Thursday, September 29, 2016



"God knows what you are thinking. When you kneel down to pray he listens."

I was never very comfortable with the idea of being subject to divine surveillance. 

I knelt as an infant, I knelt reluctantly as a child, then I knelt no more. 


The line of beds were lit up by matron's torch-light. 

She was there standing, observing the pupils. I turned over, pulled the covers over my head.

I closed my eyes and played dead. 

I craved to dream.  

I heard her footsteps in the corridor.  
She had left. 
I turned back to face the shadows in the doorway.

All the other boys seemed asleep.

"On he wandered, gaping exploring, a little , with no company but those thoughts of his. He felt very small, very strange and horribly lonely...
He had no right to feel lonely."

Gunby Hadath, Major and Minor, Boys Own Paper, 1937


"On his way to bed he had time to learn from some other boys that there existed in the school a gang of bullies whose custom it was to visit all new young boys on the first night and give them something to remember. He lay there shivering and sick in his cubicle. When the lights were out, he heard the gang arrive and visit other cubicles. Presently after what seemed like long hours his turn came. He was ordered to get out of bed which he did. He was asked his name and he replied... Whereupon he received a blow to the face. More questions and a thrashing followed. Finally cold water was poured over him and he was left."

Lady Lugard, The Lugard Papers.


Where are those we have known, those that will understand what we live, those that smile or weep in recognition at our stories, those that make us feel less alone?

I typed in the personal details, chose an unlikely password and was confronted by a barrage of questions.

Was I single? Was I in a couple? Was it complicated? Where did I go to school? Where did I work?What books did I like? What music did I listen to? What movies did I love?

It felt like I was being sized and shaped, it felt like I was being fitted to purpose.


There was never any means of escape.

Those who ventured beyond the frontier found themselves "out of bounds" and were thrashed.

Everything remotely personal I hid, I locked in a box, I dispossessed, I gave away.

I became an other.

I locked myself in the cubicle.

I read the graffiti, it was more grim than amusing.

I sheltered in the library on a Sunday morning.

Nobody came.

I didn't care for dusty books, I only cared for finding refuge.

It was a privacy of sorts.


It is a privacy of sorts: this page, my thoughts, these words.

"God knows what you are thinking. When you kneel down to pray he listens."

I knelt as an infant, I knelt reluctantly as a child, then I knelt no more. 

Does God read crude graffiti?

Will I be punished?

We are here in our cubicle, with our blue uniform, now grown up, well drilled and fearful.

"We have to be practical. Drill is little good without shooting."

J.P. Way 1900

Will I be shot?

How is it that we have become so satisfied with so little?

Who prowls our drill ground at night?

Is it not so kindly matron?

A war plane screeches overhead.

My thoughts are scrambled an instant.

My dreams are on their knees, quaking.


Whose drill ground do we occupy?

What are we at war with?

I couldn't sleep, I tossed and turned, and then I got up to read.

"The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is a diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form."

Michel Foucault.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Keystone cops.

I rather regret watching Donna Lanclos and Dave O White's keynote at ALTC.

I promised myself that I would do something much more useful with my time.

Now, I am writing this bloody blog post about their knockabout double-act.

Have they no respect for the dignity attached to a keynote talk (sermon)?

Have they forgotten the appropriate dress-code?

What was the thing with that tweed jacket and the red shoes?

Why did they keep butting in on each others' scripts

Had they not rehearsed their performance before?

Where was the content?

Have keynotes between reduced to cut-price stand-up?

Are we teachers to take note and become impro artists?

There is virtually nothing that I retain from that talk.

All that I can remember now was their jaunty manner.

  • A slide with a bunch of Twitter handles of unknown Tweeps. (I assume academics).

Who were they? 

  • A whole series of slides with triangles.

What am I supposed to retain?

  • An upside down triangle (badly drawn.)

Has nobody taught them how to use Powerpoint to INSERT triangles and other shapes?

And there was something about taking responsibility.

Ah yes, I remember them saying:


Well, my oh my, that bodes well for their institutions!

They talked about being human...about trying to get into the rooms where THEY are deciding on educational policy.

(I suppose they are referring to those serious people who do real keynotes and dress appropriately and make important responsible decisions about THE INSTITUTION - for our benefit and for the greater good)

There was something about CONTENT. 

There was something about MANAGEMENT.

There was something about IDENTITY.

