N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Snow holiday fun!

I love this one, and I sorta feel this way this year…all the sudden we went from the 60’s to wind chill!  Time to go to fur storage, and that is SNOW FOOLIN (1949)!

Holiday fun…depressing fun?

I was thinking about all those ancient cartoons that I used to see all the time when I was a kid around this time of year…they don’t show up much anymore, but I thought I’d spend this week highlighting them!

I remember seeing “The Little Match Girl” and being traumatized by it.  To this day, it gets to me.  Let me share the trauma!

Thinking thanksgiving…

Why do I have to be thankful?
I don’t wanna.

I don’t want to think of all the things in my life I should be thankful for, from my wife (and the fact that I can have a wife), to my dogs, to my family and friends, to my job, to my safety and health…

I don’t wanna spend all day listing off how blessed I am. It’ll take too much time and I need to get to enjoying it.

Someone said to me the other day: I have so much to live for, it sort of makes me scared.

I know exactly how that feels. There was a time when I didn’t care much what happened to me, I was a little self-destructive and a little short-sighted. I did wild things and had (fleeting) good times. It gave me stories to tell now, cautionary tales of a sort.

The minute I found a family to love, that all changed…I went from not caring, to being terrified. I had too much worth living for, and suddenly death was very real and present. I still live with that fear, it has changed over the years, but it is still there and still a driving force.

But hey, it lets me be thankful. 🙂

Halloween horrors…

I watched (rewatched, perhaps?) The Omen recently, and was shocked at how well it held up.

The very cerebral horror of the late 60s (Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey Rose, The Wicker Man) has such great staying power. And it does not hurt that the 60s loved using that discordant riff of music to heighten the tension in scenes. These movies, which are so much less about “special effects” which tend to be less special over time, make the horror just as striking and horrific now as it was then…even with the nostalgia of the outfits, cars, and technology working against it.

Most of this movie still works…I had to stop it part of the way through (tension and laundry playing equal parts in that – to this day dirty undies is scared to me than little Damien). What is it about little kids and Latin chanting as the background music that is just utterly horrifying?

A recent movie that is very much of this same ilk…and really did make me stop it because I could not bear to watch any more…is The Babadook.

The movie takes place (mostly) in a house with only a mother and son. Essie Davis is stunning in her portrayal of a woman who is trying to hold her broken family together in the face of trying times. Written and directed by a woman (Jennifer Kent), it taps into that very real fear of losing someone and being forced to carry on – more alone than you have ever been before.

If you want a good scare this Halloween, I’d suggest either of these…I know the Omen is on Netflix (and the Babadook was recently, it might still be there – if not, get thee to a RedBox!).

Not that you need movie suggestions from me…just randomly thinking about good movies and how I like horror that is less about torture-porn and more about the mental game.

Telling your story for better or worse?

I was listening to an interview with Marlon James, the Man Booker Award winner for 2015, and was stunned to find out his book was rejected over 70 times.

In response to the interview’s question about advice for aspiring writers he ended with: “remember you are doing good work and you have something to say.”

Something to say…

Something worth saying…

A personal story. Unique to you. Something only you can tell.

But what happens when you can’t tell it? What happens when it is so personal, so painful that you can’t bring yourself to do it?

My wife has often urged me to write about my experiences as a BBW…who most of her life just felt big…no, let’s call it what it is fat and ugly.

I just can’t do it though. I’d love to, I can see how my story could impact other women/girls who plow through the world that is set against them and cutting them down at every turn…I just can’t. I’ve tried, but I’ve spent so much of my life being the comedienne I can’t stand still long enough to write down the real me.

In the same day, I heard this excerpt from Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” (a theater piece)…and was nearly moved to tears by the utterly devastating story he tells about being invited to Homecoming, while laughing my head off as well.

So, I know it can be done…but why can’t I do it?


