What makes me happy when I teach writing to my students? This is a loaded question because there are so many answers! I can think of very specific moments with very specific students, but when I think of bigger-over all-hey my kids got it-moments-or I love teaching this to my students moments-there are a lot! Perhaps a list will be best.
I am really happy when:
- powerful, important, and meaningful topics are selected for their writing pieces
- a personal writing goal is mastered by any student
- meaningful revision work takes place and they understand that it is improving their work
- a one on one conference goes well
- I can use my own writing as mentor texts
- they say they loved a unit or a particular writing piece they created
- their writing is transformative in some way on a personal level
- a strategy group succeeds
- an advanced student challenges himself outside of his comfort zone
- I find the perfect mentor texts
- they use their Writer's Notebooks well
- I feel like I taught a lesson well
- Ian hugged his writing portfolio because he was so proud of the work he had done
- Karina captured the heartbreak of missing her dad a few years after he died through the use of symbolism in her piece
- Realizing that half of my second block didn't know when to indent, and three strategy groups later, most of them were using paragraphs!!!
- Seeing "author's crafts" being used regularly in most of their writing pieces.
- Persuasive topics about gun control, marriage equality, Seaworld's treatment of the orcas, animal abuse, benefits to organic eating, sexism, and so on...
- Jayden, "My revisions have revisions!"
- Shannon, "I am no longer allergic to revising my work."
- Rosemary, "Ms. Martinez, please finish writing your turtle story. It would make the best mentor text."
- Diksha, "Ms. Martinez, you are the best mentor we have."
- Fighting for the author's chair!
- A successful conference with Ryan about authentic dialogue.
After last week’s meeting I realized that Dr. Zamora and my classmates had no idea what my progress was on my writing. I was afraid to post too much of my work on the internet so I decided to make a google doc folder with all of my work included. In this folder I will have my literature review, my outline for my novel and my working novel as I decide to add things. This way I can document my progress but my writing won’t be so public. This is also a great way to keep all of my work in one place so i can stay organized.
I’m not completely comfortable with posting my novel online but I have decided to occasionally post excerpts and scenes. Here is the outline of my novel:
Ch. 1 – Flashback
Ch. 2 & 3 – Explaining amanda’s life in the present and how she met her fiance.
Ch. 4 – Flashback
Ch. 5 – wedding dress shopping
Ch. 6 – Flashback
Ch. 7 – Sunday dinner with dad to discuss relationship with mom
Ch. 8 – discussion about mom with fiance
Ch. 9 – Flashback
Ch. 10 – conflict with mother
Ch. 11 – Flashback (parents fight)
Ch. 12 – Nate’s parents come to visit
Ch 13 – Flashback
Ch 14 – Amanda contacts her aunt
Ch 15 – flashback (dinner with boyfriend)
Ch 16 – Amanda contacts her mom
Ch 17 – flashback (suicide attempt)
Ch 18 – Wedding planning
Ch 19 – Flashback (days after in hospital)
Ch 20 – Amanda’s mom contacts her
Ch 21 – Flashback (family vacation)
Ch 22- Amanda sends out an invitation to her mom
Ch 23 – Flashback (another late night fight)
Ch 24 – Amanda and Nate fight over wedding details
Ch 25 – Flashback (mom leaves)
Ch 26 – Days before the wedding
Ch 27 – Flashback (8th grade dance & prom)
Ch 28 – Amanda gets ready for her wedding
- The flashbacks create a narrative between child Amanda and adult Amanda.
- The flashbacks are also used to introduce the mother and her alcoholism
- Present day allows Amanda’s story to continue and the reader can follow the narrative of following the process of planning a wedding.
- Create a relationship and bond between Amanda and Nate. How does her mom affect their relationship?
Conflict: How does Amanda’s mom fit into the equation of her life and her planning her wedding.
Resolution: Amanda has to decide how to form a relationship with her mom while dealing with her alcoholism.
Tobey's Tentative Thesis Schedule
The Start of My Thesis Journey...
My head has been kind of spinning since our first meeting last Thursday.
