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Today we started to dig into the connections between our planet’s resources and our consumption patterns.  We watched a bit of a documentary called “Earth: The Operator’s Manual”, specifically the part about how fossil fuels are formed. The students created a flow map of the process by watching the clip three times:  once for what materials go into creating fossil fuels; once for how much time is involved; and once to track where the energy comes from and goes to.  They learned that fossil fuels take hundreds of millions of years to form, but we are burning them all up in the course of a few hundred.

We also began to examine the life-cycle of one of their favorite products, especially considering how much energy goes into each step of the cycle.  They want to go to a factory to see how energy is used.  I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   Now I just need to find a company in the area willing to let 20 5th graders on  their factory floor….

It may be reaching, but tomorrow I am going to help the students understand how governance shifts based on consumption patterns.  Hm.  Writing it out like that makes it seem even more insane, but in a place like New Mexico, the shifts are so easily recognized.  I can resist!

 

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You can’t go home again, unless you are always home

When I was small, my family would go to Albuquerque from Mountainair to visit my grandparents.  It was about an hour and a half drive in those days.  The maximum speed was 60 mph.  Our blue AMC Hornet station-wagon would buzz along over the river and through the desert to grandma’s house.  Sometimes my aunt Robbi would be there, or my grandmother’s young friends, and the visit would be fun.  Then, after dinner, my brother and I would hop into the back of the station wagon and lie down, instructed to go to sleep during the trip home.

I would watch the lights of the cars on highway, a line of red lights on the right, white lights on the left, as we left Albuquerque, ascending the hills into the mountains towards home.  The sun set painted the sky deep orange and purple in the west, the stars would sprinkle across the sky in the east.  And as it got later, the moon rose over the mountains.  I remember being entranced by the  spot of white light that followed us along the side of the road.  My father said it was the moonlight reflecting on the train tracks.  I looked up at the moon and noticed that it, too, followed us.

I am back in New Mexico, visiting my parents.  I always find it disorienting to return to the United States after being in China for a year.  Hearing conversations that I understand; seeing signs that make sense; being over-cooled by air conditioning and iced drinks;  being overwhelmed by the diversity of choices in food – Mexican, Italian, French, Greek, American and yes, even almost-Chinese.  I’m sure the jet lag contributes to the sense of dullness that pervades, perhaps as an automatic defense to the over-stimulation.

But I’m learning some important lessons about finding my center.  So much of my life I bounced around, both geographically and internally, from one continent to another, from one relationship to another, from one career to another, always seeking a sense of peace, of fulfillment, a sense that I matter.  In the repair work I did post-divorce, I actually did learn a lot about faith and gratitude.  But the kind of healing I need to do now requires a Higher Love that includes myself.  It means I have to free myself from resentment and anger, and learn forgiveness.  So I’m doing the work.  I’m letting myself feel those feelings that aren’t very nice, and learning how to let them go.  I’m learning how to become more present in the moment and in my body.  I’m learning how to love myself with a good diet and through running and yoga.  A friend of mine recently recommended a book called Love for No Reason, by Marci Shimoff, and it is both confirming my choices, and giving me new insights to where my blocks are and how to free them.

I feel myself settling deeper into an unnameable place, but one that is familiar.  It is the place I remember being on that road back to Mountainair, the moon following us, my parents voices and the radio lulling me to sleep.   There is a deep sense of safety and vitality growing in me.  So even though I still recognize the differences between China and the US, they don’t jangle my nerves so much.  I find I have greater compassion for the people of both countries.  So maybe I have finally come home.

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This is a Wordle of this blog post

A Wordle is a very simple form of digital storytelling.

I have another blog focused on digital storytelling that still gets regular traffic, even though it has lain silent for some time now.  But I have recently been thinking about making some changes to the novel I’m working on, and realized that digital storytelling might help me flesh out these ideas a little more before I commit to making wholesale changes.

Digital storytelling is a powerful medium that helps people tell stories through voice, imagery and music using simple technologies available to most people with computers.  It was founded on the idea that everyone has a story to tell.  As writers, we live that every day.  At the end of 2010, I reviewed my favorite discoveries in digital storytelling for the year.  The examples tell both fiction and non-fiction stories.  And digital storytelling can also help you as a writer, both in the writing process and in building your platform.

To create a digital story, a person first develops a script 2 to 3 minutes long, then generates a storyboard to consider imagery that can illustrate the ideas of 15 to 20-second sections of the script.  After creating or finding the appropriate digital images, the storyteller digitally records the narrative.  Using free video-editing software available on most computers, the person creates a 2-to-3-minute video, and can include music and effects to complete the soundtrack.

