Beloved Sweet Home: Digital Objects to Think With

The book Beloved by Toni Morrison is full of brilliant, haunting language powerful enough to open eyes and let readers see the beauty and the pain that gives meaning to this world.  There is much music, color, texture and complexity woven into the story of Beloved.  The symbols and layers of this novel have such depth that it has taken me time, distance and a lot of thinking to let the story take root and unravel.

I was introduced to Beloved at the age of 17.  At the time I was a student at an academic summer program for urban youth interested in Math & Science.  I had an English teacher there that encouraged me to read deeply and to find strength and courage in literature regardless of circumstances.  In Beloved I encountered language that compelled me to follow my teacher’s guidance. Long after my first reading of it, the book stayed with me both figuratively and literally.

When I was a kid, my family moved every few months in search of affordable housing that would help keep us together, safe and afloat.  My mother, my three sisters and I had grown accustomed to the constant shuffle of what I now understand was homelessness.  Moving from place to place (at a moments notice) made it difficult to own things.  Beloved was one of a handful of books I held on to. This paperback of Morrison’s novel (pictured on the left) was among the few personal possessions that survived my nomadic childhood. The book has kept me company for nearly 18 years now.

Recently, I decided to experience Beloved through the original audio recording that Toni Morrison herself considers the truest reading of the text.

Rereading Beloved (after all of these years) and listening to Morrison’s powerful voice recite the tones, rhythms and cadences of all the characters in her narrative has inspired me to create a multiwriting reflection project  featuring songs by Nina Simone.

This project started with a simple idea. I was thinking I would try drawing the sort of imaginative pictures I once drew as a kid moving from one broke-down apartment to another, dreaming up worlds I could keep with me… Little private worlds made possible by color pencils, crayons, markers, pens, paint & paper.

Channeling my inner-child while listening to Morrison’s audio recording of Beloved, I drew a quick sketch of (my own version of) 124 Bluestone Road, the central setting of the narrative located in the free state of Ohio.  124, while technically free of slavery, is haunted by the terrible memories and repercussions Sethe (the main character of the novel) faced as she tried to protect her children from enslavement.

Ultimately, Sethe ends the life of her own child to keep “the already crawling baby” from becoming the property of  southern plantation owners in Sweet Home, Kentucky.  This tragic decision haunts her throughout the entire novel and keeps her mentally enslaved long after the whips and chains are outlawed.

The two settings in Beloved (North & South/ Free & Enslaved) are vastly different but are linked in the narrative through the tormented memories of the past recounted and the horrors relived by Sethe and all the central characters.  Each individual beat, brutalized and dehumanized as a slave, finds themselves struggling daily, even in freedom, to overcome the severe traumas of their enslaved pasts.  The story of Beloved manages to represent in a series of narrative fragments, the constant battles (both internal and external) that stifle the hopes these characters have for creating new life experiences worth living and remembering.

While drawing & listening to the story, lyrics kept coming to mind (mostly songs sang by Nina Simone). Her voice and her words transformed the picture I had in mind. The colors, the shading, the slow, ghostly, fragments of rhythm surfacing had a story all its own.  I wanted to capture the essence of my reading/listening experience in a shareable, interactive composition.

I decided to reach for my computer and for the digital tool kit I keep bookmarked for #MyDiyMFA mini-projects.

I wanted to render (visually) some of the themes found in Beloved and weave them together with personal memories.  I asked myself, how might I describe through color, music and rhythmthe complexities and ironies of settings like 124 & Sweet Home?  I wanted to layer some ideas and feelings born in me as a nomadic 17 year old living (resting) in a stable place for the summer while exploring transformative language, reading Beloved in a protected academic cocoon that nurtured me as a scholar to think with literature, about the dimensions of my life.

In making this layered composition, I was trying to work with memory in a creative way, trying to use memory as a raw material for reflecting the past, but also as a substance that might speak of current reality, the place, the mood, the state of mind I find myself in at the moment.

