Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taking Literacies Back to Experience

   Each week in our Good Stories course we engage a favorite tale of mine with the selection determined by my sense of which one promises to advance our effort to compose destinies that promote peace and justice.  An early theme develops the “water of life” as the source of vitality and renewal needed for this quest.  The search for the renewal of life takes us to the dangerous ground suggested by our primary text, Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories.   His subtitle points to three troublesome critters along this journey: Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction.  The question directing our path asks: How can the stories we tell and produce advance consciousness so that our inner and outer worlds increase peace & justice?

   Persons who dare approach the edge of consciousness best go prepared.  This week’s Good Story tells of Arthur, the King, entering the deep woods at that edge and being confronted by the ugliest creature even seen.  That’s what ebbs out of the unconscious, the primeval swamp where new meaning evolves shape-shifting, grotesque yet potentially gorgeous. 

   Surprise, surprise—Guess what?  This isn’t pretty to the hegemonic powers that be.  Today I travel to Tucson for my professional development and the university questions my choice.  Having considered the options of going to the traditional annual meetings of professional organizations, I decided instead that Zen Mind, Zen Horse has more to offer toward my teaching and research.  Knowing Arthur’s tale, why should I be surprised that the workplace questions my choice?  The Good Stories have warned me over and over: expect to be challenged when you venture to the edge.

   After an initial exasperation, I realized the challenge is good because it invites pulling the elephant out of the closet for persons who can’t yet smell it.  Think of the elephant as concrete experience and the room as symbolic representation.  School rooms too often act as if representations (e.g., literacy or letter-making) exist apart from the real world.  For example, classes study dystopian literature without first and repeatedly claiming the primacy of authentic real-world constructions that are growing within the individuals and their communities.  Another example that bothers me: teachers model and students are allowed to grab Google images for their digital media productions instead of constructing their own representations. To strangle literacies from experiences is an act of violence, harshly disrespectful of each person’s right to author and voice.

I choose Zen Mind, Zen Horse because it returns literacy to authenticity through hands-on engagement with horses, coached by persons (including a neurosurgeon horseman and a doctor in psychology) who recognize that “our left hemisphere, armed with its overwhelming power of speech, remains wary of its reticent, emotive, and mute counterpart on the right [hemisphere of the brain]” and that “the horse also shows us the joy that comes from living with the bare truth of our selves” (pp. 6, 287 in Allan Hamilton’s Zen Mind, Zen Horse).
  Good Stories is part of the University’s I-Series program where tending to Big Questions are prominent.  Our course connects literacy with meaningful personal and social change.  To do this, students learn to work with stories across four levels of explanation.  Brian Boyd develops these as universal, local, personal, and particular.  We elaborate the universal level by finding resonance with archetypes in traditional tales (cf. Marie Louise von Franz, Interpretation of Fairy Tales).  As indicated in the subtitle of our course, Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, the construct of power takes center stage.  Across time and literature, the horse best provides the source for understanding the archetype of power, as evident in the term, horsepower. 

   My research informs the fundamental connection of literacy with meaningful pro-social personal and significant organization change (that is, peace & justice), and it comes in expanding my experience with horses and in the subsequent articulation of those experiences into courses like the Good Stories class and programs like Reins of Power that I have provided for teachers on several occasions. 

   That’s a brief on how the Zen Mind, Zen Horse program informs my work in literacy education, and it suggests the direction I think professional development needs to head.  While I don’t expect many educators will find their way to a living horse, I’m encouraged with the emphasis given to the Maker Movement and how it’s infused into prototype opportunities such as the Connected Learning MOOC featured by the National Writing Project this past summer.

