HippoCamp15: Better Late Than Never Wrap-up part 2: Matt Skillen

(This is part of a series where I'm reporting on the sessions I attended at HippoCamp15, which I was supposed to do months ago..)

Starting with Place: How to Leverage the Special Spaces in our Stories

Matt Skillen


As I walk in, I hear the song “Stand” by REM playing: “Stand in the place where you live; now face north.” Hmmm. I walk up to the front, look Matt in the eye, point upward (as if music is coming from the sky), and say, “This is on purpose, right?” Of course it was!

Matt begins his talk with a list of setting details: 09/11, a sunset, fresh cut grass. I’m reacting to them because they are so vivid in my mind. Then he moves on to the general:

  • Place-based writing
    • Accesses the landscape for inspiration (looking for connections, interactions, notice the landscape that you typically ignore)
    • Allows for great reflection (then and now, the place and us, how we have changed)
    • Contributes to the lore of a community (when it is published and shared with a community, it becomes a part of it) 

Matt shares a great example of how places fade into our background—the Oz museum that he lived 10 minutes from and never visited. We all have those places in our communities that we take for granted. How many times have you visited a place in your own neighborhood solely because you had out-of-town guests that wanted to go?

Next, the project Matt did with a colleague is described in detail. I find out later that I may have appreciated this part of the talk a lot more than some, by virtue of being a high school teacher. He also described the students as somewhat disadvantaged, which always gets me—I’m a Special Education Teacher, so my heart always goes out to the underdogs!

  • The project ran for 3 1/2 weeks with High School Sophomores 
  • Students wrote about Places, Family, Moments, Hobbies, and Adventures (and how these are tied to the landscape and community—or how adventures elsewhere played out)
  • They worked all the way through making the student’s work publishable
  • Originally, they were going to make a little book, then they decided to have a podcast instead, where they recorded their work—voluntarily—and they ALL did it!! They also added sound effects, etc.

Time was short, but Matt walks us through the following exercise:

  • Draw a map-as detailed as possible of a place that is important to your past 
  • Talk w/someone you don’t know about the significance of what you drew, forgot, included, drew first, etc.. 
  • Write a letter from yourself now to you at that age

Great exercise! I had actually done something very similar two months earlier at a Julia Cameron workshop, and it pulled up some intriguing material for me to work with!

“The power of maps to fire the imagination is well known”-Michael Chabon  

(projected during the exercise)

Matt quickly described the Life Writes Project that he’s working on at Elizabethtown College and the time was up. It was over too soon! I would have liked more time with Matt. 

I chatted with Matt briefly afterward and got his card. I still have it, but I’m not in a position to work with the kinds of projects we could collaborate on quite yet..

For more information about Matt and what he’s working on: mattskillen.com 

Sorry, sorry, sorry, that this took so long to post. I am trying to catch up!



Posted on February 10, 2016 .