ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Less Literal, More Literary

Less Literal, More Literary

Less Literal, More Literary

Yesterday I admitted my love/hate relationship with marginalia and graffiti. This morning I awoke troubled. I realize that yesterday’s post was disingenuous. It’s more like a love/tolerate relationship. Or LOVE/tolerate.

I can’t honestly claim to hate marginalia or graffiti, not often at least.

Which brings me to another confession. I often joke about Mondays. How tough they are. How frustrating they are. How long they are. How persistent they are. (ie. “Every day is Monday.” Or, “It’s been a week of Mondays…”) Also how short they are. How fleeting they are… You get the picture?

Maybe Mondays should be shorter and Fridays should be longer?

I know, clever, right? No. Not clever. And worse… not 100% candid.

You see, I actually sort-of-kind-of like Mondays. I start planning for Monday on Friday. Or at least Sunday. Monday morning is a land of possibility. Goals. Lists. Optimism.

I’m always overly ambitious and overconfident on Monday morning, and almost always surprised when Friday afternoon sloshes in and I’m still building my sand castle. “Wait! I’m not done yet. The turrets…”

So, yes, some weeks feel like Monday every day, but those also tend to be the weeks when I feel accomplished and satisfied on Friday. When I’m ready to turn off my computer and head out to garden or ski or windsurf or just wander the back meadows with Griffin.

Less Literal

This morning as 5:30 am rolled into 6:00 am and I indulged a few final minutes snuggling with bride and dog before decamping for the day, I began composing a list. Lists always help when I’m troubled. Organize the problem into actionable reminders, and it feels like I’m partway done.

It quickly swelled into ten reminders. Personal, less literal, more literary reminders.

  1. Slow down.
  2. Cultivate curiosity.
  3. Suspend assumptions.
  4. Wend. Wander. Wonder.
  5. Meander beyond the margin.
  6. Meander more!
  7. Multitask less.
  8. Think in stories.
  9. Live in stories.
  10. Hum. Or doodle.
Books. Parcel. String. Knot. via virtualdavis

Books. Parcel. String. Knot.

It sort of reads like one of those cheesy inspirational posters you can order online. The kind you can pin up in the employee lunch room to improve team productivity. Only, this might prove detrimental to team productivity. At least in some ways. Any way, Top 10 Ways to be Less Literal and More Literary might lack mass market appeal, but I’m sticking with it. A Monday morning mantra. An everyday mantra. Amplify opportunities. Ask more questions. Get lost. Make things up. Fool around with a harmonica. Kazoo? Uh-oh. The list is growing.

Short List

Make time to be less literal and more time to be more literary. Have a great week!

Graffiti and Marginalia

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.

“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)

Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.

I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.

I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.

It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.

Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…

Publishing Hatchet Job

Just over a year ago Digital Book World‘s Editorial Director, Jeremy Greenfield (@JDGsaid), helped “leak” a Hachette Book Group internal document reminding the team why traditional publishers remain relevant. The outline sparked a wildfire, igniting debate and speculation.

Perhaps we’ll be able to discuss their 12-month review soon. Until then, here’s a lighthearted mashup — a mostly-found ode to publishing past, curated with a graffiti poet’s irreverence — to help prime the pump.

Publishing is complex,
Finely tuned machines
Whirring behind the scenes
Despite calm, collected facades.
While uppity “self-publishing”
Is a misleading misnomer,
A slipshod hodgepodge
Of hyped-up author services,
Our full service publishing
Connects content creators
And content consumers
In meaningful, pedigreed
And value added ways.
We all but guarantee
Widest possible readership.
Have you forgotten how?
Here’s a helpful cheat sheet:
We discover outstanding
Talent (with jumbo platforms).
We cull the best from the rest.
We invest in our authors,
Funding their creativity and
Fueling content collaboration.
We invest editorial expertise,
In-house publicity gurus and
Spendy strategic marketing.
We leverage global retail
And distribution partnerships.
We’re a new market pioneer,
An agile, risk-taking innovator
Exploring and experimenting
Even when a positive outcome
Isn’t 100% iron-clad guaranteed
(Such as those gimmicky apps
And enhanced digital books.)
We build author brands and
Protect intellectual property.
We have nicely appointed offices
And lots of employees just like you
Because it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
Go, team, go! No, wait…
Stay, team, stay. Please?

