22 10 2012

American Refugee

What’s beyond yr. scene? Yr. ch’s coming from & going to—where? http://ht.ly/eCJss #writerscircle

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22 10 2012

American Refugee

We went on a date to the Toronto Roller Derby. These are planned missions (ssshhh) on my part to philch, to eavesdrop, to see, to learn. Not only can these ladies skid with the best of them, they are poets. Check it out:

“The last time I saw her, she’d fallen and broken her teeth. So sweet, so cute.”

“It’s frustrating when you’re not the way you remember yourself being. You look really beautiful today.”Image

This is the gold that I swear is everywhere that I’m always encouraging students to take up on Art Dates. Roll on, Ladies!!

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Rewriting Class at U of T (July, 2011!)

29 03 2011

Here are some notes on a fresh, new class I’ll be leading at U of T SCS this summer.

I’ve been in the arts education world for awhile. But it has always struck me as odd that there aren’t learning environments where writers can deepen their work through re-writing. God knows, the initial inspiration is thrilling—but then what?

Rewriting is, for me, is a bit like peeling an onion. Over time and by poking around I learn more and more about what I’ve written. By engaging with the material in a focused way, the material teaches me what it needs to be the most potent, resonant and effective.

For example, I recently had a breakthrough with the novel I’m working on through the RadioHead song, The Bends. But, my approach has taught me to notice Repetition, Tempo, Duration, Shape, Space, The Weather, Gesture—all sorts of ways to enter material and craft something fresh. Voice and authenticity can be cagey animals. It’s taught me that dlisted.com is not so far from Hamlet. That newspaper headlines today can help me to understand Walter Benjamin’s exile 70 years ago.

To these ends, I pitched a class to the School of Continuing StudiesRewriting: A Toolbox That Works. It’s mainly for those who’ve got a first draft or anticipate having to rewrite at some point.

While I haven’t finished the course outline yet, here’s a Course Description and a rough week-to-week outline. I’ve put main discipline from which I am drawing in parens. There will be some interaction with Social Media in the class’s pedagogy so regular access to the Internet is recommended.

You’ve got that first draft. You’ve written a novel, short story, screenplay, essay, article or poem. But, you’ve hit a wall. Now take your writing further by deepening your engagement with craft. Equip your writing tool box with fresh approaches to structure, content and voice. These will serve you well in the all-important rewriting process. This class offers a variety of interdisciplinary tools & techniques (from literature, visual art, theatre, music, film, reportage, testimony, etc.) to transition from idea to final draft.

Eight Weeks (6 July-24 August, 2011; 630—9p, Wednesdays)

Typically, I will introduce a topic, model its possible use and then we will apply it to our own work. This is a workshop environment, not a lecture seminar. There will be some theory (NB: I’m a theory hound-dog but this is not a theory class). We will either sign-up to present work for all of us to engage with, work on our own pieces in class or a combination of the two. That said, be prepared to work with your material in-class.

Week 1: Viewpoints: organic points of awareness (Dance & Theatre)

Week 2: Repetition, Imitation & Monads (Theatre & Philosophy)

Week 3: Setting & Architecture (Architecture & Meteorology)

Week 4: Tempo, Rhythm & Music (Dance, Social Media, Literature, Film & Pop Music)

Week 5: The Story and the story (Film, Visual Art, Journalism & Propaganda)

Week 6: The Body & The Gesture (Physiology, Theatre)

Week 7: Trace & Myth (Neuroscience, Chaos Theory, Lit Crit, Psycholanalysis)

Week 8: TBD

So, you’ve got a leg up. As of today, I haven’t even given the dept. this outline. But you can tell, I hope, where I’m headed. Come on over and take the class—no matter where you are with a novel, short story, poem, one-person show, screenplay, play, speech, essay or article.

Good Beginnings….

3 12 2010

So the other day I got the paper version of The Angel at Our Table submitted to the journal who’s interested. Yahoo! But, I wanted to share with you what, right at the tail end, would grab a reader. It’s sort of a no-brainer except that it wasn’t until the last few moments that I followed my own advice…start with an anecdote that has emotional pull for the reader . First the paper synopsis…

Synopsis: While promoting my novel, The Drifts, the press asks me: where does the book come from? Family stories, I answer, often told to me while my aunts and I made brown cake, informed the book. That word ‘inform’ has provoked questions. The questions led me into a deeper engagement with Walter Benjamin’s understanding of Paul Klee’s watercolour, Angelus Novus. Klee and Benjamin describe the debris pile at the feet of the angel as the wreckage of a storm—the storm of progress. That debris pile is composed of aura and trace. Trace might be thought of as the way that auratic impulses organize themselves as they attach to sensations, objects, thoughts and language. It is the site of art creation. It is where the progression from Art to Food and Food to Art happens. In a state of melancholy, brooding reifies experience into a vessel of aura and trace. Trace, then, informs the novel by nourishing the craft, skill and content of artwork—with empathy.

