I am so excited for the coming April release of the Nintendo Labo. It’s one part google cardboard, one part Mario brothers, and all parts forward thinking. I was already eyeing a Switch the other day as part of my growing acceptance of gaming in my children’s lives. (Something I will have to write more on soon). The point is that gaming, that formerly dirty habit of lazy, non-productive peoples, is moving firmly in the direction of authentic education. Education should be a game and games should be educational. And I am ashamed to say that many smart people saw that connection a long time ago. I’m just glad to see it while I a) have young kids and b) still have 20 years left of teaching in me.
Usually, when I see old friends, they ask me what I’ve read or what I am watching. I never know what to say. These days, we seem to be ever-consuming, whether it be podcasts, websites, news feeds, novels, movies; We’re always reading, watching, listening. Too much even.
So let me try to pin down a few key influences this year. 2017 was filled with so many inspirational forces. I am picking five–a round number for a blog post–and the criteria for my selection is that:
- The source material had to be a watering hole I came back to several times in a year;
- The material had a major impact on my life and specifically my creative life.
So here’s the list. Happy 2018!
1. Alan Watts
By far, the greatest influence for me in 2018 (and probably 2017) was Alan Watts. Specifically, the universe of YouTube videos of his lectures.
Watts was a British Episcopal priest who moved to San Francisco and gave free lectures on pubic Radio in Berkeley. He is a great interpreter of Eastern Philosophy as well as Christian theology. Even though the lectures are quite old, Watts already seems to intuit the coming digital age. He was a bodhisattva through and through.
Kodak is creating their own Cryptocurrency, and I can’t help but think of how this will evolve. When any corporation, state, nation, organization can develop it’s own “in-game” currency, we will live in a the wilds of fractured economics. You thought club cards were annoying?
No doubt there will be a very favorable exchange rate for the host organizations. Moreover, the average consumer will be forced to deal with hundreds of different currencies, some more advantageous than others, some even onerous. Baseless speculation? Perhaps. But this is not going away anytime soon.
One of the great inspirations for this site comes from the work of Derek Sivers. He is a unique thinker and entrepreneur, one who offers a refreshing sincerity in an age of internet personas. I really enjoyed his booknotes site as well as Now, Now, Now initiative. I mention Derek because, a few nights ago, as a parting thought to a good friend about to embark on a professional journey, I shared Derek’s 3 minute Ted Talk about how to start a movement. Really, the lecture is about how leadership is overrated and why the most important person is really the first follower. Here it is:
Even though I am a writer of stories, I’m fascinated by the idea of thinking like a physicist. The way a physicist tackles a problem seems remarkably like the way an original story is constructed; first there’s a question, then an exploratory phase. Eventually, the problem is stripped down to the purest essence until a pattern emerges. You experiment again and again until you have enough data that you can draw a conclusion, make a statement, or derive a premise. I’ll explore this physics/storytelling connection later when I have more time. In the meantime, take a look at this: “How to Study Physics” by Seville Chapman, copyrighted in 1949, is a fascinating primer on how to be a scientist. It is broad-minded, friendly, with a tight style. Check it:
It is astonishing how few students actually can do arithmetic properly, i.e., accurately with moderate speed. You should be able to multiply 8,642 × 9,753 and get 84,285,426; without making a mistake; and you should be able to do it within two minutes. You are not good at arithmetic unless you can do it in one minute. (Some modern electronic calculating machines can do it in less than a thousandth of a second!) For most students, three to six honest hours of mathematical review represents an adequate brush-up; some students may need a dozen or more hours of practice, especially in arithmetic, high school algebra, geometry, and perhaps trigonometry. It is a delusion to blame physics for being difficult when you don’t know your math.
Lines from Robert Frost poems show up in the most benign places: middle school bulletin boards, motivational posters, bed and breakfast dining rooms. But if you get past the famous lines, you suddenly see the darkness of Robert Frost. The misery. The backbreaking work of existence. Also, you see something more: He hated people.
It was only a week ago that we submitted the development grant for our first feature film When We Fall. When I sent it off, it was a cause for celebration. Because, you know, if you’re not celebrating, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life.
Now, I am checking my email a little more eagerly. I’m not sure how long it will take for the folks at Saul Zaentz to make a choice. But since there is no news and I am neither elated nor disappointed, now is as good a time as any to say”Thank you”
I’m psyched to be working with Angel Kristi Williams on When We Fall. I first learned of Angel’s work from Mark Alice Durant and Bea Bufrahi. I’d urge you to take a look at her reel. If you sense depth and integrity to her work, believe me, it’s coming from the director. Here’s a clip from a conversation Mark had with Angel on Saint Lucy.
MAD: Was it a political decision that you chose to make narrative films, as opposed to experimental films, the theater as the site of your work instead of the gallery?
I was so excited to see this story in the Baltimore Sun about how the Baltimore School for the Arts is starting a film program. Though I knew that the article (and the generous gift from the Josephs) was coming, seeing the story in print was somewhat cathartic.
My friend and colleague, Bea Bufrahi, had been developing this program for years. Long before I worked at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Bea was running video classes where stage production students made short, obscure films. It’s hard to exaggerate how much effort she put into these films. Bea is nothing if not dedicated. Few people came to her film showcases. She didn’t always get paid. But still she persisted.
It’s not really my style to choose books in this way (I prefer a more associative path). Still, for those who can pull it off, I applaud you.
There are two ways to do this challenge.
1) Easy Mode: For every book you read, check off each item that applies. If you find a paperback Science Fiction Dystopia written by a woman pre-1950 featuring an LGBT character originally published in a foreign language, go ahead and mark all those off. This a great mode for slow readers, ensuring you’ll still be well rounded in the end.
- Nintendo Labo: Gaming Gets Its Learn on
- The Big Influences of 2017
- A Vision of Things to Come
- The Courage to Follow
- How to Study Physics
- Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
- Waiting for the money
- Angel Kristi Williams
- Respect The Ripple
- A Reading Challenge
- When Old Poems Feel New Again
- Wrestling with the Angel
- Who gets to tell the story?
- Regarding Election Day
- The Future of Storytelling Festival (Part I)
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