Before I met with everyone on Thursday, I felt like I at least had a broad idea of my topic. I was going to focus on the process of revision in writing. As a writing teacher, I know the struggle of teaching how to revise to middle schoolers. As a writer, I know the value and importance of engaging in the process of revision to strengthen my own work. I know some of the theorists who have explored this topic. I even quoted Nancy Sommers in my PLC meeting at work recently. I find value in doing more research on revision as I know there is not a lot out there. I even had some thoughts about where I might further explore this topic: recursive vs. linear, methods taught in schools, the college writer and revision...Ok, not overtly specific, but there were some ideas rolling around in that part of my brain now devoted to thesis work.
Then, we met. I listened in on the conferences and ideas that are happening and taking shape by my fellow peers, and new ideas came into my head. I realized that I didn't have to create my thesis one way, there were options. With those options came a refreshing look at what I might want to do. Revision is an important topic, but am I passionate about it? I have to admit that I went with it because I felt it would fit nicely into the structure I thought the thesis had to take. But now, I know differently.
Graduate school is personally challenging for each person who thrusts himself into it. For me it was not an easy decision to come back to school at almost forty years old. I had so much self doubt. Could I keep up? Could I handle the technology? Would I be able to manage my time well? Am I intelligent enough to do the work? The self doubt almost won, but I talked myself into it. I knew that I had to make some changes in my life. Now that I am starting this last process of the program, I can't tell you how much I have grown since I began. The most surprising area where I felt change happened is in my emotional world. It is reflecting upon this area of personal growth from which I think my thesis should grow.
I tell my students often that writing can be cathartic, but it wasn't until I began to allow myself to write about my own difficult life moments that I realized how cathartic it actually can be. When I sit and look back at the writing pieces I wrote in my classes, I can't believe that I was so free. That I allowed myself to write about issues that I often avoid talking about, that I have pushed away. Why did having the freedom to write about anything I wanted produce these kinds of pieces? I'm very open about the fact that I have been seeing a therapist for the past twelve years. I went to her about a year after my mom died and I started to develop some heavy anxiety issues. However, even there we talk more about my avoidance to address things then actually confronting them.
When given the opportunity to write about anything I wanted, I chose hard-avoided-topics. In my Writing About Non-Fiction class, I created two pieces; the first about the death of my boyfriend when I was nineteen and the abusive relationship we had before he died, the second about a symbolic keepsake in my family and finding pictures of my mom after she died and being able to add those pictures to this keepsake. In my Writing for Children and Young Adult class, I create a thirty page draft of a ya story about a young girl taken over by anxiety-pulled from my own life. Finally, I created two poems directly about my mother's death during my time at The Summer Institute.
After creating the last two poems and sharing them, especially with my therapist, doors to healing opened up for me. I have been able to talk about some of the more difficult things surrounding my mom's death easier and my own anxiety has become lessened. I still have quite a ways to go, but writing about it has been the greatest therapy of my life.
Ok...so after all of this rambling, I come to my point, one of my lessons through my grad school journey is that writing holds powers of healing. Can I create some sort of thesis from this? I don't know. There are studies out there about journaling and creative expression helping people of all sorts. I worry about what new spin I can take on this topic. Could I focus on my own journey? I also know that much of the research will come from psychology texts. I'm not a psych major. Will this be a difficulty for me? Many questions.
So an idea has taken shape, but what to do with this idea...
I have a cousin that I looked up to growing up. It was from he and his brother that I inherited a lot of hand-me-downs. Hockey equipment, clothes, toys, and on the best of days, video games. I played video games a lot growing up, in a lot of different settings, and the happiest of these was when I was sharing the experience with my cousins, who were until a certain age my best and closest friends. My cousin Mike, to whom I referred at the top there, is a few year older than me, so naturally to me more or less everything he ever did was cool. Fortunately for both of us it ended up that we had and have a lot of shared interests, one of which has always been video games. A year ago, maybe two, Mike told me about something he saw on the internet, and it gave him an idea. He had found some plans for building an old arcade-style game cabinet, but much more importantly, he had learned about a technology that would allow us to use this machine to play any and every game we had ever enjoyed from our earliest memories up through the turn of the millennium. Logistical concerns aside, I was on board.
