When you begin to share, really share and mix and blend and mash it all up, you begin to loose the thread. It becomes difficult to remember how everything is connected. Who owns what? Who created which piece of the tapestry becomes less and less important. It is at this moment, knee deep in creation, when you look around and find yourself immersed in an unnameable magic. I have been riding a wave of unprecedented creativity since the beginning of the year. Here is what some of it looks like.
A few weeks ago, I created this mash-up and wrote this post about it. The post created one of my favorite exchanges in the comment sections about art and life and openness. A few days later, Keri Lee Beasley shared this amazing Ted Talk with me by Brene Brown I encourage you to watch it in it’s entirety:
I was so moved by her message that I had to give it life in my new favorite medium- the mash-up. This time I used music from Noise Professor. Who had created the music for another project of mine- a musical, photography/poetry thing I am doing with Zach Chase.
I hope to write more on her talk and ideas later, as I see her research as validation for my entire philosophy, but for now, I will let her words and the music sum it up.
To the Students of Zachary Chase in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (Or any other class whose teacher came across this post and wants to participate.)
A few days ago I shared, on my blog, the fact that I had finished the first month of a yearlong project in which I would take a photo everyday for a year. Why did I feel the need to broadcast this information with what we affectionately call the World Wide Web? Not sure. I tend to share anything and everything that leaks from my life. The photos the songs, the tweets, the insights, the rubbish, the random thoughts trickle out and dribble into a vast abyss I am old ends somewhere with you. Well in this case your teacher Mr. Chase.
You see, Mr. Chase commented on my blog:
Do you mind if I use some of these as journal prompts?
To which I responded
Yes, please feel free to use them as prompts, would love to read what kids write. Maybe if they post on blogs, they can leave their links as comments on Flickr. Would love to follow the stories of these photos. Could be a fun project.
Hmmm….brain turning for new ideas.
Alright. Just posted the journal assignment to moodle. I’m curious to see how this turns out.
Cool. Sounds great. Would be cool to have a small collection of short stories or poems based on these images. Would love the interaction.
Sounds simple enough right? No big whoop. We are, after all, mired in the age of the social web, where people are connecting and creating all over the world. My question, however, is are they? Are you? Is this an everyday thing for you? Because while we all talk about collaboration, I am always floored when it happens to me. I was very moved by your words, your poems, your creativity and your engagement. I stayed up passed midnight watching your comments as they came pouring in. I had goosebumps and at times nearly cried. Take a look the comments for this blog post for a deeper look at why I find your action so important.
I just wanted to let you know that while, quickly typing a few words on some random Flickr set may not have been much more than a class assignment for you, your actions meant a lot to me. So what of it now? What happens next? Well that is up to you. I hope that this introduction can be a way that we continue to explore the power of art and words and connections. I was a born teacher and student, I would love to continue to teach and learn from you. Are you up for it?
I know teachers tend to throw out mixed messages, “Be open, share. Be careful, be scared.” I hope you use your judgment and the experiences which you have been taught by the more than capable teachers at SLA to move this project to the next level. This could be an authentic real world experience to create something beautiful with a larger group of people than those within our immediate community. (I invite other teachers to share this Flickr set and this post to see where it can go. Ask your class to leave poems, stories, haikus, comments anything. Maybe we can write a book, record an album…)
There are many things we can do with the images, the words, the connection. I hope that at least a few of you will share a few ideas in the comments below. I don’t know who will respond, but that is the beauty of sharing in whim, if you throw enough out there, occasionally something beautiful will come floating back.
After receiving your words, here is what I will do: I will scour your words mining for verses to a song, which I will sing and record. I will contact you soon about maybe singing a collaborative chorus. What else can we do with the words, the images? Who else is on board?
Whenever I speak with people about openness and sharing, I feel the need to preface my philosophy by saying, “Well not everyone will feel comfortable sharing as much as I do.” It is almost as if I am doing something wrong, and to be honest I am not sure if sharing my every thought on the Internet is the best idea. I too struggle with my own demons, and I am not so naive to think that I am impervious to a break down, much like this, at any time.
That’s the thing about all of this; we don’t really know where we are headed. Those who say they do, the experts, publish article after article presenting research to prove which ever side suits their argument best. Each of us needs to take inventory of our privacy and intimacy and weigh it against openness and community. Is what you consider to be private more or less valuable to you on the inside or on your sleeve? There is not right or wrong answer. All I know is that I have had some amazing experiences over the years by being open and having faith in the goodness of people and trusting in the power of creativity. I have written about the Heart of the Internet, Trust and Community,and Peaking Out From The Edges; I have spoken about Life as an Open Book; others have written about stalking me, or shared stories about my work at conferences. Even after all of this, the connections seem to be becoming more complex and sophisticated. After four years of living online, I am still surprised on an almost daily basis by the generosity of the human spirit and our need to be creative collectivity.
