CNC Blog

All We Want for Christmas . . .

is a shout out.

Christmas StockingIf you’re like me, you’re busy and broke most of the time. That’s why CNC is free and easy—no ads, no fund-drives, no “donate here” button, no SPAMy messages flooding your inbox. Just audiovisual goodness delivered to your RSS reader or iTunes app.

We’ve been good this year, bringing you episodes about education reform, the origins of language, alternative comics, Buddhist psychology, and more.  

So, if you want to stuff something in our stocking, here’s our wishlist:

Our Wish List

  1. Do you have a cool website, a gallery, a production company, a band, a troupe, an online magazine?  A podcast, forum, or blog?  Do you have a list of links to stuff you like?  Give CNC your stamp of approval and link to us too.  Really, we’re the next big thing.
  2. If you’re a blogger, a twitter supastah, or put out an email mailing list, you could author a post telling your readers about the show or talk up and link to a particular episode they might be interested in.
  3. Rate and comment on our podcast at the iTunes store; a lot of people start there when they’re looking for podcasts and your endorsements mean a lot.
  4. If you haven’t already, consider joining us on facebook and subscribing to the cast; it’s easy, just go to the Follow Us page. 
  5. Leave us a comment on our website letting us know what you thought of an episode.  It gives us warm fuzzies—and our guests like it too!
  6. Tell your friends, real and facebook, about us.  Say you’re at a party—it’s a great conversation starter: “Hey, did you hear Chris Willard interviewed about mindfulness on Champs Not Chumps? I think he’s soooo dreamy, don’t you?”  You know, like that; but smoother.
  7. If you’re a teacher or librarian, consider adding one of our episode pages to your research guide; our pages are chock full of links to resources and lists of books.  Doing a lit class on crime or lesbian literature, comic books, the ancient Maya, or the 1918 flu epidemic?  We’ve done an episode about each of those topics.
  8. If you know someone in the media who might want to do a story about us, we’d be cool with that.
  9. Invite us to parties and cool shows
  10. Keep listening!

Seven Years of QZAP

Milo Miller and Christopher Wilde at the Queer Zeen ArchiveWe’d like to congratulate our friends Milo Miller and Christopher Wilde on the seven year anniversary of the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP).

Based in Milwaukee, the pair provide physical and online access to a diverse collection of self-published, small-circulation magazines that are concerned with queer issues or are produced by people who identify as queer.

QZAP was recently featured in and in the print edition of Bitch Magazine. A while back, Milo contributed zis thoughts on poetry to Episode 7: A Place for the Genuine.

Punch Me Panda

Photo by Rob Bennet for the Wall Street JournalPerformance artist Nate Hill, our guest for Episode 13, has been dressing up in a Panda costume and asking Brooklyn residents to punch him in the stomach.  

Nate describes the work, called Punch Me Panda, this way: “If you find yourself frustrated, angry, or just had a bad day, I will come to your house, and you can punch me. I wear a chest protector, and you wear boxing gloves, so no one gets hurt. It costs one cent per punch.”

He’s recently taken his one-Panda show to the streets, where the Wall Street Journal caught up with him for a brief interview and some terrific photos.

You can follow the adventures of Punch Me Panda at Nate’s Twitter feed and learn more about his work at


Evidence of HarmOn December 11th, I’ll be reading my fiction as part of a series on the intersection of art and science presented by the Axiom Center for New & Experimental Media.

The story, “Evidence of Harm,” follows attorney Gavin Bennett as he pursues his obsession with a troubled young woman and investigates an invasive plant species that is suffocating a New England lake.

The story is concerned with the limits of empirical explanation, both scientific and legal. We may be able to observe the presence of environmental damage and the evidence of past personal trauma, but often following a straight-forward causal logic doesn’t lead to satisfying answers about how those harms came about. For better or worse, the world is just more complicated than that. 

You can hear me read a scene from the story here or by clicking on the image above.  I’ll pass along more information about the event and the other readers in the near future.

Coming Attractions | Death Bear

In the next year, we’ll be interviewing some amazing people about their interests, art, and lives.  Here is a sneak peak at one of our future guests.

