So, I’ve been thinking about secrets, redacted text, and how we don’t have access to all the information.

As part of my ongoing taxonomy series where I create 5 works of some sort, I decided to head back to blackout poetry. I’ve been a fan blackout poetry for a long time. In some of my wanderings around the interwebs (hello, Pinterest!) I’ve seen a lot of interesting embroidery and sewing combined with words. That’s where I started.

I started with the same old children’s book, I Know a Secret by Christopher Morely (1927), that I used in my beet images and others works. I thought the book title, visible at the top of each page, was a nice touch for each image. Instead of using a sharpie to get to the poem, I stitched across words that I did not want. I mixed up the colors of the thread and tried a few different stitching patterns. I like the 2x zigzag strategy that looks like cross-stitch. The straight stitch with loose threads is another combo that appeals to me.

Once the poems and stitching patterns were finished, I thought that there needed to be more hidden; the poems were too easy to read. I really wanted to say something about how hard it is to get to information sometimes. Things get fuzzy. In addition, I wanted to consider the idea of crossing something out, but maybe also decorating to distract, hence the ribbons. I used whatever ribbon I could find in my boxes of odds and ends. As usual, some of the results are more successful than others.

The pictures below are in pairs. The image on the left is with the vellum and ribbon layer; the image on the right shows what is visible when the vellum is raised. The text of the “poem” is at the top.

I Know a Secret 4 “a warm morning/round the house/leathery smells from the garage/and sweet biscuits”

 

I Know a Secret 6 “quarreling over the world/worried about that/we all have to do sooner or later/Startled by a voice beside her/with a slight foreign accent”

 

I Know a Secret 8 “with nervous hopefulness/I continued/I heard your name/mentioned at the station/Before my marriage/I had connections/and worked in France”

 

I Know a Secret 14 “Mr. Perez/in the evenings/peered timidly/waved boldly and/began eating Escargot./Every morning they would sit quietly together”

 

I Know a Secret 16 “he grew stronger/meditated on the meanings of things/he withdrew/into his personal fortress./A secret fear/a sudden scream”

 

Some of them look almost like awards or presentations, which was intentional. I thought it was a contradiction worth trying. Others are more about more layers of hiding and blocking, which, with the festiveness of ribbon still has potential. Again, sometimes working out, sometimes not.

I’m definitely interested in the combination of words and sewing. Not sure I’ve found the final version, but this is a start.

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These are some of the Make: books that I personally own.

So I’ve been thinking about the Makerspace at my school. We have a great space, interested and devoted faculty, and the resources to work with students on many types of projects. What we don’t have yet is a maker community.

Our small but mighty group of STEAM Department faculty went the to hear the founder of Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty, speak at the Franklin Institute a few weeks ago. The event was titled: Making in America. After several introductions, it was Dale’s turn to speak. What struck me the most about his message was the fact that he did not speak about how to make things. He spent a lot of his time talking about a making mindset and a making community. It was clear to me from the way he talked about his years of work at Make Magazine was that his gift is building community. He just happened to build a community around making. I left thinking he could build a community around whatever interested him.

Our department perhaps came to the event expecting something different, yet I think this really was the message we needed to hear. The men and women in the department have a range of interests and expertise and each of us has spent time learning new skills, tools, programs, what have you. We do not lack for enthusiasm or personal will to create. There are areas of making in which we don’t currently have expertise, but that is not what is keeping us from building and vibrant maker community at our school.

When we met up a week or so after the event to talk things over, we talked as we have multiple times about getting kids into the makerspace, but I think hearing Dale talk about community for most of his talk and during the conversation later with chief astronomer Derrick Pitts made us more aware than ever that building community is our main goal. It is not just something to sort of talk about and then get back to which 3D printer is currently not working (does everyone have this conversation endlessly?) and who’s going to label the hooks on the pegboard. Those things need to happen, but the business of our department right now needs to be more focused than ever on nurturing that community. We all have anecdotal evidence of how we’ve managed to bring someone into the makerspace who then brings comes back and brings a friend. So, we brainstormed ways to trick get kids into the makerspace, but in thinking about it now, I think we might need to be more intentional in thinking how not just to get them into the space, but into our community. We recognize more clearly than before the primary importance of that mission. What are the barriers? Which ones can we easily tear down? Are we visibly modeling that we, the colleagues in the department, are a community? I think we do this one quite well, personally.  

One area where I do think a community is forming is around the Science Olympiad. There is a growing group of students who are excited and motivated to gather, work together, and build a team. Although this is not the community we imagined building first, maybe that’s not the point. Communities get to define themselves.

I still think there are makers out there in our school whom we have not brought together. We have some ideas, and we are certainly looking for more. What have you and your schools done to build a maker community?

So, I’ve been thinking about Twitter, how race intersects with (English class) curriculum, and snacks, always snacks. Last night all those things came together.

