Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Accidental Actress

Here’s a story aimed at Korean Young Adult ESL readers that I shopped around last year. Although it got me a writing job, the story itself and the other proposed stories in the series were never picked up by the publisher I worked for. Since it’s on my hard drive gathering eltecrostatic radiation, I figure I might as well self-publish it through my blog. The next story in the series is called “Through Ah-Reum’s Eyes.” If I ever have enough time to write everything I want, I will try to clean it up and post it here as well.

Accidental Actress
by James Brawn

I was having “one-of-those-days,” you know, the kind of day where everything was going wrong. My mother forgot to wake me up before she took my sister to day care, so I was late for school. I had spent all my allowance the day before on a new jacket, so I didn’t have money for a taxi. If I took the subway I’d never make it to school on time, but I simply didn’t have a choice.

On my way to the train station, as I was crossing the street, a man in a black sedan ran a red light and hit me with his car. He didn’t hit me hard, but he did knock me over. As I fell I ripped my new jacket. I also got a cut on my hand and it was bleeding pretty badly.

I was planning on just staring at him, you know, giving him the evil eye which says, “I wish you were dead!” But before I could, he jumped out of his car and started freaking out. He was shouting on his cell-phone saying that he needed an ambulance; shouting that he had just hit a child on her way to school.

He acted like I was dead and I was standing right in front of him!

When he got off the phone he started talking really fast: “Everything’s going to be all right. The ambulance is on its way. I’ll ride with you to the hospital, and I’ll stay with you until your parents arrive. Don’t worry everything is going to be fine.”

All I wanted to say was: “Hey, I’m OK, but could give me a ride to school?” But the man never stopped talking; he didn’t say anything; he just kept repeating the same thing: “Everything’s going to be all right.” over and over again.

I really wished I was in a movie, you know, so I could have slapped him to make him calm down, but you can only slap people in movies.

When the ambulance arrived the Emergency Medical Technician asked me a bunch of questions: “Did I hit my head? Did I think anything was broken?” and I answered, “No,” to each of them. Finally the EMT asked me if I needed to go to the hospital, and I said, “No, but I do need a ride to school, and a note explaining why I am late.”

Of course, after I said that, the man who had hit me started freaking out again, and he said, “You can’t go to school like that! Your jacket is torn. You have blood all over your school uniform. I’ll need to get you new a new jacket and a new school uniform.”

The ambulance guy looked at me and then looked at the man who had hit me, and asked, “Do you think you’ll be all right? Do you want us to take you home?”

“Oh, I’m fine. I’ll be all right,” I said, and I let the ambulance leave. I couldn’t refuse the man’s offer to replace my torn jacket, and besides I was already late for school. If I was going to be late anyway I might as well get some new clothes, and the guy did owe me something for hitting me with his car.

The man was looking at me, and said, “You look like a person I can trust, so this is what we’re going to do. I’m running a little late for a meeting, so I’m going to give you my credit card and my business card. I’ll drop you off at the Gallaria Department Store, and when you’re finished getting a new jacket and a new school uniform come back to my office and I’ll see that you are taken back to school.”


I looked at him and I said, “You’re kidding me. You’re going to give me your credit card.”

“Yes. Like I said you look like someone I can trust.”

He dropped me off at the Gallaria Department Store, and I spent about an hour shopping. I was tempted to buy everything I wanted, but I decided the man had been really nice, so I just replaced my jacket and my bloody school blouse.

The whole time I was shopping, I never once thought to look at the man’s business card, but when I did, I got a really big shock. He was a famous producer for JB Entertainment.

When I arrived at JB Entertainment, I was treated like somebody famous. “Mr. Park, will send for you as soon as his meeting is finished,” said the receptionist. “Please wait here.”  They took me to a private waiting room, and got me something to eat and drink.

Mr. Park came and got me a short time later. “Before I take you back to school, I would like you to read something for me.”

“OK,” I said kind of shyly.

He took me to a room, and there were some TV cameras. I looked at him nervously, and he said, “It’s called a screen test, I want to see how you look and sound on camera. There will be several other actors and actresses here as well.”

There was a group of about six of us, and Mr. Park had us stand – sometimes alone sometimes together – in front of the camera. Sometimes he asked to do and say certain things. It was kind of fun. After a while I even forgot I was being filmed, and I started joking around with this other girl.   

After the screen test, Mr. Park had me come back to his office, and he said, “We’re casting characters for a new TV drama. Would you be interested in playing the main character’s younger sister? The girl you were joking around with during the screen test has already been cast as the main character. The two of you acted like sisters, so we think you’d be perfect for that part.”

I was speechless; I could only nod my head in agreement. I never did make it to school that day. My teachers were really angry, but that’s how I became an accidental actress.   
Seoul-Paju, South Korea
March, 2009

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Twitter and the Brain

Wednesday the sixth of January 2010 was a productive day as far as days go. My main task was to get ready for my Oxford University Press interview. It’s actually more of a presentation. I’m going for a semi-permanent, part-time position which will involve teacher-training, curriculum consulting, and book selling. My presentation needs to demonstrate that I can do all three simultaneously. Obviously, such an endeavor requires a certain amount of creative thinking; consequently, I took numerous facebook and google breaks.