Now, despite the paltry quality of the afore-mentionned keynote and associated capers, I have started, (quite independently of their nonsense) asking myself questions.

Why is it that I keep thinking about foundations and pyramids?

Why is it that I keep thinking about stars and trees?

Why is it that I am thinking about the Keystone Cops?

Why is it that I am thinking about our children and our responsibility as citizens?

Why are we in awe of triangles, pyramids, stars, trees?

Who is responsible for the cops?

Why is humanising a keynote of interest?

All those questions...

I thought that I'd better insert their Keynote just to work out why the hell I had had all those questions after watching that rubbish talk.

Tired of Triangles, Tired of Trees.

I suddenly had a vision of a Christmas tree.

I suppose because of its triangular form.

I think of what that Christmas tree represents to a us.

There is that idea of family and communion.

There is an idea of a community coming together to share.

There is a ritual of decoration, of making a special symbol.

There is often a star which attracts our eyes vertically.

Perhaps such a ritual exists in different forms in all cultures?

Such rituals pass from generation to generation.

Baubles and Bollocks.

If we speak of higher education, perhaps we seek to strive for what is higher than ourselves?

There may well be keynote stars who will or have become keystones for their communities.

There are those who forget their responsibility to their fellow humans striving to become.

After all, they are or they have become someone (special).

They/We are dazzled by the tinsel and the baubles, and the fairy.

They/We forget that their tree is maintained by all of us...

Nowadays it is more often than not artificial, mass produced, manufactured in China.

They want us to believe in Santa Claus (Them?)

They have lots of presents because they have been good boys. (Did nobody tell them it's the parents?)


It suddenly occurs to me that Donna Lanclos, and Dave O White's act is quite profound.

We get the Donald Trumps and the Nicolas Sarkozy's that we deserve.

We get the institutions that we deserve.

If we don't take responsibility and give voice to our concerns and act...

We get the Cops that we deserve.

We are in this together.

This is our mess.

What are we going to do about it?

What are you going to to about it?

We need to learn to constitute activist Communities Of Practice and fight.

Do we want:

an A WE SOME education system?


Another of Trump's Pyramid Scheme Scams?

Keystone Cops

Nobody could deny Mr White and Mme Lanclos's humanity, nor their respect for their foundational COP.

I recognised a few members of those keystone cops...




I recognise their humility, the depth of their learning and their openness to fellowship.

I see @catherinecronin

I suddenly remember a couple of keynotes which have inspired me and fill me with wonder.

One from ALT 2014 given by @catherinecronin

One from @gardnercampbell entitled "Ecologies of Yearning."

I think back to the Keystone Cops, and to other clowns.

We must bring our authority figures down to earth.

We must not fear that we are any less than them.

Higher education is not about worshipping those on high it is about learning that we are all looking up while remaining down to earth and realising our common failings.

What is our life if not a comic-tragedy?

Seriously, what is worth fighting for, what is worth working towards?

An education for critical thinking and learning.
A space for becoming and wonder
A democracy for enabling respect of our fellows.
A place for nurturing our ecosystems within which we exist.
A community with whom we can play, laugh, cry, and dream.


We must not be content with less.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


This a thanksgiving for the openness and generosity of my fellows.

Being thankful.

I am thankful for the openness of ALTC.

It is one of the most stimulating conferences that I have never had the fortune to attend in the flesh.

I was able to watch Ian Livingstone's keynote on games in learning.

I remark his use of the slogan: "Life is a game."

I might have used such a slogan in the past myself...perhaps not.

I feel inclusion at his mention of a book in my collection:

"Program or be programmed" by Douglas Rushkoff

I can identify with this culture.

I admit to feeling a little uneasy at the story and the photo of a meeting with Angelina Jolie.

I hesistate to admit it openly.

I felt nostalgic for the Learning Without Frontiers Conference that I had first attended in 2012.

Game-based learning, graphically engaging video games, virtual reality is indeed seductive.

Jane McGonigal's book "Reality is Broken: Why games make us better and how they can  change the world." has pride of place on my bookcase.

Those were the days when everything seemed shiny and new.

I loved the fact that I got a free iPad.

If I retain much enthusiasm and two "free" iPads, all this is now accompanied by a more critical eye.

I think back to a previous session of Virtually Connecting at ALTC where the participants, Catherine Cronin, and Remi Holden among them, were talking about the importance of humility and learning from our failures.

Changing the world.

