Back to School : The Write Stuff

Summer is winding down, and I’ve been going through the back-to-school motions this weekend. Labels, packed lunch ideas, haircuts and internal monologues on how much finger-wiggle room there should be at the back of school shoes. So, with thanks and goodbye – here’s a pick’n’mix of our summer:

One thing that has stood out for me this summer is how K’s reading has started to gain momentum and it’s been pretty cool watching this transformation. I’ve watched his confidence grow with each word-shape memorized, and how his eyes flick to the picture for context less and less as he becomes more adept.  We were passing through the playground yesterday and he pointed out to me, his tone colouring with authority :

K:‘That girl’s t-shirt says she’s ‘mummy’s happy butterfly.’

Me: ‘Yes, it does, well done!’

K: ‘Well, she’s not.’

Didn’t really occur to me to ask why not.

Angus and I also cracked up after we spotted this note K left for us tonight after we told him off for various misdemeanors. :

‘Bee Nis Two Kian’

This learning to read lark is especially significant for me because reading and writing have always intertwined in my life. I started doing the one as soon as I learned the other. I’m actually working on a series of three poems (triage sounds pretentious – even to me)  on reading, writing and arithmetic which  fits nicely with the back-to-school feel of this post. The poems need some serious refining but admittedly, earlier versions have been read at Joyce’s Peel Street Poetry. (Every Wednesday from 8 onward / 49 Peel Street. COME!)  I find a voice can carry a poem a lot better than words on paper –  and you can generally disguise any flaws with intonation.

The purist in me wants to cry ‘wolf’ at this but half-finished, half-arsed writing is sometimes the compromise I have to make in order to keep the rhythm going. Failure to comply  results in a cyclical tirade of poems about poems, writing, or the lack thereof – and I really don’t want to go there again. The editing stage has now become the meat and potatoes of the writing process which has been good for me. Time constraints demand I have to be really clear about what I want to say in each poem. I can no longer entertain writer’s block. I  keep trying – consistently – a couple of times a week, and the best part is; even if nothing comes out of it I feel like my subconscious gets a little exercise and it never feels like a waste of time.

Back to K and his reading – here’s a part of that poem:

My four year old’s homework comes in dot-dot-dot’s, trace the letter,
Strokes one, two, three – ALWAYS, one, two, three.
Use a ruler to join the sound and the picture.
Colour her dress red. No, not blue – Red!
There are lines that he must stay in, NOT straddle,
His letters must sit,
And if his pencil is not sharp enough we get notes sent home.

See that, I still get notes sent home.

At bedtime he takes the book from me,
And we’re back there again – the  World about to get bigger,
The hover before a first step,

He reads the shape, his lips rhythmic, lashes flick
from print to glossy Oxford Reader pictures for a hint,
He finds cliffhangers in the sound of a suffix,
his voice mounting to hysteria, look at me, mummy!
Our grins playing Marco Polo,

My boy has already found a way outside the lines,
Eyes glistening with first dew of a new outside.

The first paragraph makes a reference to K and our experience of kindergarten homework in Hong Kong. It was also in part inspired by my friend Tanya Hart’s excellent Quintile Class Book Project. I think this series is brilliantly executed, candid, and for anyone from this region: this will strike a chord.

Social Media: Is Talk Cheap?

It’s a question that’s being asked much less of now than a few years ago; and the debates have evolved over time from ‘what’s the value of social media?’ to ‘how do we best quantify this value?’

There are of course, a host of other hotly debated topics within the realm of social media marketing – does it make sense for your business to be platform led (reach) or content led (engagement)?  Who should be at the helm of your social efforts? Arguments following this range from flitting dangerously close to ageism to mixed feelings about outsourcing a brand’s voice. And outside of the structural and budgetary considerations (as we all know, build it and they will come does not always apply to the virtual World) there’s the delicate matter of balancing your objectives with your consumers’ interest – the magical bridge between the astounding audience on social media, and a conversation that adds value to your brand – which also happens to resonate with your audience.

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Speak to me, Human.

Let’s also not forget that social media can be somewhat of a dystopia – with eyeballs come blinkers; in the case of Facebook: the right hand side ad column.  Every few weeks another round of Digital doomsdayers predicting the rise and fall of social platforms; after-all the law of diminishing returns still applies in most other cases  (save maybe Google and Apple). The next big thing can come along any day and usurp all our efforts and fragment our audience on the many platforms we’re already  playing in.

Frankly, I think this completely misses the point.

A social web ENABLED virality. It’s not just a platform change that gave us the rather terribly dubbed ‘web 2.0’. It’s a behavioural shift that came to be well before Mark Zuckerburg ever entered Harvard, or Myspace Tom was everybody’s first friend. We’ve come a long way from the wail of the dial-up modem, pop-up ads, to the worrying overpopulation of the Trolls of today, (of course my spam inbox’s wish that I become a well endowed millionaire, by the grace of a Nigerian prince, with a green card has remained unchanged) there’s a human layer that’s been growing on the web for years and with it, a conversation happening about virtually everything.

Personally, these are the conversations that influence everything from the products I buy, to the services I use, the place I go, and the things I do. And now brands have a voice too – and we’re all in the same playground or supermarket, whichever way you look at it.

These are the conversations happening, whether or not you are a part of them.

This should not scare marketers. If your product, content, or service is that good – you have the opportunity to lose the gimmick and focus on the product. If there’s room for improvement, you will know – hard and fast – and there will be plenty of people that will tell you.

The term ‘social currency’ gets thrown around a lot. But this is not anything new. So going back to the ROI of social media? I decided to flip it on its head, using myself as a guinea pig. Take a look at what I put together below. These are brands and services that I have advocated on public forums and social media platforms over the past five years. ALL of them have led to a direct action – ranging from a clickthrough, to an enquiry to a sale.

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And to end, a pretty cool video that’s been going around this week. Prophetic 5th graders about the internet – circa 1995:

Hello World. I’m doing this again.

I wrote a poem a couple of years ago about how I use freeverse like a ‘little black dress’ to to conceal the fact that my writing gets as much attention as I give anything else outside the realm of being a functioning adult with human relationships, kids, a job, animals, and well, twitter (that is, not a whole lot). All managed with a borderline adulterous relationship with some form of caffeine.

I finished this poem with this;

” Free-verse for every stanza unwritten,

So this time does not fade into the forgotten.”

OK. Thoughts on the bus and in the shower, ideas that lose their steam, memories and conversations I would like to keep —  I’ve given you your stage.