A New “Problem”

The PCVI Summer Writing Seminar is set to begin this upcoming Wednesday. I’m excited. I have a new “problem.” For the first time when I’ve run a workshop or event, the demand is way more than capacity! The impending budget crisis in Rhode Island and possibility for less funding has caused me to modify components of the course, particularly the What Cheer Writer’s Club co-working membership. This is now one month for the students instead of two. Reducing co-working time gives us a little wiggle room in terms of the budget and has allowed us to add a few more additional students. We’re up to fifteen students with one more in the wings. We promised to serve ten to twelve students in the original plan.

This is great news, but I need to be careful not to over enroll and lose the ability to provide a meaningful experience. If I hadn’t meticulously planned this thing, I would be more concerned. My largest consideration is that I can provide feedback on student work in a timely matter.

There is a great need out there for this type of programming. The enrollment numbers for this class prove that. We had $260 earmarked for paid and online advertising to promote the class. We didn’t use a cent of that money. It was all organic networking. It’s difficult for me to turn someone away from this class. I know how powerful and healing writing about personal experiences can be.

I’ll be conducting final checks on week one materials tomorrow and reviewing readings for the week.

Forever Magazine

I read some fantastic Sci-Fi stories while I was out in Wisconsin. I subscribed to Forever Magazine, which is a “best of” monthly mag edited by Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld Magazine. None of the stories that I read in the July edition of Forever came from Clarkesworld. The stories truly are a “best of” curated by a fan and respected editor of science fiction.

I have been digging back into Clarkesworld over the past month. The magazine strikes a good balance between literary, sci-fi, and length. Stories are customarily 30 – 40 pages on my Kindle or smart phone. I appreciate The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but I’ve found the stories to be exceedingly long at times, and enjoy gobbling up stories in a single bite if possible. But hey, I’ve freed up valuable time with this whole no social media thing, so I might find myself seeking longer stories again.

My favorite from this month’s issue of Forever was “An Evening with Severyn Grimes” by Rich Larson. Two words: cyberpunk awesomeness. This story had me gripped. The few brief moments where I actually yanked my eyes from the page (and those were to take sips of my coffee), I found myself saying, “This is freaking awesome!” Mr. Larson’s story had a tight plot, described fascinating technologies that made sense and weren’t too abstract, and shit, was just cool as hell.

I see Rich Larson has a story collection called Tomorrow Factory….

Little Fishes

Carolyn and I recently returned from a week in Wisconsin. It was a low-key trip filled with a much needed visit with family and a breather from our swamped schedules back in Providence.

Amid our time wrangling my two WWE Superstar nephews (6 and 2) back in Wisconsin, Carolyn and I took a peek at our favorite fresh water dive spot, Devil’s Lake. The lake has a max depth of about 60 feet. We tend to stick to shallower water, usually around 10 – 15 feet. Visibility is good at that depth…and…we get to play with our fish friends! We remembered to bring our underwater camera with us to capture the charming game that we play. Devil’s Lake is flanked by breathtaking bluffs of quartzite that boulder all the way below the surface of the water. This creates excellent habitat opportunities for fish and sets up an opportunity for divers to interact with fish.

In the video that I’ve included, you’ll see how several small mouthed bass rush us as soon as we enter the water. The fish are excited to see divers because we have the ability to lift rocks for them, thus revealing tasty snacks like smaller fish and crayfish. Devil’s Lake is a dive spot, but it isn’t a huge diving destination. There used to be a dive shop across the street when I was growing up. That has since closed and was torn down at some point. The nearest place to fill tanks is Madison, which is at least a 45 minute drive.

Despite having divers in the water intermittently, the fish do not hesitate to come up to you and demand that you lift rocks for them as soon as you enter the water. They follow you along the shore as you swim like little puppies yapping for treats! The behavior of the fish in this lake has changed the way I think about the intelligence of fish. I always assumed that fish merely responded to basic stimuli. I figured these were “dumb” creatures. I’m not proposing small mouthed bass are using tools or building an underwater kingdom to someday surmount human civilization, but hey, watch the video, these guys know what they’re doing!