Apologies to Hachette (who deserves credit for catalyzing critical if overdue debate about why traditional publishers are relevant in today’s publishing wild west) and Jeremy Greenfield who after all, was just the messenger. Actually, he’s an always-timely, almost always sage messenger who has emerged as one of the oracles of the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm.

Apologies as well to you, my tolerant reader. I’m a perennially curious flaneur, not an expert on the rise and fall of publishers. You’ll find no wonky wizardry here. I’ve taken liberties aplenty. My mission, after all, is to entertain, not dispense wisdom. For that you’ll have to hunt elsewhere… Sorry!


Among the throng responding to Hachette’s internal memo, J.A. Konrath’s advice to publishers stands out.

Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they’re relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here’s how:

  1. Offer much better royalties to authors.
  2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.
  3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.
  4. Lower e-book prices.
  5. Stop futilely fighting piracy.
  6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalogue copy aren’t enough. Neither is your imprint’s Twitter feed. (Digital Book World)

Thank you, J.A. Konrath (@jakonrath) and thank you Hachette. A year later, where are we?

Fort Apache Trailer

Fantastic news from Addison Mehr and the Fort Apache team. Film editing is in the final stretch, trailers out (and slick, slick, slick) and their reaching out to film festivals looking for opportunities to share their finished work. So proud!

Here’s the Fort Apache news:

I am thrilled to announce we have a picture lock for FORT APACHE… It’s been a wild ride and over a year in the making… We have been deep in post production for the last couple months working with the amazing editor Joanna Naugle and were able to do our sound design at C5 the leading audio post-production facility in New York. (HUGO, Life of Pi) We are still finalizing color correction and sound but we hope to roll out with the finished film… by Mid-March. We will keep you updated on screenings… in February or March… and we hope you enjoy the teaser! (Kickstarter)

Congratulations, Addison Mehr. Great trailer. Now we’re ready for the big screen!

Fort Apache: The Story

Not to be mistaken for the Fort Apache (1948) directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple, Addison Mehr’s Fort Apache is a coming of age story based upon the short story by Alan Heathcock.

Fort Apache” is the story of Walt Freely, a fourteen year old who lives in the small town of Krafton, and is emerging out of the naive world of children and into the savage world of adults, a world of indifference, sexuality, and destruction. (

Fort Apache Predecessors

If you can’t stand waiting another minute for Fort Apache to open in a theater near you, there are a couple of online videos by Addison Mehr that you can enjoy in the mean time.

  • Firecracker! “A vibrant tale about star-crossed lovers and their eccentric families… dominated by hyperbolic storytelling riffing off the timeless feel of early 1900’s silent films and the mad style of Guy Maddin.” (16mm, Sight and Sound Project. NYU Tisch 2010)
  • A Sociological Guide to the Adirondacks Described as a “short short film”, Addison Mehr’s video collage juxtaposes multiple images from the Adirondacks’ Champlain Valley, set to a driving rock rhythm. And it’s short!

Borderer’s Flaneur

Borderer's "Flaneur"

Borderer’s “Flaneur”

Fit for some Friday flânerie? I’ve come across the perfect weekly wrap-up to entice fellow flâneurs (and flâneuses) to abandon toil early for a plunge into the pleasure palace waiting beyond the office doors.

If you’re deadline-married and unable (or unwilling, alas) to veer from your tasks, so be it. But if you’re free to wonder and wander I’d like to introduce you to Borderer’s “Flaneur”, a retired broadcaster’s “shattered prose which goes under the generic description ‘poetry’“.

I encourage you to read the entire poem, but to tempt you away from your deadlines here are a few amuse gueules from Borderer’s “Flaneur”.

I am sitting in a bistro, my legs are crossed,
Watching the swing of passing skirts.