Happy trails, y’all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Morning Fire

October 23, 2013.  
Overnight low temperature upper 30s.  
Definitely cool enough for building a 5AM fire in the wood stove. 
   My fire-starting skills are pretty good: dry twigs over a crumpled half sheet of newspaper, loosely arranged in a sort of lean-to against split maple or oak, plenty of circulation space.  A single match almost always suffices to initiate a cheerful, warming blaze; but this morning, after the third attempt with lots of smoke, only smoldering sticks filled the firepit with more smoke.  It’s like the chimney’s blocked, I considered; and then a thought flickered by: check the control for airflow.  I always leave it wide open but just maybe it wasn’t.  Somehow it had been moved all the way down!  When I ran it full throttle, the fire leapt like a pent-up horse loosed on the range. 
   An Emily Dickinson poem flickered to mind: “the horse that scents the living grass/will be restrained with a shot/if at all.”  Not sure about “restrained” but it goes something like that.
   My thoughts also still simmered with the meeting yesterday afternoon with teachers at Hickory Elementary about blogging, about making our heart maps that stir up the fire for teaching, about connected learning that brings in the airflow of public spaces, making relationships with like-minded pros, with tuning into the joy of expression.
   What is it in this metaphor of fire starting that wants to ignite our sometimes-darkened classrooms?  In my college class yesterday, we looked at the tendency of any culture or any individual to seek out confirmatory information and to suppress stuff that might make wildfires.  How has the airflow of exhilarating inspiration been shut down, probably without us even knowing the gate onto living grass waits right at our fingertips, perhaps where we see only walls.  Like the high-stakes exams.  Like the way things have been.  Like the curriculum that has to be covered.  More smoke.  Dulled out eyes.  Crumpled drafts of worksheets, asbestos prompts, irrelevant readings, mandated assessments. 
   We can keep striking matches but the fire of inspired learning cannot blaze up until we open the shutters onto the free range and let the airflow from authentic passion rush through.

P.S. I’m realizing that one way I almost unconsciously leave the airflow shut down happens when my morning begins with checking email, tweetdeck, facebook, latest scores, or morning news.  Rumi’s breeze at dawn and predawn musing off the breath of dreams get stifled by such externals.  I promise myself to love inspiration above the ease of mediated stuff.  I promise to start my day respecting Life.

PPS. Emily’s poem:        
The Life that tied too tight escapes
Will ever after run
With a prudential look behind
And specters of the Rein—
The Horse that scents the living Grass
And sees the Pastures smile,
Will be retaken with a shot

If he is caught at all—

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Angel Lies

Angels, of any salt, won’t come after:
After I’m done with this report,
after making coffee,
a nap,

First is first.
Don’t say God doesn’t listen
when my love, so-called, sleeps
while the golden whisper disappears.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Light Gets In


Louise Penny titles her most recent Gamache mystery 
How the Light Gets In and credits lines from Leonard Cohen’s poem/song—“Anthem”: 
                      “There’s a crack in everything
                       That’s how the light gets in.”  

The lyrics, comments by Cohen, and performances are easily traced through Google.  

Penny also expresses great appreciation to Cohen for freely allowing her to borrow the lines.  Perhaps these lines, like the light breaking through, 
             by grace as well as perspiration, 
                                                   call for freedom.

David Wilcox’s song “Break in the Cup” carries a similar theme. *Spoiler Alert*
            "We cannot trade empty for empty
                             We must go to the waterfall
                                           For there’s a break in the cup that holds love . . ."

Foggy this morning but that photobug started buzzing by my eyes, maybe my inner eyes, anyway.  A little walk around our woods and light and love came breaking in on some silent tide.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation!

from the ICA website

I used to hate that topic. Or was it not the topic but being forced, almost cruelly, even if unconsciously, required to remember, with gritted teeth into the (non)freedom to write instead of being led by respectful guidance into the joy of discovery, in the advance of consciousness.  "What I Did" was probably a graded prompt, in a constrained classroom, with a subtext: “hah-hah, don’t you wanna-be-free?” 

In any case, I’m about to attempt a transformation on that once-tired topic because I’m wanting to whirl some images around a not-yet-articulated experience--it longs for expression.  

And I’m imagining this in a thank-you letter, including the appreciation told by my horse, to the Institute for Conscious Awareness

. . . Espartaco & me, August, a few days ago. . . 

where I spent five days learning, mostly in the “hands” of the McCormicks’ stallions, about developing the horse’s mind. 

