Say what?   It's November (in an hour or so) so it's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  Sign up at the NaNoWriMo website and write your 50k length tome.  The idea is to get you writing and keep you writing so that, in 30 days, you'll have a first draft of substantial writing from which to edit. One longtime user summarized it quite well in a forum post,

"A writer doing NaNo has a first draft at the end of the month. A first draft is *not* polished; in fact the point of NaNo is that you let go of the worries of writing something beautiful in the first draft and just write *something* The attitude I take, and my usual signature on the forums is "Nanowrimo: because you can't improve what isn't there." NaNo is not about producing a finished product. It's about producing a story, that, if you want to, you can improve later. It's a brain dump, it's an exploration, it's for fun."

There are plenty of forums for ideas, feedback, and encouragement so you'll stay busy and motivated.  You can even find writing buddies in your genre for a more personalized interaction.

Ready, set, go!

(Yes, it's ok to get started early.  Although, it's now 45 minutes to the official start time.)


Music: The New Flesh by Top $ Raz


The New Flesh is a platform through which we experience facets of a man.  From the opening track, Mountains, New York native Top $ Raz informs the listener that this endeavor is serious business. Not a game.  Not practice. His philosophical lyrics and vigorous flow confirm this notion, "Mountains may crumble/but I will never break/I pick the world up, it's heavy/breathe but my knees will never shake." This is the grownest young man I know. His project exudes musical maturity not often present in a man of so few years. 

The New Flesh is both physical and spiritual.  In So Beautiful and Don't Mind, Raz makes his fleshly desires plain. The Man is a change in vibe with in your face swagger and fun.   Jack and Coke Flow is unfair in that it grabs the hell out of you, shakes you, and drops you in midair.  No, your track didn’t skip.  Yes, he did accomplish that much in so little space.  Whether he chooses to punchline you drunk or to weave a tale, you feel the generations of compressed wisdom as Raz’s “literary mind drops bombs that’ll blow like they’re literally mines.” 

The features are unexpectedly pleasant, bringing a verve that matches the artist's own lyrical strength and tremolo. Check Don't Mind ft. Cyph Diggy for a verse with lines so funky "the smell will fester." If they overwhelm you, just “spray some pine air freshener.”  Alvietron, Scienze, YC the Cynic, Mic Blaque, Cavalier, and Grace Kalambay also bring their verbal dexterity to the assembly.  Nine producers, including Thinker, Coole High, and J. Monopoly contributed to this effort, bringing heavy hitting and melodic tracks that serve as a sturdy platform for Raz’s emotion-laden delivery.  The synergy of music and lyrics is apparent in The Plague with J57’s thrilling, back alley vibrations and in War and Peace with Thinker’s heart-pounding turned heartwarming intonations.

Not every moment is perfect, there’s some repetition and a few moments challenge my aesthetic.  The low tones of the chorus of Love Me No More beg for some height, which would have been a solid juxtaposition to Raz’s voice and rounded out the track.  There's a hint of it, but it's too far in the background to enjoy.   Also, I’m not a fan of the sexually explicit stuff.  Lyricists, take a lesson from a master, Prince, and grind a metaphor ‘til you wear out the gears.  Overall, the New Flesh delivers.  Top $ Raz is comfortable in his skin.  No delusions of grandeur, he knows how little he is in the universe and how large a presence he is nonetheless.  This artist pursues his destiny fully aware of the difficulties and pain that accompany his journey; he recognizes the grit and grime of life― The Holy Ghost, The Plague ― but does not let these difficulties thwart his movements ― Cold Fresh, The New Flesh.   When his pursuits take him to blend the gutter and the futuristic, he is a force with which few can reckon ― The Man, The One.

Listen to The New Flesh in your best headphones to experience the depths of emotional vibrations reached through the melding of voice and track, especially prevalent in Mountains, War and Peace, and Golden, raw, gritty songs that scream with the positive and the powerful.   