Then, here’s the start of the paper:

Article Text:

‘Yet a single sound, a single scent, already heard or breathed long ago, may once again, both in the present and the past, be real without being present, ideal without being abstract, as soon as the permanent and habitually hidden essence of things is liberated, and our true self, which may sometimes have seems to be long dead, but never was entirely, is re-awoken and re-animated when it receives the heavenly food that is brought to it.’ — Proust, Finding Time Again

Art is Food

In the U.S., more than 150 years ago now, but well after the forced removal of the Cherokee nation from Georgia in the late 1830s, my great x 4- grandmother came down from the Ozarks Mountains in Southeastern Missouri and Northeastern Arkansas. Her family had been marched, along with thousands of others, halfway across the continent headed towards re-settlement in Oklahoma; some died, some fled. This grandmother of mine, now a very aged photograph, must have been a young girl when she escaped from the ‘Trail of Tears’ and up into the mountains. There, foraging for roots and game, she and the people with her survived until it was safe to come down. The soldiers had gone home, dust had settled and memories had faded. Her people and their descendents eventually ended up in a little town out there, Brown’s Community, that later became Bay. When grandma came down from the mountain, she brought Brown Cake with her—or so the story goes.

The arts are as nourishing as Brown Cake. This nourishment feeds form to what is left over from our histories and experiences: the memories, the escapes—and so on. This paper is an attempt to articulate how this nourishment, and thus art’s emergence, happens….


What do you think? Effective? Does it work?

‘Next’ Best Practices?

16 06 2010

I responded to the idea of ‘Next Best Practices’ (see article below my post) outlined in an e-newsletter from Wolfbrown, the amazing arts consultancy firm.

As an arts consultant here in Toronto, the concept of best practices has swept away more than one conversation. The ranking, the jockeying for position, the trying to do what’s right.  The good thing is that a conversation around practices happens. The not-so-good thing is that ‘best’, inherently, means one – and only  one.  We all know that there are many, many avenues to program design, community participation and teaching. I have been increasingly dissatisfied with these “best practices” conversations.

This has come out of being a huge advocate for best practices in my own practice and that of others.  I was the root of a lot of those conversations. But while it’s good they’re happening at all, it’s not so good that they can shut down the natural creative impulses to transform our practices.  “The Next Best Practices” by Marc Goldring punches up this idea.  “Crowd-sourcing” and “Nudge” practices offer us room to evolve. I am always casting about to management theory, entrepreneurs, physics, literature and so on upon which I aspire to base transformational practices on. And I observe others. I learn so much from my colleagues, students and clients!

Thanks for the newsletter!

Thom Vernon
Engaged Consulting & Facilitating
416-603-4494, xt. 2
416-807-5260 (C)
Notes on Arts Education

The Next Best Practices
by: Marc Goldring

As a consultant, I’m used to identifying “best practice” models, as they are useful for clients to learn from the exemplary experience of others. So I was interested to see Beth Kanter mention “next practices” in her blog.  When it comes to technology, she’s right at the front of the line, especially relative to social media, so it’s not surprising that she’s latched onto the concept of crowd-sourcing and “next practices,” a subtle shift from our common thinking. A little research finds mention of “next practices” as far back as 2006, in an article by John R. Sullivan, now a professor of management at San Francisco State University. He focuses on the increasing speed of innovation and the need to look outside our core business to explore new models. And Saul Kaplan, the founder of the Business Innovation Factory, argues that “All leaders should spend more discretionary time outside of their industry, discipline, and sector…The big and important value-creating opportunities will most likely be found in the gray areas between the silos we inhabit.”

So many aspects of arts and culture are changing so rapidly that we often haven’t had time to sort out what the best practices are. We can learn from what others are trying, even before their approaches have been anointed as “best.” And as various fields and disciplines shift and merge, looking outside our usual range of comparatives could provide just the flash of strategic or tactical insight needed to move an organization forward. So while we still need to cultivate best practices, let’s keep a forward-looking eye to next practices.

Exercise: Physical Awareness & Control

14 04 2010

from orig.thestarpress.com

Scattered Ball Toss originally by Thom Vernon, Engaged Consulting

Circles are great but over-used. Especially in arts education. Mix it up! In the following, ‘players’ = Ps = students.

One incredible teacher I spoke to recently, Margot, confirmed yet again my own frustration with circling up. Margot, who teaches 3rd or 4th grade with students at varying developmental levels, got fed up with circles too. Once in the circle, her students tuned out. The formation, or the topography, if you will, became rote and uninteresting.

A fresh idea. Get a medium-sized rubber-ish ball; could be a sponge ball or a large bean bag. Either way it should have enough mass and density to allow a good toss without floating/fluttering away or so much that it knocks the person catching it!

