Category Archives: storytelling

You Need A Nickname

I’m going to try something new this semester. In our Mastering Academic Conversations (MAC) class for incoming freshmen, I’m going to ask everyone to think of a nickname they can use as a handle during the course. This idea is directly borrowed from Lynda Barry (aka The Accidental Professor) but she once said her ideas are open source which is a good thing since I can’t draw like her or think like her.

She always comes up with amazing names for herself like Professor Chewbacca or Professor Mandrake. Earlier this year I used Professor Pandemic for a while just to amuse myself, but I never used it in a class and besides, we are already constantly reminded of the pandemic. So it’s so long Professor Pandemic, hello Professor Robin.

I’m asking my students to think of an actual nickname that someone from the past had given to them. For me, it is Robin. I actually had the nickname Robin for about one year in high school. In my graphic, I drew Professor Robin as Batman’s sidekick. I had done a lot of thinking about a suitable nickname to use instead of Professor Pandemic. Robin is a great sidekick, and I think sometimes I’m a pretty good sidekick too. Lately, I actually enjoy building up and supporting others more than I do seeking attention for myself. I think I’m pretty content being a sidekick figure.

 

The nickname Robin came to me, not because of this sidekick character, but because of another sidekick called Robin the Frog. Robin the Frog is Kermit the Frog’s unnoticed nephew. Because I was a slight fellow around 85 or 90 lbs as a high school freshman who happened to play the tuba, I was no match for the giant brass tubas our band marched with in marching band. They had to do something with me, so my freshman year during the fall marching season, I was loaned out to the percussion section to play the cymbals. Even the cymbals I played were down-sized, not the full-sized version that a couple of the other percussionists played.

There were three young lady seniors who played the triple-toms who evidently enjoyed having me around to tease and kid. It was Jansy, Jamie and Hannah who gave me the name Robin because I reminded them of the tiny little frog in the new muppet movie that was released that year. I enjoyed the attention and the name, but it didn’t stick because after that first year, I didn’t take band anymore.

But as I was thinking through what I was asking students to think about, I started remembering some of the things I was called as a youngster. Professor Robin, it is, I guess.

Cutting Down a Big Tree

I am in the process of cutting down a large but dying ash tree in my backyard. I was advised that it needs to come down for safety’s sake. So what did I do? I decided to cut it down by myself. With hand tools.

You might ask questions like:

Why do such a foolish thing? Why not hire professionals?

Well, I like to feel useful. I like to feel needed. I like to feel like I have a purpose for being. An important reason is that I like to save a buck when I can. I like to teach my kids some life lessons now and then. The lesson I am going for is that you can do a large, seemingly insurmountable job if you break it down into small, doable parts. Hopefully, I don’t teach them a lesson in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but I suppose I could. I am going very slowly. I am taking it down branch by branch. I’m using tie-down straps to secure my ladder and myself. It may be a stupid project but I have been enjoying it and so far it has been going well.

Here is the latest edition from the ongoing saga of Bill’s ash tree removal.

My Antonia – The Wolf Tale

On the Jim and Anto show on DS106 Radio they were talking about wolf stories. I tweeted that my favorite scary wolf story comes from one of my favorite novels, My Antonia, by Willa Cather. This is the story:

‘He is scared of the wolves,’ Antonia whispered to me. ‘In his country there are very many, and they eat men and women.’ We slid closer together along the bench.

I could not take my eyes off the man in the bed. His shirt was hanging open, and his emaciated chest, covered with yellow bristle, rose and fell horribly. He began to cough. Peter shuffled to his feet, caught up the teakettle and mixed him some hot water and whiskey. The sharp smell of spirits went through the room.

Pavel snatched the cup and drank, then made Peter give him the bottle and slipped it under his pillow, grinning disagreeably, as if he had outwitted someone. His eyes followed Peter about the room with a contemptuous, unfriendly expression. It seemed to me that he despised him for being so simple and docile.

Presently Pavel began to talk to Mr. Shimerda, scarcely above a whisper. He was telling a long story, and as he went on, Antonia took my hand under the table and held it tight. She leaned forward and strained her ears to hear him. He grew more and more excited, and kept pointing all around his bed, as if there were things there and he wanted Mr. Shimerda to see them.

‘It’s wolves, Jimmy,’ Antonia whispered. ‘It’s awful, what he says!’

The sick man raged and shook his fist. He seemed to be cursing people who had wronged him. Mr. Shimerda caught him by the shoulders, but could hardly hold him in bed. At last he was shut off by a coughing fit which fairly choked him. He pulled a cloth from under his pillow and held it to his mouth. Quickly it was covered with bright red spots—I thought I had never seen any blood so bright. When he lay down and turned his face to the wall, all the rage had gone out of him. He lay patiently fighting for breath, like a child with croup. Antonia’s father uncovered one of his long bony legs and rubbed it rhythmically. From our bench we could see what a hollow case his body was. His spine and shoulder-blades stood out like the bones under the hide of a dead steer left in the fields. That sharp backbone must have hurt him when he lay on it.