I was thankful this afternoon to be able to benefit from the work of the Virtually Connecting Crew who enabled me to hangout with Fiona Harvey and Lorna Campbell who were speaking at the conference at Warwick University.

I was thankful to be able to say hi to my good friend Teresa Mackinnon who was buddying onsite.

Having participated as a virtual buddy at last year's ALTC, I have an idea of the incredible work of Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue the founders of Virtually Connecting and of the people like Autumm, Alan, AK or Nadine and others who are enabling it to grow.

I am suddenly reminded of a quote that Teresa and I have shared and discussed in the past:

"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead.

Virtually Connecting gives evidence to support this sentiment.

In a small way, a small group of committed educators are indeed changing the world.

Experiences of changes in the world are not necessarily all so positive.

Being connected, becoming critical.

I would describe myself as a "connected" educator.

I have benefited enormously personally from developing a personal digital presence and openly sharing and collaborating online.

I spend a good deal of time opening up classrooms, connecting learners and encouraging them to develop open digital identities, portfolios, networks.

Such efforts are considered by some in the institution as "innovative".

I don't count the hours entailed in my personal professional development.

Any research I do, is done for free, on top of my full-time job.

I am thankful for the freedom that I have been able to establish in my work.

In being an openly "connected educator", I have become more nuanced in my enthusiasm.

I have been drawn to be more critical in my thinking and in my pedagogy.

It has been through dialogue with fellow co-learners from different backgrounds and contexts that I have become more critical.

Free, freedom.

I hear Fiona talk about using "free tools."

I think to myself of Facebook's attempts to "offer" free internet to India, to Africa.

Facebook lures Africa with free internet but what is the hidden cost?

"Free tools" don't necessarily equate with "freedom".

"Free trade" doesn't necessarily equate with "freedom."

"Openness" doesn't necessarily benefit the individual.

"Openness" may benefit corporations more than individuals.

We may be blind to how privileged voices, our privileged voices, silence those of people who need to be heard.

I go back to listen to the session again and annotate it with a free tool - Vialogues.

I too use "free tools."

I too encourage "openness".

I share the fruit of my labour freely.

Institutional Policies.

I note with interest that "more universities" are encouraging openness.

I write this having spent a morning learning about how our latest walled garden VLE will restrict us.

I hear an expression "business heart of the university"  which sounds weirdly scary from my French public university perspective.

I make a comment in the chat about the importance of reclaiming "public good" but there is no response.

Has the idea of education as a "public good" become untenable?

I hear how fees that British universities will be able to charge will depend in part on National Student Satisfaction Surveys.

I hear about the rethink going on in UK universities about sustainability of MOOCs on commercial platforms.

I make a comment in the chat:

"Does openness favour the strongest?"

This provokes an energetic response to suggest the contrary.

I am not so sure.

I wonder now why it is that big American Universities are so in favour of sharing course content for "free".

Doesn't openness favour MIT?

I wonder if some of us are still living with a dream of a web of openly shared knowledge.

Doesn't Google favour open?

We speak of an open share economy.

Wasn't Airbnb or Uber built on the basis of a "share economy"?

What do ex-journalists write of unpaid articles in the Huffington Post?

I find an article entitled:

"Hell is working at the Huffington Post."

Identities or brands?

I hear that there are dangers with tying our professional identities to our institutions, that we need to develop independent identities.

Are we to develop identities or brands?

Are we preparing ourselves for more open employment structures?

Are we to join the ranks of  freelance, intermittently paid academics?

Are those employed in privately funded scientific research laboratories to thrive while those in less commercially viable academic pursuits to be encouraged to become willing, lesser (un?) paid adjuncts/amateurs?

Don't get me wrong, I believe that the pay-wall system around academic publishing is a scandal.

There is no question in my mind that research funded publicly should be shared openly.

You need a network.

I hear that "being open gives you a network."

Well being open may well be a first step to developing a network.

Are networks so open?

Don't badges act to control access to power on networks too?

It is one thing to be part of a network, the most important question is how your network is able to benefit you.

Power differentials in networks mean that some may benefit from open sharing more than others.

Whose networks really count in the world?

Whose platforms will support such networks?

You Tube?



Who will have the power to analyse the data, to decide on policy or ethics?

The NSA?

Badges, and open badges.

A comment of Fiona "People are more than their badges" made me think.

I am not so sure that people are necessarily more than their badges.

Aren't we all reduced to badges to those who don't know us?

How do the participants in the VC session introduce themselves?

