Summer Plans Taking Shape

Today is April 12, more or less one month into the surreal reality that is the pandemic of 2020. This weekend I realized that I was feeling more and more anxious and unfocused, scared and sad... and there are yet months of this to go. So, I needed to reorganize and refocus — and I did!

Originally I was going to write a book this summer about Brer Rabbit and African folktale traditions, building on last summer's project when I worked through the Joel Chandler Harris, stripping out the Uncle Remus frametale and eye-dialect from each of the stories (all 183 stories here: Tales of a Trickster).

But what I have to admit to myself is that I am just not going to have the focus to complete a traditional book project this summer. What I can do though... is keep working on these 100-word stories. Camp NaNoWriMo has shown me the way! On April 1, I started doing a "Tiny Tales of Wisdom" project for Camp NaNoWriMo, just writing 7 little 100-word stories each day, and it has gone wonderfully! Even in the midst of all this stress and anxiety, it has been a complete pleasure each evening to sit down and spend an hour or two reading and working on these little stories, getting books off the shelf to work with that I sometimes had not looked at in years. (Buddhist and Sufi parables were a serious interest of mine decades ago, and they are what prompted me to go to graduate school in fact.)

So, I'm working with actual printed books (not ebooks like usual!), and taking written notes (me! writing! by hand! yeah, it's weird), and then using those notes to write my 100-word stories each night here at this blog.

So yesterday I wrote out a plan not just for summer which can also roll forward into the coming year (Plan A for if I get to keep my job at OU, and Plan B for if I get laid off... either way: 100-word story projects to keep going no matter what). And I am really excited about how it can work!

My idea is to create a series of short books with 200 of these 100-word stories in each book, using a super-simple layout that I can redesign and reuse for each book. I can have each story on its own page (which also leaves room for some notes on each page too, plus space for reader notes if people get a hard copy). And yes, I am still addicted to spreadsheets and the sense of control I get from that even in the midst of this unpredictable pandemic. I've sketched out a kind of rolling production that has me working on multiple projects at once instead of trying to focus on one main project as I do each summer; I think that flexibility will really help me manage my days so that I can work on something, go for a walk, work on something else, and so on. So by the time I get to July, I will have six little books at various stages of production. In a sense it's more like having a magazine production schedule; if all goes well, I can produce 10 of these little books over the year, especially with the boost I get from being able to make this my main work over the summer:

Added bonus: by doing multiple little books like this instead of one big book, I can also try out different web publishing platforms, starting with Pressbooks, which I am really excited to learn about! And also Itty-Bitty for publishing tiny stories (which I just learned about from Gerol P. last week!). And so on. There are so many great content development tools out there, and this will allow me to learn more about them without having to commit for a single big book.

And yes, I'll also be working on my Johns Hopkins book about teaching online but, to be honest, that is one of the things I am feeling really stressed about. I have never felt so much despair looking at the world of ed tech as I do right now, and I'm not confident that my ideas and experience with online education can make a difference in the face of the Zoomification of online learning. So, I've got a plan for writing the Hopkins book based on the calendar I originally committed to back in February when I signed the contract (and if I do get laid off, I'll even finish that book early)... and maybe the boost of optimism I get from working on these parables and folktales will help alleviate the distress I'm feeling about the world of education.

Anyway, when I think about working on these micro-story micro-projects for the summer, I feel complete excitement and delight. I love writing these little 100-word stories; it is the kind of creative constraint that brings out the best in me as a writer. And no matter what happens to the ed-tech-takeover of online learning, there will still be a need for OER. More than ever in fact.

Plus, it is letting me reconnect with tales and topics that were a big part of my life long ago. And books are very patient: they have been sitting quietly on the shelves all these years waiting for me to come back. So, now I have. :-)

Today: stories from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. If you are a fan of Coleman Barks and his Rumi books, you might recognize that name; that's how I first heard of him. Here's the story I did this morning: The Patient Fisherman. And now I'm going to go for a walk and listen to some birds singing. :-)
A man was fishing at a pond; he sat patiently waiting for the fish to bite, and he had caught several fish already.
Another fisherman came. His line got tangled on some lotus roots in the pond. He tugged angrily and as a result he snapped his fishing line, so he went away with nothing.
A third fisherman grew impatient. He cursed the pond and all the fish in it, yelling loudly, and then he broke his fishing rod in two and threw it in the pond. He too went away with nothing.
The first man just kept on fishing.

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