 That includes, perhaps primarily, imprinting a stallion’s mind within my own body.

Dear friends at the ICA,  

[My salutation includes, of course, Espartaco, 
Malik, Relevo, Morocco, Cariño, Marco Polo, in addition to Dr. Deborah and Dr. Adele McCormick.]

the letter continues:     Leg’cy, the mare who’s been allowing me to ride regularly for a few years here at home, has a few questions for you but they can be reduced to one: What in blazes did you do to Joseph!

Leg'cy, summer 2013
Leg'cy elaborates:
1. He didn’t lose a hundred pounds—looks like he enjoyed the Tex-Mex a bit much—but somehow (magically?) we’re riding so much lighter. 

2. Being lighter, we made a nice maneuver this week, and while I was bewildered about what just happened, he stopped to let it sink in!   He used to persist giving mixed messages until I just quit.  

3. Then before starting again, he helped me shift back onto my powerdrive and off we’d go even better than before.

4. Having integrated this shift into better collection, after a few delicious strides, he jumped off; we’re both grinning and chomping on the bit for next time.

Joseph wants to add something:
Working with the mind of the horse also inspires us to see engagement with humans in refreshed ways.  Imagine classrooms distinguished by this delicate balance between external/internal.  It needs a light touch, minute increments, time for absorption to trace tonalities into feel in order to track and recognize them for the treasure of deep satisfaction and personal empowerment.  The texture of collaboration that honors the unique gift (we could call it the divine) in each other awaits us at the edge of our development, of our species’ evolution/s, of the unity—Some of our ancestors called it all-my-relations.

With sincere thanks, 

Joseph (AKA DocHorseTales) & Leg'cy

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Morning Live

butterfly fluttering at edge of visibility

So I just spent my early morning, not as planned & more compulsively than I want to acknowledge.  I was really bothered because comments that my #CLMOOC friends said they’d added weren’t showing up! My nice-guy attempts to find them, to fix settings were not working.  Grrr.

That’s just not right!  #Connected Learning means connecting, right?  I think +Elyse Eidman-Aadahl even replaced the C in MOOC to stand for “connecting” or “collaboration” instead of “course,” and I like that. 

And I really wanted to see those specific comments.  One new connection (and I hope collaboration) I’d made by participating in the MOOC was +Terry Elliott, and his note in the Google+ Community said he’d commented in my blog.  To boot, an “old” friend, +Kevin Hodgson, @dogtrax, my model of reckless productivity, said he had too. So I was almost at toothgnashing about missing comments. 

Prior to #CLMOOC, no comments was blog-norm.  I’m basically ok with writing for myself and throwing it into the ocean, but a bit of response was certainly delicious.

So today I was relatively determined to suss it out.  I googled for help, followed the directions as best I could: Nada.  Well, no joy immediately; but I mucked about.  The “messing around” of HOMAGO doesn’t quite fit me since I’m not on track to geekdom. I can’t even manage remixing off of +Chad Sansing & friends' terrific mozilla thimbles.  Maybe another new CLMOO-Collaborator +Sheri Edwards will help me out since she’s doing it beautifully.

Anyway, the muck of it was that I lost my background image.  The beautiful sunset scene got zapped completely from my blog.  Double Grr--that had probably been my favorite part of the blog other than the hope that somebody might one day comment. 

So I backed up another step and tried risked re-making with a completely different design from Blogger’s options.  Voilà!  I was also able to piddle around rearranging the gadgets that I’d tried unsuccessfully to add before, and the new design page let's me do that too.  I got the background image up again & now I see the long-lost comments.  Thanks, guys!

Lesson of the day:  Muck on, John Donne!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why write? Because you love to.

Why Write?

Because you love to.

At heart, that’s the only reason to do anything.  (Of course, we might have to continue to penetrate the meaning of love.  But, back on-topic--)

If you’re not so sure that you love to write, please let me continue.
1) Humans “write” because it is our distinctive character.  Kenneth Burke, called the most important rhetorician of the 20th century, distinguishes humans as the “the symbol-using, symbol-making, and symbol-misusing animal” (Language as Symbolic Action).  If your symbolic action doesn’t correspond with “writing,” consider expanding the field of composition.

