically applauded by the crowd.
Because I was involved in the inner workings of this project, many Fellows confided in me, and I was taken aback by how much fear of technology I heard expressed — this from a group of professors currently working in or interested in digital humanities. It was so unexpected at such a gathering, but it was pervasive enough that I covered this topic in my own digital story for the event.
At the end of that roller coaster ride, I feel the “Doing DH @ the CC” Fellows went home with a new set of teaching and tech tools for their digital humanities work. More importantly, however, they would be able to help their students tell their stories with more courage and higher hearts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a Faculty Technology Specialist at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, teaching digital storytelling. I maintain the LCC Story Lane Digital Storytelling Website that showcases digital stories from the entire community: https://blogs.lanecc.edu/storylane/ My own digital story website is Mind on Fire: http://mindonfire.us/ I am an arts commentator on our local public radio, and I blog about all things arty at Toucan Create: http://toucancreate.com/ And I am proud to blog about digital storytelling for the New Media Consortium!
This video is a personal documentary of a weekend spent in Ashland, Oregon, Oct. 2, 3, 2015 with:
- Peter and Sandy Jensen, Eugene, OR,
- Richard Heinberg and Janet Barocco, Santa Rosa, CA,
- Michael and Barbara Cecil, Anna Celestino, of Ashland, OR, and
- Sandra Lindley, Phoenix, OR.
“Ashoken Farewell” is the music played by Richard Heinberg, Violinist. All photography (except the last group frame by Janet Barocco) by Sandy Brown Jensen.
NOW, BLUE OCTOBER
Now blue October, smoky in the sun,
Must end the long, sweet summer of the heart.
The last brief visit of the birds is done;
They sing the autumn songs before they part.
Listen, how lovely – there’s the thrush we heard
When June was small with roses, and the bending
Blossom of branches covered nest and bird,
Singing the summer in, summer unending-
Give me your hand once more before the night,
See how the meadows darken with the frost,
How fades the green that was the summer’s light.
Beauty is only altered, never lost,
And love, before the cold November rain,
Will make its summer in the heart again.
Robert Nathan (1894-1985)
Our 89-year-old Mickey/Mom swore when she moved into this independent living apartment eight years ago that we would only take her out “feet first.” Over the last few years of a hip replacement and then open heart surgery, she felt so terrible that she was sure she was going to cash in her chips.
However, the doctors say she’s in great shape for the shape she’s in, so her granddaughter Tristan Lockard said, “Why don’t we be roommates, share the rent, share the love, and put our money where our mouths are in terms of a multi-generational household (Tristan has two teens)?”
Tristan found a big, three-level house up on Cougar Mountain in Bellevue, WA with a view down over Lake Sammamish. Mom has her own ground floor suite of two rooms and a bath which can be closed off to be private or opened up directly into the warm kitchen and spacious living room. What’s not to like?
So on September 18 and 19, her extended family swooped down on her Beaverton apartment and moved her out lock, stock, and sewing table.
Nothing in this family happens without ceremony, and there were two–both are in the video.
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at Lane Community College
Digital Humanities at the Community College
July 13-17, 2015
I was privileged this summer to be on the faculty of a summer institute funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, written by my colleague Anne McGrail. It was my job to introduce digital storytelling to the fellows (as they are called), who came from all over the United States.
There were two projects. The first we accomplished as a group in twenty-four hours. Borrowing an idea I learned from my mentor Alan Levine, I had everyone point their cell phones at an object in the world and spontaneously record how that was a metaphor for what is important to remember about teaching digital humanities.
They e-mailed me their 15 second clips, and I cobbled them together quickly into this video, which was shown on the second day of the institute:
And then I threw the Really Big Challenge at them:
The rest of the week went by quickly as my project was supposed to be a small part of the overall experience. I’m not sure it turned out that way because the last day was our Film Festival, which I thought was a Very Big Deal, indeed! Just about everyone had done some version of the project, to my pride and joy.
Of course, in the midst of this flurry of intense activity, I had to demo the digital storytelling making process from start to finish. I was asking them to do really rough and ready work–no time for perfectionism or refinements–and I felt I had to (actually was forced to) abide by that maxim. So this is the digital story I made alongside my students and showed to kick off the Film Fest on Friday at the end of the Institute. It’s hard for me to post something with such a rough sound track: I was out in the atrium, holding my cell phone up to my mouth, and what can I say? Those are field conditions!
A final word of thanks to Anne McGrail for including me on the faculty of this wonderful Institute, and a special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for their generous funding of this project.