Gradually, relief came to all of us. Whatever it was, the worst was over. Mr. Shimerda signed to us that Pavel was asleep. Without a word Peter got up and lit his lantern. He was going out to get his team to drive us home. Mr. Shimerda went with him. We sat and watched the long bowed back under the blue sheet, scarcely daring to breathe.

On the way home, when we were lying in the straw, under the jolting and rattling Antonia told me as much of the story as she could. What she did not tell me then, she told later; we talked of nothing else for days afterward.

When Pavel and Peter were young men, living at home in Russia, they were asked to be groomsmen for a friend who was to marry the belle of another village. It was in the dead of winter and the groom’s party went over to the wedding in sledges. Peter and Pavel drove in the groom’s sledge, and six sledges followed with all his relatives and friends.

After the ceremony at the church, the party went to a dinner given by the parents of the bride. The dinner lasted all afternoon; then it became a supper and continued far into the night. There was much dancing and drinking. At midnight the parents of the bride said good-bye to her and blessed her. The groom took her up in his arms and carried her out to his sledge and tucked her under the blankets. He sprang in beside her, and Pavel and Peter (our Pavel and Peter!) took the front seat. Pavel drove. The party set out with singing and the jingle of sleigh-bells, the groom’s sledge going first. All the drivers were more or less the worse for merry-making, and the groom was absorbed in his bride.

The wolves were bad that winter, and everyone knew it, yet when they heard the first wolf-cry, the drivers were not much alarmed. They had too much good food and drink inside them. The first howls were taken up and echoed and with quickening repetitions. The wolves were coming together. There was no moon, but the starlight was clear on the snow. A black drove came up over the hill behind the wedding party. The wolves ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there were hundreds of them.

Something happened to the hindmost sledge: the driver lost control—he was probably very drunk—the horses left the road, the sledge was caught in a clump of trees, and overturned. The occupants rolled out over the snow, and the fleetest of the wolves sprang upon them. The shrieks that followed made everybody sober. The drivers stood up and lashed their horses. The groom had the best team and his sledge was lightest—all the others carried from six to a dozen people.

Another driver lost control. The screams of the horses were more terrible to hear than the cries of the men and women. Nothing seemed to check the wolves. It was hard to tell what was happening in the rear; the people who were falling behind shrieked as piteously as those who were already lost. The little bride hid her face on the groom’s shoulder and sobbed. Pavel sat still and watched his horses. The road was clear and white, and the groom’s three blacks went like the wind. It was only necessary to be calm and to guide them carefully.

At length, as they breasted a long hill, Peter rose cautiously and looked back. ‘There are only three sledges left,’ he whispered.

‘And the wolves?’ Pavel asked.

‘Enough! Enough for all of us.’

Pavel reached the brow of the hill, but only two sledges followed him down the other side. In that moment on the hilltop, they saw behind them a whirling black group on the snow. Presently the groom screamed. He saw his father’s sledge overturned, with his mother and sisters. He sprang up as if he meant to jump, but the girl shrieked and held him back. It was even then too late. The black ground-shadows were already crowding over the heap in the road, and one horse ran out across the fields, his harness hanging to him, wolves at his heels. But the groom’s movement had given Pavel an idea.

They were within a few miles of their village now. The only sledge left out of six was not very far behind them, and Pavel’s middle horse was failing. Beside a frozen pond something happened to the other sledge; Peter saw it plainly. Three big wolves got abreast of the horses, and the horses went crazy. They tried to jump over each other, got tangled up in the harness, and overturned the sledge.

When the shrieking behind them died away, Pavel realized that he was alone upon the familiar road. ‘They still come?’ he asked Peter.

‘Yes.’

‘How many?’

‘Twenty, thirty—enough.’

Now his middle horse was being almost dragged by the other two. Pavel gave Peter the reins and stepped carefully into the back of the sledge. He called to the groom that they must lighten—and pointed to the bride. The young man cursed him and held her tighter. Pavel tried to drag her away. In the struggle, the groom rose. Pavel knocked him over the side of the sledge and threw the girl after him. He said he never remembered exactly how he did it, or what happened afterward. Peter, crouching in the front seat, saw nothing. The first thing either of them noticed was a new sound that broke into the clear air, louder than they had ever heard it before—the bell of the monastery of their own village, ringing for early prayers.

Pavel and Peter drove into the village alone, and they had been alone ever since. They were run out of their village. Pavel’s own mother would not look at him. They went away to strange towns, but when people learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the two men who had fed the bride to the wolves. Wherever they went, the story followed them. It took them five years to save money enough to come to America. They worked in Chicago, Des Moines, Fort Wayne, but they were always unfortunate. When Pavel’s health grew so bad, they decided to try farming.