The technologies Mike was talking about, as spoken about previously, are the Raspberry Pi (Model B) computer and the RetroPie software. The Raspberry Pi, pictured above, is not a computer as most people think of them. This little circuit board fits in the palm of the hand, and comes equipped with ports for power, audio, HDMI, (4) USB and an SD card reader. Much smaller than even the sleekest GameBoy I’ve ever had, the Pi can run all of my favorite childhood (and in fairness adolescent and possibly adult) games with nary a glitch and without ever needing a cool down break or a special touch or for somebody to blow on it. It must be said of the Raspberry Pi that this little computer has the versatility to be put to work on any number of projects, and can accomplish much nobler things for the world than letting me play Captain Skyhawk, but this is what I’m using the device for. To learn more about the Raspberry Pi and what it can do from the people behind it, go here. For our purposes, the USB ports are for connecting video game controllers, the HDMI port of course is used to connect the machine to a display (it’s amazing how good a 25 year old video game can look on a new HD TV), and the SD card slot holds the ever important brains of the operation: all the many 1000s of ROMs, and the operating system (OS) RetroPie.
The Raspberry Pi cannot operate without an SD card. The machine itself has processing power but no storage, so in order to use it, you must load an SD card with a compatible operating system of your choosing. In this case, RetroPie. RetroPie, the menu screen of which is seen above, is essentially a collection of emulators organized in a graphical interface. The emulators are presented on a side scrolling list, and when selected, each will offer the user the list of ROMs she has loaded onto the SD card that run through that particular emulator. In practice, it’s like having all of the game consoles you ever wanted available at the touch of a button, and every game you could ever think of ready to play at the touch of a second button. On a 32 gigabyte SD card, a user could load RetroPie alongside 800 Nintendo games, 700 Sega Genesis games, 900 Super Nintendo games, and hundreds of other games for other systems like Neo Geo, Atari, etc. and have access to all of them at any given time. As I believe I’m mentioned before, this is what 10 year old me would have called unlimited power. There are advertisements on the back of Nintendo Power magazine with a kid on a dark cyber mountain wearing a Power Glove while lightning strikes everything (or like, something like this) and as a little kid that seemed like that coolest thing in the world, and I imagine that having this machine is what being the kid in that advertisement scenario would have felt like.
So these are the components that make up this game-changing machine, and because this is kind of a maker project, assembly is required. Full disclosure- it was my cousin Mike who did all of the first and hardest work here. He more or less handed me a working device and gave me access to a simplified process of putting the pieces together and making it all go. Even so, I’m going to walk through the process of making one of these things from scratch as well as I can. Before anything else, you need the hardware. Mike made I list and I put in the order. He has been researching in his free time, so he figured out which power supply (essentially a cell phone charger) would be best, what size SD card we should use (32 GB to start) and picked a case (a simple black box). He also found the site that made retro console controllers (either refitted originals or REALLY good replicas) with USB plugs. We went with Super Nintendo controllers for our first round of testing. In truth, we had no idea if this project was going to work, and with two sets of everything this had already cost us like $90 each (I get paid minimum wage, don’t be snooty) so we didn’t want to buy a bunch of accessories that we might not be able to use. Spoiler alert: it worked great and we bought more controllers.
While we waited for the parts and for sometime before, Mike diligently googled the whole situation he had gotten us into to find out just how the machine worked, how to use the OS, and how to put the two together. A while before, we met and went down our greatest hits lists to make sure we downloaded all of our favorite games to put onto our SD cards. What we quickly found out after that was that our all time favorites list (excluding PS1 and N64 games both because of file size and functionality issues with the emulators) would take up just a few megabytes our 32 gigabyte cards. Our natural next step was to simply find the entire catalogue of games for all of the systems we played on as kids and just download them all. The ROM for the original Legend of Zelda is something like 14 KB. We could fit so many thousands upon thousands of copies of The Legend of Zelda on our new magic gaming computers that it was beyond comical. We started measuring later, larger games in terms of how many Zeldas could fit in their space. (A new PS4 game today? Like 200,000 Zeldas. Not joking.) The next task after downloading these entire libraries was to sift through them for the files we needed to move over to the Pi. Mike downloaded these huge batches of files that included things like foreign releases, fan-made games, read me files and things like that, so we had to find the actual game file for each ROM to put onto our SD cards. A great work of tedium, Mike compiled folders for each system and had them ready to go when we got the hardware. The next step, once we got our gear, was to get our SD cards loaded up with the OS and then filling them up with games. That took downloading a couple of programs to help us format the cards and get them ready for the Pi, again that Mike had to research online. The final step was to literally, physically put the pieces together, which entailed screwing our plastic cases into place around the tiny computers, sliding the SD cards into their tiny slots, plugging in all of the cords and seeing what would happen.
