Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jim Carrey Resting Face: A Word On Selfies and My Choice on SelfRepresentation #digitalthumbprints

A few months ago, I followed a few stories on morning news about "Bitchy Resting Face" - the phenomenon of some women who, while calm and relaxed, have a scowling demeanor that is interpreted as being harsher than their true personalities truly are.

Tapping into 21st Century literacies, I've become fascinated with the idea of the 'selfie' and have read research that such work establishes confidence in people as they angle the camera to catch their best look.

Here's where the trouble lies. I do selfies, too, and I get scolded. Numerous individuals - family and friends - get on me for not posing normally and showing everyone my real look. "You always do duck lips." "Why do you show that crooked face all the time?" "Can't you let people see a normal picture of you?"

There's a back story. I inherited the quality of not being very photogenic. Yet, I've also been accused of being Jim Carrey from time to time. At first, before I knew who he was, I disregarded it. Then, when I began seeing him rise to fame and caught up on his popularity, I thought, "Spooky." Of course, this was pre-cyberspace and the invention of the selfie. That is why I'm ready to admit I suffer from Jim Carrey Resting Face.

Some of this is natural. Part of it is insecurity. A portion, too, is wit.

Yet, when sitting in traffic, I make faces in my rearview mirror. Also, when cameras come out, I distort my face before the camera can distort it for me. I enjoy the comedy.

Then, yesterday, teachers did a demonstration on being cautious of the digital 'thumbprint' that is left behind - a wonderful workshop on teaching students to be intentional with how they use social media. I know this may seem strange, but I AM being intentional with social media in the way I play with it. Although I think postmodernism is an ivory tower privilege of thinking about the world, I have always enjoyed the clever ways of seeing one's persona through mixing and remixing images that are available to us. Identities are fluid, complex, and hilarious. We are more than the way others perceive us, and who cares? Have fun. I truly am most comfortable in photos when I make fun of myself (and their intentions) within them. Alice and I used to deliberately take off-the-wall photos for yearbooks. Why? We could control the embarrassment before the camera controlled it for us.

Case in point: 2011 Faculty Photo shoot. The poor woman took over 100 photos. When the proofs came back, the Dean at the time kept saying, "But these don't look like you. The head looks enormous. I think you should take them again." Sadly, I was trying to take a professional shot. "Your smile is crooked and your eyes are squinted."

Personally, the duck-face, crooked-face, silly Zoolander-Crandall is the guy I want to be remembered as. A stoic, heroic, and stagnant photo of me smiling like I'm supposed to simply makes me cringe. I hate it. I don't recognize that person - too still and serious.

I'll keep practicing, though, and try to find myself posing for a photo that is more conventional.

42 years and trying...but doubt it'll ever change. I'm okay with the mug just the way it is.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Parody At Its Best - John Stewart Show on Teacher Cribs (Ballin') - Sarcasm - Teachers Make Too Much (yeah, right)

Yesterday at the Invitational Summer Institute, CWP-Fairfield, teachers shared a clip of the John Stewart Show from 2011 when Wisconsin's state government went full throttle in their successful attempt to tear apart teachers, tenure, and the full-time wages they make for 'part-time' work ( sadly, they won...and their mythologies spread across the nation). I was knee-deep in dissertating in 2011 and didn't have  free periods in my life for watching television, so I totally missed this, but it is fodder worth revisiting today. I wish I could embed the video here, but all I could do is find a link (and I highly recommend taking seven minutes of your life to view it).

Teachers Are Ballin' Outta Control - a spoof on MTV's Cribs

Several of the outstanding Connecticut teachers have been writing Op-Eds this summer in an effort to communicate to non-teaching professionals the reality of being in the classroom. They are countering the folktales that exist about what it is we do. Although meant to be funny, Stewart's humor is a direct punch in the stomach of reality. Being an educator does not foster High Society and our politicians should, perhaps, find others to bully. Their anti-educator rhetoric is downright silly, if not criminal - evidence of how out-of-touch they are with schools in the 21st century and the laborers who tirelessly work within them. Teachers are not the enemy - I'm beginning to think they are.

Yes, teachers get by and do well compared to a vast number of occupations across the United States, but they live a life that is far from that of the rich and ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh as I watched this - but in truth, I thought, "This is a sad commentary. It actually hurts."

And so we must educate others. Educate them again. And continue to educate them some more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm A Day Late, But This is A Birthday Shout Out To A Young Man Who Turned 8-Years Old. #FamilyIsMostImportant #SeanManIsTheMan

Yesterday, my sister Casey sent me several photographs from the week she spent celebrating her oldest son's birthday. They went out to dinner, to an amusement park, to museums, and to Wonder Works at the Destiny Mall to celebrate his life, happiness, sense of adventure, youth, and willingness to adventure into the world.

As I work knee-deep in summer rituals through the National Writing Project, I find the greatest joy in getting insight to the Barnwell world in upstate New York - snapshots of what I miss because I live 300+ miles away.

I can't be there in person, but I can be brought to them with photographs and FaceTime...watching them get older and older, bigger and bigger, and wiser and wiser.

So this is for Sean-Man. He's always been the man - the big brother that Jacob looks up to and the son/nephew/cousin and grandson that the Crandalls, Isgars and Barnwells love. Happy Birthday (one day late). Keep the jokes and laughter coming.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Transitioning Out of Graphic Novels Into Journalism and Digital Storytelling - Week Six of @CWPFairfield Summer Writing Work @writingproject.

I tried to replicate this look for the week, but I have too many grays, not enough muscle, and an angular face rather than a square one. Even so, I'm channeling Clark Kent and Superman as we transition to the second week of Ubuntu Academy, the fifth week of the Invitational Teacher Institute, and the weeklong writing labs for journalists and digital storytelling.

For some reason, I feel that someone put Kryptonite in the omelette I had for lunch yesterday at a local diner - an attempt to save time and mental work from cooking.