How did I introduce myself?

What do people see when they look at my Twitter Profile?

love life, love learning, edupunk language teacher and aikidoka.    

What is my avatar?

Is it not a badge for a brand?

Am I not making connections with groups of people who group around a hashtag, a movement, a profession?

What do people see when they look at our photos?

What is that professional card that I carry in my wallet?

Is it not a badge?

Why is it that my parking card doesn't work any more?

A person with power has deprogrammed my card, I discover yesterday.

I write this while applying for French citizenship, post Brexit.

What can be said of those people who don't carry the correct passport?

Are they expats or emigrés, refugees or migrants, illegal immigrants or potential first ladies, citizens or potential terrorists?

Language teachers

We learnt during the hangout that a number of us were current or former language teachers.

I wonder which languages the others taught.

Being an English language teacher is hardly neutral.

When I encourage a student to learn English by telling him it is important for his career, that is underlining cultural dominance.

Openness and risk.

I get to ask a question about the danger of being over-enthusiastic in encouraging students to be open.

I am met with energetic rebuttals from Fiona and Lorna.

I am not surprised at their replies.

I would say the same - up to a point.

I try to give an example of how it is necessary to be critical.

Working with a Syrian refugee convinces me of the danger to him of being open for himself and his family.

On sharing this, Lorna shares her story of participating in a book entitled: "The cost of freedom."

I was unaware of the plight of Bassel Khartabil, an openly connected Syrian educator who has gone missing.

I feel that our own freedom, our own privilege comes with a cost.

Learning from others

I hear a story of attending a conference in Tunisia.

I hear about the sharing of practices: portfolio development, learner centred teaching.

I hear "Us going there gives them an insight into how things could be."

A few minutes later, I am Googling the word "Thanksgiving."

I think of that foundational, disputed story at the heart of American freedom.

I find some documents:

"Thanksgiving: a native American view".

I read:

"Among the Dakota, my father's people, they say, when asked to give, "Are we not Dakota and alive?" It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all -- the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving."

Who benefits from open sharing?

"Since that initial sharing, Native American food has spread around the world. Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples. I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? Meat and potatoes without potatoes."

I find another document: "The real story of Thanksgiving."

I wonder who really benefits from learning a dominant language?

"The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to  England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped.  By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language.  He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags." 

I find another document which makes me question the "real story of Thanksgiving."

I find a final document:

Thanksgiving: Native Americans Reveal What They Really Think About Thanksgiving Day.

I reflect on our discussion about the commons, the public good, open sharing.

Then I remember Dakota.

"Dakota Access Pipeline Company Attacks Native American Protestors with Dogs and Pepper Spray."

I think of that Margaret Mead quotation again and I annotate it pessimistically.

"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens...

[with access to the best information, equipped with the latest connecting technology, ships, trains, bulldozers, tanks, drones, massive capital, major media presence, carefully designed slogans to arouse fear or desire, control of communication platforms, extensively developed networks, speaking the dominant language]

...can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

I no longer buy that slogan: "life is a game."

If it is to be seen so, then whose rules are we playing it by?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Adagio: indicating that the music is to be played slowly or a composition intended to be played in this manner.

I tighten up the bow and apply the rosin.

I love the smell of rosin, its texture, the gesture involved in its application.

Hour upon hour of practice built a relationship between myself and the instrument.

That time was my own, and no one else's.

I find myself talking to an inanimate instrument.

It becomes a means of mediating my soul.

I remember the pressure of the strings on my fingers.

I remember the gloomy, musty smelling claustrophobia of that music practice room. 

At no moment did I really think of working on composition myself. 


I press an icon on Garageband and I hear a sample of a drum beat. 

I press an icon on Garageband and I hear a sample of piano playing.

I might as well be pressing an icon on Spotify and listening to a musician's piece of music.

It's pretty much the same.  

It takes less than a second.

A physical relationship between myself and the creation of sound is virtually non-existant.


I move my fingers up and down the screen on the ThumbJam application.  

Instantly, I am able to hear what sounds like perfectly bowed cello playing.

What of my involvement in the sound?

I tilt the phone and I am able to hear vibrato on the notes played.

I take another sampled sound and add it to the cello loop. 

I have the impression that I am able to compose music.

Is this composition?

Is it a seductive simulacra of artistry?

After hours of practice of cello, composition never felt accessible.

The experience of playing the cello clearly influences my search for sensitivity and musicality from the application.  