What happened was awesome. It worked exactly like it was supposed to. At first we only loaded some of the games, just to test it out, but there they all were. It was amazing. I forget which game we played the first night the Pis were working. I want to say it was a game called Monster in my Pocket, which was one of my childhood favorites but I had never owned it. As test cases go, this one was fantastic. The tension of a black screen broke as the game’s publisher’s information materialized and faded, and then with spooky 8 bit Nintendo music an image appears of a denim pocket on a black field, and something keeps trying to burst out of (I know, but we were children) when suddenly out from the top fly dozens of little monsters and the game’s logo. After that you’re a tiny vampire (or tiny Frankenstein[‘s monster I KNOW, GOD!] if you’re player two) running around suburban environments beating up other monsters to… some positive end. I know it’s ridiculous, and I can’t say why, but to this day I love that game. It was just so pleasing to play around with it again, like I’d done as a really little kid. This was a Nintendo game, so it came and went probably in the early nineties. By the time I was maybe ten Nintendo alone was already two major consoles beyond their original NES that I so enjoyed as a child. Lucky for me we weren’t rich, so I didn’t get the new consoles right away, if I got them at all. Still, it had been at least 15 years and probably a few more than that since I’d gotten my hand on this game and many like it. It was a happy reunion. And just like that, Mike and I were back to playing bizarre, 2D ridiculously hard games that we used to play together at birthday parties and after dark at family barbecues or when we’d get stuck at our grandmother’s house for too long and our parents took pity on us.
Now for like $70, after waiting 2 days for amazon I can make one of these things in about an hour. The files are saved and ready, I have the software- all I need is a place to plug in my computer. The fact that it has become so easy kind of takes away from the mystical quality the Pi once had. But in another way, learning more about this machine and how it works has brought me closer to a part of my childhood that was really important to me, and that otherwise I might not have been able to access in the same way maybe ever again. Right down to the feel of the controller in hand, this has been a genuine experience of revisiting a past that had for a time been off limits. It’s what I imagine it would be like if I could go back, now as an adult, to the house where I lived until i was 13 or so, and find it unchanged. Feel the texture of the plaster, see the coffee stain on that absurd salmon carpet, watch dust motes float through the sun beams cut up the the square panes of the window in my old bedroom. Smell the cold damp of the basement. That’s something that I’ll never get. Like unless the people who bought the house are real weird and have kept it exactly as we left it, that’s something I’ll never get. But I can hold a Nintendo controller and feel the plastic creak as I squeeze it, trying to urge Mega Man over a long jump, straining my own muscles and adrenaline to match, and I can remember how it was to sit in a group of my cousins and attack a game like that for an afternoon like our lives depended on it. So I feel like in a way, psychologically (I don’t know anything about psychology) by playing some of these old games, I can experience being back in that TV room with my cousins for a little while. At least I can remember how much fun we had. And in-game experiences call to mind real life circumstances, like who was there when we beat such and such a level, and things like that. If nothing else, the machine has helped me bond with my friend, and remember times when things were a little bit simpler for both of us, and I think that’s ok.
Met with Dr. Zamora this week and I am seeing the finish line up ahead. What does it mean when you see the light at the end of the tunnel? It means you are still in the tunnel. Sigh.
I have now created four google docs which will be the four main menu items on my site. They are entitled: Ideas! Movement! Urban! Connected! I had other categories like reading-writing connection, but those ideas will be integrated into one of the other four categories. I have those umbrella categories sketched out, and will link them to specific lesson plans (mine and others’), resources, and sources. Worked mostly on Ideas! today with lesson plans on debate and Socratic seminar. Movement is next and then I will meet with Dr. Zamora to get ready to do the next two.
Still nervous about finishing. I may have to tutor after school and on Saturdays to get kids to pass the PARCC since so many of our students did not pass and will not graduate if we can’t remediate and re-assess… this is sort of the polar opposite of the ideas I am promoting for my project, but the powers-that-be have deemed it will be so.
