#DigiWriMo Who are you? Rabbits, AltCVs and more

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit: the beginning of my first blog post of each month, to bring back a little bit of the childhood playful hopefulness. It seems especially apropos today at the start of #DigiWriMo. I expect to be staying with the metaphors of journey and narrative through much of #DigiWriMo and so I envision the narrative today to be about the start of a journey.

It is as if we are all standing around the starting line. We’ve introduced who we want to think we are, as opposed to how traditional CVs introduce ourselves. It feels a little bit like the kids dressed up for Halloween last night in their hopes and aspirations.

This week, I went to the funeral for the mother of a friend. She was 95 and loved music. In her final days, he heard his mother say, “Who, are you? Who? Who?” She was a Who fan and was singing one of her favorite songs. The minister at the funeral talked about that great question, “who are you?”

Last night, I thought a little bit more about who I am. Our town has “Truck or Treat”; Halloween at the local volunteer fire department. They started it the year of Hurricane Sandy, the year my mother died. I was running for State Representative and was supposed to be there campaigning. Instead, I was there mourning. I was there as members of my community helped one another out after the storm, and as much as I thank my neighbors and volunteer firemen, they may never know how important that first Truck or Treat was. This year, they were asking how my wife, who is recuperating from sinus surgery is doing.

So, as I thought of the kids dressed up in the hopes and aspirations, as I thought about my AltCV and #DigiWriMo, as I thought of Peg singing to herself, asking “Who are you?” part of the answer came to me. I am part of a community. I am part of the wonderful community of Woodbridge, with all its quirks and foibles. I am part of the wonderful community of Grace and St. Peter’s where I worship on Sunday mornings, and I am part of the #DigiWriMo community, which I’m just starting to get to know.

At Church today, All Saints Day, we will remember those who have died. We will sing great hymns about all the saints, and we will balance it with four baptisms and a community meal afterwards.

For #DigiWriMo, we will have the chatter that is exchanged at the start of a shared journey. I shared my quote from Christian Wiman, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. The same applies, I hope, to #DigiWriMo.

Another person shared a quote from Allen Ginsberg, “We are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter”. Yet another took the idea of the AltCV, and combined it with another. It makes me think, what is the combined AltCV of everyone in #DigiWriMo? We are greater than the sum of our parts as we type on the same dreadful internet.

I am tempted to head off in a postmodern poet philosopher Christian mystic direction and start talking about the relationship between The Body of Christ and the #DigiWriMo group AltCV. Yet before I do that, I return to the quotes of the day and find Scott Johnson’s “Even paradise needs work” and John Spencer asking, “How do we create a sense of place online?”

I’ve often criticized my friends interested in “church social media” on a related thought, “How do we share a sense of the mystical, the divine online?” How do we do it as an inclusive shared experience for the atheist, agnostic, wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, so many flavors of Christian, and so many other experiences of the divine?
And so, I set out on the first steps of #DigiWriMo, surrounded by a great cloud of believes, to use the older language, or a bunch of really interesting people I look forward to traveling with virtually and learning more about, to translate some of it into the twenty first century digital vernacular.

Slowly, I’m learning more about who I am, as it changes along this journey, and I look forward to more quotes, and more answers to “Who are you?” as we journey together.

The Roads to #DigiWriMo

For the past several years during the month of November, I’ve often participated in National Novel Writing Month. #NaNoWriMo. Over the years I’ve completed two first drafts of novels, and worked on several others. I’ve written the 1,666 words a day to get to 50,000 words for the month. I’ve had friends act as readers of draft, and gotten feedback from them.

It has been a valuable writing exercise, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other #NaNoWri participants and write-ins and dinners, but I’ve never gone back and edited the novels, sought to publish them, or shared them with a wider audience.

In January of this year, I participated in a couple of MOOCs. One was on the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was part of a series, and I later participated in one on Emily Dickinson. They would good courses, but I felt even more disconnected from the participants than I did with #NaNoWriMo.

I also took a course on using Moodles to set up a MOOC. It was very helpful on the technology side; how to configure and administer a MOOC. The community was much more vibrant, and while it wasn’t a focus of the course, we did drift into discussions of pedagogy. It was there that I learned about connectivism, which led me to participate in another MOOC, a different sort of MOOC, a connectivistic MOOC called #Rhizo15.

It was great, and I remain connected with the people I met through that event. There was talk about wandering in that course and I brought in my poetry to it. This brings me to the title of this post, The Roads to #DigiWriMo. It isn’t one path. It is a bunch of paths intertwined.

