Boychik

Middle Path crocus patch

I wish it were winter.

I wish it were cold and the wind were biting our cheeks. I’d fix my son’s scarf around his neck and bundle up his coat and tell him that sometimes the rules are stupid, but we follow them anyway. And sometimes the rules are stupid and it’s not that hard to just go around them. We’d sit together at the coffee bar and drink hot chocolate.

But the crocuses are coming up, and our shirtsleeves are poor protection from the wind.

Boy pulling a sled


This little monologue or illustrated poem or whatever it is entered my head last night as I was trying to get to sleep, and it was still there this morning.


 

Both photos are mine, CC-BY-NC, taken on my iPhone and saturation and brightness tweaked in Flickr. The crocus shot was taken just two days ago; I stopped the car to get the shot just before a rainstorm rolled in. The sled shot is from two winters ago.

For Matt

A cup of tea, for Matt

I was part of a Human Library today, as part of the college’s Global Engagement Week. (This is what happens when you invite people to storytelling workshops… they come to understand that you’re a storyteller, and then they ask you to tell stories.)

After struggling for a bit with what my “title” would be, by which people would check out my story, I lit on my story about Kenyon’s rebuilding trip to New Orleans after Katrina and Rita. I shared a rather wooly recounting of the trip with a couple of people. And then in a lull between “readers”, our organizer Marne asked me, very gently, if I had known Matt Huber.

Oh God.

There’s only one reason you’d ask that question that way.

Matt, the slight asthmatic freshman who worked so hard on the job sites?

Matt, the kid on fire in my office a couple of weeks after we got back, struggling with the fact that the job wasn’t done yet?

Matt, the strapping senior with the ponytail, winning the college’s Anderson Cup for his 3 years of organizing rebuilding trips?

Matt, one of the reasons I say this trip is the single moment of my Kenyon experience I’m most proud of?

Yes, I knew him. What a loss, that he should be gone at 29.

Marne and I talked a little bit about what a great guy he was. As she put it, we get to see all the students grow over 4 years, but sometimes we’re privileged to see the watershed moment when things really change.

I sat for a little while, and then I walked back to my office. I started the electric kettle, and listened as the water heated and boiled, giving a thought to the fridge full of beer on my left. I poured the steaming water into my dirty coffee cup, tore open a little green packet of Irish Breakfast tea, and bobbed the bag slowly in the water.

I wiped my eyes and talked to Jason about a logistical matter.

And I walked back to the Human Library, and told my story again. Our story, this story I now carry for one person more.

Happy birthday

I’ve been amused by the #15secondshakespeare phenomenon, so I was pretty stoked when it showed up as a daily create. I actually thought I was going to do a different old standard… but then, in honor of making another trip around the sun, I picked this one. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping it’ll go viral. Surprise your friends with it.

The music is “Go From My Window“, a 16th century folk song as arranged by John Dowland and performed by Frank Hiemenz, under a CC-BY license. (It’s really quite pretty when I’m not over-acting over it.) I dumped it into GarageBand and recorded my voice in another track. Lining up my voice at the end of the first phrase was a pretty clear choice; I had to fade the guitar down (further than I thought I’d need to) and adjust the spoken volume up a bit.

Shelter from the storm

open, yes we're open

It’s 10 years since Katrina and Rita and the levees broke. If you haven’t read Lolis Eric Elie’s magnificent piece “The Whys” on The Bitter Southerner you really ought to. It resonates with my own meager experience rebuilding in New Orleans for a week, in that every person I met had a story to tell about their flood experience, about their rebuilding decisions.

No, that’s not right – not just a story to tell. A story to share, a story to ask us to carry. An invitation to help them process, as they made decisions about possessions, and places. Maybe a request to be remembered as an individual, not as a statistic in a historical episode.

That is part of the point of storytelling, in any form. Memoir, fiction, nonfiction, mashup – we try to make a connection, form a bond, refute entropy. We make stories, and make sense; in telling or listening, we expand ourselves.

And maybe that’s the context which explains why I took a recent post by Alan Levine to heart.

The Stream is a funny thing. A friend sharing pain, a cat video, an echo from the political chamber, a friend announcing joy. When the same information feed serves as my newspaper, my editorial magazine, my entertainment, and my connection to my friends, it’s hard to remember to treasure those acts of deep sharing.

still from Ghostbusters
“You said crossing the streams was bad!” – Peter Venkman

So, I guess, we beat on, boats against the tide. We smash the Like button, we write “hooray” or “I’m sorry” or “I’m with you.” We retweet and reshare, and we hope it’s enough to make the world a safe space for stories. Sometimes we open an email or pick up the phone. Or we write a letter to the papers or the government and we give money and we vote. And sometimes, we open a word processor or blog post or image or video or audio editor and make art, dammit.