Ask players to move around the space. First, medium speed, then faster, then slower, then fast and then – freeze! You’re looking for a nice scattering of Ps in the space; not clumped, not in pairs (although that could come later w/ practice). Staying aware, using peripheral vision and the eyes in the back of their head. Should seek to throw and catch from one point in the space (vs. leaping or running to catch).

Ps have 30 secs to pass the ball to each person on the floor. Encourage them to turn at the torso and to conserve movement. Adjust the time for the number of Ps: 15 people, 30 seconds. As the group gains awareness and control, decrease the time to keep it challenging. If the ball drops, restart the clock.

If your players become really adept at this, ask them to move while keeping “the ball in the air”; first slowly and then gradually increasing the speed.

Of course acknowledge/reward them for their increasing success!

Fundraising: See Beyond the Cheque

13 04 2010

Money Flow Where Innovation Prevails

Bad economies often breed innovation, and charity officials have a chance to develop a new strategy and diversify their revenue, so says Susan Raymond of Changing World. Pay attention to: female donors (philanthropically-oriented, financially conservative), Corporate Giving (becoming more cause-related) and A “depression-memory of a recession” (Economic downturn impacts trust and communications).

This means that we get to think twice about those resource-draining silent auctions, gala dinners and the way entrepreneurial fundraising is done. Donors want to be engaged and involved. They want transparency and accountability. They are tremendous resources often reduced to a cheque. We can do better.

Teaching Tip: Book Reports

12 04 2010

Book Report Terror!

Book Reports can be terrifying, esp. for slower learners & non-native lang. users. But book reports don’t have to be your grandma’s book reports.  Give them a 21st century twist: small group reports and device-oriented lessons.

An alternative: report to one or two other students. Then have those students present to 4-6 students. Confidence and content retention increase dramatically.

As a means to access book content, surrender to the exciting technology blossoming all around us.  Introduce lessons about social media sites organized around reading: GoodReads, LibraryThing and Shelfari.  Do a lesson on reading and writing related apps for PDAs such as iPhones, Palms, Smart Phones, Kindles, iPads and so on.  There has been a veritable explosion of inexpensive but quality content available as eBooks (Amazon, Audible and many other book-related sites).

This is one band-wagon we can all appreciate. Jump on!

Teaching Tip: Follow the Leader

11 04 2010

A 5th grade trouble-maker and leader, Will Phillips!

All of us have born leaders in our groups.  If you’ve got a trouble-making student, odds are you have a leader. Not always, of course.  But our default response is often resistence to disruption vs. integration.  Give these mis-directed leaders directed responsibilities in the room.   Everyone can contribute to making the room a safe and effective learning environment.  Especially “trouble-makers.”

#Sunlight #Labs Design for #America Contest

23 03 2010

Sunlight is quietly transforming the way we think about , and engage with, government.  I’ve agreed to post for them from time to time.  As a big Web 2.0 fan, I wanted to let you know about this contest.  Let folks you know who do this sort of thing know re contest, please.

The Sunlight Labs Announces Design for America Competition

Contest to award designers for creative ways to visualize data, government documents and congressional procedures
WASHINGTON, DC -The Sunlight Labs, Sunlight Foundation’s open source development team, announced Design for America, an innovative contest that challenges artists and designers to use government data in exciting new ways. Contest winners will be announced on May 27 at a reception at the Gov 2.0 Expo, sponsored by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb. Competitors will compete for 1st place prizes of $5,000 each in several categories. Sponsors include The Adobe Corporation, Google, O’Reilly, TechWeb and the Gov2.0 expo.

The competition will focus on art and visualizations in three general categories: data visualization, process transparency and redesigning government. The data visualization category will focus on projects designed to distill complex datasets into easily understandable graphics, pictures or videos. Judges in this category include Andrew Vande Moere of Infosthetics, Nathan Yso of Flowingdata, Charles Blow of The New York Times and Nick Felton of Feltron. Competitors can create entries using Sunlight community data, data from the federal budget, USASpending.gov or Recovery.gov.

“The goal is to present government data, procedures and even government forms in easy to understand, meaningful and creative ways,” said Clay Johnson, director of the Sunlight Labs. “This competition will show that when government data is released to everyone, online, that anyone can analyze and contextualize the information in ways that are truly meaningful. Think better, easier ways to use tax forms, an art installation about how the House budget process works or a visualization that clearly explains to people the intersection of money and power.”

The Process Transparency category will focus on showing citizens how the processes of our government work. Competitors will visualize how a bill becomes a law, congressional rules and floor procedures. Competitors in this category will be judged by Lisa Strausfeld, a designer and technologist at Pentagram, John Wonderlich and Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation.

In the Redesigning the Government category, competitors will redesign government forms and Web sites so that they become easier to use and provide more useful information to citizens trying to access them. Judges will include Sunlight Labs Designer Ali Felski and others.

Artists and designers have until May 17 to submit their projects.


The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.  Visit http://SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including http://PoliticalPartyTime.org and http://OpenCongress.org.