I am the one the teachers cursed, smiling,
“He just does not apply himself!”


I wrote a story of 16,600 words.
I wondered what had possessed me.

I prefer to scribble out poetry,
Finished in a single sitting.

I never learned to march in step;

[…]I have the time to contemplate these things,
As I stroll without a goal.

I will kiss you, whoever you are;
I inflict poetry only to seduce.

I am a stroller on the sidewalks;
I know everything is forgotten.

I know, in a world where everything ends,
I cannot waste my time, so

Take my hand along the boulevards;
Let us embrace in every doorway.

Are you seduced, fellow flaneurs? The workaday week will wait. This invitation will not… Enjoy!

Twitter Twins?

Twitter Twins? #twittertwins

Imagine discovering at the dawn of your fifth decade, having never once suspected it, that you’re a twin. A Twitter Twin! I tip my hat to James Carter (@jdcarter) for his Twitter Twins (#twittertwins) scoop!

@ our hair is pretty similar. Though you win for expression, @
Elena Parker
Both story pushers too... Off to meet my twin! ;) RT @ Twitter Twins! @ @ #twittertwins

Carter is a playwright/producer and the force behind NY Hearts (@NY_Hearts), and Elena Parker (@elenakathryn) is a “Creative Technologist… Searching for the future of storytelling…” Of course we’re twins! Twitter Twins, at least…

Schopenhauer’s Flâneur

San Francisco: The Painted Ladies (

San Francisco: The Painted Ladies (

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism

Perhaps a flâneur is an exception to Schopenhauer’s observation. Or tries to be. A flâneur tries to amplify his/her field of vision by infiltrating the lives of others. The visual flâneur who illustrated Schopenhauer’s words above shares his (her?) pen and ink watercolors at, a simple but enticing river of illustrations “inspired by aimless ramblings of the streets”. Think of it as an evolving digital picture book for adults.

On this site, I continue the tradition of the flaneur; explore the streets and their people, follow my whims and reflect on my findings with pen, pencil and watercolor as a ‘visual’ flaneur. (visual flaneur)

Mission Dolores (Credit: visual flaneur)

Mission Dolores (

I don’t know the visual flâneur though I feel like I do. His images are familiar as if he illustrated many of the picture books of my childhood. As if I’ve been in many of these scenes before. While his eye is trained upon San Francisco most of the time, my affinity exceeds fondness for a city that has long pulled me.

The illustrations are playful and carefree but tinged with mortality. Less Pollyanna postcard; more urban reality amuse-gueule. Temptations to ramble further. Perhaps this is the finest gift of flâneurs’ literary and artistic bounty: an open invitations to flâner!

In “How to become a flaneur” the visual flâneur tempts the reader/viewer with a reminder that the richness of flânerie is free to all, everywhere, all the time.

I believe that life is lived at it’s fullest when we open up to experience the world. And there is a lot of world. All around us. You don’t even have to go far. It’s right there! (visual flaneur)

While Schopenhauer is likely correct, flânerie stretches our field of vision. If only for a while. And certainly stretching is superior to limiting, no?

Publishing, Piracy and Libraries

Publishing, Piracy and Libraries

Brian O’Leary’s “The first, best defense“, a Low Country lesson on publishing, piracy and libraries, makes a compelling case for simultaneously fostering book demand and reducing book piracy by improving libraries’ ability to lend digital content.

While whizzing through Dutch towns and farmland on a train ride from the Amsterdam airport to Den Haag for an International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) meeting, O’Leary observed that the Netherlands has effectively resolved its perennial low-land-high-water challenges.

Like Venice, the part of the Netherlands that I saw seems to have made peace with the water around it. Rather than try to prevent an incursion, they’ve created conduits to absorb and redirect it. ~ Brian O’Leary

Publishing Incursions and Conduits

O’Leary contrasts Holland’s water management solution to increasingly prevalent efforts to “storm-proof” cities, especially as global warming, rising ocean levels and unpredictable weather patterns threaten populated areas around the world. The two opposed responses to natural forces prompt O’Leary to wonder about the way that the book publishing industry is responding to threats of digital piracy.