If the next generation of hip-hop is bringing this much vigor, then I’m a supporter.

The New Flesh is available on iTunes



Filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante  have made an intriguing video that is a play on words (all puns intended). It's been on NPR, blogged, and reblogged but so interesting it's worth repeating.  There are additional videos on their website,

I haven't shared many words recently so I owe you some.


Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird is a collected reflection on the writing process. Author Anne Lamott begins with a vignette on the origin of the writer within, then discusses writing styles while adeptly weaving in examples, writing in different instances as a child, for a child, and as an adult reflecting on childhood so her students, er, readers experience the affects of character and narrator on a story. One can appreciate the candor with which the author reveals the realities of a writer's life (although it seems more specific, perhaps a middle-class, sufficiently connected writer's life): the bumps, trips, jealousy, depressions and near breakthroughs and almost made its and little acclaim for all that effort. Though the book attempts to defy categorization, this writer has labeled it a narrative lesson plan for a writer’s workshop with real life illustrations. Perhaps Lamott is a sweet but determined gangsta issuing a thinly veiled warning to aspiring writers that this is tough work and her turf. Maybe she's a writer with a deadline and a drawer full of notes (on writing?) jotted on index cards that, with her insistence, arranged themselves into this book.  Peruse the collection and draw your own conclusions.


What Dr. Spock Didn't Tell Us by B.M. Atkinson

What Dr. Spock Didn't Tell Us or A Survival Kit for Parents by B.M. Atkinson, Jr. is an entertaining list of afflictions parents and their children acquire quite naturally in the course of living. The book, replete with illustrations (by Whitney Darrow, Jr.) of the bedevilments parents can at best mentally prepare for, succinctly describes these ailments; most are a paragraph long but a few of the more complicated dis-eases take a page to fully explain. Soon-to-be parents, nervous Nellies that they sometimes are, may miss a few hours of sleep over the adroitly named memories most veterans will laugh and cry about. If any of this bedlam is in the traditional parenting books, it surely isn’t presented in such a seriously funny manner. Parents, sit down and enjoy What Dr. Spock Didn't Tell Us, you'll need all the help (and rest and laughter) you can get. If nothing else convinces you, consider the author’s explanation and the remainder of the book’s title: An encyclopedic guide to hitherto uncatalogued afflictions, aberrations, exotic diseases of the American Child. Told ya.

How to repurpose this enjoyable read for the classroom?
These encyclopedic explanations of children's supposed afflictions can serve as an entertaining example of a typical summary assignment.  In a reading/writing class, students could create comical letter entries for a chosen topic; in a class of 26, each student could be assigned to one letter of the alphabet.  In a sociology class, students could create new humorous (or ridiculous) definitions of standard terminology.  Imagine the hilarity of the students' responses and the extensive discussions that would follow as the students presented their entries to the class.  Now, go make it happen!


The Campaign to Make "Thrice" A Cool Word

Conan O'Brien is correct.  Some words may have ebbed in American usage but that does not diminish the quality of those words.  And the nonsense with which they are being replaced? Gadzooks!  We do not need strangely compounded words like ginormous (it even looks weird) when we already have gigantic and enormous. 

As for thrice, I'm not sure why it has waned.  We use once and twice regularly, and the number three is otherwise popular.  "Three's a crowd," "third times a charm," and "three strikes and you're out" immediately come to mind.  Perhaps the adjective thrice has no colloquialism to keep it in the minds and mouths of the populace.

As Conan has stated, thrice is a perfectly good word and is worth our dedicated attention to restore to its rightful place in our language.  For his part, Conan has aired several sketches that present occasions when the word thrice is an appropriate choice.  Do your part and use thrice as often as you find occasion to count to three.

Thank the wily crafters at for the this custom* little Conan you see here.  Yet another way to welcome Conan into your home.

*Note: I used the word custom, not custom-made. The adjective custom means made specially for individual customers. (My contribution to the Campaign Against Wasted Words; more to come in future posts.)