Let’s take a look at the seven elements of effective digital storytelling developed by Joe Lambert at the Center for Digital Storytelling, and how they can help writers.  These elements were originally outlined in Lambert’s Digital Storytelling Cookbook.

1.  A Point of View –  Writers can use digital storytelling to try different perspectives using digital storytelling.  If your work-in-progress is written in third-person perspective, try creating a digital story in first-person.  The short length of the script and the visual nature of the medium can help you develop the character’s voice and physical characteristics, as well as develop plot points.  Digital storytelling is traditionally written in first-person, but if you want to try third-person to see how it feels, digital storytelling can give you a small enough canvas to experiment with.

2. A Dramatic Question – You probably already know the dramatic question of your work in progress.  Digital storytelling can help you develop the dramatic questions of scenes that lead to the climax and resolution of your greater story, or can provide a medium for you to present a synopsis of your work more creatively.  It can also help you develop subplot or back-story.  For both fiction and non-fiction work, it can help you process your research into a more meaningful and relevant story arc.

3. Emotional Content – If you’re finding that your work is lacking in emotional texture, digital storytelling can help you focus on creating the feelings you want.  Choosing digital imagery that helps you visualize your settings and characters is invaluable. Using descriptive language rather than explaining the emotions that a character feels or that a situation evokes is as important in a digital storytelling script as it is anywhere else in our work.  But combining it with imagery and music can really help us draw out the emotions we need to tap into as part of our creative process.

4. Economy – This element is what makes digital storytelling so useful to the writer.  Because the script is so short, (one double-spaced page of text for 2 to 3 minutes of narrative) the production time needed is manageable, and creates a product that your audience is willing to view in the time they have available.  It also helps you focus on what is essential to the story.

5. Pacing – Recording the narrative with effective pacing can help both you and your audience connect more deeply with your story.  Speeding up your narration in high tension/high action moments, pausing for dramatic effect and using different inflections for different characters’ voices add a lot of dimensions to a scene, and can really help you develop the tone and style you want to use in your larger work.

6. The Gift of Your Voice – Some of the best-read books-on-tape are those read by their authors.  The author records the exact pitch, tone and inflection intended.  With digital storytelling, you don’t have to wait for Audible to purchase your story to convey what the story should sound like. It also helps your audience connect with you in a new way. Reading the text out-loud is an excellent editorial technique, and can help you make significant breakthroughs in what is missing or just isn’t quite right.

7.  Soundtrack – Many writers listen to certain kinds of music to get them in the mood for the writing they have to do.  Movies use music to underscore and enhance the emotional content of the story.  Why not music in your digital story to accomplish both ends?  Don’t forget, It is important consider copyright when you use music. Websites like the Creative Commons  offer music that can be used legally.

Whether you are working on fiction or non-fiction, digital storytelling can help you share your topic with your audience in a new way.  In a short amount of time, you can introduce characters to your audience, share important research you’ve done to help you develop your story and setting, or explore avenues that you haven’t gone down before to help resurrect a stalled manuscript. It can add a new dimension to your platform that draws in new audience and engages your current audience more deeply.

Have you used digital storytelling to develop aspects of your work-in-progress?  Share them here!  Do you have other thoughts about how it might be useful to your creative process or platform building?  I’d love to hear them.  If you’ve done digital storytelling as part of your writing process, contact me, and I’ll invite you to do a guest post to share your work.

I’m going to try creating a digital story with my novel’s main character, using first-person.  It may take a couple of weeks, but I really want to test the waters before I go diving it to a totally new revision of the second draft I’ve been working on.  Watch for it here!

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I discovered something today.  I want to die.

In fact, I think most of us do at some point in our lives.  There is a part of us all that knows that what comes after this must be better than the suffering we have to endure in this physical plane of existence.  Whether you believe we are worm food or that there is an afterlife, getting off this spinning cesspool of agony doesn’t sound like such a bad idea sometimes.

To me heaven and hell are states of being along a continuum of nearness to or distance from God.  Our intended destination is His presence.  That’s where He wants us, not for His sake, but for ours.  He doesn’t need us there.  He created the universe, and everything in and beyond it.  So it isn’t an ego trip that He created us to know Him and to love Him.  He did it because He loves us and wants us to know the joy of that love.  So even if I haven’t gone as far as He intends me to in this life, it just seems like it would be such a relief to put my movement on that continuum completely in His hand, rid myself of this free will business once and for all.

I was sitting on the steps outside our apartment this afternoon, still upset from an argument I had with my husband about nothing that important.  I was smoking a cigarette and thinking, “Why is it that I do this?  I know it’s not good for me?  Why don’t I start running, and taking care of my body?  Why don’t I care about my health that much?”  And the answer came with such clarity and truth that I was struck by its simplicity.  I want to die, the sooner the better.