Using Scratch to create a multi-writing composition, I remixed the drawings, songs, memories and emotions in an interactive project made to express layers of meaning. A digital object to think with.  A storied artifact. Something “in the cloud” that I can return to time and time again to re-experience in new and expansive ways, my layered interpretation of Beloved’s Sweet Home.

As an adult, I no longer move around as much as I once had to.  After three decades of constant motion, I have found peace in simple living, “fronting only the essential facts of life”.

I don’t own much, just a small library of favorite books, some tools, a few pieces of furniture and clothing.  I still make my art like a seven-year-old.  Simple. A few basic, inexpensive supplies that are easy to keep @RockshelfStudio along with plenty of paper & recycled materials.  This has become something of a lifestyle for me.

In 2013, after living in a large 1 bedroom apartment in Brighton, Massachusetts for six consecutive years (the longest I’ve ever lived at any address) I had to leave my job at the Museum of Science Clubhouse and downsize the life I was building post college.  Mainly, I was being called to attend to family responsibilities. My grandmother in the South Bronx, the woman who had helped raise me, had fallen ill and needed support. I moved to New York City to be near her in the last 8 months of her battle with breast cancer.

When my Abuela passed away March 2013, I went nomadic once again, living for nearly two years with all of my possessions in storage while roaming for months, back and forth between New York City, Providence and Boston.  During that time I realized I didn’t need much of what I had accumulated in the six years I lived in Brighton.

the rockshelf

Tiny-Lofted Space @RockshelfStudio

As an artist trying to find & make meaning of my life experiences, I embraced the art of living simply (think Thoreau, had he been a queer woman of color living in the hood instead of in the woods by Walden.  Remix a bit of Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, and you get a pretty solid idea of the framework for #MyDiyMFA).

Currently I live in a tiny urban micro-apartment (300+ square feet) and make a living working on the web, designing and managing media content while making art and digital artifacts for a series of life projects that are teaching me all kinds of interesting things about my self and the world around me.

Reading, writing and making have become the foundation of the life I’m shaping daily.  #MyDiyMFA projects are the challenges, the building blocks, the gears in the gallery of ideas that power the evolution of my creative life experience.

Beloved, the third and final foundation text in #MyDiyMFA exploration of Toni Morrison’s work, is another piece of this unfolding puzzle.  Along with Sula and The Bluest Eye, Beloved is teaching me how to see the interconnections of past, present and future.  These novels brilliantly illustrate how narrative can work to weave together a fragmented life, to face past pain and heal and to seed (in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles) the possibilities of a hopeful future.

Here is a tiny video snippet of the multi-writing project I made on Scratch featuring Nina Simone’s brave, beautiful voice singing:

“I see my light come shining.”


Song lyrics written by Bob Dylan

Visit the link below to experience this #ObjectToThinkWith in its entirety.

Thanks for visiting the Rockshelf!  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what books have inspired you or what creative projects have served as the building blocks in your life.

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Thinking About Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms

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On Thursday January 26, 2017, the MIT Media Lab hosted an event to honor the life and work of scientist, mathematician, inventor, philosopher & life-long learner Seymour Papert.

A large crowd of people who love and appreciate all things Seymour gathered to celebrate his vision and to share memories of the years spent learning and growing collaboratively with him.

His dynamic mind, curious nature, endless thirst for knowledge and deep humanitarian spirit were qualities palpable in each of the stories shared by close friends and relatives.

For nearly seven hours people from all corners of the world, representing diverse fields of study and creative pathways took the stage to shine a mighty spotlight on Papert and the profound impact he had and continues to have across the globe.

Seymour’s world-wide learning community faced an immense loss following his death in the summer of 2016.  The stories shared about his work, his life, his eccentricities, his love of learning, his activism and his never-ending hope for a more perfect education system have inspired me to think about the strength of his vision and how ” deeply in touch he was with his own learning story and all of its emotional complexity”. (Sherry Turkle)

In the words of his close friends and family, “Papert lived to empower others to learn.”