Fears of piracy led to locked content that requires technical skills to manage and unlock. Fears of cannibalization lead to high prices, replacement requirements and in some cases a refusal to sell to libraries. Library budgets are stretched to support new infrastructure. Reader experiences suffer on all counts. ~ Brian O’Leary

Libraries As Publishing Allies

Libraries, O’Leary suggests, could serve as “conduits to absorb and redirect” the forces driving piracy in the book publishing. If publishers and libraries can sort out digital lending concerns in a mutually agreeable manner — soon — then the impetus for piracy would be greatly reduced. In other words, rather than trying to “prevent and incursion”, create a channel for the demand that fuels piracy.

There is a market for content whose price is effectively zero. Publishers have a choice: serve that market and get paid by libraries; or ignore that market and teach readers how to pirate content. I’m still with the idea that libraries are the first, best defense against piracy. ~ Brian O’Leary

I’m persuaded by O’Leary’s post in part because he draws such a simple, elegant parallel between water management in the Netherlands and digital content piracy management in publishing. But O’Leary’s piracy and libraries post coincided with my signing up for a library card at the Belden Noble Memorial Library in Essex, NY.

From Den Haag to Essex

I can’t explain why it’s taken me several years to get a local library card, but I can tell you that I was thrilled to discover that this quaint but microscopic library three doors south of my home is wired. Online lending. Online request and tracking. Online ebook access! Integrating the libraries of Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties via a simple, online resource is an extraordinary gift. And while finally diving in might slightly decrease the number of print books, ebooks and audio books I purchase, it will also increase my consumption, if for no other reasons than ease and they’re free.

Thank you, Brian O’Leary. Thank you, Holland.

Nuala Hayes: Transformative, Immersive Storyteller

Storyteller, Nuala Hayes (Photo credit: Peter Dibdin)

Storyteller, Nuala Hayes
(Photo credit: Peter Dibdin)

A good story brings you somewhere that you hadn’t intended to go. Something happens, and a transformation takes place. It can be imaginative; it can be terrifying; it can make you uncomfortable. But a good story will always bring you safely home. ~ Nuala Hayes (The Irish Times)

Nuala Hayes is a Dublin based actor, storyteller and broadcaster. She founded Scéalta Shamhna, Dublin’s Storytelling Festival, and directed it for a decade. In anticipation of the Yarn Festival 2012 in Bray where Hayes recently performed, The Irish Times challenged her to explain how to tell a perfect story.

Hayes emphasized the importance of observing the audience because “the storyteller’s chief skill is to be tuned in to the emotions of her audience.”

Festival audiences are, says Hayes, a doddle; they come with an open mind and are already in the mood for a story. Faced with a room full of sceptical teenagers, on the other hand, she needs to work a bit harder. “If they’re used to all their imaginative experience coming from television or DVDs or film, which is often the case with kids, I explain to them that if you’re listening to a story, you’re part of it, and the story won’t work if you don’t take part. Once you explain that they’ll see the pictures in their minds, they get it.” (The Irish Times)

Hayes tidily illustrates the collaborative relationship between storyteller and audience which hinges upon deep listening and opens a narrative doorway. Behind the doorway lie mysterious adventures into which a good storyteller immerses you and then transports you safely back again.

Amy Burvall’s Edupunk Revolution


What is Edupunk? (image from

What is Edupunk? (image from

In my perennial quest to expose the most innovative digital storytellers plying their crafty art I recently happened onto Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) via a history-forward reinterpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (watch the video below).

A what? Yes. Five minutes of totally subversive history teaching. Guerrilla pedagogical genius!

I challenge you to watch/listen to all 299 seconds without thrusting your hips and grooving along. But beware that groove will be with you when you finish. It’ll reprogram your brain.

Amy Burvall’s reinterpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”

Convinced? Amy Burvall is to teaching what MTV was to the radio star.

“But I can’t stand Lady Gaga,” you say.