Delving into Distance Education

The first definition of Distance Education I posted was “Education (both teaching and learning) that takes place asynchronously using a variety of technology to facilitate learning through communication.” I claimed at the time that I wanted to keep it simple, but in my simplicity I missed a few very important elements.

I, of course, didn’t realize this at the time. I though, with the reading I had done I was well equipped to compose my own definition. It wasn’t until I had forged ahead with further readings and spent time thinking about points my fellow students brought up that I realized there were aspects to my definition that were lacking.

First, I left out the synchronous classroom and this means I also left out blended classrooms as well. After doing my readings and writing my essay on the definition of distance education, I became fascinated with the various way in which synchronous and blended classrooms play a part in learning. So much so, I even did an essay (in my 603 class) on videoconferencing in the distance education class. I feel like this aspect of Distance Education is the next big thing, and I would like to further explore it.

I did not include media, and while this might be a subtle shift in my definition it is an important one. When I was considering technology, I wasn’t including the items that the professor might create or offer access to…quizzes, personality tests, e-portfolio examples….things that make the classroom a more verdant space in which to learn.

Finally, I forgot to include an organizing body/institution in my definition. These governing bodies offer similarity between sections of the same class leading to cohesion between classes within the program. It also allows a bit of normalization on the assignment requirements and grading. All of this together allows for all the students of a particular degree program to come away with the same knowledge and thus the same degree value.

Distance Education, as the changes in my definition show, has developed over the first few weeks of class into something more complex than what I started with. That is a very good thing. The more I am forced to realize the complexities of the field I have chosen as my career pursuit, the more I realize what distance education has and must offer its students and instructors both. When first exposed to Otto Peters’ theory of industrialization, I had not considered the impact that mass production had had on education (not just business)(Peters, 2010). Now I can’t help but see the influence, which also allows me to see how we have moved away from that standardization of distance education and into something more fluid like Homberg’s Empathy Theory (2005). This theory encourages us to move beyond what is considered important in traditional education and make the connection needed with students that will never have a face-to-face experience with either instructors or fellow students (Holmberg, 2005). I am sure as I continue, my view of DE will continue to change and deepen as I am exposed to ever more complexities and challenges…I look forward to those changes.

I have always considered myself as someone who could learn in any number of ways (reading, listening, watching) it didn’t much matter, but my view of myself as a learner has been turned on its head lately. At the beginning of this class, I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate for online learning. I love to read, to learn new things and write. I wanted to make new friends in the profession in which I have an interest, in hopes of making lasting professional and personal connections. I took the preparedness test suggested in the MDE Orientation, and got 54 points, I was happy with the result.

“45-54: You will probably do well in a distance education course, but you will have to remind yourself to stay on task.” (Kizlik, 2007)

But now, four weeks into this class I’ve changed my tune entirely. As a matter of fact, I’ve said to more than one person that online learning is harder than any other class I’ve taken. Those from the outside want to look at online degree-granting universities as diploma mills where the dregs of society get a chance to “make themselves better”…but this is no joke. I struggle to stay current on readings and postings and assignments. I find myself mourning the interaction with the instructor that is so easily found by staying after class, as I feel like that interaction helps me understand what they want from assignments. I’ve decided that I miss the standardized interaction found in a face-to-face class.

Does it make me want to quit? No. I’ve never been that kind of person. But it did make me go back to my assessment and look at which questions I’d put a 5 on…and one of them, “helping others with learning needs” jumped out at me (Kizlik, 2007). I realized that I do my best learning by trying to help others understand. It requires me to internalize what I’ve read and try to explain my reactions to others. And while the other students in the class don’t necessarily need my help, by posting I can further examine and try to explain what I’ve gotten out of the topic for that week. Thus I’ve added a personal reminder to read and respond to posts not only on the day I post but right before the content closes on Sunday. This give me the opportunity to respond to the maximum number of posts and see any last minute announcements from the instructor.