So why don’t I hasten the process even more?  Why don’t I find a nice bottle of sleeping pills, or some other such painless form of calling it quits?  These were real questions in my mind.  I wanted an answer.  Why aren’t I suicidal?  What stops me from really going there?  My initial thoughts about my children weren’t really satisfying enough.  I wasn’t really thinking about them, but rather the idea of my children being without a mother.  The older two have chosen that for themselves, and seem to be…well, they are at least alive, though I don’t know if they are well.  So, life goes on without mother.  I am fairly certain that my husband would get over it.  My parents and sister wouldn’t understand.  It would be a tremendous shock to them.  They would be deeply saddened.  But they, too, would get over it.  Those answers weren’t deep enough.

Then I thought about my ex-husband and his family.  I got angry.  I began to scratch the surface of the truth.  “See,” they would say to my children, “she wasn’t any good for you.  She was a suicidal mess.  You needed better than that.”  I will NOT give them the satisfaction, the excuse.  While I was angry, I realized that a big reason I am not suicidal is that I find suicide to be the height of selfishness.  You take yourself out of the physical plane, removing all potential for good, for service, for simply being there when you are needed, because you are tired of the grind.

Oh, my God, I am tired of the grind.  I want my heart to stop being crushed under the foot of my grief.  I want someone, anyone, to take up my cause, and stop hiding behind the veil of non-interference.  My children are surrounded by people who claim to be my friends (at least on Facebook).  They are people who espouse the principles of unity and the importance of letting our hearts “burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.”  But they do not call my children to account, lovingly, kindly, but frankly, damn it.  They are old enough to face the fact that I am their mother.  Why can no one remind them that I love them, that I have not for a moment stopped wanting them in my life?  My letters do not get through.  I am blocked at every turn, with every slight move I make to let them know myself.  What would happen if every single person who knows me and knows them passed the message along? Yes, they may shun you as they have shunned others.  But then another valiant soul would be right behind you, repeating the same message of love.  Do we not believe it is powerful enough to build unity, and wear down the walls of estrangement that have been allowed to grow and calcify through inaction?

Ok. That rant is over.  The point is, suicide is selfish.  I would be taking myself out of that grind because it is hard.  It is excruciating.  But then there are my monklets.  My eight-year-old son would not only not understand, he would completely and thoroughly blame himself.  My three-year-old daughter would feel utterly abandoned by the one she adores most in the world, the one who plays Barbies with her, and lets her twist her fingers through my hair while she falls asleep. These reasons are not about motherhood so much as they are about kindness.

If you watch or read enough about near-death experiences, you know that the frequent message that comes from them is that the only thing that really matters about what we do in the world is kindness.  Our accomplishments and accolades account for squat, zippo, nada.  To quote Jewel, “In the end, only kindness matters.”  And kindness isn’t just the smile we give to our neighbors.  It’s selflessly giving our all to our studies so we can learn how we can best be of service.  It’s putting our all into our work so that it can truly be a service.  It’s letting the children given to our care know how precious they are as human beings.  It’s helping them prepare for a life of kindness.  Suicide is a completely unkind act because it is entirely selfish.

So I am alive.  Then why, dear friends, do I act like I am just waiting to die?  Why do I sit on this fence, eating whatever the hell I want, smoking when I want, not exercising?  Why do I break commitments to myself?  Why do I choose to forget the discipline of prayer and meditation as the source, the well-spring of kindness?  It is time to choose.  What do I want for my life, possibly forty more years of existence on this physical plane?  Do I want to continue as I have been, living in mediocrity so that I can possibly make it 35 more, instead of 40?  Or even less, if I’m lucky?  Tears stream down my face as I ponder this very real question.  I get the kindness thing.  It’s why I exist, why any of us do.  It’s the way we really learn about God’s love.  Kindness requires compassion and truthfulness.   True justice is an expression of kindness.  Excellence and generosity are the beginning and end of kindness.  So what’s it gonna be for me?  I’ll be kind to everyone but myself, so I can get rid of this shell as soon as possible?  How is that not suicide, slow and painful?  It’s a question I will not answer here.  You will just have to watch me, watch my life, to find out.  Words, at this point are useless.  Let deeds, not words, be my adorning, in this one thing.

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So you may notice that I changed the look of this blog.  It’s an effort to make a clean start.  I have chosen the purpose of my blog, or rather re-stated that purpose via the comments of Voice Found.  Now What?  This blog will continue to be an exploration of the themes I am passionate about.  But now I know that is quite good enough, thank you.  I don’t have to stick to one external focus.  It’s okay to let my work and my heart determine what goes here. It’s my public notebook, my workshop, my soapbox, my home base.  I hope it works for you.  Let me know what you think.  You are the reason I’m here in the first place!

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