Yesterday, I did mow the lawn, I did run six miles, and I did edit several Op Eds for a collaborative project with CT Mirror. I also began a final piece for the last day of the ISI and managed to post photographs of the graphic novel institute.

Oh, and I did laundry! Does Clark Kent do laundry? Does Superman leave marks in his Unde-Roos?

Finally, I did my part for an intended symposium in Toronto next March that brings together many scholars who have worked in similar relocated refugee communities as I have.

Truth: I want to float on a raft in a pool for an entire week. All I need is the raft and the pool. That's it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Blues at the Beach '14 - Interesting how they played rock and I can't say any of the bands caught my attention. Oh well.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually sat at the beach in Stratford, but yesterday was Blues on the Beach and we staked our claim rather early. It was raining and overcast at first, but then turned into a great afternoon and evening to dig our feet in the sand, to drink tequila and rum, and to overeat all the summer goods that come with beach life.

Okay, I overate and feel sluggish.

Still, it was good to relax for the day and I'm glad I was caught right before mowing the lawn (Butch would go into fits if he saw how long I've let my grass get).

The day was great, however, and unwinding with a wide variety of friends is always a key way to spend a weekend day.

This morning, I pay for it however and I need to get on my game or else. I'm hoping for rain all day so I won't feel guilty to get through the writing and planning I have on my agenda. The other goal is to finish digesting all this food.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Another Successful Literacy Lab - The Graphic Novel Writing Opportunity Came To An End Yesterday - Thanks Erin and Kathy!

New to the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield this summer, in addition to a reconfiguration of how we ran ALL writing programs for youth, was the introduction of arts-based research with:
What’s a Picture Worth? The Graphic Novel Lab
The one-week lab focused on cartooning, thought bubbles, speech bubbles, and superheroes, allowing the youth who attended to become their characters, to think outside of the box, and to have a great time - okay, a silly time. 

Each could create their own storyline and write the plot of how their hero moved through the frames of a comic to counter the nemesis they faced. Volunteers assisted the program with their artistic skills and mentoring, while both educators hired for the lab brought unique experiences with graphic arts and storytelling.

We had technological trouble with the video show they put together, so I attempted to piece it together above - I apologize if it is not what they envisioned. They were a very focused and deliberate group of artists and I'd hate to step on their toes for what they wanted for their Friday prom.

During the end-of-the-week ceremony, I discussed the ways we contain and constrain our minds with writing processes and emphasized that comic strips, perhaps, are the most tightly-wound genre (next to haiku and tweets) for communicating. In some ways, it blends semiotics perfectly (as art communicates just as much as words).

Next on CWP-Fairfield's agenda? Journalism and Digital Storytelling, not to mention week 5 of the invitational summer institute for teachers and week 2 for Ubuntu Academy. 

It's the weekend, right? I can rest?

Friday, July 25, 2014

@SenatorDuff, Your Continued Advocacy of @CWPFairfield Is Tremendously Appreciated. This Posts For You.

In 2011, when I moved to the State of Connecticut (and lived in a dorm room while my entire life's belongings were in storage), Senator Bob Duff visited the Invitational Summer Institute for teachers Fairfield University and asked, then, Director Faye Gage and me to leave the room.

Duff wanted to talk to teachers alone. He wanted to listen to them.

After, Senator Duff always asked to talk with students - and did the same thing. He wanted to hear their perspectives. (We later learned what everyone said - funny how the inside scoop always leaks).

It's 2014, however, and this year "Bob" decided it was okay for Julie and me to stay in the room and hear what the teachers had to say. He e wanted us in the conversation (although he had to say, "Bryan, let them talk" - I admit, it was VERY hard not to bounce off what I was hearing the teachers tell him).

I could pull out my writer's notebook and type the bulleted list I captured, but the concerns expressed parallel the lists most any school would create given today's educational climate:

  • teachers need more autonomy,
  • teachers crave better professional development,
  • teachers need to be respected as career-minded individuals,
  • teachers deserve more control of grade level curriculum,
  • teacher evaluations have not worked,
  • testing continues to grow more and more out of control,
  • students are drowning and hating school,
  • the mandates have taken all joy out of learning,
  • administrators come and go too quickly, 
  • schools need sustainable investments,
  • there needs to be more support to bring southern Connecticut communities together,
  • etc. etc. etc.
In return, Bob Duff offered a history of Connecticut's struggle with local control of schools. He addressed how the CWP funding has been chopped every year, but he always fights to bring it back. He wanted to know what he could do to better advocate for teachers; he is a proud parent of public school students in Norwalk.

Each year, I grow more and more fond of Bob Duff's integrity. He has opinions and stances, but he truly does listen to the perspectives of others before heading to Hartford each year (and many of the teachers stated he is present at every Norwalk function they've ever attended). The National Writing Project is grateful to any and all who advocate for the good work teachers do. Bob Duff allows us to do so much and my hats always off to him

It was also an honor to introduce Senator Bob Duff to Ubuntu Academy yesterday and for him to talk with new American youth who arrived to the United States in the last few months as refugees and immigrants. It was, I imagine, the first time any of the kids from Congo, Equador, Rwanda, Cameroon, Benin, El Salvador, and Vietnam have had the chance to meet an American politician. Most of the young people have only been in the country a few moths. I knew they were impressed by his presence because it was the first time I heard many of them speak.

Senator Bob Duff is the Man! Thumbs up for leading as he does.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Responsibility We Have To One Another - Tremendous Applause For @StagsMensBball - You Made A Tremendous Impact @CWPFairfield @WritingProject

Dear Fairfield University Men's Basketball Team,

I write this post a humbled man.

Three years ago I arrived to Fairfield University to Direct the Connecticut Writing Project on our campus and to begin putting into place what 18+ years of working in urban schools taught me. I also have wisdom from my cousin, Mark Crandall, who has had a vision for uniting sports as he brings forth international change through Hoops4Hope, a youth-centered program providing children and young adults in challenged environments with a safe, nurturing place where they can develop more than just athletic skills.

