• Blackboard
    See the demo page / Download the template

    My biggest secret is that - despite my overall coolness and snappy Southern vernacular - I'm a little bit of a tech geek. Just a little, though, and only as it relates to Making Things Pretty. Many times I've run across a techie this-or-that and decided not to bore you all to death, but this time I've just got to show you a few things I've run across.

    Teachers need to blog for a variety of reasons: blogs instead of emailed parent newsletters, blogging with students, and connecting to the larger educational community by both writing and reading blogs about best practices. There are scads of blogging platforms out there for these purposes. I use Blogger because it's free and easy to customize.

    Click on the demo pages to get a good look at each of these templates. None of these require a fancy header and all of them are friendly. I chose graphics-heavy templates for a reason - teachers on the run will be entering mainly text. You can show off to your students and make believe you know as much as they do about technology. Besides, they're just so stinkin' cute.

    I scooped up these templates from BTemplates, but there are many other sites as well. Just google "Blogger Templates" and plan to kill an hour or so. Instructions for uploading are below.

    See the demo page / Download the template

    Book Tree
    See the demo page / Download the template

    Education Style
    See the demo page / Download the template

    Now, I know Blogger has come out with all manner of new ways to configure and reconfigure your blogs into loveliness. It's a marvel to be able to whip through the new design feature and make a blog look like you without using those tired templates they had for years. Bully for Blogger, I say!

    But if you want something snazzier, it's out there and it's ridiculously easy to install. Here's how:

    1. Pick a template and download it onto your computer. Unzip it and remember where you put it.
    2. Go to your Blogger dashboard and click on Design, then the Edit HTML tab.
    3. Click on Download Full Template. This saves the template you already have and will put it back just like it was should you change your mind. Always back up your template.
    4. Click on the Browse button and choose the new template. There may be several items there - your template will be an .xml file. Once the file name is showing in the box, click Upload .
    5. You'll get a warning box about deleting widgets. Clicking Keep Widgets will leave all your previous widgets intact. I suggest choosing that option so you don't start again from scratch. You may have to move them around a bit later, though.
    6. Done! Click View Blog and enjoy!
    I love blog redesigns. For me it's the equivalent of buying a fresh Moleskine and a new pen, only much cheaper.

    UPDATE: Just found another cute template!

  • In the beginning is the word, and we write for ourselves. Secret notebooks stashed in backpacks, odd scribbles on napkins or the back of a shopping list. Sometimes a string of words so bright we repeat and repeat them hoping the glamor of it won't fly off before we can net the wild thing on paper. That's how it begins.

    Then we gather large stories in small rooms, tentatively sharing what we've written. That's the next step, and the one that binds us to each other as writers. We grow into our voices and become fearless on the page.

    Finally, we go out into the world. This time, family and friends in a familiar place so all this bravery has elbow-room and a soft place to land. There's a certain alchemy in hearing your voice read aloud the words you've written, and to see an audience rapt. For you.

    Next time, we'll fling poems and stories even wider, because we can.

    Top, left to right: Jennie Strange - Blackbird Academy executive director, Amy Ness - art instructor. Middle, left to right: Laura Craig, Hannah Laws, Mary Margaret Hambuchen. Bottom, left to right: Amy Ness, Tara Walls - dance instructor, Jennie Strange, Pam James.

    Special thanks to Something Brewing for welcoming us and for having iced coffee on such a hot evening.

  • I spend my Monday nights at Blackbird Academy. It's a non-profit arts school here in town dreamed up by Jennie McNulty Strange offering dance, music, visual art, theater, and creative writing. I teach creative writing workshops to high school students and adults there.

    It's magical, really. all that creative energy in one place. Week after week I'm audience to these amazing writers who, having found a safe haven, literally pour the words out each week.

    Next week my two classes will meet at the local coffee shop to give a public reading. What does this mean? Group poems as well as individual readings of poetry and prose. They are everyone of them nervous and excited because we're moving a few blocks out of our nest and into the world. Writing does that. It makes us brave in increments until we're standing on top of some picnic table shouting fresh poems scribbled on paper napkins.

