Monthly Archives: November 2015

Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World

This post was originally posted at Digital Writing Month:

A few years ago I noticed a colleague of mine taking photos with her iPhone. They weren’t the usual photos of a group of friends or of your cute child or even the requisite selfie to document a moment in time, instead, she took photos to a prompt…and posted them on Instagram. I was intrigued.

Photography was always something that interested me, but I simply couldn’t be bothered lugging around all that equipment, setting up for perfect shots…or even knowing what made a perfect shot. But with my phone (and camera) in my pocket, it was handy…and I was ready for a challenge.

So I found a photo-a-day challenge with daily prompts and set out to give it a try. Prompts like one, logo, spoon, and inside sparked my imagination and I started looking at my environment through different eyes.  I not only took at least a photo a day, I also posted at least one photo a day to my Instagram account (you can find me @kd0602). I took photos for a month, then a year…and now I continue to take and post photos regularly to Instagram. Somehow the more I took photos, the more I started thinking about the idea of blogging—an opportunity to write and share my writing in a public way.

When I started blogging in July of 2013, my goal was to write a blog post every day for 30 days.  I knew that was ambitious and I also knew that I needed to challenge myself and keep to it to create a sustainable habit.  Even as I picked a theme for my blog, I already knew that making a connection to my photography would motivate me.  I called my blog Thinking Through My Lens–a play on the double meaning of the camera lens and my own perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started to blog every day was the power that the images I was snapping would have to stimulate my writing and help me frame my thinking.  A yellow sign I photographed at a gelato shop featuring locally sourced ingredients became inspiration for a post about the importance of growing and valuing local leadership in writing projects and educational settings. Each image I took filled my head with language as I sorted through my thinking.

When I’m out viewing the world through my camera lens, I find myself thinking…about teaching, about life, about the world.  My photos stimulate my thinking and my thinking sets me out in search of images.  

Recently I was out in the mountains of Alabama, looking for the foliage that represents autumn in so many places–and that is mostly missing in my place (San Diego).  Although the unseasonably warm (high 70s) and cloudy weather made the colors less vibrant, I noticed trees of gold and some touches of red.  As I walked along some forest paths, I spied this brilliant red leaf among the brown, crunchy leaves and stooped to photograph it.

red leaf

And as I look at it, I find myself composing the writing…about standing out in a crowd…about being different…about risk taking.  t’s not written yet, but it’s brewing.  I also found myself composing the photo, leaning in close to capture the details.  And then later, maybe I’ll crop it, moving the red leaf away from the center of the frame, add a filter to brighten the red and increase the contrast…  As with the writing, composing is a process and the framing, the editing, the balance of color and light all impact the ways the image will be read and understood.  The images speak to me…and I hope they also speak to others, telling them stories that are likely different from mine.

Some images capture moods…the quiet introspection of a traveler with pant legs rolled up and his feet in the surf,


or the somber quality of birds silhouetted in a tree on a cloudy day.

birds in a tree

And sometimes when it seems that there is nothing interesting to see and photograph, I head outside and explore. I push myself to play and re-imagine possible images. On one of those days not so long ago I picked a dandelion from my front yard (those glorious weeds seem to bring out my playfulness—and oh, does my husband rue their existence in our lawn!) and wondered how to photograph it in a different way. I noticed my car in the driveway and considered how I might capture the image if I blew on the dandelion near the rear-view mirror, but I didn’t seem to have enough hands for that. But as I was contemplating that idea, I noticed the reflection of the dandelion in the paint of the car…and I started snapping. I continued my play with some apps…and created this image.

dandelions make art

And by embracing the ordinary, I experienced the exhilaration of exploration and play, which also led me to composing a teacher-artist manifesto using my photographs and my words to express the importance of play in the learning process.  You can see it here.

So what comes first?  The image or the words?  It’s that age-old chicken and egg dilemma…it all depends on how you look at it, and the particulars of any given situation.  And it seems to work that way for my students too.  Sometimes they have a full blown idea that appears in words on a page and other times they see something, maybe even something they have seen many times before, and the image inspires their thinking and words.  Even more fun happens when they start to really look closely at an image and they start to talk with each other and build on ideas presented by their classmates.  

An Activity: Make Writing … Digital

Head out with your camera in hand (the one on your phone or iPad or a “real” camera) and take a look around.  Let your camera lens give you “new eyes” and seek out the extraordinary in the ordinary around you.  Get low, find the light.  Tilt your lens up, try a new perspective.  Watch and wait, take more shots than you think you’ll need.  Then spend some time with your images, let your images release your imagination.  Let yourself soak in them, let them wash over you, splashing you with inspiration and wonder.  Then pick one.  You can let it speak for itself and post it naked.  Or you can let it whisper in your ear, guiding your words and your thoughts–framing an idea that you didn’t know you were ready for.

For inspiration, we encourage you to add a photograph of your “sky” to a collaborative project we are calling “Our Eyes on the Skies” — which uses an open Google Slide format. To add yours, just take a photograph of your sky. Head to “Our Eyes on the Skies.” Grab a slide. Upload your picture and label it. We hope to create a rich visual documentation of the world above our heads. You are invited.  We look forward to a collection of skies from all over the world!