I learned from him the importance of life skills when mentoring young men and women: focus, integrity, self-esteem, self-awareness, responsibility, a sense of humor, and Ubuntu - skills he adapted from Erik Komoroff's Community of Unity. In order for young people to be successful in and out of school, it requires a commitment from us all - that is, Ubuntu - "I can be me because of who we are together."

Yesterday, you proved those life skills are important with your  willingness to work with 15 young men and women from Bridgeport, many of whom are recent immigrants from countries that do not have the luxuries of the United States. In addition, you gave up your time during the summer to talk with several Connecticut teachers about learning, sports, neighborhoods, having fun, and keeping academics on the radar of your own success. For that I am grateful. You - with your power as student athletes and a commitment to achieving - provided irreplaceable insight in Alumni Hall.

We would not be where we are today if we didn't have a larger mission in life - for me, it has always been literacy and the support of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking with a wide variety of individuals who deserve an opportunity to advance in the United States. If you weren't determined to bring yourself a better world and to accomplish personal goals you set for yourself, you wouldn't be where you are. You modeled and the teachers and students heard you. 


Perhaps my favorite word in the English language, you also demonstrated integrity. It was HOT in Alumni Hall - hotter than the 90+ degree temperatures outside, yet you still gave up a part of your life to work with the youth attending Ubuntu Academy and teachers participating in the Invitational Summer Institute. If you were miserable in the heat, you didn't show it. Instead, with pride, you shared your lives and personal stories with educators committed to advancing the lives of young people in Connecticut. 


Every individual arrives on this planet with an ego. They also bring with them insecurities that arrive from trial and error. Still, those who pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and push forth in a direction to live a better life are those who achieve and have a larger impact on others. Me? There's no way I could play ball on a court in front of fans. My basketball skills are null. Yet, I know I can teach and reach populations of kids often overlooked by popular culture and history. We share something in common - that is, we have enough self-esteem to make ourselves better and this, THIS, you shared with everyone yesterday. You helped the young people build their self-esteem


You're still young, but I'd argue that you're more self-aware today than you were last year or the year before. Knowing who you are means you have to take risks and step into unfamiliar boundaries that may or may not make you comfortable. We learn who we are by embracing life with all it has to offer us. My personal belief is that we are never finished products, but grow more and more aware of who we are meant to be (for our family, our friends, our mentors, and our fellow human beings). Perhaps yesterday's mentoring opportunity made you somewhat more self-aware. I know that the teachers and students you worked with  were touched by what you offered the program.


From the time you were born, you've heard the importance of taking responsibility. As you age at Fairfield University - especially as student athletes - you are more and more aware of the roles you play for this campus, those who love you, and to the larger community. Society at large, too, places varying responsibilities on you as young men, as athletes, as students, and as consumers in a complicated world. The mature man, however, balances out these responsibilities to do what is right and to be leaders. The conversation you had yesterday, I hope, helped you to see the multiple responsibilities you have for being incredible individuals that others look up to.

A Sense of Humor

There may not be a whackier individual at Fairfield University than me, and I learned young that laughter can take me a long, long way (although Kyle didn't like my hair jokes). I take life seriously, but sometimes I am a total imp when it comes to the seriousness of it all. I missed the faces your group made to one another in yesterday's dialogue and I hope, at least for a short time in the program, you laughed a little. I've been told I laugh too much - and I know the importance of being serious - but I think the greatest men and women are those who have learned to laugh at themselves. I encourage you to keep humor at the forefront, too.


And most important of all - community. When I approached Coach Sydney Johnson with the possibility of collaborating with your team, I didn't know if it would mesh with his leadership or not. Yet, I've learned over the last few years that what Coach Johnson does with you on the court (and off the court) is what I do in the classroom (and out of the classroom). The young men and women in Ubuntu Academy arrived from Congo, Benin, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Equador, Cameroon, and Rwanda. They arrived from Bridgeport and they currently attend a school that provides multiple challenges too large to detail in this post. Still, they are like you - they see and want a better world for themselves. Your willingness to support them and their language acquisition helped them to be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. The same is true for the 15 teachers you worked with and the students they will reach this fall.

And that's about it. I am in Canisius Hall, Rm. 15, and wish to offer each and everyone of you another handshake for what occurred yesterday at Fairfield University. The experience may only be a blip on the radar of your life's journey, but I hope the teachers and students had an influence on you in the same ways you had on them. I hope this is the beginning of many more conversations.

Martin Luther King is famous for many reasons, but I'm partial to his question, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" Yesterday you did for others and I hope you found value in what you experienced. 

On behalf of CWP-Fairfield, thank you. Our only request is that you fight harder than you've ever fought before to bring excellence to yourself, to your team, to your families, to the university, and most importantly, to the world.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

This Summer, Bringing Out of The Box Crandall Thinking to @CWPFairfield and Young Adult Literacy Labs @FairfieldU

At the end of the day, yesterday, I walked into the graphic novel lab and found that one of the students drew this on the whiteboard. I thought to myself, "Man, they have unravelled the essence of me in just two days."

See, I've always worried about boxing myself in with the rules and traditions of writing instruction, and I've always desired more creative, innovative ways to communicate what it is we witness in this world. Text somewhat limits the ways we express because there are so many other ways we communicate to the world. American-born and Western-educated, I learned from my studies that written language privileges particular groups of people because the traditions that follow English are often trapped within the hierarchy of social structures that benefit some populations over others.

This is why I wanted to partner Ubuntu Academy for immigrant youth with the graphic novel lab at CWP-Fairfield. There are more ways to 'say what we want to say' than simply limiting ourselves to written language alone. Language is meant to be played with, performed, drawn, spoken, and inhabited.

At one point yesterday, I saw a young man from El Salvador drawing new knowledge as his class discussed Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and soon after, I witnessed several young people designing superhero costumes to accompany their graphic novels. I couldn't be happier. All were moving beyond the page to make their understanding of language more visual and physical.

