Category Archives: Biographical


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.

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.

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.

Everybody Eats When They Come To My House

Cross-posted from my thoughts on education blog, because a daily create for the You Show looks a lot like one for DS106. Starting to understand why Jim Groom is pushing the “write once, publish anywhere” idea of Known.

I love to be in the kitchen. The kitchen is my playhouse. It’s a place where I can focus, where learning and doing emulsify, where this singular moment connects to long tradition. I expect I could find the path from the stove to the fridge to the sink with my eyes closed.

OW! Well, I can if the cat’s not in the way.

So it was easy to drop what I was doing and answer the question “where’s the you in your kitchen?”  I had a quick look around – knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, utensils on hooks, fridge, cluttered counters, the sink…

the Lodge cast iron skillet. The stove is my place in the kitchen, and what I want on that stove is either that heavy black pot frying chicken, or the large brewing kettle full of wort.

Brew kettle, chicken frying pan. My place, in my kitchen.

Yes, the cabinets really are that cattywampus. It’s an old house.

This was a pretty quick shoot – though I did have to get the stock pot down and declutter the counter a bit. No flash, though it took one overexposed shot to learn that.  I’ve loved playing with the presets in the Flickr app, but this shot didn’t need them.

I’m a relative latecomer to the smartphone world, and I’m still getting used to this idea that I am always carrying a camera. I tried to become a shutterbug for a while in my early teens, but it never really took. If playing with the You Show and DS106 only made me better at taking photos (and more conscious/confident of the option to take photos), that would be a big step in the right direction.

I almost believe that they’re real

Self-portrait in books

I’ve been intrigued by book spine stories for a while. I probably first saw them through LibraryThing’s contests (which they call bookpiles). Then recently, I was tagged in a wave of Facebook chain posts asking me to “list 10 books which have stuck with you.”

I saw the call for TDC 984 while I was at work. Looking over at my bookshelf, I saw my professional history – a paraprofessional job coding HTML, a transition into reference librarianship, a core text of instructional design, and all the while, a commitment to the broad liberal arts. So I played with different ways of arranging them in my window (it’s work, boss, honest) and snapped a picture with the Flickr app.

Rereading the instructions, it occurred to me that this is something like a Cubist exercise – it’s a picture of me, abstracted from 3 different angles at once. Obviously I didn’t achieve that with the visual style, but the realization helped me decide that I wanted to present different parts of myself more than I wanted to play with the poetic or narrative power of book titles.

The middle panel is just 3 things I like – cooking and storytelling, poetry, and broad humor. The shot is taken on the staircase in my home, largely because the exercise had reminded me of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2).

Backgrounds are important in these shots – out the window of my office, the staircase, the top panel, which is about my wife and myself, is on our porch. They contribute to the story as much as the titles do. I used the Flickr app’s preloaded filters to get the colors where I wanted them. It felt a bit like a cheat compared to actually understanding how to set color levels, but it’s a start.

I got frustrated trying to figure out how to arrange the three pictures in GIMP. The importance I’d ascribed to the backgrounds fought with the collage arrangements I imagined.  Ultimately I decided to go vertical on the grounds that a finished imperfect create beats a perfect one which never gets published.

I’m not entirely clear if it’s supposed to be read top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top… it hasn’t told me yet.

Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time

Of my storytelling to date, I think this is the one I’m most proud of. But then, it’s about one of the things in my life I’m most proud of.

I made this during a workshop we hosted for faculty at Kenyon. It’s out of the Berkeley Center for Digital Storytelling model. (The workshop was actually coordinated by a trainer from Ohio State’s Digital Storytelling program.) This is a storytelling tradition which focuses on autobiographical narratives, respecting the storyteller’s experience and the “gift of voice” when they tell it themselves. There’s a strong social justice component to telling untold stories, which I think is part of why this particular mode of digital storytelling is appealing to academics (especially those pursuing a service learning pedagogy).

It’s also a very intense process – really a full 40-hour week of work, considering the writing process, the tech training, and the process of recording, finding and layering soundtrack, and image selection, ordering, and import. A tremendous amount of the work is done in writing circles, in which these personal narratives are laid out for the group’s supportive critique. That’s a lot of vulnerability to give, and accept – and honestly, my story didn’t require the kind of exposure which some other storytellers engaged.

This story is based on the diary I kept while on the rebuilding trip, and audioblogs I made at the time. Those audio reports were a particularly exciting composition exercise – every night, imagining myself as David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, I sat down and wrote my reflections on the day and the trip, and edited them into a short news-like report for my friends up north. I then posted them to Blogger through a now-defunct service which let me make audio posts through a cell phone call. (These were the pre-smartphone days, kids, at least for me. I was working on a Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go burner.)

Fortunately, I saved those MP3s before the system went belly-up. I’ve put them on Soundcloud, but marked as private. I haven’t decided whether I want to revive those particular moments yet; as years have passed I’m less impressed with the emotional rawness and quick polish of that work.

Truthiness! Stephen Colbert in a parody of the I had a fair amount of trouble with the “truthiness” of the process. Some of the images in that movie are actual shots of the day in question. Some are other shots of our trip, or of New Orleans. Some are CC-licensed shots from Flickr or elsewhere, unrelated to my life at all. I had to wrestle with that. Did I sell out my own story by using a picture of “college students” which is from Madrid, not Gambier? Did I fail to carry the stories of the people of New Orleans when I used pictures of cleaning up a South Asian volcano blast? At the end of the day, I decided that the images help me tell a story which I still believe needs telling, and I made my peace with it. I still grit my jaw every time I look at them, but I’m proud enough of the result to share it with you.