Powered by wonder and the sheer force of his own enthusiasm for learning, he sparked the curiosity of everyone who crossed paths with him.  He believed in the unique abilities of each individual learner and worked hard to create support systems and tools to amplify the intrinsic greatness in all children, all learners regardless of where they began their paths toward knowledge.

I never had a chance to meet Seymour but I feel connected to his powerful ideas in a way that empowers me to keep working on my own life-long commitment to learning.  Through Learning Creative Learning workshops & the Clubhouse community, I have come to understand many elements of what fueled Papert’s education philosophy.  And the more I spend time with his ideas, the more I discover new insights and seeds to cultivate in my own personal learning garden.

As part of #MyDiyMFA project I’ve created a little multiwriting Scratch Gears (Audio Gallery) to share idea segments & layers of Seymour’s vision that have had an impact on my thinking, learning and creative self-expression.

The audio in this piece is derived from a couple of video interviews found online (see links below) and it is edited & remixed in sound clips arranged as gears that work together to help express in a new composition, a few reflections following this inspiring MIT Media Lab celebration.

The piece featured below is part of a larger series of multiwriting compositions made to explore Seymour’s work using many of the learning & creative expression pathways he found interesting and engaging: poetry, riddles, storytelling, art, computer programming & mathematics.

Seymour’s work and all the memories shared by the people who knew him best have been a true inspiration.  As a learner taking the road less traveled and taking creative chances to unearth my own unique learning path, I feel less alone in the world knowing that Papert spent his whole life believing in the power of personalized learning, leading by example and inspiring thinkers to create new tools to open up diverse pathways to knowledge.

This work we are collectively doing (alone-together?) to honor Seymour’s memory and legacy is indeed beautiful and powerful beyond measure.

Thank you to all the people who spoke on stage at the Media Lab, all of the people reading this message and all of the people who (daily) continue to grow this incredible vision Seymour laid the foundation for all those years ago.

Here is a little Scratch #ObjectToThinkWith and to remember him by.

I hope you enjoy it!


Audio remixed from the following video interviews:

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New Writing Podcast! Episode 1: On Writing La Isla de Esperanza


After much #tinkering, writing & re-writing, here is the first episode of #MyDiyMFA podcast on #multiwriting and establishing a creative writing practice through a self-directed learning project.  The last 15 minutes of the podcast features a story #remix I wrote based on the intro to Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula.

If you like the podcast, please subscribe and follow the monthly series in 2017.

Thanks for visiting @RockshelfStudio!

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NaNoWriMo 2016: Up On the Roof (Again)

After three years of focused, reflective learning, deep reading and creative (nano) writing practice, I am once again attempting to write Up On The Roof, a fictional literary story about the effects of shame, loneliness and isolation on the possibilities of love, friendship and community.

nanoThe novel I am writing this year for #NaNoWriMo2016 is both the same old story I’ve been trying to write for years and something completely new.  The themes and basic premise remain in place while the characters and narrative structures have consistently evolved.

The world I am setting in motion is new (structurally speaking) and this makes the entire project feel like a true NaNoWriMo adventure.  50,000 words in 30 days of non-stop, energetic writing.

The main difference this time around is that I have invested upwards of a year learning how to become a better writer by reading amazing novels with an eye toward structure, plot, cultural connections and character development.

Toni Morrison’s novels The Bluest Eye and Sula have enriched my experiment in learning to write (as a reader) more than can currently be said in a single blog post.  Among several key writers including Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz and Maxine Hong Kingston, I owe a great deal of gratitude to Morrison for the beautiful, powerful work she has offered the world and people like myself.

rosa-libraryMy effort to write a novel that captures at least part of the complexities of my experience as a queer woman of color, growing, learning and evolving despite racist, classist, sexist and homophobic currents constantly threatening or denying my humanity, is my own small act of revolutionary courage in a time of immense change.