If anything, this summer, I want the young people we are working with to fall in love with asking questions about their world and finding a voice to express what they know in ways they are most comfortable. It is Wednesday, week four for teachers and week three for young people. We are 1 teacher institute in and four literacy labs down.

In the words of my administrative assistant, "CWP-Fairfield is totally rocking this summer." With a high five to her, I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To Write, One First Needs A Community To Write In and With! Ubuntu Academy, Team Building, & @CWPFairfield @writingproject #CLMOOC

Day one of Ubuntu Academy - "I can be you because of who we are together" -resulted with much success. CWP-Fairfield, through generous contributions of many departments at Fairfield University and with transportation provided by Bridgeport Public Schools, allowed 15 young men and women to participate in CWP summer activities. Four of the individuals, three who were American-born and artists, were moved to the graphic novel lab to assist the young writers there (and to participate). The youth represent Congo, Rwanda, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Equador.

When I was in Kentucky working on my first Masters degree, I had the opportunity to work at Jefferson County Memorial Forest where I served as a team builder. The activities we did with Kentucky youth served me well to kick-off the two-week Ubuntu program. We did a group juggle and then passed a hoolahoop around without letting go of hands. We also untangled a human knot, played 'wind in the willow,' and gradually moved to a group lift - all activities designed to build trust and communication.

In my research with immigrant and relocated youth in mainstream classrooms, the importance of community was paramount. The young men I worked with did not produce written outcomes without recognition of their unique communities and a respect for the stories they wanted to share. Working with French teacher, Kaitlyn Kelly, and graduate student, Jessica Ballizone, the first day was spent thinking about ways to prepare the writers to take chances and to have fun with new vocabulary, text, and opportunities to compose.

Yesterday, we invited the kids to work with the artists in the graphic novel lab and to begin thinking about the way dialogue, thought-shots, and verbal communication work in comics, novels, and our lives. I was impressed by several of the art skills that were revealed. At one point - watching 30 young people from around southern Connecticut (and their teachers, including Kathy Silver) all engaged with writing - I got a little emotional. 

This is really happening in the nutmeg state...Ubuntu, alive and well.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Is As Good As A Day As Any To Make A Change In One's Life. That's Why I Rolled The Pennies Lying Around My House

In a grandiose effort to procrastinate at all costs yesterday afternoon (that is, writing the letter in support of a colleague's tenure in Kentucky, organizing presentations for the labs this week, and finishing two chapters with due dates quickly approaching), I chose to:

  • Go for an hour walk at the beach in Bridgeport
  • Do laundry
  • Go for a five mile run
  • Walk to Targets to buy balloons
  • & finally, sort and count the change lying around my house.
Wola! That was a good thing because I had $51 in quarters, pennies, dimes, and nickels lying in piles on my counters. I always dump my change when I get home and should do a better job of spending it than I do.

My purpose for this post? Well, I found a way to procrastinate that was rather lucrative. $10 says I spend the $51 bucks on the Ubuntu kids this week in the English learning lab (if you bet me, that would mean I'd end up with $61 bucks).

And I'm breathing: in, out, in, out, in, out

Busy week.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Taking a Saturday Night To Celebrate Bella, Wonder Dog and Her Thunder Shirt. RIP. #Dogs4Life

Yesterday morning, Pam texted to say, "Bella is gone."

A golden retriever fuzzball with a zest for rubber duckies, hugs, cold bathroom floors, and walks. The poor creature has had a traumatic year of intestinal knots, pneumonia, and an inability to eat. Her heavy breathing caused a scare earlier in the week, but she was sent home with medication and hope. The next day, she passed away early in the morning after vomiting and crossing over.

I never know what to do in such sadness, so I went to the store and put together dinner for Pam, Kaitlyn, and the friends that gathered to be with them. It is never easy to say good bye to an animal that is so central to life, family, happiness, and togetherness.

I remember meeting Bella after she got her 'thundershirt' to help her cope with storms and fireworks (it worked). I also remember Lois shaving the dog in the summer and laughing at how refreshed she looked when her long blonde locks were sent away.

Bella was a great dog and very much a part of the Kelly household. It has been sad to see her peppy little spirit knocked down with ailments and complications. The least I could do was to provide a celebratory dinner for the people who took care of her and loved her.

When I ran this morning, I thought of Lois and how she would be first to greet Bella in the skies of The Great Whatever. She'd have treats, a huge embrace, and tremendous love to make the transition as beautiful as possible.

Then I thought of the loss of dogs in my own family: Dusty, Smoker, Chip, Rocky, Juliette, Baby, Jake, and Zoey - so much canine love and never an easy goodbye. But, Bella, you're in good company - even Catt with two T's is there to greet you. No, it doesn't make things easier for us here, but there's comfort knowing you're at peace. I'm glad that you took pleasure in sniffing the lawn gnome I planted in your yard, and I know Buddy is going to miss you. This, however, will pale in comparison to the hole you leave in the hearts of Kaitlyn, Patrick and Pam. Your cuteness was larger than Monroe and your happiness was even larger. Rest in Peace, kind friend. May the afterlife be doggy nirvana and joy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

It's a Saturday Morning, Who Else Is Amused? Ending the Work Week, a Thrill Ride, With a Bang

Fairfield University closes up on Fridays in the summer at noon. Not CWP-Fairfield, however. We move forward until three and after a great poetic performance by the young poets who attended our young adult literacy lab: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Exploring Poetry, Rap & Spoken Word the hard work culminated in the afternoon. In fact, their powerful, poetic performance simply amazed me - Attallah Sheppard and Gina Forberg were incredible instructors who made an amazing difference in the lives of the young women they worked with.

That is why, on Friday afternoon, when the last poet was awaiting to be picked up, we went on a roller coaster ride. No, there isn't an amusement park at Fairfield University, but I did have my lap top and to kill the last seconds of the day, we began to wear our improv hats. And we had a ball. And we tricked ourselves into believing we really were on a roller coaster.