(Go to slideshow for collaboration)

We hope you will share out your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Mini Bio:

Kim Douillard is a teacher-writer-blogger-photographer who also directs the San Diego Area Writing Project.  You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602 and on her blog at

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sky

I’m not a fan of the return to standard time.  There is something about dark descending before I even get home from work that is exhausting!  It seems that the dark sucks away my energy and motivation…I just want to be home, curled up on the couch or snuggled in my bed.

But…there is an upside to the early arrival of darkness.  Sunsets are readily available…they are happening as I drive home.  I’m noticing the changes in the sky as I drive.  Just last night as I drove to an evening meeting I couldn’t resist pulling off to take a few shots of the city with the sun setting…as viewed through a eucalyptus tree.


Earlier in the week, I stopped by the beach on my way home.  We had rain this week (an event in San Diego) and the skies were cloudy and interesting.  And with a little filter play, the sky lit up (it was beautiful without the filter, but striking this way).  If you look closely, you can see the chopper crossing the bright spot in the sky.


I had seen photos of the Salk campus–of polio vaccination fame– (not far from the writing project office at UCSD) and had always wanted to stop and take some photos.  With white puffy clouds and blustery winds, I stopped to investigate on my way home.  What a reward!  The views are breathtaking…with the sky and ocean framed by dramatic buildings and a long fountain-like structure (that the seagulls were enjoying).  Off in the distance I spied some hang gliders (not visible in this shot).  I’m sure I will go back for some more shots in the future!


And on Halloween last Saturday I spent the day in Catalina (an island off the coast–you can read more about it in this post).  The trip home offered views of the city of Long Beach lighting up as darkness fell.  I’m still working on my nighttime photography, but I love the colors in this shot.


And who can resist this fellow?  Not quite of the sky–but of one who spends a lot of time there. This pelican seemed to enjoy posing on the railing.  I like the way he stretched his pouch in this pose!


So with darkness falling early these days, look to the sky.  What will you notice?  Is the light different?  How does it affect what you notice as you look at the wild blue yonder?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #sky for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

I’m looking forward to seeing the sky as you see it…what does your sky have to offer?

Taking the Long View

There’s a temptation to view learning as quick and direct.  I teach it, you learn it…as simple as that.  You don’t learn it, you must not have listened, you must not have tried…or I didn’t teach it right or well enough.

But over the years I have learned that it is not as simple as that.

Learning is complex…and complicated.  And much of what is going on in terms of learning isn’t visible on the surface.  Like an iceberg, most of the structure lies below the the waters edge–we can only see the tip.

Some days I can see evidence of my students’ learning.  And with some students learning is easy to spot.  With others, it’s not so easy to see.  You have to dig, watch closely and listen carefully, and sometimes sneak a peek when they don’t know you are paying attention.

And most of all, you have to take the long view.


Step back and wait.  Keep teaching and providing opportunities for active learning even when it doesn’t seem to be having the desired impact.  And I have to remind myself to think about my own learning processes too.  Like an onion, learning keeps layering on, building connections, drawing on what came before.  It takes time–sometimes longer than I want to learn new skills, to understand new concepts, to think in new ways.

But, I’m taking the long view.  I’m learning every day and so are my students, even if it isn’t noticeable to others.

The Trick of the Treat

For the first 20+ years of our married life we celebrated my husband’s Halloween birthday either by taking our sons out trick-or-treating or answering the door to hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood (or both).  For the last decade or so, we’ve carefully avoided trick-or-treaters by planning dinner out and have learned to linger over our food and enjoy the mostly empty restaurants on Halloween evening.

This year, it seems we have been celebrating all month.  We headed off to Disneyland earlier in October (see here), spent last weekend in Alabama with his family, and yesterday set off for an adventure on Catalina Island (about 26 miles offshore from southern CA).  To make this treat less of a trick, this year Halloween fell on a Saturday.  We’d talked about exploring Catalina for a while now…and when we learned that the boat ride over is free on your birthday, it seemed like the perfect solution to our Halloween/birthday celebration dilemma–we turned the trick into a treat!

We headed out from Long Beach and were accompanied by playful dolphins as we neared Avalon.  They jumped and dove, surfing the wake of the boat.  I wasn’t able to take any decent photos, but the view was majestic…and unforgettable!  We arrived in the Avalon harbor to a beautiful, warm and sunny day making the blues brilliant and the whites crisp as you can see in this unedited photo.


After breakfast we climbed into a military hummer for a tour of the interior of the island.  We maneuvered over rocky, dusty, steep unpaved roads as we explored the history and the topography of the island.  We learned about the native plants and animals, the conservation efforts, and how they are dealing with the drought.  And the views were breathtaking!