A Few Moments

Think      breathe    slowly
inhale              exhale
allow             the calm         to envelop

 I'm spending so much time these days rushing through, squeezing in, multi-tasking in the truest sense, that I sometimes fail to recognize the few moments during which I can allow calm to prevail.  (Even the word prevail is loaded with the effort of overcoming and the impending threat of chaos or, at least, busyness.) 

At times such as these when I can welcome the rhythm of the train rolling along the tracks and tune out the conversation of some and syncopated beats escaping the headphones of other fellow straphangers, I am grateful.  Each opportunity, a joy.  There are toxins yes, but, in these moments, they are limited.  The occasional onion-laden burger eater does distress the faculties, as do the mariachi bands, drummers, and whatever it is that woman who bangs and sings, "It ain't no joke, for real I'm broke" in an effort to garner money from other subway riders does.  The presence of these polluters intrude upon my opportune mental quiet.

Is there a point here?  I ask myself as I look up and notice that this evening's ride is a less crowded one as compared to my usual commute; there is no passenger seated or standing in the arc of chairs around me.  My personal space restored, I feel as though I am frolicking in a meadow.  (A bit ambitious? Still, I do.)  I am breathing air not immediately released from another's nostrils which is tantamount to fresh in this largely underground railway where at any moment the stench of rat excrement or decay can climb into one's nostrils and seize one's sensibilities.  But, the point?
The point, I suppose, as I cross the venerable Manhattan bridge, the cream-filling of a Brooklyn-Manhattan bridge sandwich, is that any small bit of peace/tranquility/quiet/calm one can muster in this oxymoronic cosmos is a good bit.

As I wrote the last three words of the previous sentence, which I thought would conclude this writing exercise (and yes, I do write in a journal with pen and paper sometimes), the train doors opened to Grand St. and the underwhelming odor of closing fish markets swept through the train car.

At least I had a good little bit.


Read Miracle at St. Anna

Inspired by, a blog that respects that your time is limited and that you are interested in the new and different, be it books, musics, or products.

Ever get so caught up in someone else's story that you are there? You feel yourself a participant or bystander in the action. Your heart races when danger is imminent and you're awash with relief when the group reaches relative safety. James McBride's Miracle at St. Anna does just that. Descriptions of war and beauty and human suffering that can only be experienced in one's innermost parts reverberate in the mountains and foothills of the Italian landscape. The dramatic, descriptive prose manages to maintain an element of suspense that keeps the reader/partaker feeling as though the novel is perpetually leading up to something (in a good way). The Buffalo Soldiers, like McBride's proud uncle who inspired the book, aren't simply characters, they are undeniably human with flesh that wounds and bleeds red blood, hearts that pound with joy in pleasant moments and sorrow at loss, and minds that are forced by circumstance to grapple with unholy realities. Read Miracle at St. Anna and experience an oft-ignored part of the Good War.

P.S. – Then watch Spike Lee directed movie adaptation released in 2008 with the tagline -

World War II has its heroes and its miracles.