I’ve also taken it upon myself to organize my study group. I’ve never considered myself a leader, but again, I like to help people and found myself taking the lead quite easily. Although we got a late start I see good things coming from our first wave grid…and I can see us working MUCH better together in the future now that we have a leader that understands that we need more asynchronous communication going back and forth as well as synchronous meetings to help us finalize our project.

My view of the MDE program has changed dramatically during the past few weeks. When I first decided to join the MDE program, I expected to have a great deal of background knowledge on which to rely during this “foundations” course. I expected this whole process to be a reinforcement of my current knowledge, with an introduction to theories and scholars in the field. Now, I see the program as much more…it not only does everything I’ve mentioned above, but it leads students to new and useful technology and encourages them to use it. MDE is using Twitter to connect students to scholars online, and encouraging an interaction so that these people become less removed and more interactive. Using blogs to develop ideas outside of the classroom materials, thus allowing students to fully explore things that might not be central to the week’s topic, but is important none the less. Using E-Portfolio to go beyond the old-school “resume on-line” and actually present a space that shows our learning process and eventually will trace the development of our interests and passions in the Distance Education Field.

The UMUC MDE program has gone beyond just teaching and has begun to develop, in a very organic way, a multifaceted online professional. I expect to graduate with more than a degree, but an entire array of tools that I have taken time to develop in my classes which I can bring to my employer making me more valuable and useful.

The UMUC Library’s guide to OMDE601 is a great collection of resources for research and guides to things such as APA citations. I used this guide to find additional resources to supplement our class readings, and I used the citation guide to build my APA citations. I actually used, for the first time, the APA citation for “Book read on an e-reader” with our CourseSmart textbooks. I expect to continue using this course guide as I proceed into our next assignments, and am sure I will continue to find it helpful in guiding my research.


Holmberg, B. (2005). The evolution, principles, and practice of distance education. Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Available from http://www.box.com/shared/y97qyc7m0t

Kizlik, B. (2007). Getting Ready for Distance Education Distance Education Aptitude and Readiness Scale (DEARS). Retrieved from http://www.adprima.com/dears.htm

Peters, O. (2010). The theory of the “most industrialized education”. In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues (5th ed). Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Available from: http://www.box.com/s/ktx7ipccetotqrr11mct

Monday Nibble

Wisdom You can have phantom menstrual cramps, trust me.



You can also find it really hard to break the habit of counting days of the month AND having the split second of fear when you feel a little more MOIST than usual.



In a house with 3 dogs you will eventually hear yourself turn into your mother and say, “Da…Ve…Gam…WHOEVER YOU ARE, GET OUT OF THE WAY!”

You may also have the unfortunate luck to say, “Stop sniffing that, it is my butt!”

If you have a wife that does not share your love of gardening you WILL find yourself trying to patiently explain why corn won’t ripen off the stalk but tomatoes will…more than once.

And finally, just a tip, if the raccoon momma is teaching her babies how to raid your trash…just let it happen…even if it means being locked out of your house (that momma was scary).

Team Meridian Rain

So, I helped make a film this weekend.
Just a short, but omg, I helped make a film!

Renee and Keri working in the rain.

Renee and Keri working in the rain.

It was part of the Disability Film Challenge, and it had to be written and filmed and edited in 48 hours.  And we did it!  Team Meridian Rain did it! 🙂

In the rain, no less.

Day (the head writer on this project) has some great pics up on her site, go check them out!

And I promise, as soon as the contest is over I will share a link to the full thing.  BUT in the meantime, I think I’m just gonna take a nap.

The Classics

Talking with Day on the way home from the gym she said to me, “Haven’t you ever had the urge to the Classics?”

A pile of books, taken by angelskiss31 on Flickr.

My answer was a smile, “No.”


Well, because I’ve read a few but have never much been into the style of writing that is considered a Classic. What’s worse, I’ve never had the urge to read them. I’ve got too many things on my list I want to read now to force myself to plow though something that will not only take time but will not reward me when I am done. Ok, ok, I think it will not reward me I have no guarantee that is true.

