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My Head Is Exploding

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I really love Tim Owens’ We Are All Artists post and audio discussion, for so many reasons. How long you got?

First, YES. Accept that creativity is a skill, not a genetic or divine predetermination, and that with practice you can get better at it. All you really need are effort and persistence. Persist! Please. I am begging you.

I appreciated hearing Jim talk about why he doesn’t send his kids to school. I can remember being in 6th or 7th grade, maybe even 5th grade. I can remember that once a day we got to go either to art class or music class for an hour. We didn’t get to choose, it’s just that those two activities were deemed not important enough to do both every day. And in those two places, I had a break, and space to breathe, and something joyous that I loved to do, and while I did them, the things I was learning in the more academic subjects got a minute to percolate around my cranium and associate with other things. I am telling you, I knew these things were happening in my head. I could feel it. Art or music hour always went too fast and then we were back listening to lectures or reading out loud from books or drilling our spelling words or pounding chalk out of erasers or whatever else we had to do.

I remember deciding, right in the middle of an economics or civics lesson, when my mind began to wander and I involuntarily started to hum that song we learned in music class, that instead of being a writer when I grew up, I would be an art teacher. Because I could see that I needed more time and encouragement doing creative tasks. I could tell it actually helped me learn the other things faster. And made it all much more fun. I could literally feel the droning on and on killing my soul, that’s what I thought at the time. I could see the solution, and I wanted to help.

I eventually did become an art teacher, sort of, but for college, not for elementary school. I do still feel like I’m helping, especially when students tell me that my class is the one they look forward to because they can play. They have no idea how much I can relate. Anyway, every semester I hear people tell me they aren’t creative, or artistic. My purpose in life becomes proving them wrong.

I liked Tim’s example of the coffee filter box, depicting creativity’s problem solving side. Also his example of the logo he saw in the urinal…. Since he shared that, I can share that he reminded me of my first trip to New Zealand. I had to buy supplies for “that time of the month,” and found that they had done something with sanitary napkin packaging that no one in the U.S. had the sense to do. Maybe the problem the Kiwis were solving was cranky PMS, or maybe they just wanted to make the whole experience more pleasant. The packaging was pretty, boldly colorful and playful, not pastel and clinical (and U.S. products are starting to go that way). And the little protective strip that you peeled off the adhesive was printed with jokes. Hilarious jokes! And the occasional fun fact or bit of philosophy. It made me almost look forward to changing a pad, just to see something new and funny instead of sitting in a bathroom thinking “ugh, ick.” It was like someone had combined feminine hygiene and Bazooka gum. Take notes, Kotex.

I was especially happy to hear Tim and Jim talking about the incorporation of pop culture into #ds106. I admit to being perplexed last Spring as I popped my head up occasionally to look in on what #ds106 was up to. I didn’t understand why people were doing animated GIFs of films, or four icon challenges summarizing films, or mashups of random album covers using images that weren’t theirs. I wasn’t considering that the point might be to practice doing something creative, or to learn how to make an animated GIF. And I wasn’t looking close enough to notice whether someone was actually using a GIF to make a comment on no more digital facelifts like Stella Meme did last week. From a distance, I saw disjointed riffs on pop culture fluff, and, like Tim says of reality TV, I saw no value in it.

Now I see that it’s play, and practice. It’s marks with chalk on paper as you learn technique. And it’s more, if you want it to be. If you want it to be, it can be layer on layer of art and commentary and riffing off one another, call and response in a great chorus. And, this is probably key, our #ds106 work isn’t necessarily supposed to be fully understood out of context and from a distance, the way I was looking at it. It’s a creative community, not a person working in a vacuum.

This is a really different approach to digital storytelling than I take when I teach it. I follow more of a Center for Digital Storytelling model. I spend several weeks helping students scratch a personal narrative out of their heads before starting working with digital tools. We literally sit around a circle and tell each other stories to develop them. We give each other feedback – non-verbal reactions while listening to a story, and verbal feedback afterward. We form a creative community, too, one where lifelong friendships develop sometimes. Then we move on to recording audio, and putting together book and video versions of our stories, supporting each other as much through the technical process as through the creative development. It’s hugely fun. Here is the first digital story I made following this method, in case you’re curious.

I’ll say right now, I don’t think my way is better than what we’re doing with #ds106. But I will say that I do still value the personal narrative aspect. Or maybe that term is too confining, because I also enjoy the personal snippets, the little expressions of the now, the micro stories, even if they last only an instant. I got into this media literacy / digital storytelling / art making stuff because I am mostly sick to death of mainstream pablum produced by people with a lot of money who have something to sell. I am not nearly so interested in watching you make a four icon challenge summarizing a movie like, say, Friday the Thirteenth part 666, as I am in learning more about who you are and watching you explore your interests. The more you that you put into your #ds106 work, the more I will love it.

And that’s the best thing, the thing I love most, about listening to Tim and Jim discuss #ds106. Part of what motivates me to teach digital multimedia classes is that I really want to hear or see something unique for a change. It’s about damn time that higher education, heck, all education, stopped wholesale ignoring that we don’t need gatekeepers anymore. We don’t need some film or music (or whatever) producer with a fat wad of cash and a slew of investors to greenlight what we have to share. We don’t need committee approval. We don’t need anyone but us to decide that it’s good enough, and to make it, put it out there, and let our work find its audience. We just need ourselves. And I really want to see and hear this stuff. Our stuff. Not another vapid sitcom or remade movie. Not another infomercial or staged reality show. Just you, your ideas, your voice, your experience, your art, your stories. Get to it, everybody.

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