Really? If Lady Gaga — or better yet, Amy Burvall — had been your middle school or high school history teacher I’m willing to bet you’d remember a little more about the French Revolution. And The Trojan War and The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition. It’s just a hunch.

History for Music Lovers

Amy Burvall, a full-time Humanities teacher at the Le Jardin Academy on Oahu, and Herb Mahelona, the choir director of the Kamehameha Schools Hawai’i Campus, teamed up about four years and fifty some odd videos ago to refresh their classroom bag of tricks. The duo, History for Music Lovers, (aka @historyteacherz) has inspired teachers, students and innovative digital storytellers around the globe to re-imagine what’s possible with digital stories as pedagogical tools, especially when you cloak knowledge in catchy, familair rhythms. By harnessing the sometimes edgy, always addictive energy of pop music videos they’re leading an exciting edupunk revolution.

What is Edupunk?

Back in the digital dark ages (ie. May 25, 2008) Jim Groom birthed the term “edupunk” on his blog which quickly polarized his enthusiasts and critics.

Edupunk is about the utter irresponsibility and lethargy of educational institutions and the means by which they are financially cannibalizing their own mission. ~ Jim Groom (Fast Company)

A style of hands-on self-education that benefits the student without concern for curriculums or the interests of schools, corporations or governments. In other words, an autodidactic approach that spurns commercialism, mass-market approaches and top-down goal-setting. (

“Edupunk” is an educational approach that combines creative drive with a maverick attitude, celebrating a kind of cocky, do-it-yourself confidence in which the educator—or possibly the student—designs the tools for teaching and learning. It speaks directly to the corporatization of education—and doesn’t say nice things about it. (elearn Magazine)

Edupunk n. Avoiding mainstream teaching tools like Powerpoint and Blackboard, edupunks bring the rebellious attitude and DIY ethos of ’70s bands like the Clash to the classroom. (

[Edupunk is] a new instructional style that is defiantly student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. (

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics — hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests — and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely. (BlogHer)

All well and good of course, except if one considers, along with blogger Ken Carroll, that the concept of punkoid profs might also not be a little ridiculous… (

Am I the only one to find this Edupunk meme ridiculous? The adolescent ethos, music, etc, are matched only by the adolescent narcissism,  anger, wilful non-conformity,  sanctimony, and tirades against authority. Fine, except this is all coming from teachers!…  These guys look intellectually and emotionally indistinguishable from their students…  Allowing Edupunks to define themselves as agents of humanitarian uplift is absurd. Forty year old tenured men in hoodies, talking about revolution is no more than perpetual adolescence and self-indulgence… I would not recommend that we politicize learning 2.0 and certainly not by reducing it to the level of  of DIY culture. (Ken Carroll)

Edupunk Video Star

If Jim Groom is edupunk’s apparet progenitor, then Amy Burvall is edupunk’s uncontested poster girl!

TEDxHONOLULU: Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona

Although I’m more sympathetic to the edupunk enthusiasts quoted above, I haven’t yet attempted a true deep dunk in the debate to opine intelligently. But I taught middle school and high school students in my twenties long enough to recognize that

  1. kids are naturally curious, hungry and capable learners,
  2. teachers, curriculums and schools often stifle students’ native aptitude,
  3. innovative, flexible experiential learning trumps the alternative,
  4. kids crave energized, smart, creative, risk taking teachers,
  5. and students learn more (and better) when their teachers are passionate and invested.

So rather than wrangling over the pedagogical merits of edupunk, I suggest more teachers learn from Amy Burvall. And once your kids have sung and danced their way to college, let’s start generating some real data based on these students’ experiences. Is the video star teaching them better than the stuffed shirt across the hall who trots out the same old dusty pedagogical playbook year after year? My guess is yes. Let’s find out!

And in the mean time, I tip my Napoleonic bicorne to Ms. Burvall. For teaching in the first place; for taking risks in the classroom; for creating wildly creative teaching tools; for unleashing passion, passion, passion; and for top notch digital storytelling, Ms. Burvall, you are my hero. Consider me one of your newest and most enthusiastic students.

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