Note: this is only one clip. I may have 20 clips I could have posted with similar tomfoolery. We all needed this...after all, the weekend is upon us.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Scattelogical Thinking For a Friday. It's been far from a crappy week, but still...this is where my mind is.

I wanted to have this poster somewhere that is readily available so I can refer to it in the future (I may have written about this before when Pam shared a chart from her proctologist's office and I bought her an air fresher of the same chart for her car).

That's not the purpose of this post, although it's sort of a shout out to Justin Leonard in Louisville, who was my first ever scattelogical learner. The kid was totally obsessed with poopy humor and as long as I brought every thing to turd-terms, he was with me (interestingly at the top of his class and now a phenomenal educator himself). Whenever I see posters like this, I want to reach out to him to see how doodie-ful he is being as a father, husband and teacher.

The purpose for today's shitty first draft for a blog post is somewhat in reference to the writing institute, but more along the lines of humor between Abu and me. I saw the poster and sent it to him and he opened it while breaking his Ramadan fast. The conversation then became humorous, about why he insists he will never read this poster or study the toilet as an indicator for his own health (as the chart suggests).

And I suppose within these paragraphs is insight into how my mind works...Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi, after all, always cracked me up and one of my students once bought me a great book that showed the feces of every animal on the planet (the human feces was the centerfold page). Alas, the biology teacher at Brown stole that from me and used it to teach with (The Book of Caca - check it out). (Admittance - I just ordered it again)

It's Friday, and for many that means it's a day of celebrating the end of the week. Not me, I'm celebrating the fact that today was a spectacular week and very, very far from crappy. This is my way to celebrate.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Poem Written About Me! This Is a Daring First and I Love It! @writingproject

[Based on An extract from 'The Progress of Poesy'
by Thomas Gray (1716-1771) ]

by Megan Zabilinsky, CWP-Fairfield '14

Upwards, uncelebrated hair, upwards, 
And give to vitality all thy twitching thoughts.       
From Dr. Crandall’s energizing blots
Sixteen teachers take creative progress forwards:
The sticky notes, that round them pass,      
Bring laughs and lightness to the extraordinary class.          
Now the rich stream of writing flows agog,       
Deep, prophetic, associative, and once with gongs.  
Through statuesque stanzas and whimsical words:
We daydream Julie gets rid of those birds.
Mining the mind, spontaneous, seeing poems pour:
The wisps and the mohawk react gleefully to the roar.

[Based on An extract from Megan Zabilinsky's "Ode to Bryan's Hair" (07/16/14)

Growing, celestial teachers, rise,
And allow the inevitable net thy ephemeral leap.
From the karmic, combusted prose
These writers burst from page with ease:
Passing giggles from tamponic jokes,
they capture carts in grocery lots of shopping lore.
Thus, with the symphony of friendship amok,
brain clog, laughter, ideas, and time abound.
Through writerly noticings and experiential drafts:
They write themselves into the world.
Harvesting our seeds, gorgeous, letting thoughts bloom:
Notebooks spread wings and fly free in faerie dust.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Students For the Summer; When Teachers Are At The Other End of the Whiteboard They Discover Writing Processes

We are almost halfway through the summer institute @CWPFairfield and, as the ebb and flow usually goes, the teachers become like their students - full of questions, fears, wonders, worries, angst, frustrations, and ideas. I think this is inevitable as the first weeks are spent writing, thinking, writing, thinking, writing, sharing, editing, writing, etc., but then the baton slowly comes their way and asks, "Now what? What can your professional leadership contribution be?"

We did a workshop yesterday on writing OpEds and I carried them through samples, a way to use political cartoons, and discussions to get to the heart of what students are thinking. I love/d seeing the lightbulbs go off and hearing the brilliant insights each and everyone had. Our day was packed, however, with little time to process all the possibilities, so the institute ended a little overwhelmed and, well, full. My take away is the importance of community reflection and processing - which we failed at yesterday due to time.

Still, the ahas were plentiful as teachers discussed the ways an on-demand writing prompt caused jitters that didn't jive with what they knew as best. Several remarked that the institute is helping them to realize what students must feel and how instruction can leave many feeling worried and/or lost. This is great stuff, although I understand the territories they are treading. Teachers like to achieve and those who are drawn to professional development like they are - giving up their valuable summer time to become better practitioners - also tend to be high achievers with a desire to institute change. The trepidation makes total sense.

So, now it is time to calm nerves and to REALLY discuss writing processes and building a community who is willing to grow as a group, but also individually. The differentiation is also a natural part of supporting all writers.

Although I felt the same pit in my stomach of "Is this really going to happen? Will we make to where we want to go as professionals," I also have ease from the routine of the summer work and what it takes to make everything happen.

I return to a card my mentor Sue McV gave me when I was student teaching: Slow down and enjoy the journey - everything is evolving at exactly the right time.

And so I am thankful to be part of another evolution of phenomenal individuals. I will do my best to help them as they do their best to help me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All They Need Is Space - Leave It To Youth and The Creations Are Endless @cwpfairfield @fairfieldu #CLMOOC

Yesterday kicked off the first day of our poetry young adult literacy lab, and although our enrollment for this lab is a 'small package' we quickly learned that 'GREAT' things come with them (including two of the best instructors I could find for the weeklong workshop - Attallah Sheppard and Gina Forberg, two Connecticut poets with a passion for working with youth).

I conducted a short workshop in the morning and the student crew was rather quiet. Yet, by afternoon I learned they came out of their shells and then became a very empowered youth group. One of the young women in the room found duct tape and made our resident poets handbags and wallets - a great use of extra material lying around the room.

