Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pecha Kucha Chicago, March 2013

Some thoughts about Pecha Kucha (not pronounced as you'd's p'chAH k'CHAH), a quarterly creative idea-sharing night here in Chicago and in cities around the world. I'm writing about it here because it is a forum for sharing information in a story-like form in a social setting--something to think about for when I finally manage to pull together H.E.A.R. Chicago, my edu-ideas forum.

Pecha Kucha takes place at Martyr's, one of my favorite bars and entertainment venues. The dynamic transparency of the digital age has so fuzzied the walls between our work and personal lives, for better or for worse, that it seems entirely natural learn about local strangers' professional passions in a bar. (I would add here that separating personal and our professional lives is actually pretty new, isn't it? We weren't able to do that until we had enormous urban centers and a cultural stance shaped by the priorities and patterns of industrialization.)

The hosts for the evening were Chicago Pecha Kucha organizers Peter Exley (pictured left) and Thorsten Bösch. I'll let the Pecha Kucha website's FAQs explain further:
PechaKucha 20x20 is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images...
The presentation format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in their gallery/lounge/bar/club/creative kitchen, SuperDeluxe, in February, 2003. Klein Dytham architecture still organize and support the global PechaKucha Night network and organize PechaKucha Night Tokyo
While it was originally a way for architects and designers to concisely convey what they are thinking about, anyone can present now, on subjects personal or professional:
PechaKucha Nights are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, works, thoughts, holiday snaps -- just about anything, really -- in the PechaKucha 20x20 format.
I tweeted during the presentation using the hashtag , though these tweets are long buried by now, I'm sure. Here's a link to the lineup from the evening, and here's a three-point summary:
  • Topics varied widely, from a pair of performance artists' snaps documenting installations to a neuroscience professor's history of frontal lobotomies. 
  • Presenters' purpose also varied widely; a few geeks geeking out about their objet d'geekery, a few non-profit organizers hoping to raise their profile, and a few of those intensely charismatic folks who are dearly entertaining to listen for six minutes and forty seconds but whom you're glad you can go away from afterward.
  • The presentations were all quite interesting and well-paced (or at least, enough so to listen to for six minutes and forty seconds--I think that's part of the beauty of the format), though some were better than others, naturally.

Would I go again? Sure. Am I thinking about pitching a presentation? Absolutely. :-)

*And I mean "geeks" in the best sense: folks really really into and knowledgeable about a subject; wonks.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Morning Judging Poetry Out Loud

A few weeks ago I served as a judge for Poetry Out Loud (I've been waiting to secure permission to publish a couple photos of the finalists before posting this blog, but it's not yet forthcoming; so, onward). This is a competition wherein high school students memorize and recite published poems of their choosing. The contest starts at the school level and then moves through regional and state tournaments, ending with a national competition in Washington, D.C.; I was a judge for the Chicago regionals, held in the calming and airy headquarters of the Poetry Foundation.

Specifically, I was the "accuracy judge." While the other three judges evaluated students on style, clarity, and other such subjective elements, I was to follow the text of the poem during each student's recitation and measure fidelity to the written form. Even pluralizing a word or saying "the" instead of "a" meant a loss in point value.

While I would have enjoyed watching the students' full presentation, which I couldn't do with the Weight of Accuracy in my hands, I was grateful my criteria for judging these hopeful, earnest kids were entirely  objective. As soon as we started, though, I realized I couldn't hide behind the black-and-white of the text: out of the four of us, I looked like the Mean One. Nervously standing not more than five feet in front of me, the contestant  would say "of" instead of "for" and I would act immediately, marking the error on the poem. There is no way the students couldn't see me do it. While the other judges took notes during the presentation, their moves were not tied so directly to a particular word or phrase, and they could have been writing something positive, of course. If my hand moved, it meant nothing but bad news. I effected my kindest and most benign expression as each student recited, but I they weren't fooled, and I had a job to do.

In the end, the students I would have picked as the third, second, and first place winners indeed came in third, second, and first, so all was right with the world. I was relieved that no one's lack of orientation to detail, betrayed by my scoring sheet, had destroyed their chance at national poetic fame.

It was a joy to be around adolescents again. My days of classroom teaching are over, for a number of reasons, but I sure do miss teenagers. I love how newly and momentously they feel and experience things, how much their own growth in their minds and perceptions rock them, how they begin to catch glimpses of their adult selves, and you can see their comportment shift subtly accordingly. And it turns out all of those qualities are in evidence when they recite poetry.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Some interesting events

I've been pretty terrible about updating you on the various and sundry events I've been attending, each of which have contributed a different ingredient to the food-for-thought stew. A couple weeks ago I judged Poetry Out Loud; yesterday morning I attended a talk about Chicago's mayoral history and pension funding problems; last night I attended Pecha Kucha; right now I'm headed to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) quarterly meeting. These things need to be written about, but in the meantime you can follow them, sort of, via my tweets @hear_k12.