I begin to ask myself questions.


Why is it, I ask myself, that Thumbjam feels more like an instrument to me than Garageband?

I find an article written by Mikkel Bech-Hansen entitled "Musical Instrument Interfaces."

I read:

"Originally being a drummer, my approach to creating music has always had a very physical and tactile dimension to it."

I can relate to this lack of relationship that Bech-Hansen feels towards electronic synthesizers.

Garageband feels flat and unresponsive, I feel unable to establish a relationship with the application.

I think again of the time that it took me to go to the music room take the cello, adjust the spike to the right length, tune the strings, tighten the bow...

I think of the angle of the bow on the strings, the pressure of the fingers on the steel strings.

I hear the resonance of the instrument in my body.

I feel the vibration of the instrument within the confines of the room.

It is as if the instrument and myself have become one.

A smartphone application, while capable of reproducing faithfully a myriad of sounds feels like a social, emotional and physical impoverishment.

I feel disconnection.

As Bech-Hansent says:

"The advent of electronic and digital audio technologies severed the ties between the physical form of the mechanical instrument artefact and the actual generated sound, thus paving the way for sound generation liberated from the confinements of physical acoustics."

On one hand a new world of sound is opened up for me, on the other hand I feel amputation.

"The natural mappings between the bodily gestures of the musicians and the audible and haptic feedback determined by the very shape and materiality of acoustic instruments were nevertheless entirely missing."

Can one really build relationships with applications or electronic "instruments"?

I search around and find an "instrument" which blurs the lines somewhat.

Feeling alive.

Which applications, I wonder, offer me "feel"?

There are perhaps two that come to mind: Thumbjam and Paper of 53.

Which applications, have I spent time building stories with?

Image manipulation applications: PicPlayPost, Fusion, Strip Designer, Prisma have become of interest to me when using them in combinations to answer artistic questions.

It is hacking the applications together which interests me.

I resist the idea of soulless reproduction.

How does Prisma, for example, engage one artistically if one simply flicks through a series of filters?

I don't see a person, I see Prisma.

I don't see art, I see commerce.

After a short time, I see nothing.

I feel nothing.

How does Garageband engage one artistically if one simply flicks through a series of sampled loops?

After a short time, I hear nothing.

I feel nothing.

I find an interview with David Byrne entitled "When to resist technology?"


When I played the cello, I was so small that my peers used to say jokingly:

"Ensor is not playing the cello, the cello is playing Ensor."  

I suppose I was perceived as instrumentalized.

I wonder about the time spent sharing links, gory click-bait, borrowed drum beats, photos, drawings,  and existential yearnings across social media.

Am I playing or am I being played?

I think about power differentials present on these participatory networks.

I find an article by David Byrne and share it with others for future reference.

I see the same article by David Byrne shared back to me by Terry Elliot with an accompanying comment:

I open up his annotations and I read:

"This is one of the most serious problems with online life - we live in a zero sum "attention world".

"I find the digital 'look at me, look at me' attention culture we live in is...shallow and devious."

I think back to David Byrne's words about resistance towards what the computer wants of us.

Terry reminds us time, and time again of the importance of real engagement

He is right, to remind us thus.


To live is to engage, to relate is to deeply entwine story.

What are our relationships if we flick between avatars like so many virtual instruments in Garageband?

To appreciate life and relationships we must play our parts adagio.

Attending but not attended.

I read Byrne's article again.

He speaks of the appropriation of lesser known artists' images by pop-stars.

"Sometimes ideas and images are lifted by commercial entities without attribution - and one wonders if, in the eyes of those creators, commercial and mainstream work becomes cooler if it harvests from hip unknowns. There seems to be a sense that unknown artists ideas are there for the picking. In fact it's often viewed as an honor to be picked."

To what extent are we simply commodified by these "participatory networks" to be gobbled up by those with a more highly developed attention credit rating?

Kanye West made that bitch...

Are we forgetting that the time we engage even soullessly has us - perhaps none to others?

We share "freely" and yield data to data brokers, our souls encoded in zeros and ones.

Are we just there for the picking?

Are we just stringed puppets to be plucked pizzicato by those with the means to marketize?

Are we playing or are we being played?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Detuned wanderings.

If ever there was a demonstration of chaotic complexity in learning it is in these "detuned wanderings" that I have experienced in the past few days.

Natures lies depressingly dormant and then in the space of what seems an inkling the desert colours are vibrant.