So let me return to the poetry path for a moment. I decided to make writing a poem a day my 2015 Lenten discipline. It went well, and some of the poems aren’t all that bad. I joined up with a group of Episcopalian poets and met with them from time to time. Through them, I learned that Yale Divinity School was having a conference on poetry and I attended.

It was a deep religious experience for me that has brought back into my consideration a path I had looked at years ago, but not wandered down, the path to possible ordination as a priest. I have met with my priest. We have met with my bishop, and my priest is setting up a discernment committee to explore this path more fully with me. I’ve thought it would be interesting to have a parallel, online discernment group. I set up one part of it on Facebook, and I expect this will intertwine with my #DigiWriMo explorations.

One of the speakers at the Yale Conference was Christian Wiman. I’ve been reading his book, My Bright Abyss. In it, I found a wonderful quote, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. Mixing the ‘journey’ metaphor with the ‘narrative’ metaphor, it seems like this quote is the starting point, the first mile marker on my #DigiWriMo journey.

I am looking forward to mixing a bit of poetry, novel writing, technology, and explorations into pedagogy and my spiritual journey together with what others are posting in #DigiWriMo. I hope you’ll join me and hang on for the ride!

The Long Run

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming…

I’m not sure why that song came to my mind after Election Day, but it was one of the first to come to mind.

Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the Twenty-First Century…

Yet, I am not feeling as down about the election as others. I’ve been skipping over much of the gloating and hand wringing on social media. It is all just part of the ongoing process. I ran. I did not get elected, but I talked about issues and got people involved. I won.

Another song came to mind soon after Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”. Fiona is a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is a musical episode of Buffy with the song, “Where do we go from here?” That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

It is National Novel Writing Month. I’ve written the first draft of two novels in previous National Novel Writing Months. I had kicked around the idea of writing a parody of the political biographies that presidential candidates need to write these days. My working title was, “Let’s Get Real”, sort of like Hunter S. Thompson meets the presidential candidates’ autobiography. But I knew that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to make a full out effort, so I decided not to tackle NaNoWriMo this year.

Yet as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve started thinking I need to write, “The Long Run”. I’ve gone back and forth on whether it should be a memoir or semi-autobiographical novel about running for office. I’m currently thinking of the novel approach so that I can amplify aspects of running for office without worrying about offending friends who have been so helpful. This way, I can also weave in parts of other people’s stories about running for office.

I’ve put together an outline and started writing my introduction. At the same time, I’m trying to decompress from the campaign as well as find other ideas to weave into my narrative.

On the campaign trail, I spoke about how I was not running against the incumbent, I was running against apathy. It is an idea I used in 2012 as well. This year, I expanded it to talk about not just what I was running against, apathy, but also what I was running for, empathy.

So, the question becomes, how do we increase empathy? To get ideas, I’ve been listening to various TED and RSA videos. Brene Brown has a couple good ones worth viewing. She talks about empathy and sympathy, shame and guilt, worthiness and vulnerability. All of this is tied up in connectedness.

Who is worthy of running for office? Who is worthy of being elected? Who is worthy of receiving help, whether it be food stamps, or a meal distributed to homeless people in parks in Fort Lauderdale? Who is worthy of success? How does this relate to internalized racism?

I continue to try and make sense of my experiences over the past half year as a candidate. I continue to think about empathy and politics, and I continue to seek ways to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me. You see, I’m in this for The Long Run.

Rethinking #NaNoWriMo

When I started National Novel Writing Month this year, I wasn’t sure if I could make it. When I wrote my first novel several years ago as part of NaNoWriMo, my work schedule was much different, much more flexible, much less demanding. Sure, there are people who can write five thousand words everyday for a month straight and easily hit one hundred and fifty thousand words. There are others that can hit fifty thousand words in the first day or first weekend of November, but for many of us, it is a struggle.

One idea I had thought of doing this year was going meta. On top of writing the first draft of my second novel, or perhaps as part of it, I would tell my own story of what it is like to do NaNoWriMo; the struggle to come up with the right balance of planning and writing by the seat of your pants, the struggles to come up with good character names and place names, the struggle to have a compelling story, the struggle to have realistic characters the change throughout the story, the struggle to keep going through the boring sections, knowing they are necessary to link parts of the story together, but fearing that if, I, the writer is bored, how much more bored the reader will be.

On Saturday the 30th, I hit my 50,000 words. I tied the pieces together fairly quickly and abruptly and then validated my word count. 51,531. I had done it. I had won. I felt joy and elation. I experienced fatigue and a sadness at the end of this part of a great adventure. I joined online discussions celebrating the victory of other writers.