Devil’s Lake July 2020

Choices About Social Media

I remember the exhilarating experience of choosing my first email address, a Hotmail address, and thinking, “Wow, I’m truly connected to the world.” I still believe in the power of the internet. I love that my projects can exist online, and people from around the world can access them. I love that I can learn about projects and information that some person or group of people have compiled and tumble down a rabbit hole and get lost in their worlds.

I’ve been thinking about social media lately. A few weeks ago, Carolyn and I traveled out to a remote part of Vermont for a long weekend to stay in a cabin. The natural beauty of the place was marvelous. We were flanked by two low mountains and thick green forest and a creek that pitched and carved it’s way through slate, creating breathtaking gullies and waterfalls. Back at the cabin, if we wanted light, the best option was to light a pair of kerosene lanterns. If we needed the toilet, our only option was the outhouse. There was no internet. There was no cell phone reception.

I need to always have some task, some guiding star, driving my day-to-to to be happy. I suppose this is true for most humans. We need an objective. For me, that’s the next class that I’m planning, or perhaps a story idea that I’m working on, or a website or a project that I’m thinking about. And as I get older, and work on these projects, I’m able to reflect and prioritize in ways that I haven’t been able to previously. What matters? What makes me happy? In Vermont, sitting on a porch in front of a fire next to Carolyn, I was happy. I noticed something peculiar while we were in Vermont though.

Especially during the first days, I found myself instinctually grabbing for my phone, turning it on, and checking for updates that weren’t there. This faded over the course of the weekend, but upon further thought and discussion with Carolyn, I came to the troubling conclusion that I have an addiction to social media. It got me thinking about my information diet and the ways that I want to spend my time.

My personal posts are quite infrequent. I use messenger with a few friends, primarily with the guys from the Red Eye Report. 99% of my social media usage is me looking at memes and posting stuff on the Red Eye Report’s Facebook. I make a lot of posts though. As I write this, I feel a tug to pick up my phone. And here’s the question that I’ve been mulling over, is it really worth it? Does social media truly bring value to my life?

The answer is no. It’s actually detracting from my life. I’ve somehow been duped into thinking that social media is the only way to communicate with others in this digital age. This is entirely false. It has changed my expectations for what a personal relationship is and how communication should work. There’s an intricate web of social media standards and etiquette which I must follow. And all of this is actually weakening social bonds between me and those that I truly care about. Don’t even get me started on the threat that social media is posing to American democracy and the mental health of people around the world.

It’s time to take action.

If I have an update that I want to share, a picture, a story about a project that I’m working on, I can A) send it via text, email, or heaven forbid a piece of hand-written correspondence to a specific person or B) I can put it up on this blog. If someone wishes to contact me, they can send me an email, write me a letter, or call my phone.

No more hits of dopamine when I get a like on a post or picture on Facebook. No more time spent scrolling my feed. I’m cleaning up my information diet. I nearly drank myself into an early grave. There were times when I was younger that I smoked cigarettes. I experimented with other drugs. I know what it feels like to cut out addictive substances. Those deep feelings of want and desire, gnawing at your bones and stewing deep in your gut…just take a puff, take a drink you deserve it…I’m feeling those right now about social media. That’s scary. That tells me that my social media habits have just as much of a grip on me as alcohol or tobacco once did.

Day 1. Here we go.

Inner Harsh Has a New Home

The plot of yesterday followed a familiar winding and twisted plot arc for me. My day started with an update regarding the PCVI Summer Writing Seminar, where I stated that I was going to scan documents for the class website. That task was completed by 11 pm last night. I didn’t have 12 hours of scanning to complete, maybe more like 2 max. After I made my blog post, I decided to make a few changes on this website, one thing led to another, and several hours of tweaking later, I ended up with an entirely new look for the site. I’ve messed around with CSS a little before in the past, but I took a much deeper dive yesterday! This is good though, I can put it down as valuable experience for the upcoming PVDVETS.org site. I have a much better handle on customization for the site, especially using GeneratePress. I’m a big fan of the WordPress template.