It is at times like this that I really value the despair that I am able to write here.

I draw it like it is.

What the hell is the point of trying to pretend?

There is an astonishing contrast between catatonic states and sudden energetic flourishes.

That is the nature of our lives.

We are always on the brink of falling apart.

I suppose writing this will help me to deal with parenting of teenagers who, at times,  seem to have transformed into a worrying chrysalitic state.

We must have faith.

I think of my eldest son, who appears to be learning butterfly flight.

He is beginning to stretch those wings.

Untamed elements.

A chance encounter with a post of Amy Burvall "Epherments: Transient Beauty Spliced with Sound."
sparked an unpredictable chain of connections and explorations related in a couple of blog posts here:



A series of blog comments, tweets, DM's and Facebook posts, between friends, acquaintances and unknown but connected Twitter users has enabled the emergence of creative collaboration, exploration, and reminded me of the value of participating in these, at times alienating, digital spaces.

Even here, in these virtual wastelands, wildlife flourishes.

We never know if, what, when, or quite how learning will be sparked.

Bearing in the mind our differences it is a miracle that we can connect.

We never know really why it is possible that it happens.

At times we come together in harmony.

At times we are flung uncontrollably into dischord.

It is easy to forget that there is joy in spinning around together despite at times feeling light years apart.

God, it is hard to hold onto faith at times...

When we see reasons for confusion others may see with clarity.

When we may perceive chaos, others might sense underlying harmony.

Transcending despair is an act of blind faith.

We hold on for grim death - it must make sense, it must make sense.

Why must it make sense?

What has faith to do with reason?

Perhaps we need to fully sense our existence rather than to vainly attempt to make too much sense of life?

I am so thankful to be connected to Terry Elliott's 'Antiharmonium'.

I am so thankful for the support of my friends who are there when my machine is shaking itself apart.

What is it that Terry says when at a loss for words?

Let's go bowling.

What do you say when there is nothing to be said?

We stand, hugging ourselves, trembling fearfully before our threshold of silence.

Suddenly those questions strike a chord with what I remember reading in Mary Ann Reilly's post entitled "Blind Faith".

 "Last night I was reading another book by Thomas Merton (it's like he's whispering directly in my ear). About halfway through Dialogues with Silence: Prayers & Drawings, Merton writes:
But there is a greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss" (Kindle Locations 431-433). 
The substance of silence. Oh my.

Mysteries abound and surely that is for our good."

I repeat those sentences of Merton again to myself.

"Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire whose roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss."

Seeds of fire.

I return to that feeling of being "ensemble."  

An unexpected DM appears in my Twitter feed.

Wendy Taleo used to play the cello too.

She shares a poem.

I smile, thinking of "trembling before our threshold"...on seeing her poem is entitled 'Vibrato'.


I smile, thinking of the difficulty of disentangling responsibility for creative endeavour, for learning.

Meanwhile, Amy's posting of "Transient Beauty: Spliced with Sound." has opened up for me a whole range of creative possibilities which were sitting there on my smartphone waiting for the moment to take flight.

An initial creative effort of a cello piece for "Ensemble" has encouraged me to investigate further the interest of spending time gaining mastery in the manipulation of the application ThumbJam.

Kevin Hodgson's poem "Broken Strings" attracts me to play with the microphone and the music.

I go back to Amy Burvall's videos and combine it with the performance of Kevin's poem and its musical accompaniment.

In the meantime, Kevin has been enquiring about the interest of ThumbJam on Twitter.

A few hours later and Kevin is busy playing with ThumbJam...

I try to "close-read" his piece.

I am beginning to start listening to music anew.

My cello sawings are forty years dormant.

Those passing years have disabled my bowing and left me only too aware of the gap between my ability and those of my peers.

Starting playing an instrument, starting singing again, jamming with others seemed so unattainable.

I listen again to Kevin's piece.

What notes can I attempt to reproduce?

I realise that I don't have to cover it perfectly for my efforts to be recognized or appreciated by Kevin.

I am suddenly enjoying fluttering childlike rather than flapping frantically like an adult.

I can some way approach his playing on an iphone.

I can participate, meaningfully.

I am suddenly curious again at what I can conjure with my new found tricks.

We investigate future collaborations.

Courage is volatile.

There are many of my friends who fill me at awe at their talents.

I become frustrated at what I consider to be my scribbling, my dabbling, my scratching around.