I am looking forward to hearing what they create this week and seeing their spoken-word debut during their writing 'prom' this Friday. I think the 15 teachers in the Invitational Summer Institute will be impressed by the powerful punch these kids are already packing after the first day of:

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Exploring Poetry, Rap & Spoken Word
It is a week of language play, expression, empowering the self through declaration, and taking our words to another level. I am THRILLED by the energy already exuding from the room adjacent to the teacher institute.

The revolution has begun!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Moon Is Our Hope - The Day One Magic Box Poem From The Activity We Kick Off With This Morning @writingproject @cwpfairfield

I have been doing the 'Magic Box' activity with students for almost two decades. It's an exercise that gets students playing with language and putting ideas together in random ways. Every time I do this activity, I play around with my own ten words and walk myself through all the steps to get the language moving. The result for Day One of this week's Young Adult Literacy Lab for Poets with Attallah Sheppard and Gina Forberg is

The Moon Is Our Hope

Sometimes it’s a bummer, 
the way summer makes us dumber 
    without having a coffeehouse for our souls.

We write to grow and tumble, 
in this intellectual triathlon, we rumble,
 with word-play, although it may crumble,
 or melt like ice-cream from our sweat…

How much do you want to bet
 we’ll need a dictionary, a library 
(some Pictionary with a strawberry)
while we work our way to this Friday
as plumbers who unclog brains?

Oh, as Gina explains, “It’s crackerjacks
 and sea scallops, 
cotton candy, a writer’s palate,
especially with sips of wine.”

Thumper hops, and blubber bops, 
we writers, take whatever drops
to sprinkle upon the page.
“Poetry,” she says out loud, “is good for any age. 
Together, friends, let’s contemplate and rage”

The moon is the hope,
the mother to the madness, 
who is mesmerized by Pandora’s box - 
she is a fox with the potential for
 friendship and memories. 
She is a maniac
who is moved by angels, 
meandering with lawn gnomes 
through the gardens of a good book,
and, like a rainbow, she 
makes us magnificent like a nap. 

The Diva has her magic rings,
and like Alisha Keys she sings, 
and brings us possibility, its supremes,
in the wishful ways such music brings
passionate pianos and a 
one-woman show,
the miracles, the monologues, 
& the ways the voice will grow,
from bursting forth - the renaissance - 
all of us are destined to explode
in the melodic, theatrical dreams 
upon the BET Harlem road
granting us to know,
what’s civil and right
while the symphony marches within us.

This is the voice of CWP - 
it’s you & us, both you & me,
who serendipitously skip 
along the shoreline…
It’s the poet who must design the miracles
along the Sound.

Yes, it’s summer vacation, 
but the creations abound and
 fly with the magical birds - 
your words - those brain turds -
coasting along the waterfront 
            of your soul, ya’ know? 
as you doodle your world 
and find the sand-songs dunes 
that trickle along the beach…

and for this reason we must reach
       and say: 

u gotta write for what’s right 
& fight with all u’r might 
to insight incite 
and to ignite a spotlight 
to put yourself in the limelight 
outright & forthright,

because there is no other way.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Night on the Beach in July with a Full Moon is a Pleasant Saturday Night To Spend, Indeed

There is nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment, impromptu picnic to watch the World Cup, followed by a super moon over the water.

Last night, Leo, Bev, Shirley, Pam, Sharon and I drove down to the sound to capture the full moon in its entirety. After a week of non-stop preparation and planning, it was nice to take an afternoon and evening off for sports, friendship, barbecue and tequila.

I learned something new, too - gluten free brownies made with gluten free black beans makes zero sense to the palate. As much as I wanted to love them, they still tasted like dirt. Sorry Chef Sharon, I know you meant well in catering to Bev and Leo's new diet, but the brownies didn't quite do the sweet-tooth thing.

The July air, though, cool after a hot day, was a perfect time for digging our toes in the sand with the stolen flamingos. Everyone deserves an evening like the one we had last night.

Here's to relaxing every once in a while.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

And the CWP-Fairfield Director Finally Exhales, Only To Inhale ThatThere's Another Five Weeks Still To Go @Cwpfairfield @ryanpcolwell

Yesterday, CWP-Fairfield hosted its first "prom" to celebrate the weeklong work of writers in our Novel and young(er) writers' lab. We also continued forth with the second week of the teacher institute. The goal of 'prom' was for students to debut their new writing in a celebration for parents and guardians. The older kids chose a book reading that premiered their book covers, tag lines, and first chapters. The young(er) kids opted to script the afternoon for their guests. They performed fractured fairytales and read to their families many pieces from their writers' notebooks. The above video was an interlude from their re-storying of Jack and the Beanstalk, with a dance number to "Hit the Road Jack."

Dr. Ryan Colwell and his graduate students, Tom and Shannon, must be extremely proud of what they accomplished with these young composers in merely five days. As parents left the debut they stated again and again, "This needs to be a much longer writing institute. This was fabulous for my kid."
As Ryan said, "We merely tried to put the fun back into composing processes."

I will forever be amazed by the creativity, cleverness, and passion of young people when given the freedom to write and encouragement to share imaginations with others. It was a superb week.

With that noted, I'm also thankful to Ellen Israel, my administrative assistant, for helping to manage and sustain a truly top notch summer lab experience for all that we're hosting this summer. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's 1979 - a poem crafted from the Jack Powers ISI workshop 2014 @cwpfairfield @fairfield @writingproject #CLMOOC

For the last four years, Joel Barlowe high school teacher, CWP-Fairfield fellow, and Connecticut poet, Jack Powers, has worked with our teachers and youth to highlight the importance of reading as writers. His demonstration is a guaranteed success, and after his 90 minutes everyone in the room has three new poems to work with. He amazes me, however, because his talents are out of this world yet he never reads his own stuff. I asked him today why this was and he said, "I've got my thing going. Nothing makes me happier than helping others to get their thing going."