I also have to get through the red tape to have my program evaluated and submit the application to graduate… hope that is not too problematic … wish this snow day was a Monday…
One game designer interviewed for Tom Bissel’s collection of essays Extra Lives said of his work that he felt like he was writing his legacy in water. I though that was a remarkably poetic image and was impressed, but I also understood what was at the root of his concern. Video games, even popular titles and series, have a history of riotously nonstandard formats and radical changes in the span of only a few short years. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) for example, was a machine that was the original home of many of the most memorable and popular game franchises in history. (It’s true that Mario got his start- kind of– in arcade games. We’re ignoring that asterisk here for simplicity’s sake.) These foundational games, these landmarks of the form and sometimes originators of genres existed only on plastic cartridges that could be read only by the port fitted in the NES. For most of the world, that means the only way to access these games- their visual design, music, gameplay mechanics, narratives, etc.- was and still is to dust off an NES, plug it in, dig up an old Ninja Gaiden cartridge, and say a brief prayer that your ancient console still remembers your touch well enough that it will work for you. By the way, that’s another thing. The NES (and the Sega Genesis, Super Nintend0, N64, etc.) were and are NOTORIOUSLY finicky. Even when they were not yet obsolete an in fact relatively new (within a period of five years let’s say) a bizarre, technical/superstitious ritual had to be observed to ensure both your system and the game you wanted to play would work when you wanted them to. The exact amount of pressure plugging in the wires, the exact amount of force inserting the game cartridge, the correct direction and number of times to blow on the electrical connectors to ward off interfering dust and malevolent spirits. This was an exercise from which no gamer was excluded in the era of cartridge gaming. So it was to the almost comically, certainly unreliable arms of these divinely capricious consoles that game designers offered their Mona Lisas, the best work they could do expressing the height of the technology available to them. And sometimes all they had to show for their diligence was a staticky green screen, until some toddler came along and spit on their masterpiece enough to get it to work.
Enter, then, in the 21st century, the ROM and emulator. Gaming technology has advanced as quickly if not quite a bit mores than the admittedly rapid pace of technology in general in the last several decades. A wristwatch in 2016 can do things it might have taken a whole room full of dedicated servers to do in 1996, or so my best memory of James Bond tells me. So then it comes as no surprise that the crowning achievements of technology in the early years of console gaming (circa 1985) can now be duplicated by a kid on his home computer between homework time and dinner. For the man who’s legacy was written in water, this is not as bleak as it may seem. With the type of processing power and storage space that comes with the average home computer today, it is a relatively simple task for them to duplicate, or emulate, the work done by the gaming consoles and cartridges of yesteryear. ROMs are more or less transliterated video game files, and emulators are pieces of software that allow your computer to run these ROMs as if you had taken an old Nintendo cartridge and somehow plugged it into the USB port. This means that anyone with a remotely new computer can play all of the old games he used to love, without relying on the clunky hardware to which they used to be bound. To further sweeten the deal, one day some charitable coder came along and designed an operation system called RetroPie, which would run on a tiny computer called the Raspberry Pi. The RetroPie OS collected emulators for a dozen or so game consoles like the NES and put them on one, easy to use menu. Once downloading the OS and installing it on a handy micro-SD card, all a nostalgic gamer would have to do would be to hit the internet and download the ROMs of all of her favorite games, load them up, and get playing. Thus, literally thousands of games, many of which are decades old and incredibly obscure, can now be made available to anyone with about $100 who isn’t overly nervous about copyright laws. Ironically, the advent of technology that the developer worried would wash away the record of his achievement like a new high score on an arcade game, has actually come around to save and maintain, if unofficially, the memory of his work. These collections can now be protected and curated as if by a museum, and they well should be.
