Apps for Appalachia: State of the reUnion

State of the reUnion


You could skip this. Or, you could take it as a bit of a peek into the life of faculty. Given that I’m going to be asking you to engage in some writing and coding about “place,” and to take a personal stake in that work, I might do just a bit of that here, too, to help set the stage.

The snowpocalypse was disruptive to everyone. That is obvious. It made it hard to get from point A to point B, if nothing else.

For me, It meant 5 days of no school for our oldest child, drastically changing the equation of what will happen on any given day—especially days where you can’t go anywhere. This also meant that, despite not having to go to work, there was little opportunity to actually do any work, because the day was spent entertaining nearly-6-and-2-year-olds.

There was a lot of shoveling snow with the wrong tools, too.

I don’t like just working from a textbook; I find it boring. Now that I think about it, I wonder if students care… it’s not a question that I have ever actually asked, now that I think about it. I don’t find working straight from a textbook to be very rewarding because it leaves very little space for me to bring anything creative or unique to a course. So, I spent much of the snowpocalyptic week (or, as much as I could) wondering how I would frame our next portion of the course. I knew it would be animation related (or, expected it would be), but thought Ladybug Chase was a bit… meh. But, I had no inspiration, and for me, being creative sometimes requires 1) time, 2) research, 3) quiet, and 4) occasionally, inspiration. A spark, if you will.

This past Friday, I caught part of the following radio programme on NPR while driving to-and-from Richmond to do some errands… the roads were finally clear enough. I thought it was powerful in some places, poignant in others, and definitely a good listen. It was the spark I was looking for. It reminded me of places I’ve lived, people I’ve considered dear friends, and the good times we’ve shared. This was the spark I needed.

The Power of African-American Art

This State of the Re:Union radio broadcast, The Power of African-American Art, struck me as being particularly engaging.

On the left are links to additional information about the people and places in the show. On the right is the radio broadcast itself (the play button is in the upper-left-hand corner of the image). You can, if you want to go back to part of the show, also find a playlist on Soundcloud that breaks the show up into five pieces.

Find a quiet place. Grab a pair of headphones, if you can. I have even made this available to you via Moodle, if you would like to listen to it on a portable device.

What To Do While Listening

While you’re listening, don’t text your friends, check Facebook, or surf the web. Listen and take notes. Listen, actively, on two levels. (This is hard to do, BTW.)

  • “Surface” What. What is the storyteller talking about? What are they saying? How are they saying it?

  • “Deeper” Why. Why is the place important to the storyteller? How are they conveying that?

If you want to load this onto a mobile device and listen for an hour while walking on a treadmill at Seabury, or going for a walk around campus, or anything else that still lets you focus, go for it. Even if you’re not taking notes, making sure you’re focused on the story matters.

Ultimately, I’d rather you don’t lie to yourself and believe that you can do three other things while listening to this and still actually be paying attention. You can’t, I can’t, so we had best admit that sometimes we just need a bit of quiet where we can focus and think deeply and creatively.

(Which, for the record, is usually not a household where a nearly-6-and-2-year-old are running around.)


Finally, go back and listen to the poem Love Letter to U-Street one more time.

Pick one phrase or verse (given its fluidity, I’m not going to get picky here) that you felt was particularly powerful. By this, I mean that when you heard it, it gave you ideas — you imagined a place, or an event, or something else, and it set your mind spinning.

Print (or neatly handwrite) that phrase and bring it to class.

Looking Forward

Our challenge is going to be to use animation to frame one tiny part of a story — to capture a scene, or vignette, from a larger story. Much like the single phrase taken out of Love Letter to U-Street means something to you, but loses much from its loss of context, we’re going to use a single piece of animation to capture the quintessential essence of a larger, more complex story of our own.

As we move into the break, I’m going to be asking you to explore the stories and work of Appalachian authors, songwriters, and poets to find inspiration. Or, if you’re feeling particularly driven, I’ll let you explore telling a story of your own and animate a piece of that story. (This has a higher bar, but may be more personally rewarding.)

For now, we’re laying foundations. The pieces will come together, with hard work, patience, and a bit of creativity.