Anyway, I could on for hours about this, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of in the weeds website stuff to talk about in the coming months. After customizing the site heavily, and really tweaking the look with shadows and some neat visual effects, I thought to myself, “What does Inner Harsh look like on innerharsh.com?” Quick answer, terrible. At this point and where that particular project is in terms of new content, it makes more sense for me to bring it over to lucaspralle.com. Plus, it’s been cumbersome for me to tell students to go to innerharsh.com to read my stories.

It only took a few hours to get everything over. And wow, it is so much more readable! I might actually sunset innerharsh.com. I’m still thinking about that one. I’m also debating whether I want to bring wormisland.com over into this archive. That project is just as much Napoleon’s as it is mine. A part of me likes to think there are old Worm Island promotional posters hanging in dark corners in Suzhou, China with the old website listed. Sunsetting the wormisland.com URL would break that little easter egg. I’m sure they could find it with a search, but who knows what they would come up with on a search in China!

Final Prep

All systems are set to go for the PCVI Summer Writing Seminar. Class begins on July 29. I’m in the final prep stage of the instructional design and Mark is recruiting for the class. We have twelve spots available for students, and as of July 11, eight of those are filled. I made a recruiting video up in Vermont a few weeks ago.

It felt good to talk about the class in the video. I had spent the previous few weeks nailing down a lot of the Google Sites work. It’s been an fascinating journey putting this thing together. The more I work on the instructional design, the more I learn.

I can neither confirm nor deny that we were awarded both of the grants from the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. This is due to the fact that our lovely friend, COVID-19, has punched a massive hole in the state’s finances. We need to wait until the budget is passed before we know where funds will be allocated. I have been informed that our grant applications were very competitive.

I have a few more chapters from our course text that I want to scan in for the students. That’s my job today. I need to polish up the course surveys and get those links embedded in the site and on the syllabus. It’s funny, in my mind I thought we had promised so much to funders in our grant applications, which to be fair, we did, it’s just not all dependent on student data. We still have the RIVETS.org page to build and stories to add to that site. When I looked at the grant apps to figure out what type of data I needed to collect, I was surprised to find that it was much simpler than I had imagined–I needed 12 vets, and by the end of the class, they needed to feel like they were better writers. At this point, I’ve worked on the class at such a granular level, it was easy for me to generate more specific questions about perceived writing skills and other measurable items from the class like digital literacy and expressive writing.

Grant Apps and Program Plan Submitted!

Phew! I sent off two grant applications for the PCVI Summer Writing Seminar. They were surprisingly different in format and focus. The first application was for the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA). They are very much focused on paying artists. So the grant app was more about the “Artistic” work being done. This ended up being primarily class prep time and hours to teach the class. The second grant application went out to the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Service (RIVETS). This application was focused more on the materials and website. I learned a lot about budgeting and allocating funds while putting these applications together.

Writing the RIVETS app allowed me to think about the website and possibilities surrounding that going forward. First off, we finally picked a URL and locked it down! The PCVI’s home is going to be pvdvets.org. We wanted pcvi.org, but that was taken. I actually like the new one better. As Mark and I put the application together, we realized that the website and the stories that vets will be writing this summer can serve as a valuable body of work that schools and other institutions can use to learn about the veteran experience. Exciting stuff! I think this is going to open up huge opportunities in the future for us.