Just like the printed word or the automobile, the video game is an example of a technology that was once privileged and has since entered a more common domain. And it has been this dissemination that has allowed for the preservation and continued cultural relevance of what would be called “classic” games. In essence, ROMs and emulators and their uses on the RaspberryPi are just an example of porting. When a game is ported, it is adapted from its originally medium (say for example, a standalone arcade cabinet) to another (like an NES cartridge, or more contemporarily a downloadable file). This was and is done all the time with games, so this evolution is no different except that it’s all done entirely by fans and enthusiasts rather than the corporate owners of the games and IP. The fact that game companies did not make greater provisions to preserve and maintain their game libraries is kind of mind-boggling. Even now, as Nintendo and Sony and maybe Microsoft too have mined their IP vaults for old titles that they can make available for download through their online portals and reboot and make new for next gen console, there are plenty of games that would never again see the light of day if not for the Pi. Game companies are only going to dedicate resources to revamping and remaking games that they think they can sell or that fit their brand, and beyond that there are plenty of games that were own by companies that are now defunct, making the the legal legwork before making the game prohibitively difficult. Unfortunately, the Pi is only a grassroots movement in terms of preservation, so these disregarded games are only tentatively held.
My experience with getting to know the RaspberryPi, its joys and frustrations, I’ll document later. The simple fact that it exists, and that with my meager abilities I can manipulate it, is still surprising to me and as I will explore in another post, would in 1995 have simply overwhelmed my eight year old self with the sensation of unlimited power. As far as I know at the moment, it stands as the only nearly comprehensive method of vintage games preservation that is widely available.
Last semester I will admit that i was overwhelmed and stressed. I found it hard to find time to work on my thesis and I let it slide to the backseat because of my other course work. I will not let that happen again this semester. My thesis is going to take center stage and I will schedule my time wisely to work on my other course work. I am also hoping that the weekly meetings on Thursdays will help me keep track of my progress. The scariest part is the volume of the writing that I need to get done. It is a lot of writing in a short period of time. I just have to push myself and stay focused. I did finalize the way i am starting my novel. I’m excited about it, here is an excerpt.
She woke up on the floor. The musty dark green carpet left red marks on her face. The blanket and pillow she grabbed from the couch had a distinct smell of cigarette smoke and body odor. She sits up slowly, she wants to take inventory of the room.
She doesn’t like this house. Her mom drags her here every once in a while. Its usually after the bar closes. She is always looking for an after party to drink more beer and gab about the old days. Last night they stayed up late. Talking about old boyfriends and high school while they heated up leftovers and drank out of red and white aluminum cans.
The party went on for what felt like hours. They were at the bar until it closed. Amanda, the only 8-year-old drinking Shirley temples at the bar couldn’t hold back her yawns any longer. Her mom loaded her in the car and told her that they were making a quick stop on the way home. That’s what she always said.
They stop at the house with the fading yellow exterior. The house looked miserable, the paint was chipping from the brown shutters, the grass patchy and dying. A feeling of dread washes over her. This is the same feeling she gets every time her mom drunkenly pulls up and parks outside this house. She opens up the car door and follows her mother inside.
The kids are still up and running around the living room. Four boys are practicing wrestling moves while WWE glows from the TV screen. She tries to join in on the raucous and gets ignored by the boys. They are older and they don’t know how to play with a younger girl. Amanda sits on the couch and watches. After a couple of minutes, she walks to the kitchen to see what her mom is up to. Hands waving around she is telling a story to the mother of the four boys who sits across from her at the kitchen table. The table is chipped and cracked. The ashtrays overflow with dark gray ash and the cans they drink from leave watery rims. They have cigarettes in one hand and a beer can in the other. They chat intimately because they are old friends but Amanda feels shy in their presence. She goes unnoticed standing in the doorway. She turns around and walks out of the room.
The boys have gone upstairs and Amanda can faintly hear the sounds of the PlayStation system. The boys start screaming over who gets to play the video game. Not wanting to be involved with the argument Amanda decides to stay downstairs. She grabs a blanket from the couch and a pillow and curls up on the floor. She just wants to be left alone. Sleep begins to take over her and she wishes she was home in her own bed.
Now its morning and Amanda can’t find her mom. Last she saw of her was before she passed out on the couch. She could faintly hear her mom’s friend telling a story in the kitchen as she closed her eyes to fall asleep.
Now she goes from the living room to the dining room, checks the bathroom and the back porch. Finally, she finds her mom, in the kitchen, with her head on the table and drool oozing out of her mouth. She wants to go home but she knows that there is no way to wake her mom. Amanda sits down at the kitchen table and waits for her to wake up.
I will probably be tweaking it as time goes on but that is the idea for my intro in to the story.