Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making a list...

I am not writing anything new today. I have things brewing in my head. I am making a list of what I might grapple with in the weeks ahead and am looking for comments/input/requests. [Comments in FB, comments in the reply field to the blog, PMs in FB, or emails are all appreciated.]

Teaching: Transformative Journeys: Leo Tolstoy wrote,

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”  My students have been reading about Ibn Battutta, a famous Tunisian explorer who logged nearly 75,000 miles in his lifeline in the 14th century. I am encouraging them to find personal stories where a traveler leaves, is changed, and returns with a story. This weekend they are looking for similarities in the plot of the Wizard of Oz, a Hasidic Tale: "The Treasure", and a Rumi poem. I hope too have some observations by late spring on the stories they eventually find and tell.

Show: The Walking Dead: The 90 minute season finale is on tonight. I am mostly caught up on the comic, and have found the Sunday night ritual of a little TV with my wife is worth looking forward to all weekend. I am not sure there is any redeeming quality of watching this show, but I am willing to look for it just to give this guilty pleasure of mine a little weight of importance.

Game: MineCraft: I did not understand the hours of lego like building I saw so many children engaging in. I felt there was noting "to show" for their efforts save a 3-D cyber model of block like art. I have been inquiring and have learned about mods, shared servers, code manipulation, and survival mode. I purchased the XBoxOne version and have been sucked into the quagmire of MineCrack. I'll have a lot more to say on this once I get a little more gold mined and figure how to safely travel to the nether and return with a tale worth telling.

Book: The Handmaid's Tale: I am just getting into this dystopian novel, am loving it's fiction, and am interested in the non-fictional parallels in the world I see on the news. I feel like the book should be a product of a decade older than the 1980s, but about a not too distant future. The cultural references make it feel a little dated in a positive way, and the underlying truths frightening. I am not sure what to think as I am just getting started. I do know that I like it very much so far This is my first trip into Margaret Atwood's writing and I really like her style. I hope her other work is as quirky and simply worded as I am finding The Handmaid's Tale.

Weather: It's snowing: I want to write about spring, purple flowers in the ground, fire pit construction, and baseball. Clearly mother nature wants me to wait on this topic.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A fail...

Dear blog-readers:

In September I started this blog with the rule that I would post weekly on Sundays, regardless of how ready I was or not. I have been trying to sort my ideas and force myself too write words, however they might fall. So here I am writing... I had a reasonably mediocre post prepared for publishing just now, and hit an accidental key-stroke that deleted it moments before the autosave made that mistake permanent. I am frustrated and a little sad and do not wish to start over. Perhaps next week.

-brother pete

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"If it bleeds... it leads." If it heals... what?

"I do not take s single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinity the happier for it." —Thomas Jefferson: I didn't read the news much when I was younger. I didn't have the patience to read material that did not develop characters and plots, lead me off to other worlds, or suspend my notion of reality. I read the news much more now, advise the school newspaper, and supervise a news writing class. I am struck by how often I feel saddened after reading the news. The worst is when I feel like the town gossip, tuning into news that is not terribly relevant to me, but outlines the strife of locals I might know or have a loose connection to. At best I feel informed about important events that DO shape our world BUT makes me think so much about things I often have little control over. News often—and for good reason—deals with conflict and tragedy. Positive news  exists, but is harder to come by. It often feels like contrived, feel-good moments, appropriate for the FaceBook feed (sigh) and not the pages of the Times, Post, Journal, Herald, etc. Attempts at "good news" sites border or click-bait and unsupported hokey moments. Are all the best "good" stories reserved for cinema? Maybe. Only when the good news is extraordinary does it lead (think discoveries, breakthroughs, missions to space, etc.)

We firemen know about news: When a fire has started, and the local fire department is unable to get there in time, the story is dramatic and makes the news. What a tragedy when someone loses their home (safety) and belongings (memories). The work is exterior work, hard and full of flame, but not as dangerous as one might think. When a fire starts in one room, progresses slow enough for us to get there in five minutes,  attack lines at the source within ten, walls opened, secondary searches for extension within fifteen to twenty, and full extinguishment established within thirty or less, we rarely make the paper. Interior work is often more dangerous than exterior—the risk greater, the reward greater. I feel a sense of failure when we are forced to move from interior to exterior, from offensive to defensive maneuvers. It's evidence that the fire had the advantage, and so we retreat to defensive positions, conceding the territory in the name of protecting against further spread. When we "make a stop" on the other hand, it is a result of a coordinated attack.

Christmas day some years ago at a home somewhere in my town: A family had gone out for a while, leaving a warm home filled with the remains of a child focused Christmas morning. A fire located in a wood stove moved into the wall, and eventually spread, spanning two floors. The alarm went out and we moved with all haste. The first responding firefighters arrived ahead of the trucks. They rushed in with personal extinguishers, holding their breath, buying a few precious minutes for the hose team to advance a minute or so later. [Did you know that fire can double its size every minute. The law of doubling is frightening when you think on it. Quick response is essential for stopping fire.] A saw crew artfully opened the wall, and we used low volumes of water to stop a fire that was working on two rooms now. The result: the family spent one day at a local hotel and their house had minor smoke damage. The structure was sound, easily repaired, and  a young child's gifts were safe and waiting for him the next day. No one was hurt.