I remember my mother's words at her frustration with her artwork:

"Oh what the use, I shall never be any good."

One of my most treasured belongings is her scraperboard hedgehog...

I return again to a quote of Warhol that I sent to my eldest son when he asked me about what I thought of his short film.

It is a quote which keeps me going in these "detuned wanderings..."

"Don't think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding make even more art."

Andy Warhol.

Our courage is "volatile" when faced with this uncertainty of becoming...

Wings pulse, wings pulse, wings pulse, imperceptibly...


I am so fortunate to be accompanied by fellow travellers who know what it is to be "trembling before the threshold"...

Thursday, September 1, 2016


 "I have been criticized by some for sharing too much...Or (worse!) having the motive of self-aggrandizement...My response has been always that if you share something, a photo, a blog post, song, piece of artwork (you name it) matters - really matters - if it only affects 1 person. If in the wide world it is meaningful or inspiring or amusing to just 1 person it's worth it."

Amy Burvall


Those were the words that I read yesterday when Amy shared a blog post - Ephemerments...aagh. that I had written inspired by her work.

There were replies from a number of people to the comment, among them, one from Simon Finch.

"I'm happy to be considered to be over sharing. It's like saying hello at every opportunity every day to people across the world. I never know when or what will lead to small conversations or interesting opportunities."

We never know what remark, words, sound, image will resonate with other people.

I remember a conversation that I had with a teacher this morning over the importance of open sharing.

It will be a conversation which will help to focus my work for the coming year...

I remember the video that was shared during Connected Courses:

 "obvious to you - amazing to others..."

That will be useful to keep in mind for the learners I work with.

The talk of "oversharing" reminded me of a video that I had come across thanks to Alec Couros featuring Justin Hall, who I had been introduced to via a book entitled "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, And Why It Matters." of Scott Rosenberg, recommended by Howard Rheingold.

There are surely risks involved in sharing - for ourselves, for others - those risks may well be central to discussions that I will have with my co-learners in the coming weeks.

If there are dangers, (and those must be evaluated by each person), there is much to gain from sharing widely.

We benefit enormously from pioneers who go out into the world and take the enormous risks that we ourselves would never be able to take while sharing their stories.

We are all pioneers in our different ways...


In thinking of the word instrument, I remember the role of the cymbal player in an orchestra.

As a cello player, I spent most of the time playing.   The cymbal, in the work I remember,  only came in at the end.

The greatest problem for the percussionist was to listen to the others and count the bars.

Without concentration the almighty crash came at the wrong moment and destroyed the piece.

Without the cymbal the Radetzky March lost much in drama.

I like the word 'ensemble'.

Like it or not we are inevitably an 'ensemble'.

I am thankful for the generosity of others, those who count the bars...those who play by listening.

Extended Play

Yesterday evening, I remixed one of the videos that Amy had shared with Picplaypost and Fusion.
(See Remixing Drawing With Apps)

I enjoy taking pieces to another place...

Une vidéo publiée par @sensor63 le

A comment from Wendy Taleo moved my attention back to what I am less comfortable with now - music.

I have mixed feelings about giving up playing that cello...

I had shared a picture of apps including Thumbjam - reviewed here.

"Do you have any examples from Thumbjam to share?" she asked.

I shared a cello piece that I had done the day before, but her question prompted me to go back and see what I had kept from past experimentations.

It was no doubt not an accident that I chose to return to the cello...on an iphone.

When I discovered that I had deleted the files that I had made in the past, I went back to see what I could do to provide myself and Wendy with another example.

I suddenly remembered what had attracted me to the app in the first place.

Unusual for apps, after a while it becomes a really interesting instrument - not just an app.

I love the way that you can add vibrato to the sound by shaking the phone or add to volume by tilting.

It has musicality....

Now I need to develop mine :-)

With the bare bones of a piece recorded, I then rummaged through my stock of images/videos.

What image could I find to extend the 'feel' of the music?

I settled on a favourite image - that of whirling dervishes...

So this piece of human expression is brought to you by an 'ensemble' of people, words, images, remarks, comments, apps.

Who knows when, how, or if, this post will resonate with others to take fragments to another place?


I come back and review this for errors - suddenly I have an image from above - Viennese Waltzers and Dervishes whirling ensemble but adjacently.

They whirl with different meaning.

I think again.

Do we really reel, whirl or waltz with different meaning?

There is human joy in being whirled out beyond one's own radius.