Still, I have much work to do before I can even hold a candle to the great literary flame that has been lit by the writers that illuminate the path I now walk on.  Even so, I am determined to do the work necessary to “become the writer that this book needs me to be.”

Here is a brief synopses of On the Roof, my immensely humble beginning

imageMusic & technology are at the core of the stories that bring this group of disparate characters together in a changing urban landscape called Harmony Hollows.  Some of the characters in this story are related to one another, others become friends or lovers over time and others are separated by circumstance.  

Spanning three decades of constant change (80’s, 90’s, 00’s), of spontaneous connections, fiery eruptions, urban decay and hit-or-miss efforts for community renewal, we walk with this diverse cast of characters, following them as they search for unique identity in an increasingly uncertain world. 

Other Creative Writing Projects

MYIn addition to participating in NaNo, I am currently working on a project called #MyDiyMFA, a collection of creative non-fiction pieces reflecting on my learning path, this relentless drive to pursue the best education possible by creating community learning projects and using relevant resources afforded by the internet & 21st century communication tools in building a practice of lifelong learning.

This project was inspired in part by  the work of Seymour Papert and his theory of Constructionist Learning.

Blog Updated:

Sadly, Seymour passed away in July of 2016, leaving behind a legacy of hopeful creativity and projects that promote the joys of learning by making and the concept of “hard fun” among many other powerful ideas.   I wrote a spoken word piece titled The Seed That Papert Planted in honor of Seymour and the many learning paths he helped pave.

Thanks for taking some time to check out @RockshelfStudio!

Happy NaNoWriMo 2016!

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Entrepreneurship Path: On Customers & Value

change by design 2

Inspired by the entrepreneurial momentum of the EforAll Accelerator and the questions surfacing in the MITx User Innovation online course on, I’m rereading some of the books that really made an impact on my decision to explore entrepreneurship.  

This week’s re-read is written by Tim Brown, CEO of the global design company IDEO:

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

For those of you who are visual learners and design thinkers, here’s a linked summary of the book in a mind-map format made available by mind map on design thinking Over the past two weeks the challenge has been to shape my business concept into something easily understood and identifiable by potential customers.  This requires knowing who your customer is (Customer Segment) and what is the specific problem your product or service will solve (Value Proposition). Amusingly enough, the prompt that has helped me focus my thinking around these two components came from an EforAll media clip presentation exploring the following line of inquiry:  “I wonder what job people hire a milkshake for.” Between EforAll workshops, MITx User Innovation classes and re-reading Change by Design, my brain is swimming in a sea of ideas and I’m already beginning to catch some waves! Mind-maps have been extremely helpful with connecting ideas and hammering out a starting point for the Spiral Arts Project. Check out the MITx course trailer below and let me know what problem or challenge in your everyday life has had you “hiring milkshakes” on your drive to work and drafting business plans as potential solutions.

On Project-Based Learning

Did you know that in our current economy 1 in 9 people makes a living selling things?

In the quest to prepare myself for small business entrepreneurship, and researching pathways for developing a creative learning, project-based, online service, I’ve been reading up on what it takes to get entrepreneurial ideas off the ground.

use this dpink coverI’m currently reading the book To Sell is Human:  The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, written by Daniel Pink and published in 2014.

The book can be summed up in one simple quote, “like it or not, we’re all in sales.”

Through his research and writing, Pink explores the impact that artisans and small-business entrepreneurs are making in global commence and how technology is facilitating success for millions of people around the world.

“The technologies that were supposed to make sales people obsolete have in fact turned more people into sellers.” he says.  “Consider Etsy.  An online marketplace for small businesses and crafts people, begun with essentially no outside investment in 2005.  Etsy now has more than 875,000 active online shops that together sell upward of $400 million dollars worth of goods and services each year.  Before Etsy came along the ability of craft makers and craft buyers to find each other was rather limited.”