Currently, #GlobalEdChat is in a prime column in my TweetDeck, and when I had a few minutes Tuesday evening to wanted the twitterverse, I saw this tweet from the Asia Society.

 

I sent the image and the following message to all teaching colleagues at my school:

Colleagues,

I rarely send bulk emails, but I am making an exception for this timely bit of information. This Thursday’s GlobalEdChat topic is teaching about race. (picture went here)

The conversation is organized by educators at the Asia Society and is from 8:00pm-9:00pm. If you have never participated in a Twitter chat, now’s a great time to start. If you just want to listen in (which means reading what folks have to say) you don’t even need a twitter account. Learn how to follow along in under 3 minutes. Or, if you already tweet, maybe try using Tweetdeck. Learn how in under 2 minutes.

Also, if you want to participate with friends (i.e. me), I would be happy to have anyone interested join my at my table and (borrowed) projector to watch in real time. I live very near school and have room for friends to join me around the table. I have also been known to feed people who show up to my house. Let me know if you are interested and I will tell you where to go/park.

Thanks for considering,

Wendy

By Thursday night at 8pm, there were 5 of us around my table (not all of whom had the same racial or ethnic background), several others who had planned to be there but could not, and a few more participating online on their own. (I am not sure what I would have done if all those people actually came to my house. My table, wall, and dining room are not that big.) With my borrowed mini projector, I projected my Tweetdeck screen on the dining room wall. Then, just before the chat started I got to sneak in a little just-in-time lesson about the world of Twitter and we were off. Luckily the chat was not a very speedy one. When they move quickly and have many participants it’s really hard for those new to the format.

We had several side conversations, as you might imagine. But what we did was talk about race. And, as basic as that is, it is impossible to teach anything about race without first talking about race. And, honestly, it is probably more specific than that–without talking about race with someone of a different race. People felt passionately about ideas and experiences. They said so. But I think they also felt comfortable that the other folks literally around the table were there with good intentions. Why else come out at 8pm on a Thursday when we have Friday off?

Spoiler–we did not solve the puzzle.

But, as I sit at the same table 12 hours later, I know we started doing something. I had already talked with most of the people around the table about race and school and curriculum. But, talking in this small group, with some great questions from the chat, with food and no bell about to ring is different.

We have work to do at our school, and we are committing time and people to that work. It is going to take a lot more evenings around tables.

This blog won’t write itself

Posted: October 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

CCO Creative Commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about this blog. And, as you can tell by the date of my last post (late JULY!) I have not actually been writing blog posts. It turns out the blog won’t write itself.

I had been on a good streak there. I was sure that I would have a great writing summer. I started off OK. Then, somehow, I didn’t write. I read. I made some art. I spent time with my personal kids and family. I left work at a reasonable time. I made a lot of pies. Mmmmm, pie.

It turns out, I could not do everything on my summer lists (no surprise), and this year blogging is what didn’t make the cut some weeks and months. I guess that’s what I needed to set down. I’ve decided not to feel bad about that.

Moving on.

It’s October. School is well underway. I am ready to pick up what I had put down. Blogging is back on my radar, and I feel ready to have at it again.

 

 

So, I’ve been thinking about reading and rereading books. How is it that the book is totally different than the last time I read it?

I don’t often reread books, at least books that I am not teaching over and over. There are so many I haven’t read once yet, that I tend to move on rather than review. When I do reread with significant time in between readings, it is surprising how the books change when I am not looking. Why is this not making the news?

A number of years ago this happened with To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it when I was in middle school, saw the movie with Gregory Peck, loved the name Scout, and had vivid memories of the trial and the neighbor saying she would die “beholden to nothin’ and nobody.” And that’s how it stayed in my mind. Then, I reread the book in anticipation of using it in a sample teaching lesson for an interview many years ago. I was shocked to find that the trial parts had shrunk so much over the years. And, why did so much other stuff got added? Where did that come from?

Now the same thing has happened again. The stealthy editing gods have struck while I was busy doing something else. This time the victim was The Odyssey. Again, I read it in high school. I taught Ancient Greece to 5th graders, and read Bernard Evslin’s The Adventures of Ulysses with my 5th graders every year. Now, I am rereading the non-junior version of The Odyssey (Fagels’ translation) and again shocked to find that someone has been messing with the story. The “adventures” have been shrunk and Telemachus has taken over the beginning. Evslin’s retelling highlighted the wily Odysseus’ heroic qualities, making it clear why he was the leader at every turn, while not sugarcoating his responsibility for the loss of his men. The monsters and immortals were a diverse team of challengers who tried every trick in the book to keep him from Ithaca. When he finally got home, the suitors were in trouble. No changes there, although Evslin certainly got to the point more quickly.