As part of his workshop he uses a poem called "Homestead Park" (author?) as a model of beginning with a date and capturing a time from our youth. He works with teachers to discuss ideas from the poem that can be use (e.g., memories, childhood, a moment), but also asks his audience to make writerly noticings of structure, language, syntax, and word choice. He encourages teachers to syncopate with the base of the poem and to do their own thing from there. Here's my draft:

                      Loch Lebanon

It's 1979. My grandfather
sits at the bar with a camel
between missing fingers
and watches his wife rest
purple feet.  We want
to go swimming in
the lake where the motor
boats pull skiers like kites
and make Saturn's rings
that roll to the shore.
Because I am 7,
I notice his plaid shorts
covering pale legs with
only a few hairs and that
his glasses are thick like
the eyes of a grasshopper.
He inhales smoke and
exhales a punchline
of a dirty joke told to
my mother who
folds beach towels and
laughs. The sky is blue
with pink hints of Maude
and I think about the pigs
he's killed with butcher
knives before he waved
good bye and headed home.
Because I am only seven
the memories aren's so complex.
My sisters have short hair
and poppy-seed freckles.
They straddle the arms of my
grandmother's chair and rest
their heads on her shoulders.
My dad fishes for bullheads
on the dock and drinks
Milwaukee's Best where
it's quiet and he can be alone.
In my head, the universe belongs
to me. Yet, today, the weekend,
belongs to all of us
feeling so alive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

From The Plain White Table - a Newtown/Sandy Hook Publication of Community Writing @writingproject @cwpfairfield @fairfieldu

This is a story that makes me proud.

This is a story that tells a powerful tale - that is, some of the best work in our universe takes very little financial investment to help giant dreams possible. Such dreams, however, takes dedication, commitment and excellence of a committed group to bring forth such a wonderful culmination to a vision. Lucky for me, I was in a position to support this possibility.

Yesterday, poet Carol Ann Davis, Dr. Elizabeth Boquet, Lea Attanasio and Newtown/Sandy Hook parents and youth premiered their 2nd round of poetry in a collection called From The Plain White Table. They hosted the Newtown last night and although a sudden storm quickly pushed us indoors, we were greeted by a rainbow at the end of the performance that symbolically represented what everyone was feeling. The kids, the parents, the organizers, and the community were simply amazing. The joy they brought to my heart and soul cannot be measured.

Lucky for me and the 15 teachers in our summer ISI, too, Carol Ann and Beth worked with us on collaborative poetry during their teacher demonstration and workshop. They emphasized the importance of community when writing and the power of language when voices our joined together. Their teaching was wonderfully fluid and effective. All of us in attendance became proud of the poems we created - the catch was, not a one of us could claim single authorship. Instead, we co-authored amazing work as a group...the point of the presentation.

I'm absolutely in love with the colors they chose for this collection and it reminds me of summer, auroras, and watermelon. In truth, the cover is a fading fence and a growing pine tree (which Carol Ann says is a metaphor from the development she's seen in her community, Newtown, over the last year).

CWP-Fairfield and I remain proud to help publish In The Yellowy Green Phase of Spring. I am humbled by my colleagues and their hard work in bringing From the Plain White Table to this event. The writing from pre-middle school kids and those who support them was inspiring -  teachers and their community looking to the power of language to make sense of a sometimes senseless world.

Wow! This is a true collaboration and my hats are off to these two women for making it happen. Fairfield University and the National Writing Project should know that this is who we are together!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Twisted Upstate: An Imaginative Script For The Parental Units in Clay, New York. Kreativitet and Kuumba.

This week, teachers at the summer institute are playing with how creativity interacts with writing expectations we offer in school. We're exploring fiction, poetry, and script writing. Last night's storms in CNY incited the possibilities of a 10-Minute Script when I learned there were tornado warnings issued in Syracuse. I couldn't help but think of Butch and Sue on Amalfi Drive, especially in a house without a basement. Hmmm. What would this conversation sound like?

Setting: The home where I grew up. 
The Characters: Butch - my father, Sue - my mother.

Twisted Upstate

Sue: (Yelling from upstairs) Butch.
Butch: (Yelling from downstairs). What?
Sue: Are you watching the television?
Butch: What?
Sue: Are you watching the television? We're under a tornado warning?
Butch: What?
Sue: (grabbing a pack of True Blues). Ouch. Jesus Christ. There's a god-damn tornado coming.
Butch: (coming to the bottom of the stairs) What do you want?
Sue: (stepping down the steps). Oif. Ooh. Ouch. A tornado. There's a tornado coming.
Butch: Torpedo. Torpedo. What the hell are you talking about?
Sue: God damn you Butch, I said, "tornado." Like Bryan used to get in Kentucky.
Butch: Bryan doesn't live in Kentucky. He lives in Connecticut.
Sue: No, here. In Syracuse It was just on the news. We need to take shelter.
Butch: Well, it's Tuesday. I'm going to Chubbies.
Sue: Not in this weather, you're not. We need to stay in the bathroom.
Butch: No we don't. I need to go to Chubbies.
Sue: You son of a bitch, Butch. We need to go into the closet. 
Butch: You ain't getting in there, Sue. Where's the phone?
Sue: It's in your hand.
Butch: Oh. (He grabs his keys).
Sue: You're not going to Chubbies.
Butch: It's Tuesday.
Sue: For crying out loud, Butch, get in the closet.
Butch: With all your coats?
Sue: Yes, with all my coats, and your bowling balls, and the boots you never throw away. (she grabs
        the phone from Butch).
Butch: Who you calling?
Sue: Cynde.
Butch: Who?
Sue: Cynde.
Butch: Who?
Sue: Cynde.
Butch: Why?
Sue: There's a tornado coming.
Butch: What do you mean there's a torpedo coming?
Sue: Tornado.
Butch: I'm grabbing a beer first. (he ignores the closet that Sue enters)
Sue: Do what you want. I'm going in the closet. (lights a True Blue and dials the phone). (pause)
Butch: Who you calling? (he opens a beer)
Sue: Cynde.
Butch: Who?
Butch: Why you calling her? She coming to Chubbies with us?
Sue: Why isn't she answering....Cynde, Oh, good you answered. Did you watch Days yet?
Butch: Jesus Christ.
Sue: Yes. Yes. We're in the downstairs closet.
Butch: (yelling). Your mother thinks torpedoes are coming.
Sue: Tornados, you idiot. Are you in the basement? Where's Nikki?
Butch: I have to use the bathroom.
Sue: Butch, there's a tornado.
Butch: (pushing her out of the way). There's no god damn torpedo. I have to use the bathroom.
Sue: I swear to god I'm going to kill him. Okay. Okay. I'm glad you're okay. Okay. I will let you go.  
      (inhales, exhales. dials the phone again). Hey, it's me. Did you watch Days today? It's really good.
      Do you have the boys in the basement? It's heading to Manlius.....oh, he's in the bathroom. Dave 
      at work? No, he's in the bathroom hiding from tornadoes.
Butch: (returning) Who you talking to now? 
Sue: Casey.
Butch: Who?
Sue: Casey.
Butch: Who?
Butch: Is she coming to Chubbies?
Sue: Jesus Christ, Butch. She's in the basement hiding from the tornado.
Butch: There's no god damn torpedo. I'm going to Chubbies. You coming?
Sue: Only if you buy me a White Russian. I need a White Russian.

