Creating a short story #1

Welcome Readers!

This is the first installment, of ten, toward writing a short story with the feedback and opinions of my friends and colleagues. I ask for your help for two reasons. First, this story was inspired by a particularly vivid dream one summer night, about the ghost of a lovely pioneer woman and her distraught widower. I woke before the dream reached its end, and have struggled with where to take the story. Second, I submitted the idea of posting portions of the story to my blog for peers to help me finish it to the EAPSU conference in Shippensburg this fall. The conference, titled “Creativity in times of crisis,” explores the creative writing process and the difficulties writers may face. This project cannot be completed without you!

Since I dreamed the events and characters, the details are both unclear and incomplete. Each week (on Wednesdays) I will post several paragraphs of the story to this blog. I ask that each of you read the portion, then post your own comments to offer suggestions, perhaps redirections, identify confusion, and make predictions. I will make revisions based on those posts and develop the story as I go. After ten weeks, I hope to have a finished story to share at the conference.

Feel free to ask any questions along the way!

 

Part One:

Somewhere in the western regions of North America, there lies a small cabin, of three or four rooms, surrounded by grassy fields more the color of toasted bread than green. The biggest window is situated on the eastern wall in what can only be called a kitchen and faces a nearby lake and looks out at the pier that seems to run alongside its shore. A neighbor lives on his boat at the end of that pier, which bobs gently with the calm waves, and he often sits on the end of the pier and fishes. Mary, the (housekeeper or sister? Which one determines some backstory) of the man who owns this cabin, sees the neighbor every day while he fishes, and she washes the dishes. She always notices the man doesn’t seem to own a shirt. He will walk up to the kitchen window late in the afternoon to talk with her. He’s always friendly, sometimes offering a portion of his catch, but always in exchange for knowledge of what she did with her day. This neighbor (needs a name?) is not unpleasant to look at, with wavy golden hair and muddy colored eyes, and invariably shirtless. He’s not trying to be enticing (which is the effect on Mary anyway), but rather hasn’t found a good enough reason to get fully dressed on a daily basis.

After one of these regular conversations one evening, Mary continues to go about her chores and cooking dinner until she decides she needs a break. She looks out the big window at how the light disappears on the fields, the darkness slowly moving closer to the house. The farmer, Matt, usually returns about now before it is too dark to see well. However, she’s still alone and waiting patiently. Mary glances at the table to make sure she didn’t forget anything. Satisfied that the meal is there – roasted chicken and potatoes and buttered beans with biscuits – she turns back to the window to find another face next to her own reflection. Mary has long, dark and wiry curly hair and looks every minute of her thirty-? years. The other face, also of a woman, has wavy straw-colored hair and appears to be much younger, only in her twenties. Quickly, Mary whirls around to look for the stranger behind her. Finding no other person, she turns again to the reflection. This other is still looking at Mary, who walks toward the window to see if the lady is outside. Before taking two steps, the woman seems to smile. This stops Mary’s motion. The woman’s smile grows colder, into a kind of smirk (or one that seems worried?) and then the entire image fades away.

Mary moves the rest of the way to the window, sure someone must be outside, but it’s too dark now to see for sure. She rubs her eyes and says to the empty room, “I must be too tired,” as if that excuses and wipes away the experience. Still, she knows what she saw. She sits at the table and begins to fill her plate, sure Matt will walk through the door any minute now and she can forget all about it.

 

I have a question – how much dialogue, if any, between Mary and the neighbor at this point?

I’ll introduce Matt next time…

A Day In My Life

Students,

You are looking at this post because you explored my Twine Story of the same name.

Please reply with your constructive comment.

Happy writing!

856 Friday Morning

Digital practices that are promising for my own teaching? Not everything? No, not everything. I can see educational applications for these skills, but I still feel it’s too early to know where and how far I can develop them. Besides that, without a class of my own to experiment and get them to help create the learning, there is no way I can guess. I need students for all of this to matter, to expand my learning in context with theirs.

However, the skills I’m most excited about and will practice on my own are the web page building and editing and the blog. I will keep working on who I am as a student and as an educator, and the web site is a great way to give myself a creative and reflective forum. The blog should be similar. I have some creative writing/feedback ideas to try with my cohort. We are also progressing toward Candidacy exams and are trying to stay in touch and support each other as we study. With a blog and the community/no walls feeling it creates we can work at our own paces and answer each other’s questions or whatever as we move forward.