You can see San Clemente Island in the distance, almost seeming to float on the sea.  The sky was so clear we could see for miles!  We also took in the prickly pear as well as other native plants, and learned about the Catalina fox and the bald eagle–both which faced near extinction on the island and are now recovering.  We also learned about the only non-native animal on the island, the buffalo, brought originally by a Hollywood movie maker at the turn of the century and then encouraged by the Wrigley’s who owned the island.  In its native beauty, the island is spectacular, now mostly owned by a conservancy that protects and maintains its natural state.


Hot and sweaty from our time in the back country (it was an 85 degree day!), we treated ourselves to some ice cream and spent some time exploring the city of Avalon.  The iconic building is the casino, but it isn’t a gambling hall, it is the home of a movie theater, a small museum, and we hear…a magnificent dance floor.  We hoped to go inside, but alas, it closed quite early on a Saturday.  We did explore the outside.


We spent some time watching the divers who enter and exit the water from behind the building.  While I was watching them, I noticed a couple in what seemed to be brilliantly colored wetsuits (most wetsuits are black).  As they swam up, I noticed that the Hulk and Aquaman (I think) were emerging from the sea…and was ready to snap a few shots as they headed for dry land. They were definitely diving in the Halloween spirit!


Further exploration led us to discover the local radio station, this small green building.  We also talked to a woman who has resided on the island for 45 years and was eager to close her shop and accompany her grandchildren to the Halloween parade.


As we got ready to head back to Long Beach, we came across a friendly pelican who was more than willing to pose for photos.  I took a number of shots and managed to snap this one as the pelican took flight.


As the sun began to set, we said good bye to Avalon and headed back to the mainland.


This adventure was quite a treat and a fun way to celebrate Geoff’s birthday.  By the time we returned home, the trick-or-treaters were back home sorting their haul and we enjoyed a spectacular Halloween filled with wonder and play.  Now the big question…how do we top this for next year?

In Appreciation: November’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

It’s so easy to take the beauty, the generosity, and the wonder around us for granted–or let them go unnoticed and unappreciated.  Like the service that this car carrier ship provides.  I’ve never needed my car to be shipped via a car carrier, but as I visited Catalina Island (26 miles off the southern California coast), I wondered how they managed to get cars to the island (there is no car ferry).  I did learn that they depend on barges rather than car carriers–but I noticed this car carrier in the Long Beach harbor as I headed out toward Catalina. (Notice the seagull flying overhead!)


Then there is the inexplicable connection that happens when people are playing.  This couple was in full costume for the Halloween festivities in Avalon.  They were just walking along until they saw me with my camera…and then they stopped and posed, making eye contact, so I could snap a photo of them in character!


And there is so much to appreciate about the almost invisible efforts of those who take care of our public outdoor spaces.  I arrived at the beach last week to find this tractor driver hard at work scooping up sand and creating a berm to protect the beach behind it (and maybe preserve the sand too).  The added bonus was the beautiful sky and ocean in the background!


I love this unexpected birthday “treat” from one of my students to her classmates to celebrate turning 8.  Instead of cupcakes or trinkets, she gave each of her classmates a milkweed “bomb” to plant to hopefully grow into a milkweed plant–the host for the monarch butterflies we have been learning about and working to help in our classroom.  What a delightful treat!


Sometimes I have to work on my own patience and persistence, and appreciate the outcome when my fascination with this pelican resulted in the snap of my camera shutter just as it took flight!


It takes a community to make sure our water is healthy and safe.  These often unappreciated signs on our storm drains are reminders that the water that runs down our roads and into our drains ends up in the ocean.  My students have been singing a song called Storm Drain (by the Earthworms), making me even more alert to the dangers we can impose on the ocean if we are not paying attention.


And a visit to the local water treatment plant the week before made us all aware of the work that goes into the water infrastructure we often take for granted (you can read more about it here).  We learned all about how the water is cleaned and the bio wastes are trucked out to be used as fertilizer for non-food crops.


So this month, let’s spend some time being thankful and appreciative by taking photos to document our appreciation.  And to get you started thinking, here’s some prompts to consider:

  1. Nature
  2. Gifts
  3. Energy
  4. Light
  5. Texture
  6. Sound
  7. Friendship
  8. Innovation
  9. Color
  10. Effort
  11. Service
  12. Ordinary
  13. People
  14. Connection
  15. Unexpected
  16. Music
  17. Growth
  18. Water
  19. Place
  20. Travel
  21. Wonder
  22. Home
  23. Health
  24. Kindness
  25. Warmth
  26. Family
  27. Relax
  28. Persistence
  29. Empathy
  30. Love

As always, our challenge will allow us to learn from each other as we shoot our own photos and study the photos others shoot. The prompts are there to help you pay attention to your world and think about all that you appreciate.  You can use them in order or pick and choose as you like–you are welcome to add a new prompt into the mix if you are so moved.  You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life.

Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them! You can share on Twitter (follow me @kd0602), on Instagram (@kd0602), in the CLMOOC community on G+, on Flickr, or even link back to my blog here.

Let November be the month to document and share your appreciation through your photos!  I can’t wait to see all that you appreciate…and to share my thankfulness with you too.