Reading this as a budding entrepreneur, I can’t help but feel empowered and excited about the opportunity to make creative contributions to project-based learning and arts education.   I see these innovations in technology and connectivity as creative catalysts forging an ideal landscape for young dreamers to start doing, making, producing, launching and nurturing passion projects early in life as a way of learning and growing.

the future pojectEnter The Future Project, “a non-profit that connects secondary school students who have interesting project ideas to adults who can coach them.”   Pink discusses how creative innovation in business is giving way to a sort of “elasticity of experience” that has folks such as Timothy Shriver sporting tiles like Chief Movement Officer of The Future Project.  Now Chief Dream Officer, Shriver says “the common thread” in the work that TFP is doing in schools “is activating people to move”.

Currently in New York, DC, New Haven, Detroit, San Francisco, & Newark, the interdisciplinary and versatile arts-education project connects youth in high schools with @DreamDirectors who coach and inspire young project leaders to follow through on completing a project they truly believe in.

This seems to me, a key function of a good education, the intrinsic rewards of learning about yourself and the world around you by producing something of value for yourself and your community.

Project development, by its interdisciplinary nature,  exposes learners to a wide variety of 21st century skills that are action-based and result in tangible, meaningfully measurable iterations of the learning process.  As a learner creating projects in collaboration with peers, you can chart your own success every step of the way and identify your challenges while seeking solutions to improve upon what you’re building.  It is easier to learn and innovate when you have a purpose and mission driving your daily efforts and can rely on a network of peers and coaches to support a successful outcome.

 I wonder how long it will take schools across America to adopt project-based learning in place of standardized curricula.

hth-featureI know many schools are already trying to create the infrastructure to support this blended learning, self-directed, project-based approach. Check out this awesome documentary video of  High Tech High, another innovator in 21st century education.

I’m excited to see what comes of the work that young people are doing in both High Tech High and The Future Project venture!

Do you currently have a project in the works?

As Daniel Pink reminds us in his book, “30% of American workers now work on their own” in micro-businesses selling products and services and working daily to figure out how to move others to action.

With sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Etsy, and community-based, small-business accelerators like the one I’m currently exploring at EforAll (Entrepreneurship for All), there has never been a better time to experiment with the possibilities of learning by doing and earning income in alignment with one’s personal creative potential.

Let me know what you think of all of this!  Leave a comment below and please share links to your current projects!

Thanks for visiting @RockshelfStudio!

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Ode to the Immersive Art Experience

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Images from Meow Wolf Entertainment Complex Kickstarter Campaign

Do you remember what it felt like to be completely immersed in imaginative play?  That feeling of suspending time with words, thoughts, ideas, found objects, motion…   Traveling through a non-linear story that changed second by second and gave way to more inspiring changes?

As a kid, getting into this playful state of mind was pretty easy.  All that was required was a teeny, tiny bit of colorful inspiration to spark a creative adventure that made hours of imaginative journeying possible.

As an adult in search of interesting learning experiences, I find myself trying to remember how to access that state of mind, that pure space of expression and discovery.

All around the world, people are waking up to the intrinsic power of laughter, play and exploration.  Products, commerce, education, industries and more are bending toward our need to experience the rewards and possibilities found in playful experiences.

Check out this kickstarter project co-produced by Meow Wolf & creator of the Game of Thrones series, R.R. Martin.

I wonder if this type of entertainment complex will take root and spread across the country…My inner-child hopes for this!  What do you think?

Is this something you’d like to see in your city?

Leave a comment below! And thanks for visiting the Rockshelf…

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New Ways For Artists to Earn Income

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images featured are a few of my favorite designs from the Tattly website & the Bucketfeet online catalogues

Tattly & Bucketfeet, what do these two creative design companies have in common?

The short answer:

Innovative business models that create earning opportunities for artists across the globe.