There is something very powerful about this. Writing the first draft of a novel in thirty days is a major accomplishment. It builds self confidence. Some of my fellow NaNoWriMo writers plan to publish their novels. Other’s may put their novels on the shelf, waiting for a novel in some other year to try and publish. My first novel, after a rough first edit is sitting on a hard drive somewhere. It’s not great and if I become a more accomplished writer, maybe it can be published posthumously. I’m taking a little time away from my second novel before I start editing and deciding what the fate of it will be. I believe it is much better than my first, and I’m looking for readers to share initial reactions and if I do press on with a significant edit, I’ll be doing a bit of research in various areas I sort of glossed over in the first pass.

Yes, writing fifty thousand words in a month is very empowering., but there is something more. One writer posted on Facebook that she had only completed thirty seven thousand words, but that she had two thirds of the way through a story that needed to be told. It raises an important issue, why are we writing what we are writing? For some, it may be the challenge. For some, it may be the fun. Yes, I find writing a story more fun that reading someone else’s story. It may be that it is something we just have to do, it is core to our being. All of this is part of the reason I write, but as my craft improves, I’m finding that I’m also telling stories that I think are important to be heard, not necessarily the story itself, but the subtext. Stories can change lives. I can think of various stories like that for me, and I hope, someday, I might be able to write stories that will change other people’s lives.

So, National Novel Writing Month, 2013 is over. The friends I wrote with this year have their stories. Some have completed first drafts. Others are still writing. Some will edit, others will set their most recent stories aside. Some stories may get published, they may even change the lives of people that read them.

No matter what the outcome, everyone who embarked on #NaNoWriMo this year was a winner in one way or another, and I am proud to stand with them.

Salon, Authority and Twenty First Century Bullies

From the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook, I found the following comment:

Here's an interesting steaming pile of anti-NaNoWriMo dreck from

Yes, like other's my attention gets drawn to train wrecks, accidents along side the highway and other disasters, so I slowed down and took a look. The author admits that she doesn't write novels, and goes on to say,

NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.

As I read this, I pondered, what would make a person write such a screed? Is it insecurity in her own writing? Is it some haughtiness about being a 'real' writer, instead of just some inspiring hack? Are they two sides of the same coin?

'The narcissistic commerce of writing…' She, as, I presume, a paid writer, seems to be in an odd position criticizing the commerce of writing. Perhaps the narcissism she is complaining about is her own. Perhaps she is concern that she will be eclipsed by some great writer that emerges out of NaNoWriMo, moves through writers conferences, and writes the next great American novel.

So who is Laura Miller? Her bio says

In 1995, Laura Miller helped to co-found, where she is currently a staff writer. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the

Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and the editor of "The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000). She lives in New York.

Oh yes, there s that nasty little bit of the commerce of writing slipping in. Be sure to buy her books, not. Her articles are mostly reviews, which based on her screed against NaNoWriMo I didn't see any reason to read.

Her article has received many great comments. Perhaps the best starts off like this:

Well aren't you just the Queen of Everything

Good gods, Miller, what crawled up your ass and died? What do you care if people take a whack at writing a novel or not? Who are you to tell them what is and isn't a "waste of time"? It's their time and effort, and if they want to spend it trying to write, let them. How exactly is it hurting you?

While you're at it, why don't you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE'S a fucking waste of time for you. And let's not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesty books. It's disgusting!

If this were just another self-righteous narcissistic professional writer sneering at all the people who still write for the joy of it, I would be tempted to glance at it and move on. However, I believe this reflections a much bigger issue in the world of writing, the idea of authority.

It is a topic that has been explored at many great conferences on the future of media, so I'l just give a quick summary. Here in the twenty-first century, where anyone can write a blog, and now, for that matter, anyone can self-publish, how do we determine what is of value? How do we find the authors that write with true authority.

It used to be that the publishers and the book reviewers were the gatekeepers, the guardians of authority. Yet now social media and crowd sourcing take the change in authorship one step further. An author can write a great book, self-publish it, and get enough critical praise from the hoi polloi to make the book a commercial success. Wither authority?

Ms. Miller also wrote a couple articles recently about Goodreads changing their moderation policy. She talks in these articles about the role of bullies at Goodreads. As we think about the changing nature of authority in the internet age, I have to wonder how much the apparent rise in bullying is a result of people trying to find their way in this new media landscape and acting inappropriately out of fear of their own loss of status.

Perhaps this provides a better insight into why Ms. Miller has chosen to publish an inflammatory attack on a wonderful hobby of people seeking to improve their ability to communicate in the twenty-first century.

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