All because we hold you in our hearts. Because we listened, and we grew, and we bonded, and we remember.


“open, yes we’re open” by Derek Bridges, CC-BY 2.0 at https://flic.kr/p/8d67SR

Still from Ghostbusters, from https://ageofsteam.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/crossing-the-streams.jpg

Tender Years

I had the distinct pleasure last week of hosting Joe Lambert and Brooke Hessler from the Center for Digital Storytelling for a workshop at Kenyon. I believed that I was going in as the on-site tech support guy, so I didn’t think I was going to make a story. See,  I was going to be helpful to other people, and watch Joe and Brooke to really learn how to facilitate a story circle.

Concetta (who had been in our 2012 workshop), said that was sad, because I’m a good storyteller. (Which is not, to be honest, something I’d gone into this workshop considering.) And there was a ripple of agreement in the room, that my colleagues wanted me with them as a participant. And Joe said “no free riders.”

So I started wracking my brain for a story to tell.

The penny dropped when, during another person’s turn in the story circle, Joe pointed out that writing a letter to someone can be a great storytelling prompt. I started thinking about people I’d like to talk to, people I might owe a thank-you note or an explanation.

I remembered that I have a story which recently eluded telling.

And here’s another way to tell it.

From a storytelling perspective, shifting the audience made all the difference in the world. By making it a piece for Melanie, instead of for “the world”, clarifying an in-joke became sharing an anecdote. And technically, relating the story out loud, and getting feedback from a room of supportive colleagues, helped me find a lot of the connective tissue which I didn’t find alone with my keyboard.

So thank you, my Kenyon and CDS colleagues (and my wife, who saw a rough cut), for sharing your courage, for your aesthetic input, and for sharing this story with me.

Put me in, Coach!

I already drew a map which tells a story, so when TDC 1237 challenged us to make a map which explains nothing, it seemed like a fitting challenge. I was inspired by the map of “Super Bowl Wins By Country” on the TDC page, so here’s:

Change in MLB Batting Average by US State 2005-2014

This map is made with Google Fusion Tables. The team batting average data comes from Baseball-Reference.com; the state shapes are a resource file within Fusion Tables. (This introduces the one unintentional inaccuracy in the map – I couldn’t quickly find a shape file including both U.S. states and Canadian provinces, so the Toronto Blue Jays are just left off the map.)

More importantly, its story is a mess. For starters, who would compare team batting average over 10 years? There are so many differences in lineups and managers (and probably even park effects) that it seems like a pointless comparison. (My baseball geek friends are welcomed to debate that point.)

“Batting average by state” is almost as meaningless as “Super Bowls by country” – maybe more so, because it suggests specificity. But if there’s a useful reason to compare the average batting average of the 5 teams in California with the 1 in Maryland, I’m at a loss to explain it. (And you can barely see the poor Nats in DC.)

The state statistics are actually an average of team batting averages in the state, but every team doesn’t have the same number of at bats, so that introduces a little inaccuracy. Not much, but it would show up out at the 4th digit.

And then there’s design. Google only labels the top and bottom of the legend, so we know the bounds, but not what the middle colors correspond to. I picked a green color for half the scale, on a map which is mostly green – very bad for readability, especially in the Satellite view. I also set green to correspond to the biggest declines, and red for the biggest increases, which I think is the opposite of American expectations.

But I did learn a little about Fusion Tables, and practiced normalizing data, so that was fun!

My case, of which I’m certain

TDC 1222 asks us to write a list of our regrets, and video ourselves throwing it away.

I did it my way.

(Kids, ask your parents. Or possibly your grandparents.)

As you can tell from the watermark, I used WeVideo to make this. We’ll be using it next week at a workshop run by the Center for Digital Storytelling, and I’m the local tech support, so I thought I better try it out. It’s a web-based video editor, with a clean interface; I can see why it might work well as an intro tool for new video editors and in community outreach situations.

Also, it can import video from a USB webcam, which apparently iMovie can’t. This shot comes from my Logitech webcam, perched upside-down on top of my monitor. (That simultaneously solved the problem of how I can film my own hands, and how I could get the writing right-side-up.) My hands aren’t quite in frame enough at the end, but it got the concept.