(suddenly the house shakes and debris flies around. A twister enters from offstage and picks them up. They twirl in the air and whirl around in the winds, looking down on Cherry Heights and waving to the Carolis and Perras - Butch yells, "We're going to Chubbies." Sue shouts, "Steph, did you see Days today?")

lights out.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The 4th Stanza: Poetic Thoughts Added to the 40for40 Thoughts - a Tremendous First Day @CWPFairfield @FairfieldU @writingproject

Yesterday, after doing workshops with the young novelist lab and the young(er) writers' lab, I was invited to do a 2-hour workshop with NEH that resulted from a 2013-2014 NWP High Needs Grant. Fairfield University is proud host of the Duke Ellington workshop that was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dr. Laura Nash heard me raving about @kwamealexander and his book Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band and asked me if I could present to the teachers on the yearlong professional development that resulted from the funding.

Towards the end of the presentation, a woman from New York City raised her hand and shared, "This was awesome. This is the sort of work we used to do at my school all the time with the support from the New York City Writing Project. There needs to be more opportunities for such work." She reported that it's been tough to maintain the integrity of what they were able to do when there was more support from Washington. (I thought to myself, what a small I am at an NEH gathering, and a teacher fellow is in attendance).

This initiated a conversation amongst the veteran teachers - PROFESSIONALS - and how all the great PD they receive is always sideswiped by the powers that be. The woman from NYC then said, "The National Writing Project works because teachers teaching teachers works." Everyone was sold on the mission and all called for a return to sanity in the United States where teachers could be trusted again, supported, and given resources to do what they were trained to do.

The 25 teachers I worked with yesterday are supposed to be on summer vacation. Are they? No. Like the NWP teachers I work with, and others who work with teachers across the nation during the non-academic calendar, they are committed to doing whatever it takes to make their schools better and to close achievement gaps in the U.S.

The fault is not the teachers. The fault is the policies being mandated on the teachers.

Yesterday, I heard more stories that are not being heard. I was thankful that Dr. Yohuru Williams, who was also in attendance, and his continued advocacy for those who work with American youth.

And I continue to thank the National Writing Project and applaud them for featuring our stories this month in celebration of their 40th anniversary. In fact, I was completely honored to have a post yesterday. The poem below didn't make the final cut for the blog due to my excessive nature as a writer. For this reason, I post the 4th stanza here.

President Obama once had Henry Louis Gates and a police officer over for a beer. Here's what I'd like to suggest: Arne and Barak, how about a pint or two with me in Connecticut? Or Elyse Eidman-Aadahl in California. There's a much needed conversation about how to best support teachers in the United States. I'm thankful for the SEED work the last few years and my recommendation is: let's build off the model that works.

(A Poem)

N otebooks. Writers’ notebooks
a nd the seed-rich soil of ideas, those hooks,
t he sketches and doodles of prose, those looks,
i ntellectual tomfoolerly from the nooks
o f readers, thinkers, artists and word-crooks,
n it-picking imagination (some of us rooks
a dvancing our teaching). We are the pedagogical cooks
l earning to laugh and laughing to learn with love. Shucks:

W hy did the fungi leave the party? Because there wasn’t mush-
r oom! Why was the tomato red? Because
i t saw the salad dressing! Why should you never fly with Peter Pan?
t hat’s easy. You’ll never, never land! Why did the scientist
i nstall a knocker on his door? To win the
n o-bell prize! What did the stamp say to the envelope? Stick with me. We’ll
g o places! A writer knows how to laugh.

P ick up your room! Brush your teeth! Take out the trash!
r each for the stars! Shoot for the moon! Crandall, you’re being an a@@!
o rganize these files! Sweep the floor! Go mow the lawn!
j ust stop picking on your sister: You’re the devil’s spawn!
e at your broccoli! Make your bed! Put your toys away!
c lean the dishes! Pick up the poop! You grew up in Clay (and
t hese are the words your Mommy & Daddy would say).

4 0 years ago, James Gray had an idea. 1974.
0 of us knew what his project would do, but we’d explore, &
t oday with its mission for writing, the core invests in 200 sites. Through it, wow,
h ow the work delights!

A braham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
(n ational writing project folks don’t await it, they display it.)
n elson mandela wrote, “Education
i s the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
(v oila! this is how NWP twirls, whirls, and swirls)
e. e. cummings penned, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you
r eally are.” (Fellows read as writers and, with books, they explore).
s onia sanchez admitted, “I write to keep in contact with our
a ncestors and to spread truth to people.” (We stand tall
r each deep, and leap over the scholastic steeple).
y es, we are NWP and it is through writing we set students free…