2) If you have difficulty claiming that you love to write, explore options.  Troy Hicks uses the acronym MMAPS to guide teaching of comp, digital or otherwise.  Look at the mode, media, audience, purpose, and situation that you use and play with them.  I discovered joy in composing as I played with digital media.  I got into DMP in ought-to mode; but as I tried out production programs that matched up with my disposition, I connected the photography I love with words, found ease of precise editing, and focused on a topic of passion (riding horses). I’ve continued to grow in love with Digital Media Production, but it’s still hard work.  (on DMP, check this.)

3) Let writing go to edge of consciousness.  That’s where vitality comes in.  Like dressage masters, we should always keep in mind that if, at the end of the lesson, the writer is not happier and healthier, then something needs attending.  If we don’t write until we find this for ourselves, how can we expect it in our classroom?

3+) If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the kids.  Sorry about pulling that card, but we know that good teachers of writing write, like good teachers of reading read.  And we know that the best teachers teach what they love: enthusiasm motivates intrinsic, authentic, life-long learning like nothing else.  Check the process-product research; or better yet, check out your own self-directed drive.

4 or 5) Can’t find time?  No easy solution here, but try buying yourself out.  Explore paying someone to do something you’d rather not do (house cleaning, food prep, walking the dog) or even doing without x (a meal, a TV show, a graded assignment).  You might be surprised how hard it is to prioritize what we love, especially the kind of passion that takes time and tending.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Text & Context Frame in Wonder

       The joy of composing often dances in the way a sense of light guides the focal point until awe half releases breath and holds, filling the frame so that the centerpiece arranges like a hummingbird poised, counterbalanced by the invisible scent of nectar.  The rule of thirds handily reassures the steady pressure needed to claim a capture of beauty, and then the kept breath escapes.  But the texture and grace has been brought closer by presuming to enter the flow of light, to still the falling petals, to treasure the residue of storm clouds.  And having entered this, the delicate exchange of finding the center of focus flows, a half-step from the midpoint for the harmony with a slightly blurred background, a bow to mystery, the unknown, longing, calling.

       When one holds peace, we compose: as a rider knows about how balance in the riding trot cannot be fixed but continuously moves to complement a mythical perfection, or how the poet circled the tower as a falcon or a moon marking the magnetic field.

       When I entered the gravity of “What’s the Most Beautiful Thing About a Horse,” my being suspended into the question.  It’s a field of joy, wonder, in the power, amid beauty.  So when I assembled the array of images and words, the forced separation of work and play evaporates like the disappearing dew, the magic of mist; and we dance with the feel of this and then this, and ah, hmm, and . . .  One gift comes in the distilled glance at contents in a flexible frame so that tentative words offer inadequate names.

       When I look back at the composition, I look for my response to the invitation, and I see or, better yet, feel the smile of a stranger-no-more (see ~2:04 in What’s the Most Beautiful Thing About ).  

On either flank of the horse float the two sides of the globe, making words but much more.  It’s the weaving of peace, the soothing of mistrust, moving closer to power, the dissolve of difference.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The CLMOOC Flood

Perhaps MOOC should be added to the list of synonyms for “flood.”  If you haven’t had the sensation recently of treading your way amidst a massive flow of tweets, that rush rhizomatic & not organized like a school of fish, or if you still want to catch a riptide of more tantalizing things-to-try than a too-brief-summer can hold, just tune in to the final week of the Connected Learning MOOC or even scan the Make Bank. (Also, see Kevin’s blog on the Make Bank.)

Flooding offers the rare attribute of discerning what comes to the top.  The test includes being able to hold my breath while an amazing display passes by with a forced opportunity of sensing the “right” ones.  Which of the treasures most resonate with my own being and particular context?  The strain might not be worth it except for my fascination with the quantum concept of timespacematter/ing and due to the exigence of affirming “local knowing/learning.”

