I’ve been thinking a lot about public and open spaces – even before the #CLMOOC Make Cycle #5 asked me to think about Stories and Spaces. I have always been interested in place-based writing and have taught multiple classes celebrating writing about place. My published novels were all influenced by the places I lived. Living, writing, and teaching in Eastern Kentucky for almost 20 years has also increased my appreciation for the influence of place on our identity and representations. I am not alone. This is why place-based writing still plays such a key role in word work today (see I Am From).
Ever since I first launched myself into the world wide web (via an AOL group), I have been enamored of digital spaces – both open and closed. Today these digital spaces are increasingly accessible thanks to the decreasing cost of technology and increasing public access to computers (through public libraries and community centers). I love how digital spaces break down both geographical and temporal boundaries.
As I contemplate the digital story I want to tell about a public space, I am struck by the many public spaces I have inhabited and that have influenced me greatly. I chose to illustrate this post with a photo of the road in front of my house, because this is a public space that currently influences me and further represents one of the first public spaces important to my life. I grew up in town – on a small side street. This meant we played in the road. We scratched chalk designs into the pavement or outlined boundaries for games. We played various ball games and rode our skateboards and bicycles – sometimes setting up ramps. I now live on a road that is lined by houses (although more separate than those on the street where I grew up) but leads into the country (or to town depending on your perspective). It is a busier road so children do not play in it, but it is not so busy that a variety of modes of transportation can’t use it. Daily there are pedestrians and bicyclists and it is not uncommon to see farm equipment such as tractors and tobacco wagons, golf carts, or horses. The right-of-way along the road is not marked by a sidewalk, but it is heavily traveled. It is nothing more than a thoroughfare, but it links my neighbors to each other in important ways. When my son travels it on foot to visit a friend or sell spirt cards for school, he is recognized from front porch and vehicle. When my neighbor loads his grandkids into the golf cart to buy ice cream at the corner store, they frequently make stops along the way to chat. I have been thinking about these kinds of public spaces as I search for a home for my parents. I know where they have lived most of their lives (after growing up on farms in the country) and I know they need a street that is more than a thoroughfare – they need a public space where they can connect with others.
But do we need to be able to touch a place in order for it to touch us? I recently read a piece by Gloria McMillan about Pluto (see Deep in the heart of Pluto) which made me wonder about those other places that are equally public and influence our hearts and minds – even though they may not be a place we actually go – what about the skies and all they contain from sun, moon, stars, planets, and more? How many times a day (or night) do we look up? While usage may vary, those of us who live or visit the country look up both day and night to wonder and dream.
Another public space that I included among my contributions to our collaboration was education. At least here in America and other first world countries – education is a common experience. Even if our schools are widely varying there are universals. I think this is true of today’s schools more than ever thanks to our national obsession with testing and the general industrialization of education (see Chronicle article ‘Have I Become An Educated Rita”). There has always been a tendency toward this (after all, wasn’t this the purpose of universal education, homogeneity?) but individual teachers and administrators had more room to develop creative and individual approaches. Whatever your educational experience, school is definitely a place that influenced your story.
Another piece that inspired me to think about place and story, both digital spaces and education, was written by Lee Skallerup Bessette and shared via Hybrid Pedagogy. In “On Social Media, Silence, and Things That Matter,” addresses the ideas that we choose to share digitally and the silences we also choose to share. I think silence can be a powerful place – a deep, dark, well where we throw things we don’t want to think about and definitely don’t want to talk about.
And now I return to the challenge to create a digital story representing story and space. I chose to focus on “writing” for my make this cycle because creating a public space to celebrate writing is something that I have been working on both professionally and personally for some time. I can create a welcoming space and invite others, but that does not mean they will always choose to come. That was my experience with the National Day On Writing digital space the Morehead Writing Project created last fall. I’m hoping that I will do better with my focus on #JustWrite. Sometimes there is a wonderful synergy about a shared digital space that creates a different sort of magic than one we create in person. And let’s be honest, sometimes our in-person invitations go unanswered as well. I love both experiences and my passion is supporting their creation. In my experience, the fear and loathing of writing is something we learn in response to the painful writing experiences too many of us face in school and the painfully boring writing too many of us must do professionally (see co-blog post with Renee Boss reflecting on our sons’ experiences with school writing). My hope it to create a space where people can reconnect with their muse as I have this summer. I hope to inspire people to write for fun. My Thinglink five-image story about writing reflects three stages: the early love of writing, the reasons we fall out of love, and the renewal I hope more people will enjoy.
So I have taken this idea of space and story on a strange meandering journey this week. I hope I have given my readers some food for thought. What is the definition of place – public or otherwise? Does not it need to be a physical place or can it be the universe or silence or digital? What spaces shape your story?