Pavel died a few days after he unburdened his mind to Mr. Shimerda, and was buried in the Norwegian graveyard. Peter sold off everything, and left the country—went to be cook in a railway construction camp where gangs of Russians were employed.

At his sale we bought Peter’s wheelbarrow and some of his harness. During the auction he went about with his head down, and never lifted his eyes. He seemed not to care about anything. The Black Hawk money-lender who held mortgages on Peter’s livestock was there, and he bought in the sale notes at about fifty cents on the dollar. Everyone said Peter kissed the cow before she was led away by her new owner. I did not see him do it, but this I know: after all his furniture and his cookstove and pots and pans had been hauled off by the purchasers, when his house was stripped and bare, he sat down on the floor with his clasp-knife and ate all the melons that he had put away for winter. When Mr. Shimerda and Krajiek drove up in their wagon to take Peter to the train, they found him with a dripping beard, surrounded by heaps of melon rinds.

The loss of his two friends had a depressing effect upon old Mr. Shimerda. When he was out hunting, he used to go into the empty log house and sit there, brooding. This cabin was his hermitage until the winter snows penned him in his cave. For Antonia and me, the story of the wedding party was never at an end. We did not tell Pavel’s secret to anyone, but guarded it jealously—as if the wolves of the Ukraine had gathered that night long ago, and the wedding party been sacrificed, to give us a painful and peculiar pleasure. At night, before I went to sleep, I often found myself in a sledge drawn by three horses, dashing through a country that looked something like Nebraska and something like Virginia.

Tony Adams – Adventure Cyclist

Here is a mini-documentary I made along with the students in my digital literacy class. Everyone was to make a video 2-4 minutes long about someone who is interesting that you don’t know well. (Here is the official DS106 video assignment.) I found Tony pedaling his recumbent bike along my morning commute, so I stopped to see if he would visit with me. This is the result.

I wrote about some of the challenges of making video this in an earlier blog. Needless to say, the shorter the video, the harder you have to work at making it something worth watching. I probably spent over ten hours making this thing, but I like how it turned out.

Thomas Pandolfi Pianist

Last night Emily invited me to go along with her and her friend Haley to attend a piano concert at the Brown grand in concordia. The pianist was Thomas Pandolfi from Washington DC and he performed works by various composers from America in honor of the Veterans Day holiday.  He began and ended with Gershwin. I think he adores Gershwin. I would not know Gershwin except for the fact that we sang Gershwin’s summer time in high school chorus. I have to hand it to my public school music educators. They did exposes to some of the greats. New line

He began and ended with Gershwin. I think he adores Gershwin. I would not know Gershwin except for the fact that we sang Gershwin’s summer time in high school chorus. I have to hand it to my public school music educators. They did expose us to some of the greats. New line

He was very eloquent and theatrical. He strolled out onto the stage and mesmerized us with  his virtuosity. He had an error about him that he plan to bring culture to the backward people of the heartland. Emily giggled uncontrollably at first but I made her quit. She was making me laugh too.

These are some sketches I made.  I forgot to bring my usual small sketchbook along with me to this concert but I had a small folded piece of paper in my wallet to make the sketches on. It was the hunting license I had printed out just the day before. I can print another one.

 

Thomas Pandolfi in concert

Brown grand theater

Concordia Kansas

November 11, 2019

Montage: Barbara Nicolosi & Sergei Eisenstein

Last night I went to hear a talk in Lincoln, NE presented by Hollywood screenwriter and professor  Barbara Nicolosi.

Barbara Nicolosi in Lincoln, NE giving a speech

While discussing Flannery O’Connor and Sergei Eisenstein she asked the audience if anyone had heard of Sergei Eisenstein and no one raised their hand. I’m thinking to myself, nope, I’ve never heard of him.

This morning, I decided to learn a bit more about him and after searching a bit online, I found this fascinating clip about Eisenstein’s pioneering use of montage.

After viewing the video clip, I flipped over to another tab I had open in my browser from some recent reading I had been doing. (I always have several tabs open, it is just my way.) The next tab over was an online copy of Notes of a Film Director by Sergei Eisenstein! Yes, I had just this week been reading about his work on Archive.org but did not put two and two together. Doh! What a goof I am! I was interested in the book, but really paid no attention to the author, only to the subject of film and the fact that this was a really old book about the subject.

Sergei Eisenstein

I do recall that one thing catching my interest early on in Eisenstein’s book was his discussion of the audience and how they were then becoming adjusted to the language of film; that is film with the cuts and edits of montage. It is useful to remember that in the early days of film, audience members had no experience with such techniques.

I’ll try to write a bit more about what Barbara Nicolosi shared last night in a future post.