The reason why I call this day productive is because:

  1. I finished what I set out to accomplish
  2. I learned something that I had no intention of learning
  3. I reconsidered something I had originally determined was a waste of time
  4. I am blogging about the all of the above

My solution for tomorrow’s presentation was actually fairly straight forward. As part of my skill-set as a teacher-trainer I often have to do “demonstration” or “sample” lessons. These “demonstration” or “sample” lessons often have to be done in front of real students with whom I have never met. My lessons are usually successful even though I have never met the students and there are observers and/or video equipment in the room. Therefore, I thought I should play to one of my strengths. Oxford University Press sent me one of their text books Surprise Surprise! and they asked me use it as part of my presentation. They said that the presentation should be 30% theory and 70% practical. A sample lesson with processing seems to fit that description perfectly. If I do a sample lesson from the textbook, that is very useful for a teacher or a prospective buyer. After the sample lesson, I will process what I did (that’s the theory) and I will also show how other units in the book can be adapted to the framework I modeled in the sample lesson.

Because I plan my lessons backwards, that is, I determine the last thing that my Ss will do in the class, before I decide how the class will start, the planning process is naturally somewhat discontinuous for me. Consequently, I had a lot of “time for reflections” as I was putting together my lesson. I used this “time for reflection” to check the news and to peruse facebook. While looking over the news and facebook I stumble across a couple of interesting articles, which at first seem completely unrelated.

The first of these articles, “Why Twitter Will Endure” was from the NYT and it directed me to a second article, “How Twitter Will Change The Way We Live,” from Time Magazine. After reading these two articles I decided to re-evaluate Twitter. I originally checked it out two years ago. My first tweet:

@jbrawn67 Checking out Twitter 9:27 PM Apr 23rd, 2008 from web

At the time twitter was only about a year old and I only checked it out because it had been mentioned in a couple of articles I had read about the 2008 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. Both articled had mentioned how it had added to the overall experience of the conference. When I lived in Austin form 1993 to 1996, I had been a regular attendee of the SXSW Music Conference, and so I decided to check out twitter, in part, I suspect, with the hope of rekindling some of those fading memories of Austin and its great music scene. Obviously reading 140 character long comments about something that had happened that you hadn’t personally experienced didn’t do much for my sense of nostalgia, so I chalked the whole twitter experience up to another web-based waste of time.

Since I had a little extra time on my hands and both articles seemed to suggest that even if twitter itself doesn’t endure aspects of the the platform it uses will. Both authors basically argue that real-time search about what’s “hot” has already become essential. Here’s a brief look at how google’s real time search and twitter compare. The article used a San Fransisco earthquake as a measurable event and where twitter actually did report the event in real-time, it took google’s search engine six minutes to start producing results. I don’t know if  “real-time search”  is as vital as those two authors claim, but twitter did introduce me to Death Cab for Cutie an alternative music band that debuted in 1997, the year I debarked for Korea, so I am at least grateful for that.

The next two articles I read were introduced to me through facebook by Justin, a former Daewon Foreign Language High School colleague. He seems to be on a brain kick these days, because he has posted several articles and video dealing with the topic on facebook. Naturally since I was being “reflective” a kind of brainy thing to do I checked them out. The first was called Scans Show Learning ‘Sculpts’ The Brain’s Connections and it describes how learning changes the structures in the brain and the second article was called Mind Reading  a NYT book review for Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain.  

Obviously both of these article, although talking about different things, the first focuses on learning the second on how it is the brain is able to read, both describe how malleable our brain is. Although the brain was not designed to be able to read we have jerry-rigged the platform so that we can. If we believe what the first article describes, then by learning to read we also in turn sculpt our brains. Structures that were designed to recognize shapes in the wild are sculpted so we can accurately distinguish between a ‘b’ and a ‘d.’  Reading is a powerful technology and once the individual masters it, it in turns opens up the knowledge of the ages. 

As an undergraduate I was a philosophy major and one of the philosophy classes I took was a philosophy of language course. In that course I was first introduced to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which is the idea that the language we speak and the culture we are embedded in affects the way we think.  There is a strong version of this and a weak version of this hypothesis. I have lived outside my culture and native language for 12 years now. I have also been privileged to function as an educator, and I would have to say that I support a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I beleive language and culture do to a certain extent affect the way we think. Based on the idea that learning sculpts brain, then this shouldn’t be unreasonable.

In that philosophy of language class I remember writing a paper on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and while doing research of the that paper I ran across the Sylvia Schribner and Michael Cole book called The Psychology of Literacy. In the book they looked at the differences between literate and illiterate brains especially in terms of cognitive tasks. Based on their research they were able to conclude that there are definite cognitive skills associated with literacy, but not necessarily with classroom learning. This conclusion seems to run counter to the findings described in Scans Show Learning ‘Sculpts’ the Brain’s Connections.  This, however, isn’t necessarily true, because in 1981 when they were doing their research they had to use paper and pencil type tasks to measure ‘effect’ therefore the task types may account for some of their results. One conclusion I think that can be drawn from this is literacy changes the brain more than classroom learning.

In the end, what these four article got me thinking about is how technology, reading after all is a technology, affects us. Twitter, the internet, facebook and blogs, they are changing not only the way we think but possibly even how we think on a very physical level; however, because we all come to these technologies differently and with different cultural baggage the way we change is profoundly different. Perhaps like the NYT reviewer says at the close of his article Mind Reading:

But the dance through time between old brains and new ones, parents and children, tradition and innovation, is itself a deep part of human nature, perhaps the deepest part…[As] parents, [we] have to watch our children glide irretrievably into a future we can never reach ourselves. But, surely, in the end, the story of the reading, learning, hyperlinking, endlessly rewiring brain is more hopeful than sad.

Friday, January 8th, 2010