For every paranoid news story about the Internet that forces parents and teachers to cry privacy, I feel the need to populate the web with a story like this one- I recently discovered a great site called SoundCloud, which is a great portfolio for my music. I use the word portfolio, but my music is not anything that can be classified as professional, but it is mine and it makes me happy. Each song, like my photos, my films, my blog posts is an illustration of my journey. I am not concerned with value judgments like good or bad. Like I tell my students, learning is not about success or failure, it is about growth and change. Learning is at the heart of evolution. I suppose we could grow and learn and evolve in privacy and in isolation, but where is the fun in that. We could be scared or insecure to share any aspect of our creativity for fear of being judged, but I choose bravery instead.
Sorry. Back to the story, I have begun to upload my small catalog of recorded music. Why? Because experience has taught me that if you share yourself with honesty and passion and love, the universe will send back echoes and reflections that remind you that you are not a single lonely self, but a pixel in the larger picture of humanity. I don’t write too many original songs. I am not good at it, and I find it extremely difficult. I can take a decent photograph; I am getting better at turning a word or two, but when it comes to music- I am weighed down with doubt. I know what music does to my soul, and I know that my singing is awkward and insecure. I can hear the doubt and tension. I play with apprehension, which ironically is the opposite of what music should do.
Sorry. Back to the story, I upload music anyway. I guess in a way I want to set an example. If I ask my student to express themselves online, I cannot with a clear conscious not do the same. It takes a lot of guts to allow the world into your heart and by singing online, I am able to assuage my fear.
No words could express how amazing it feels when something that you put into the world so tenderly could sound like this:
and Leslie took it and made it her own. I am not sure what this means. I am not sure I know. I am not sure if I can articulate it. I am not sure you need it explained, but there is magic in what has happened here. There is beauty in these acts. There is love. There is community. This sharing and connection and creation brings me joy, and honestly that is all I have ever wanted. Please take these songs, the photos, the films, the text, the pieces of me and make them a part of you. We are echoes and refections posing as individuals.
Update: (This was written a few days after original post)
Of course this story didn’t end there. Once Keri Lee got wind of the project she added her own brand of loveliness.
I recently had a great experience skyping into a grade three class at @gcouros’s school in Canada to answer a few questions about Islam. You can read about the logistics on George’s blog. I wanted to share my thoughts on the event here.
After speaking with the class around eleven PM last night, this morning I woke up to the following email from the classroom teacher, and rather than send my response to her in private, in the spirit of openness and sharing I have decided to post it here. My response comes after her email, which you can read below:
I just wanted to thank you again personally for Skyping with our class this morning. It was a very powerful experience and they learned a lot about the Muslim culture, country of Indonesia, and an important celebration of Ramadan and Eid-El-Fitr. I realize there is a big time difference between us and I really appreciate you connecting with us late on a Friday night. It was a very authentic and powerful experience for our students, as well as for me as a teacher. We have now used a thumbtack on our world map to indicate where you are and remember the connection we have with you, both through your commenting on our blog post, as well as Skype conversation!
George is sharing his passion with us and is teaching us how technology is a great medium in connecting with others. As I have just returned to school after a leave, I was quite apprehensive about the technology of our Smart Boards, new classroom blogs, etc. This truly has proven what can be done and the connections that can be made around the world. It is amazing and I am so proud and excited to be a part of it. Again, thank you.
Let me start by saying it really is my pleasure and I enjoy doing it. I was home, sadly to say wasn’t doing much else, and really had a great time doing it. It’s funny, once you open yourself up to these opportunities the more you will find will come your way. I have Skyped into classes all over the world from grade three to university courses, and each time it is different, but just as exciting. I am not sure why students get so excited by having someone else come into their classrooms, but we should take advantage of this enthusiasm and open our classrooms up to as many people as we can, people who can bring fresh insights and different perspectives. I am by no means an expert on anything really, but I feel that I have a voice and that my ideas are valuable. I see my world view as unique and feel that sharing it with others can bring value not only to them, but for me as well. This sense of appreciation for one’s own voice is at the heart of blogging and online life. This is what I hope to foster in my students. It is something to discuss with your kids as well. What are they experts in? How could they share their knowledge with others? I hope they can see that someday, I will need them to help and teach me and my kids. They are teachers and we are learners too.
I understand how one can be apprehensive and doubt the value of all this openness and sharing. But as I am sure you have sensed from George, this is just what we do. There is a new class of teacher, and we have knocked down the walls of classrooms down and are looking for any opportunity to teach and learn from as many people as we can. We are interconnected. We share knowledge, information, and resources fluidly and easily. We meet in person, we skype into classrooms. A class across the world has some questions about (insert topic) and we feel we have something to say we make the connections. This technology and these connections need not always be more complicated than that, as you have just seen from our Skype call. I hope this experience has shown you how easy it can be to join us. Just value your voice and build the connections. You are lucky to have such a passionate and connected administrator. Often times it is teachers who are pulling a school forward, but you have an administration who is there to help you. Take advantage. Your kids will thank you for it.
The next step of course is to connect students with students, but this often takes more time and planning, but once you are open to the idea of a classroom that shares their ideas with the world through blogs and Skype, the opportunities become easier and easier to find. Remind the kids that if they ever have any questions about Indonesia, they now have a person they know here that can help them out. We have some great podcasts for them to listen to and we would love comments as well. Good luck and stay in touch.