It’s not that I don’t like classics. I really like Shakespeare; I’ve read quite a few of his plays (some more than once). I love Italo Calvino, and must re-read his books when I get them back from my mom and dad. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich. I’m an even bigger fan of Anne McCaffery (seriously folks wrote about gay boys when being a gay boy was not fun nor cool). It’s just names like Hawthorne, Melville, Williams, and Fitzgerald make me yawn mentally.

I have no desire to read anymore than has already been forced upon me thanks to high school, college, and grad school. I’m not itching to pick up copies of titles I have not plowed through before, and when I see those names on the 10 cent shelf at the Library Book Sale I pass them by rather than snatching them up. They are books that can pass me by, movies I don’t need to see, and time (in some cases) I wish I had back. As a matter of fact, I remember a friend READING The Scarlet Letter to me, out loud on my balcony while we picnicked…it was still boring. Perhaps if we were playing paint ball at the time? Even then, I doubt it.

Then again names like Twain, Henry, Salinger, Vonnegut, and Miller make me salivate in anticipation. A combination of required and elective reading has made me happier for having spent time with these authors (although Mr. Miller has a better diary than novel in my eyes). Each name has wonderful memories attached to it for me, quite a few of them related to those wild days of college.

So perhaps a better answer to Day should have been, “I HAVE read the Classics, just not the same ones you have.”

For instance, let’s look at what am I carrying around right now. Stone Butch Blues…a classic, albeit a gay classic.
It is a very good book. I am captivated by it. While there times I am thrown completely out of the story due to badly planned time jumps or awkward dialogue other times I am in heaven. When the author lets us be alone with the main character, just her and us, it is magic. It is a cadence I find song in, and it’s a song that sticks with me when I hit the rocks and convinces me to keep on paddling. See, rewarding me already. Punishing me as well, but seriously rewarding me for my devotion.

In the end I guess my classics and your classics don’t all have to be the same…As a matter of fact, I’m sure if I read the entire library of classics the day I was done another “classic” would be published and pushed upon me.

Serving Improv: 10 Things

Improv strikes again!  Let’s have some fun in our worlds today with…

10 Things

This is a WORLDBUILDING game.  You will need some strips of paper, a container, a writing instrument, a pad of paper and a timer.

Pull a strip of paper out of the container…get your pad and pen set up…put an timer on for 30 seconds and GO!

Wait, what? What are you writing down?  Why 30 seconds?  ARGH!

Ok, ok, don’t panic.  This is a game all about overcoming your preconceived notions about the world you are building.  It is about putting as much information down as quickly as possible on your paper without thinking about it.

So what you want to do is write down aspect of your world: landscape, travel, religion, military, trade, politics, etc.  These should be very wide (unless you know you’ve got something specific you want to reveal more information about) to allow you to get the most out of your 10 things.

Once you have your strips filled out, dump them in a container, and refer to the beginning of the post.  Time to get your paper and pen out, your timer set, and  pull a strip and write!

AS FAST AS YOU CAN, write down 10 things about the subject you pulled.  DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!  JUST GO!

When I played this game in my improv class someone asked the girl next to me, “what were 10 things you wanted to be when you grew up?”

She did fine till she got to 4 when she said: maid.  She got a horrified look on her face, but kept going…at about 7 she said princess and then secretary, then she pulled it out of the fire with dragon and maze.

See, the point of this game isn’t to list things that make sense, but to list things that come to you when you are thinking about the aspect of the world you have drawn but can’t process the “usual” or “normal” responses.  It’s like looking at a star that is too dim to see straight on, look at it out of the corner of your eye and there it is.

You might shock yourself and find out your religion worships only dragons and mazes.  And you might shock yourself even more and see how that could really work.

Give it a try, what is the worst that can happen?