Although these particular examples occurred years apart, they highlight just how unreliable memory, or at least my memory, is. I’ve been reading up on the brain and learning and memory recently. So, I know, in my brain, that the more times we recall a memory the stronger it gets, AND every time we recall a memory we also may change it. It’s such a double whammy. If you don’t keep recalling the memory you lose it, but by recalling it becomes less and less like the original memory.

I have some questions for myself:

  • What about the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird made me come back to it again and again in a way that other parts of the book did not?
  • Why did the line “I want to die beholden to nothin’ and nobody” make such an impression, if, in fact, that is even the correct line?
  • Do other people enjoy all that Telemachus bit at the beginning or are they waiting for the adventures too?
  • Did Odysseus always do so much weeping? Why didn’t I remember that?

Anyone else have a book that has changed on them?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about book art and printing. One of the things I have been doing for a while now if trying to make sets of 5 images/works/whatnot, my taxonomy project works.

Working in multiples has been a great option for me. When I do have make time to sit down and work on something, I know it’s not a one and done. This makes the individual item less precious, and therefore I don’t feel like I have to get it just the way I want the first time. I can, and have to, try out a number of different strategies and combinations. Super helpful. Not only do I create more, I also have an easy way to keep at a project without having to come up with an entirely new idea. Also helpful.

Since I am not really an artist, I tend to do a lot of putting things together, altering, mashup type stuff. Less pressure on the technical art skills. My latest set of images combines art and tech.

I started with an old book that had great paper, font, and feel to it. Do other people buy old books just for the paper and type, or is it just me? I’ve done a lot of different blackout poetry type things, so I wanted to do something different. I also happened to be cooking beets. The color is just too wonderful. I took the top where I sliced off the greens and stamped it on some pages of the book, like beet polka dots. Those images sat around my kitchen for a while. They were clearly not finished.

Next, as I wrote the other day, I have been experimenting with Adobe Capture. I am really intrigued by the pattern option where you can turn an image into a black and white block print looking image and slide the scale on the dark/light balance. I made a few patterns of chairs with the app. I cut the images with the school lasercutter and printed them (not only is my office pretty much in our beautiful new library, but I have a key to the makerspace, and it’s summer so no one else is in there).

I first printed the images on plain paper. But I got to thinking–several of the chairs were in the library at school. Library, books, book images, we sit in chairs and read, words are all around, AHA! I decided to print my chairs on my beet polka dot book pages.

I like the images in general. The beet color has faded quickly and now looks more like rings from a wine glass in some places. I’m ok with things I enjoy being used and showing signs of being well-loved. I use my grandmother’s tablecloth; it’s got some spots from her parties and some from mine. So, the red rings kind of remind me of that sort of familiar use (tablecloth, book, chair) that is part of the living of life and permanently marks objects in the process.

I have a few other sets in mind: one with chairs that mixes it up with the upholstered part of the chair, one with cabinets or containers and what they hold.

Any other ideas for sets and combinations?

So, I’ve been thinking about art and technology. In my fantasy life, I am an artist. In my real life, I an educator with access to a lot of technology and art supplies.

Recently I have been using Adobe Capture (the free app version) to create black and white images that I then cut into wood on the lasercutter and print. First, use the ‘shapes’ feature in Adobe Capture. I can use the sliding scale to determine how much black I want in the image. Below you can see the image I was using and how Adobe Capture transformed it.

Next I put the image into Adobe Illustrator, did the image trace, expanded it and deleted a few stray bits. Then I raster engraved that image onto wood using the lasercutter. I reversed the black and white so that the lasercutter cut away all the areas of white, leaving the raised portions the equivalent of the dark areas in the image. From there, I could ink the wood and print it on paper.

 

The question I have is, although the print is quite nice, I am wondering if it is art. I mean how much did I really do here? I found the chair sitting as is in my house. I did move some junk and maybe a cat off of it. I used the app to take a picture, cropped out what I didn’t want, used the slider to decide the black/white balance, which the app implemented. This is the hard part, in my opinion. I made minimal changes to the image. The lasercutter cut the wood. I inked the block and put the paper on.

I don’t know. I didn’t draw or cut the print image. I made minimal decisions about color and paper. I chose the amount of black and white, altered lighting a bit to get the pattern I wanted.

This makes me think of the picture book Seen Art by Joe Scieszka and Lane Smith. (Our main character ends up in the MoMA in New York and keeps asking if anyone has “seen Art?” Various people talk to him about the works in the museum including the helicopter that hangs from the ceiling, which the other museum patron recognizes for its engineering but admits some wonder if it is Art. Finally, our hero finds what he has been looking for–his friend Art.) As I think about this, I wonder if I can come to terms with this idea be taking into account the lower case or capital a in art. Maybe these prints (I have many more) are not capital A Art (said with deep, serious voice), but maybe they are small a art, which is probably about right for me.