Learn. Make. Watch. Why? A Response In Two Parts


I’m learning that when a glorious day comes in Portland OR,  you drop everything and head outside. Saturday was one of those days: azure sky, crisp spring air, new leaves bouncing in a light breeze. Me,  I headed indoors and spent my afternoon in a dark, windowless space, staring at a screen. I had snagged one of the 20 spots in a workshop at The Northwest Film Center at the Portland Art Museum, so I could to sharpen my editing toolkit for movie-making on my phone. I honed some skills that day, yes, and collected some great resources. But more important, some loose comments and snippets of ideas I’d tucked away suddenly seemed to coalesce. All it took was one phrase, uttered with passion.

The instructor, Melissa Tvetan, is a filmmaker and film editor who not only wants to make movies, she genuinely wants to help others make them too. For Tvetan, the beauty of iMovie and other movie-making tools on iPhone and iPad is simply

“…being able to make movies on your own terms.”

I call out this phrase because it’s so obvious as to be invisible. Of course the tools let you make movies– that’s the point. But it’s how that matters: on your own terms. 

In a world increasingly fraught with standardization, groupthink, and the tyranny of the like, the notion of being able to make something on your own terms seems almost radical.

In times where it seems we are so caught up in the making, it seems we forget about the maker.

Four simple words puts the spotlight on the individual. And, it pushes us on to consider the question of the purpose of making. Because making something is not always a swell collaborative activity (although it can be that). Making something– creating– is also an individual activity, a deeply personal process that draws on multiple dimensions of self, life experience, imagination, skill, everything.

When I make a movie, a poem, a photograph, an essay that moves a reader (a participant?) emotionally, intellectually, or even through a quickening the spirit, it is because I have done it on my terms. 

How often do kids have the chance to do this in school? 


John Russell, the adult son of one my dearest friends is a musician who was recently interviewed on an e-radio station. I listened as I unpacked boxes in my new office, first to the music and the discussion of it, then to the conversation about music-making in general.

In the conversation, it went without saying that music-making is hard and time-consuming. It involves travel to play at different venues. And, it’s not exactly lucrative. Why do they continue to do it?  It’s simple:

“What else is there besides making stuff and sharing it?”

John and Yazan talked about several aspects of this: first, it takes courage, to create something that’s honest and worth sharing, to put it out there on the internet for a community, and to be present to communicate about it.

silhouette of guitarist in front of flaming earth

CC0 Public Domain via www.pixabay.com

Making music is communal: it is being part of an endless loop of inspiring others and being inspired to continue to create.

Even more, it is about “helping people create a world they want to live in.”

It is, they agreed, unimaginable to get to the end of life and feel  “…regret for being silent when you had all the…means to express yourself….”

How can I hear something like that and not take it to heart? How can I not notice that one of my first personal forays into my new city was into a workshop on making movies? Am I surprised to find that as I am finding my place in a new city, I am also refashioning my notions of myself as a writer, teacher, learner, maker?

And when I hear two young men talk about their journeys as musicians, how can I not think about the kind of teaching that can sustain each young person as she makes her way?

• When we teach writing, what are we doing to teach kids to make a world they want to live in?

• When we teach writing, what are we doing to teach kids to become part of an endless loop of creating and inspiring others to create? Are we teaching them to be only speakers, or to be listeners too? To receive and build a response from there?

• Are we teaching kids to write toward a better world– a world they want to live in? What would that process look like to kids? (Have we ever asked?) What would they write?

• Are we teaching kids to write as– and toward– their most courageous selves?

• When we teach writing, or anything, what are we doing to teach each kid to be a maker?

Slice of Life is the weekly Story Challenge on Two Writing Teachers. Come write along with us!

4 responses to “Learn. Make. Watch. Why? A Response In Two Parts”

  1. Great post. Love hearing from you.

  2. Such great points to ponder, Karen. My favorite — “When we teach writing, or anything, what are we doing to teach each kid to be a maker?” I’ve gotten in the habit of referring to my Kindergarten “choice time” as “Makerspace” time. Everything my students are working on, including writing, is “making!” — Christie

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