Math on the Brain

During the holiday break in December, I was in the company of a teenager who was eager to get outside and enjoy a snow day but for some geometry problems I had committed to review with her.  It was standard school stuff as vacation break homework goes, so we both expected to breeze through it.  Mindful of the axiom that we learn/digest information most thoroughly when we explain it to others, I asked her how she came to each answer.  She sighed at the obvious delay my inquisitive method would cause but settled in to do what must be done. 
I am not one to shy away from math, but this selection of problems were in my least favorite area.  (Pun intended? Not really.)  We proceeded rather quickly through the first few problems, the softballs, where the rule to follow and the algebra required were simple.  But the curve balls came only a few pitches later.  While the questions didn't become more difficult, most of the nearly 100 items were encumbered by multiple layers of work one had to peel through to arrive at the solution. These questions required knowledge of terminology including chord, tangents, secants (the last of which I do not recall ever knowing though I successfully completed calculus in my school days); an understanding of geometric shapes; and problem-solving skills.
As it turned out, this doughty teenager had all the requisite skills but had not applied them to each question and did not always recall her method for solving the problems, so we traversed the bumpy land of geometry together, with her class notes and regents prep website as our guides.
During one of several backtracks to figure out what we had done wrong when our solution was not one of the available choices, I realized that this endeavor extended beyond math skills, this was math, this was literacy, and this was practical application of multiple skills.  We found, as is usually the case when one errs, that one of several of our assumptions and decisions could have veered us off course:
  • faulty multiplication - calculators should not be allowed for all casual classwork use; her ultra-reliance on them and my disallowance of them for all simple computations slowed our progress and increased her contempt for manual labor;
  • difference in our meanings during our discussions - when we spoke about a shape without drawing it, we often visualized it differently which led to differing approaches; our verbal communication was less effective alone while we traversed mathematical mountains;
  • difference in usage of theorums - (Yes, theorums, ugh!) while it was not clear to me whether she had spent much time proving them, she was apt to rely on a theorum so long as it applied to the items involved, even when it did not address the problem we were to solve.  (A chord and a secant mentioned? This must be the right theorum.) She had arrived at many of her incorrect answers using this impratical application method.  I spent some time directing her towards thinking about what matter the theorum addressed so she would choose based on analysis of the information rather than based on keywords or visual cues alone. 

Overall, it was an interesting, multi-hour journey through the mathematical dregs of high school that renewed my already ample appreciation for educators who do this everyday with partially attentive students who often misappropriate the shortcuts and keywords given to guide them.  It especially renewed my appreciation for teachers who go to great lengths to help students fully digest mathematical concepts.  I met one middle school teacher who uses dance, song, rhyme, written assignments, and other suggestions and ideas he could implement to facilitate the development in his students of more than rote mathematical skills but complex problem-solving ability using all available resources.  When and wherever you encounter such an educator, be grateful and demonstrate your gratitude.
Stoudty is a TEN!!!

Math, Craft, and Literacy

Ever see stripes that seem off or weird? That almost make you uncomfortable?
I have and, in crocheting a striped scarf I have been careful not to replicate that off-putting stripeyness (my Colbertesque word). To remain safely in comfortland, I've crocheted even patterns, 3 rows of green, 3 rows of black, etc. whenever I've gone with stripes. Now I'm ready to stretch myself and create a beautiful, more complex striped pattern, maybe even the one pictured above.
Beauty is well-acknowledged as in the eye of the beholder and there is evidence that the eye appreciates symmetry, even when it appears in less than obvious forms.
Mathematical constructs like the Fibonacci sequence is one such form that can be followed to make eye-catching stripes.
( )
By the way, it seems to me that this author, Sandra Petit, embraces distractions, or tangents in writing as a natural part of the thought process and unabashedly shares them. I Love it!
See my post, "The Distracted Person's Dilemma."
So math has its uses in daily life after all!

Mathematical sequences can also serve as a great entry into language and math literacy through craft. A teacher or facilitator in a math or crafting class can discuss the craft (or clothing or blankets, etc.) with the students, focusing on the topic of creating eye-catching stripes.
S/he can transition to mathematical sequences, their origins, and how to use them to create stripes and other patterns (especially for afghans and other items crafted in the square and for spirals).
Students can then plot and or create (crochet, knit, sew, etc.) an item using a mathematical construct to determine the striping. To facilitate metacognition, language development,  and integration of this new material into their knowledge base,  students can write about the class discussion and their creative exploration of mathematical sequences.  As a closing activity, students can present their writing and craft to the class.

This mosaic was constructed by Jim Bumgardner.
Whether they intend to or not, participants are bound to learn about the interesting intersection of math and design and to experience the resonance of mathematical concepts in our daily lives.