The silence at the beginning is a little disorienting; if I were going to work more on it I’d try to capture the sound of pen on paper or maybe add a soundtrack. Let’s file that under “lessons learned”, and certainly not under “regrets!”

Your feet’s too big

Daily Create 1180 asked us to create a soundmap of our town. Instead of following the prompt as written, I picked one moment in my day – walking home in the early afternoon from a Krudas Cubensi concert at Kenyon College.

It was early April – the trees were starting to bud, and you can hear a light spring breeze blowing through the microphone at places. The birds have returned, and you can hear them chattering at each other. But it’s too early for the hum of lawnmowers, not warm enough yet for the drone of air conditioners. Gambier is a rural town; I think in the 6 minute walk you’ll hear 3 cars go by.

You’ll also hear my feet. Boy, will you hear my feet. I really thought I was holding my iPhone high enough to not get so much of that noise, but apparently not. So, there’s an excuse to learn something new – I opened up the graphic equalizer in GarageBand, turned on the analyzer so I could see where the frequencies of my footfalls lay, and turned those ranges down. They’re still prominent – it is a walk, after all – but I don’t think they’re as dominant as they were in the original.

This is my walk to work. I’ve probably taken it more than 4,000 times. But I usually take it with my headphones on and music or a podcast going, so I miss these sounds – which means I miss the chance to contemplate the seasons and the neighborhood. I appreciate TDC reminding me that there is value in taking a walk just to listen.

We can dance ‘neath the carnival lights

It was finally shirtsleeves weather, under a flawless blue sky. April’s last treacherous cold front had passed by, and spring was truly come to Ohio.

A vendor along Middle Path sold bags, sandals, crunchy jewelry. Hanging on the corner of his tent were blue and black coarse-knit cotton sweaters. The block-lettered laser-printed sign said “Mexican Bajas $25.”

My throat caught. Something heavy sat on my ribs. And for a moment I let myself believe that the solitary cars moving through town were the sound of surf. The gravel under my feet was perhaps sand.

I remembered your smile and laugh, and tried to smile and laugh.


I suppose it’s a cheat, telling you that I was reminded of an in-joke and not telling you what the joke was. But every time I try to work that memory into this one, they both get muddled. So we’ll call this an exercise in micro narrative.

Rest in peace, Melanie.

Sketch the trees and the daffodils

We knew the previous owner of our house was an accomplished gardener, and all summer and fall we enjoyed the fruits of his labor – redbuds and crabapple trees, hostas and yucca flowers. But we’d chosen the house in May, and so we had no idea in our first April that the grove of walnut trees was about to explode into a field of daffodils.

Daffodils

Every year, the daffodils return – even as the trees along the driveway have started to crowd each other, even through the many years when the magnolias only have browned and wilted frostbitten flowers, even when the squirrels eat our crocus bulbs and the deer decimate the hostas. Every year, at least for a moment, they surprise and encourage me.

Today was that day.

Daffodils

It’s also a day when I can celebrate the fact that I’m making a little progress as an iPhone photographer, and more as a photo editor. The preset Flickr filters completely let me down on this photoset, and I had no hesitation about fiddling with the sliders myself. The first photo, for example, is unretouched, but on the second one, I added just a bit of saturation to the colors. My goal was to get the yellow centers of the daffodils to pop a little; notice how it also makes the grass translucent, and even makes the downed wood in the back show up better.

(I’m not lazy, I’m grasscycling.)

I also used editing to save a couple shots. This isn’t a bad picture – I like the way the flowers stretch to the background, but the one which fell over messes up the line, and the garage of the neighbors’ damned McMansion is incongruous in the background.

Daffodils

My wife pointed out that it’s really a photo of the two closest daffodils… so I cropped it down until that’s what it was. (I really like the way the Apiary/Flickr photo editor is designed to remind you of the rule of thirds.) A little tweak of the contrast setting and voila:

Two Daffodils

On the next one, I actually quite like the way I got close-up on the flowers, with the vertical lines of the not-quite-awake trees against the sky. But there’s that damned garage again.

Daffodils

I had hoped the Focus tool would make the garage go away; it didn’t, and it became a photo about how I found the Focus tool. So back to the crop tool I went. I had to lose a little bit of the trees, because the vertical impact was too strong in the narrower photo, but on the whole I’m pleased.

Daffodils with Trees

I suppose the next lesson is to see these photobombs while shooting instead of fixing them in post, but it’s nice to have a growing sense of what’s fixable.

Happy Spring to you and yours!

Long time listener, first time caller

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