Death Bear, photo by Carolyn ColeIf you are suffering from painful memories from a past relationship, it may be time to summon Death Bear.

This seven foot sable-garbed bear is not to be feared; he will appear at your door and “take things from you that trigger painful memories and stow them away in his cave where they will remain forever allowing you to move on with your life.”

Death Bear is one of many personas adopted by New York-based performance artist Nate Hill.  We’ll be interviewing Nate for Episode 13.

But Is It Writing?

In the last post, I offered several images and asked: “Is this writing?”

 Too easy, you say?  Well, how about these:


We usually thinking of writing as visual, but Braille uses a system of raised dots to render letters, numbers, and other symbols.  Is this writing?


Sign Language

American Sign Language, like graphic writing, is visual rather than auditory.  Should we think of signing as “speaking” with one’s hands (and facial expressions, etc.) or as “writing” that happens to take place in the air rather than on paper?


Punctuation Face

Here, marks of punctuation (never used in speech, of course) are being used to make a picture of a face. But is it a picture, after all?  Do we see it as a face because it truly resembles a human face or is that a stretch? Does it matter that this “face” is part of a system in which punctuation marks are combined according to conventions understood by users, with specific combinations used to communicate specific emotional states in an online environment?


Firefox Icon

A picture of a fox wrapped around the planet.  But is it more than that? Does it matter that this picture is part of a system of images of different shapes and sizes, each representing applications on my computer? Does that make it writing?


Word Icon

A stylized alphabetic letter and another icon representing an application on my computer.  The letter is iconic, but it is also an abbreviation, standing in for an English word—in this case, “Word.”  Does that make it writing?

I hope you’ll comment on this post and let us know what you think.

What is writing?

Writing is a slippery thing, elusive and hard to define.

What do we mean when we refer to something as “writing”? What separates writing from pictures and what is writing’s relationship to speech? 

At one end of the spectrum, we might view writing as a handmaid to the spoken word, simultaneously a transcript of the sounds of speech and a method for transmitting the ideas spoken languages represent.

At the other, we can think of writing as any systematic form of graphic communication, whether or not it has a relationship to speech.

Next month, I’ll be talking with linguistic anthropologist Marc Zender about writing, how to define it, and its diverse histories in different cultures.

Before my talk with Prof. Zender, I’d love to learn more about how you think about writing. I hope you’ll take a look at the images below and post your thoughts as comments on this post.  Do all of these images represent writing as you understand it? Some and not others? How do you make the call?


Cave Painting

Prehistoric cave painting from Lascaux, France.


shang, "above"

The Chinese character shang, meaning “above”, is an ideogram; it communicates an abstract concept by means of an iconic form. 


bei, "north"

The Chinese character bei, “North”; bei is a phonetic loan. Originally, the character meant “back” or “contrary,” perhaps depicting two people with their backs together. However, the spoken word in Chinese for “back” sounded an awful lot like the spoken word for “North”. Due to this similarity in sound, this character took on the meaning “North” in the written language. 


Egyptian Hieroglyph

These Egyptian hieroglyphs look like simple pictures, but they function like a rebus, one of those puzzles where you might find the letter “H” plus the picture of an ear to get the English word “hear.”



This sample of Aztec writing, Ocelotepec, means “Place of Ocelot Hill.” The glyph is made up of the glyph for “ocelot” combined with the glyph for “hill.”




This Aztec glyph, Coatzinco, means “Place of Little Snake.” It contains the gylph KOA(coa-tl, “snake”) and TZIN (tzin-tli, “buttocks”, represented by the lower half of the body).  “Buttocks” has nothing to do with concept “Place of the Little Snake,” but TZIN sounds like another word in the spoken language that means “little.” 

Greek Alphabet Vase

This ancient vase depicts the Greek alphabet.  The letters don’t picture anything or represent any particular ideas; instead they relate to phonemes and are combined to represent spoken words.


Mindfulness, On your Kindle

KindleYou can now download Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind, to read on your Kindle. Tich Nhat Hanh, author of Being Peace, describes the book as “a wonderful reminder that every young person is capable of great understanding, compassion, and joy.” 

We talked to Chris about the book and his work teaching meditation to children and young adults in Episode 9.

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