John, John! I can see your house from here!

I was intrigued by the “Draw Your Own Map of the Internet” project, and moreso when it became a Daily Create. But it was this tweet from John Scalzi which really led me to get out a piece of paper and make my own.

(Oh. There’s a template. And it’s landscape, but I worked in portrait orientation. Oh well.)

This is a riff on Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue. View of the World from 9th AvenueThat’s why it’s in portrait orientation, and a weak attempt  at perspective. It’s a personal view of the Internet – not an attempt to reflect what I know about the whole web, but how I think of my place in it. It reflects how I spend my time; it also reflects priorities in the way I use the Internet. (And of course, it reflects the way I wish to portray those things.) It’s also, really, a map of the Web, not the Internet. Notice that there’s no App Store, that I think of “email” as “the web” and not a separate thing anymore, that there’s no Netflix or Amazon Prime (which I watch through my Roku and TV, rarely my laptop or phone), that I don’t even think about protocols other that HTTP anymore.

In reflection, I’m a little troubled by the fact that I think of email as my home. That’s where I start and end the day, where I’m most reachable but also most secluded. Facebook is the patio table in my yard where most of my socializing happens; Twitter is the birdfeeder on the tree where lots of things fly in and out. Google+ is that really cool swingset over in the corner which hardly gets any use. Notice the “access road” running at an angle from the main highway, which shows the way my friends lead me out to other points on the web – occasionally their web homes, more often through citation.

Groom, Levine, and Rheingold as the
Don’t blog like my bruddah!

It’s probably Click, Link, and Embed’s fault that I thought of my webspace on Reclaim Hosting as “the garage”. It’s the tinkering place, and the place from which I go places. It’s adjacent to my home, but it’s a detached garage… which may say something about how I think about being “reachable” and “building things”  – or it might only reflect the fact that my real garage is detached. OK, this metaphor is officially beat to death. Sometimes a garage is just a garage.

I dunno why my car is some kind of ’70s-’80s land yacht, except that it’s probably been that long since I last drew a car.

There’s no particular reason that work-y things ended up on the left, and general interests/recreation on the right. It’s not like this is a time diary – but these are the neighborhoods which explain how I think about my time on the Web.

Of course, everything leads to Google, and Google leads to everything. Maybe that’s Oz, and I should draw little feet under my house.

There’s some stuff missing – webcomics ought to be on there somewhere, as should LibraryThing. But it’s a reasonable draft, and a fun project to reflect on the way I engage with the web.

Did you go crazy, or did you report?

I’ve been meaning to transfer some of my better stories from my first, late, and unlamented blog. My Facebook feed is spilling over with people’s remembrances of September Eleventh today, and I thought I might share mine.

This was originally written for a contest at Powell’s bookstore, in 2006 I think.


Lynn walked into our morning meeting in tears, and announced that a plane from Boston had flown into the World Trade Center. My stomach flipped as I thought of my friends who were moving out of Massachusetts that week. I didn’t know their plans. I didn’t know where they were. All I could do was run to my office in panic and try to find out. Today, even recalling the memory makes me ill.

(It wasn’t a rational fear; Michael and Ann share a fear of flying which borders on the pathological, and they were in Western Massachusetts anyway. In a psychic bond, their first thoughts were for my father, who at least does get on airplanes regularly without chemical sedation.)

Everyone has a September Eleventh story, and I suppose mine is similar to most. For most of us, our fear of loss was actually greater than our loss. That is, after all, why they call it a “terror attack.”

Our stories don’t often extend to the next few days, as America walked in our haze of grief and fear and senselessness. The media virtually suspended itself. My 160 cable channels seemed all to be set to CNN. After about two days, I’d had all the news I could stand, and I had to turn away from the box.

I couldn’t begin to think about reading nonfiction, and fiction seemed to be either too heavy or too light to handle. But poetry… maybe poetry would have something to say.

And that’s how I came to read T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding in September 2001. I opened that big Norton Anthology of English Literature which every once and future English major owns, and turned its onionskin paper, and looked for solace.

Eliot wrote Little Gidding in 1942, while he watched the Nazis bombing the cities and civilians of Britain. It grabbed me like a branch grabs a drowning swimmer. This expatriate Missourian knew what I felt, had seen what I’d seen and more, and needed to tell me something. And I desperately needed to hear it. Teachers talking about “timeless literature” came into shining focus like never before.

I needed two tries to read the second section, depicting the aftermath of a bombing raid, “ash on an old man’s sleeve” and a ghost in the twilight. Eliot’s burnt roses could have fallen from Windows on the World. And yet, if I could not be distracted, at least I knew we were not alone.

Eliot did have solace for me. Little Gidding says that life somehow must triumph. I thought of Eliot, reading Julian of Norwich, and passing that thousand-year-old crutch to me:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.

No one in America had said “all shall be well” in days. But if Julian could believe it, and Eliot could believe it, perhaps I could as well.

And in September of 2001, that voice coming through the page was enough. It was more real, and more comforting, than any voice coming from the box, even than any of the voices around me. Personal sadness has brought me back to Little Gidding many times in the following years, and every time, I feel that branch brush me in the rushing waters, and I grab hold.