Shameless "Selfie" from Training
It was a massive victory with a happy ending. No news. It was the product of lots of training and good communication. It was "what we do".

And then there are days... When a business on Main Street burns down due to huge fuel load and starting in the wee hours of the morning, moving through multiple rooms before tripping any alarms denying us any chance to win the initial assault, it's front page material.

A story where everyone does their job correctly and successfully is not news, it's "everyday". "Airline captains successfully landed their Boeing 747 at Logan Airport today after departing on time from LAX this morning." When "everyday" events shift to the extraordinary, we have news. It makes sense, but sends the wrong message to the brain if all we read is the extraordinary...

"The solution to pollution is dilution...": I am not sure what the answer is for this beyond blogging about it, looking for ways to find balance and supporting that balance—trying to share click-worthy elements while avoiding the click-bait trap that often lies close. I am not happy with much of the fluff I seem to get when I go to the Huffington Post, but they are trying to find their way (of course they are trying to make money, but maybe they will do so by finding interesting stories and not by merely using sensational headlines to get to pointless observations of celebrity "snews"). NPR covered their attempts  to seek the positive in this article:


I love Pizza... I really do: Real stories that move us should be shared, we should be discerning about what we push though. Here's my attempt at offing a positive story about people being people. It is not news. It just is. The economic model presented is not going to change anything, but a few thousand dollars on the bottom line, and there seems to be lessons about giving fish and teaching people to fish that I wish to avoid here. But if viewed as a story about people looking for a way to improve the world they live in—albeit in a micro-transation like a slice of pizza—it is extraordinary, and therefor, news. I just got a smile from this UpWorthy piece, and offer a simple piece of goodness with the hopes it might provoke others to look for their own "Pay it Forward" moment:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Storytelling: "The Danger of a Single Story"...

I love trolling the interwebs...
Lecture is not dead: I like TED talks. I like the 10-20 minute kernel of presentation-ness that they are. I like that they are free-for-me. So from time to time I troll the TED pages looking for the talks that others believe are the best. There are nearly 2000 talks uploaded to date. It is nice when others can vet them somewhat for me. (If you are not familiar with TED: webite, wikipedia entry.)

Better late than never: The other day I searched "must-see" instead of "best" TED talks. There is some overlap in the two searches, but I was interested in the ones I had not seen before. It seems TED has put together a primer under the heading "must-see" for people just like me. The title of one talk, in particular, about story caught my eye; The Danger of a Single Story. I have sent a lot of time this year thinking about "story" and it features in much of my blog. The further I go, the more I am realizing how essential "story" needs to be featured in education. I am a little saddened that I seem to be just arriving at a conclusion that most teachers, writers, performers, probably arrived at much earlier in their lives. Well, Better late than never...

"The Danger of a Single Story": Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie's talk is just under 19 minutes, enjoyable to watch, and poignant. Her demeanor is likable; her humor is on target; her insight is wise. I'm in love with this presentation...

I have included links: Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThe danger of a single story and the full transcript of her talk. I hope you will watch it, and not just read it. Her voice is part of this story; her pace, patient; her eyes, alive. I have not read her work, but now intend to. If any of her insight can be found in her fiction (how could it not?), it will be well worth the read...

I do not address them in my review, but it is in the details of Adichie's talk that you will find her humility and human-ness, her humor and bite, the stuff worth listening to... Stories about her development as a writer and as a person, her memories of childhood and experiences in college. Give it a listen, you will not be disappointed.

But beyond Adicie's story about story, there some meta insights that I wish to draw attention to. These are the pieces of wisdom that I wish to apply to different contexts beyond the one offered in her talk. Here are a few quotes I will be chewing on for a while...

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.
It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Looking back on two moments of peace, 25 years apart...

The Coffee Mill

I, in
Coffee house, brown
smells of addiction.
choice. . .
I choose to
Lay me down
Sally, the maid
of the bar, she
smiles as smoke
wanders and walks
along the walls
people sit and
drink and
listen to the songs
and stories told.
I have a few.
I'll share later.
The lights dim
as the time walks smoothly
past two and
eyes become sensitive
to the smoke saturated
I just sit and listen.
I'll share later.

The Winter Storm

I, in cozy warm, listen and watch
The storm, rages outside...
All the weighty load offered, a burden to the trees.
A loud crackle, and a pop,
and again.
I leave the fire I had built
(to offer the night a touch of me).
Proceed to the ridge, above
No light, save the fire,
and some candles,
(safely behind the panes of dim quiet houses)...
A loud crackle, and a pop,
and again.
Huge limbs crash across the way,
echoing in the muffled quiet of the snowfall.
Medium sized limbs drop nearby.
It is a symphony
of clacking cotton woods and poplars,
of cracking pines and birches,
of surrendering snow, "shhhhhhhh" after each yield,
a quiet brush-on-cymbal finish for each...