    While all of my students are trying their hands at online public writing right now, the high school folk are the most eager to find an audience. They're fearless, I tell you. At their request, you are cordially invited to read their summer scribblings. You all know the importance of encouragement, so do please drop by their blogs, enjoy a read, and leave an inspirational note here and there.

    Just imagine - they're launching their writing lives and you're here to watch. It's like the moon landing, only more important. Enjoy!

  • I'm sorry. I really am. I'm about to tell you not to live another hour without reading this novel, and you're never going to find it. The Redneck Bride by John Fergus Ryan is pure southern Gothic, out of print and mighty scarce.

    I got lucky. This book (literally) lept off the shelf and into my hands in the used book basement at the Cox Creative Center the other day. I caught it before it hit the floor and - call me crazy - I'm convinced Ryan's rapscallion ghost was responsible. Probably smoking contraband cigars in the afterlife, right there in the basement. I don't blame the haint - the book was misshelved in with the general fiction population rather than the special "Southern Lit" or "Arkansas" shelves. Five dollars later, I had a first edition hardback filled with illustrations and wearing a pristine dust jacket.

    Don't look for this to be Faulknerian. The Redneck Bride's narrator has poetic Attention Deficit Disorder, with a healthy dose of descriptive OCD - that's part of its charm. But the one-liners hit hard. Sometimes hard enough to put the book down and walk away for a minute just to catch your breath.

    Some years ago, Billy Bob Thornton attempted to produce a movie based on the book. No amount of research has turned up what happened to the project, and Billy Bob hasn't yet returned my call/tweet. Ryan's novel The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer did make it, but straight to DVD. It's called The White River Kid and has quite a cast of stars. His novel Watching came out in 1998 and it looks like I'm going to have one hell of a time finding any copies of that one.

    Sadly, John Fergus Ryan died in 2003. His obituary in the Memphis Flyer, eloquently written by Jackson Baker, is worth reading start to finish, especially the section on his writing process. In fact, someone out there needs to write Ryan's life. His son, John Jr., illustrated The Redneck Bride, and I understand makes his living as an artist. Strangely enough, both father and son appeared in the film The People vs. Larry Flynt. Ryan Sr. was a firecracker for sure.

    You know, I might just head to President Clinton Avenue and crawl back down into the used book basement again. Maybe ol' John will sling another one out of the shelf for me. It could happen.

  • Table at the Cox Creative Center

    The Great Bear Writing Project made its yearly trek to Little Rock yesterday. An all-day writing marathon, a gaggle of teachers, and damn near perfect weather - it doesn't get much better than this.

    We met at the River Market, then then headed out with notebooks on the ready to wander and scribble. I've written about these marathons here before - the County Line Barn Sale marathon and the Harmony Grove/El Dorado marathon are two on-the-road examples. Last year's Little Rock marathon was a little bittersweet, as our local Micheal Jackson street mime found himself a little lost. Sadly, he wasn't there this year.

    During the Great Bear Writing Project summer institute, we always head to the River Market District in Little Rock. On one small stretch of road, writers can walk and scribble from the Bill Clinton Library to the Capitol (if they're ambitious). In between there are art galleries, museums, shops, food, crazy southern people, and a river runs through it. Literally.

    I spent my time scribbling on the edge of the Arkansas River and in the Cox Creative Center - the water because I've always suffered from River Rapture, and the CCC because because they have thousands of cheap books in the basement. And because John Malkovich sat there. Once. I'll post some of these pieces as soon as I can make out my handwriting.

    The day ended in the basement at the Flying Saucer, a local joint known for interesting beer and waitresses who need to cover themselves. I love it in that basement. It's dank and dark, full of couches and pool tables. Why there's even an honest-to-God functioning cigarette machine down there. Ah, memories...

    The basement is where we meet back up and take turns reading the day's scribbling out loud. With their backs to the pool tables, these school teachers threw down some serious writing. Earlier in the day, my compadre Stephanie said marathon writing works because we've given ourselves permission to do it. She's right about that. A little permission and these Arkansas teachers wrote fearlessly.

    This is why I live for our writing marathons. If I ever win the lottery, I'll give myself permission to throw one of these every single day of my life.

    (Update: Debra Hale-Shelton at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote a lovely piece on our writing marathon. The Great Bear Writing Project enjoyed having her along for the ride.)
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