The challenges of learning how to create digitally have been some of the most exhausting and rewarding days of my career. At no other time have I been able to focus only on what I can do, what I can imagine, and what product I show the world. The next step is visible, too, because I feel empowered to continue creating and trying new things. I also feel there are resources out there, or with my fellow students, to foster whatever creative vein I follow.

856 Thursday Morning

My experience with writing for a digital format is regrettably limited. When I worked for a public school, each teacher had a web page on the school’s main site. Each teacher was tasked with writing a short description to describe ourselves. After that, we were permitted to add features that suited our needs. I followed the general writing format for my description – several paragraphs of prose and an academic picture for introduction. I was able to add links to a homework page, a calendar, and even third party sites with resources for my students. When I wrote something for the homework page it was sort of like a blog because each entry was dated and I had a description of each assignment. I could link those entries to the calendar where I simply gave each assignment a title and a due date. Over time, I got pretty good at making those components work for me because of the positive feedback from students, but time constraints and dropping-off levels of technical support impeded either my exploration or (even more regrettably) my curiosity.

When the teacher pages were implemented there was a special inservice to introduce the site and how to use it. Each of us was given a handout with screenshot-type graphics and explanations so we could refer to it as needed, and in future. The “tech guy” said he was available to help any time. I wish he had visited on a regular basis, or that at the next several inservices there could have been follow up. I would have like to see what other teachers were up to, the great things they were using and problems along the way. I wish there had been a framework for us to talk with each other in a constructive way, and with the tech guy, to make the best use of the tool. Essentially, once something was up and running the administration seemed to forget the websites were there, to check on their status, or offer feedback¬†unless something went wrong and the teacher inadvertently put the school in a precarious position.

Genre-specific instruction and practice would not only have helped us all become better, more effective, educators, but the problems that stemmed from lack of guidance could have been totally avoided. Good teachers know how to make mistakes and learn from them, but like anyone they/we need support and a “safe” environment in which to make them. As far as good writing goes, people naturally use different modes of language for different purposes, and we need to know that in a digital world¬†all of them have their place. There is no one way to communicate because our purposes differ depending on task and goals. Students also need us to show them that example in order to value the varied uses of language. I realize I’m currently writing in standard English using educational conventions, which is OK, and if I wanted to write this in a poem or as a conversation that would be awesome, too. The point is to be open to experimentation.

856 Wednesday Morning

Digital teaching tools seem to offer both efficiency and transformative potential for students. I think they are like most innovations and tools – all are meant to help get a job done more easily and will less effort. When students don’t have to think so much about the behind-the-scenes technology that goes into making the tool as it is, then students can focus on getting work accomplished. the tools we’ve used in class allow us more avenues for creativity and open up communication to communities that had been previously cut off. Sure, we might have been doing fine all along, but we weren’t exploring where our potential could take us. These tools allow and encourage personal exploration and a pushing, if not crossing, of boundaries. It’s exciting!

On the flip side, some people do need to know how to make the tool in order to do the job that is required or desired. How awful would it be if no one could recreate a screwdriver or wrench, such simple mechanical tools, and the technology died out? The same goes for digital and electronic technologies – they need to be understood at a basic level to ensure their continuation; they need to be understood so that improvements can be made for future uses.

Made an Impression

I am amazed at how quickly I am picking up on the material, specifically building a web page. I have needed repetition and some practice, but I have been able to adapt my draft and update it into something I would like others to see. I even made mistakes and understand why they happened, later on when not working in the system, which was cool because I know I’ve internalized the experience. I was able to ask questions, and know future questions will be answered, in a very timely and constructive way.

I look forward to experimenting with my website and personalizing it to reflect a professional persona. I am inspired by the examples we were given, but more than that I know I can investigate examples on my own and incorporate them, and what I like elsewhere, into my own work.

The next step, even before I fully complete my own web page, is to share it with others in the PhD program. I want to let them know what I have learned and become a teacher, at least a little, so the skills and knowledge I have continues to spread throughout my immediate intellectual community. Shouldn’t that be one of the goals of this course? Sure, I’ll use what I create with students, and hope to teach them how to use this information too, but the more people I can share this with then the more students will learn by extension.