Whether a MOOC can attune to the local gets featured in an exchange between Clay Shirky and Patrick Deneen.  Deneen casts a dim view of MOOCs, calling them the “Wal-Mart of higher education” in contrast with his preference for the farmers’ market that favors local knowledge and unique, situated identity.  Shirky also recognizes potential problems with MOOCs but concludes: “what happens now is largely in the hands of the people experimenting with the new tools, rather than defending themselves from them.”  I believe that the Connected Learning MOOC has made a bold exploration into the positive potential within our new address of www.

In my lurking (trolling? treading? sifting?) of the CLMOOC waters, I caught or was caught by (probably both) the popcorn remix.  It was like a gar, as I recall those boyhood days, exciting but on the scary side.  I’ve developed a caution when Chad puts up something as if it’s going to be easy to remix.  Apparently, I have an allergic reaction to coding.  So I resisted trying it out until +Scott Glass put up a compelling mix of music, art, and text.

Perhaps in a rhizomatic way this remix invitation collided with an intention to make a book trailer.  I’d seen both beginning teachers and fourth-graders produce quality work with iPad’s iMovie template. (For a 5 min intro, see: How to create trailers with iMovie on the iPad.)  About the same time, the postman delivered a long-awaited book.  My own production process, while stimulated by popcorn and the iMovie template, led me into the use of Camtasia, but I don’t think I would have made What’s the Most Beautiful Thing About without the #CLMOOC flood.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Diffracting as well as Reflecting


     I’m re-mixing a variety of items on "diffraction."  So don’t expect scientific accuracy.  I gather that some persons think physics should not generate metaphorical thought or imagination; I don’t see it that way, and I’m not a physicist.  To me, all language is metaphor and I’m no longer looking for an objective reality.  My intention includes not getting stuck; instead, I want vitality, that and to lean toward social justice, toward increased consciousness, and to ride.

     Diffraction has my attention because I sense that educators are being restricted; if not stuck, we're at least slowed or distracted by “reflection."  Maybe tossing in “diffraction” might loosen the restrictions on thinking and doing.  In my playful read of physics, diffraction (or diffraction grating) goes with rainbows while reflections make reverse images.  Or as one commenter noted: “What we call reflection really isn't. It's absorption and re-emission.”  Those things are valuable but don’t we want more?  Look at these Google images on “diffraction and prisms.” 
Diffraction and Prisms
     Let’s let Feynman (1965 Nobel Prize for Physics on Quantum Electrodynamics; see PBS NOVA bio: Best Mind Since Einstein) loosen our minds from the hold of reflection.  Here are some notes and quotes from a 15 minute video clip of his 1979 QED lecture on “Reflection and Transmission.”
* Because shadow was very sharp, Newton made a mistake on his theory of light as particle.
* Transmission is opposite of reflection.
* Wave theory was used as explanation (but the mystery remained).
* Rules (for behavior of energy related to reflection & transmission) are empty of modeling, that is, empty of a model of the type you are expecting. (14:20 into the video)

This connects with what I'm reading in Jung's Red Book, p. 231 & note 25: “If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself?  So live yourselves.  This is not a law, but notice of the fact that the time of example and law, and of the straight line drawn in advance has become overripe.”  Reflection is too tied to a done deal, even if the example is from our own personal history. 

Let’s do reflection and make sure we go further.  #CLMOOC invested not only in web tech but in making.  Check out the variety of makes, especially in cycle 2 and 3, and imagine how this might open our classrooms to let light diffract, to spin patterns beyond.  Karen Fasimpaur gives a lovely example; she plans a Mini-maker day for kids with “unique consideration #1: there will be no computers” and activities including “make a mask, yoga for kids, make jewelry, make a snack, cardboard challenge, and make a puppet.”  Love it.

I have to balance my computer screen time with hands-on horsemanship.  I’m in my mind this morning but yesterday Leg’cy was sound enough for us to move into mounted work/play.  Embodiment makes more complete being/doing.  We move into Rumi’s mystery “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing . . . even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”