I also submitted an instructional design plan for the PCVI Summer Writing Seminar this week for my instructional design class at URI. I can tell this will be enormously helpful moving forward. As detailed as the plan is, it’s only scratching the surface of the design. Let’s just say I’ve set the bar high for this design. After I submitted my final for the class, I realized, “Holy crap, now I need to actually execute that plan!” I’ve taught online plenty over the past few months. All teachers have. I’m not worried about the online distance learning. The summer writing seminar is a Lamborghini–beautiful to look at and watch it race around turns. Now, I need to build it in specific detail. I’ve drawn up the plan, so I’m prepared. It’s just that…well…it’s a Lambo!

Here’s a video I created to give an overview of the program:

RISCA Proposal

Mark and I are meeting with Todd Trebour from RISCA this afternoon for a final check on our RISCA application before we submit it. I think we’re in good shape, but I guess I’m biased as well! It feels good to have all the boxes filled and necessary documents linked. Completing the grant application also means further grant applications will not be nearly as scary. Yes, it can be a bit daunting, but really it’s a piece-by-piece process that requires a good plan, diligence, and good communication.

We have one more grant application to send off to the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services next week. Much of that work has been done in this RISCA application. Then I get to plan an awesome online class! I’m so excited to really dig into this. I’m going to have a lot of fun putting it together. It’s definitely not going to be just a Zoom call. I’m going to build a Google Site for the class, record videos, and have short story writing “drills”. I think the vets in this class will respond to activities like the drills especially well.

Fun fun. First off, let’s get this RISCA grant application out the door!

Holy Coronavirus!

Well then. Here we are at the beginning of April 2020. The world has been completely upended by COVID-19. I have a feeling we’re in store for more. I’ve had to make some decisions regarding the PCVI Summer Writing Series. I’m switching it to an online program. Unfortunately, I’m cutting out the co-working at What Cheer and the Frequency Writers workshop in this proposal. There is just too much uncertainty as to what will be feasible in the coming months due to quarantines and whatnot. I’ll pursue the objectives of integrating vets into the broader RI writing scene later on once things calm down.

This isn’t necessarily bad news. It means the scope of the program has been tightened. We get to focus more on writing stories. I taught an online PCVI creative writing class last night. It’s crazy, I think the current PCVI cohort might even be stronger online! Seeing how well the class has transitioned into distance learning has been encouraging. I told the students today, as long as I’m drawing breath on July 1st, I will run the summer writing class. Regardless of what happens with grants or if Godzilla is attacking the freaking city, I’ll make the class happen.

PCVI Summer Writing Series Progress

It’s grant writing time! This isn’t my favorite part. I can plan programs and instruction all day. I actually really enjoy that stuff. Chunking away at a grant proposal doesn’t feel as natural to me. I’ve had decent success at it in the past with Endless Beautiful. Carolyn and I put together a few proposals two years ago and we were awarded grants for both of those. There’s an added layer of complexity (several actually) for the PCVI Summer Writing Series grant. Everything was in-house for EB. This grant involves fiscal sponsors, radio campaigns, space arrangements, and a bunch of other stuff. I guess one advantage is I’ve designed the program from the bottom up. That means I have the answers to most of the questions on the application. I suppose this is a step in becoming a big boy and developing bigger programs. I really have to credit the URI Masters of Adult Education program for giving me the tools to confidently move forward with a complex project like this one.

I ran the first creative writing session for PCVI a few weeks back. It was fantastic. I had students read my story “TCP 3” before class. We discussed some of the narrative devices used and general impressions. Then we launched into the EB workshop. It works every time! I still can’t believe how well EB works. I’m using EB in a different way than I have with previous classes. We spark discussion and look for narrative seeds to build stories on. I have students build a container with what they come up with. They decide on a beginning and an end for their experience-based narrative. Students left the class with the assignment of filling their story container. They need to supply the details of how to get from the beginning to the end. During the summer class, I will give students a detailed packet to help them outline this stuff. As for the spring semester, I really just want them to reflect on their experiences and get their feet wet. Developing this atmosphere of personal narrative sharing has already yielded fantastic results in the class. I think we’re really onto something.

Enough procrastinating! Back to the grant proposal. Wish me luck!