By building networks of artists and featuring their original designs on “platform” products such as colorful temporary tattoos or vibrant canvas shoes, design entrepreneurs Tina Roth Eisenberg (a.k.a @Swissmiss of the blog, TattlyCreative Mornings) and Bucketfeet lead trio Raaja Nemani, Aaron Firestein & Bobby Stephens are helping promote a new trend in business.  They are building companies with missions that work to connect people through art and help create exposure for artists, empowering them to spread creative work around the world and access opportunities to earn royalties on the sales of products boasting their unique designs.

In a TechCrunch interview about businesses built in Brooklyn, founder & CEO Tina Roth Eisenberg said “Tattly uses tech to get to the consumer, but at the end of the day, we’re a creative company.”  This can also be said about Bucketfeet whose company works to promote online connections to help “the artist communicate with the consumer” and form a unique bond that travels the web and circles back to the design hub.

For each of these companies, success is found in the place where art, commerce and community intersect and the joy of the work is in the loving details of the products they put out.

With businesses like Tattly and Bucketfeet cropping up around the globe, we’ll soon be able to let go of the dwindling ideology of the “starving artist” and embrace the power of fruitful, creative networks that build, launch and celebrate art in all its many forms.

I don’t know about all of you out there, but personally, as an artist, I’m excited to see these innovative entrepreneurs putting a playful, creative spin on business.

I wonder what new canvases will surface for artists in the years to come…

Do you have a product or service that is a “platform” for promoting art?

If so, please share a link below!

Thanks for visiting the @Rockshelfstudio Wonder Blog!

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The Sounds of Wikipedia

Experiencing Creative Collaboration

Did you know that Wikipedia entries makes beautiful music?

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As the internet stretches its reach into every nook and cranny of our globe, new ways of experiencing and understanding data and information evolve to help grasp the vastness of it all.  This expansion of the web has given way to collaborative art forms that use data bits as creative raw material.

A prime example of this is found in the re-mix project Hatnote by GitHub producers Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, which makes it possible to listen to data and information changes as they happen on Wikipedia.

Here’s a quick description of the project from a passage on the Hatnote website:

“Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.”

Not only can you see, click and interact with the live changes happening second by second, but now you can also experience a soft, calm orchestra made manifest by real-time changes to the world wide web.

I wonder who will be the first to sample the sounds of Wikipedia and turn them into hit records…

Do you make music?

If so, would you remix Wikipedia?

Leave a link in the comments below!  Thanks for stopping by the Rockshelf!

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Music-Making as Play

Wondering about musicians bringing melodies and harmonies to life, I realize that what moves me most about a well made musical composition is just how much an artist embodies the joy of “play” in the making of his/her music.

A place where “play” is central in music-production is in the realm of the digital mashup.

ShawnWasabi1Music-maker Shawn Wasabi recently released a  new composition called “Marble Soda”, described on his blog as “music for your ears to hug.”

Shawn’s whole vibe is fun, colorful, playful…  He makes a game of programming bright sound samples for compositions that seem inspired by video game play, with technology modeled after old-school arcade game controllers (circa 1987 Street Fighter).  I think of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero colliding, except here the artist has selected his own musical loops and arranged patterns made to be presented live in dance venues.

In playing his lively music, Shawn has essentially created a game where the object is to produce harmony with every push of a button and winning happens only when the sounds align just right.  Check it out, it’s pretty amazing.  I wonder how he remembers where each loop is located on the midi board… mind boggling!

(Fair warning though, in case you have little ones around, there’s some profanity in the last 5 seconds of the clip)


Whether it’s a digitally controlled modern mashup or a traditional piano piece, the presence of play for creative self-expression is alive and well in the world of music making.

What are you listening to these days?

Do you see/hear “play” in the music you love? If so, please share some links in the comments below.

Thanks for reading the Wonder Blog @RockshelfStudio!

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