October 31:  Thesis Day

Today is Halloween, but the most famous individual to approach a door on this date was not dressed in a costume.  The year was 1517, and the man approaching the door was a 34-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  The door he approached was not a residence; rather, it was a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Instead of knocking on the door, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door.   It was this single act by one man that sparked a religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation.

Lucas Cranach d.Ä. - Martin Luther, 1528 (Veste Coburg) (cropped).jpgIn the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the dominant church in Europe.  Since Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, the church had grown in both political and spiritual power.  In 1513 Leo X became Pope and began plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  To raise funds for this major project, the decision was made to sell indulgences, the church’s promise that an individual would escape God’s judgement in the afterlife by making a monetary donation of a specific amount to the church.

It was the act of selling indulgences as well as other corruption in the church, that sparked Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses.  As a monk lecturing at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Luther believed that forgiveness of sins could only come from God, and that unchecked power had caused the church to lose sight of it biblical foundation.

Luther’s 95 theses, written in Latin, challenged the authority the Pope, calling for an end to indulgences, corruption, and decadence — and a return a proper spiritual focus.  

For his act, Luther was charged with heresy and was excommunicated from the church.  Luther’s cause did not die, however.  Aided by the printing press, which had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, copies of Luther’s theses were circulated throughout Europe.  The “protest” movement that resulted became the Protestant Reformation, which spawned numerous Christian sects each rejecting the authority of the Roman Church (1).

Just as Martin Luther stated what he believed in his 95 theses, an essay’s thesis must clearly sum up what the essay’s author believes, the writer’s core argument.

Margaret Heffernan, in her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Dare to Disagree,” emphasizes the importance of knowing what you believe and being prepared to defend and debate it.  In her talk Heffernan also alludes to students at the University of Delft, The Netherlands, who must “submit five statements that they’re prepared to defend” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Thesis Under Construction

What is a thesis — a debatable statement of what you believe — that you believe strongly enough to defend?  Brainstorm some topics that you believe in strongly.  Then, craft five thesis statements  that you would be prepared to defend.  To help you craft your theses, read the “Three Things a Thesis Does” below:

Three Things A Thesis Does:

  1. States a debatable claim (an opinion) – “What you believe”
  2. Provides reasoning to support the claim – “Why you believe it”
  3. Combines the “What” and the “Why” into at least one clear, complete sentence.

Examples:  

Gun control laws should be further tightened because guns do not deter crime.

Gun control laws should not be further tightened because gun control laws punish only law-abiding citizens.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

 

Quotation of the Day:  The best movies have one sentence that they’re exploring, a thesis, something that people can argue about over dinner afterward.  -Helen Hunt

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

2-http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript?language=en#t-614227

 

October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Day

On this date in 1989, Robert Fulghum published his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller lists for almost two years, is a collection of short essays, subtitled “Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.”

Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.jpgFulghum grew up in Waco, Texas, and before he began writing full time, he was a Unitarian minister and an art and philosophy teacher.

The first essay in Fulghum’s book, called “Credo,” explains the origin of his book’s title.  Fulghum explains that each spring throughout his life he would sit down and write a personal credo, a list of  statements of personal belief.  This list evolved over the years with statements that were sometimes comical, sometime bland, sometimes cynical, and sometimes over-complicated.  The final version of his credo came to him, however, when he realized that true meaning in life did not need to be complicated.  In fact, he already knew what he needed to know; he had learned it a long time ago in kindergarten, and he could state it in clear, simple terms:

-Share everything.

-Play fair.

-Don’t hit people.

-Put things back where you found them.

-Clean up your own mess.

-Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

-Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

-Wash your hands before you eat.

-Flush.

-Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

-Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

-Take a nap every afternoon.

-When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

-Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

-Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten has spawned numerous imitations, spinoffs, and parodies based on television shows, movies, books, etc.  These imitations adopt Fulghum’s title and list as their template, beginning with “All I Really Need to Know I Learned From ______,” followed by a list of principles based on the source of inspiration.  

For example:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from My Dog

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Fairy Tales

A further adaptation narrows the learning a bit to a single specific area, as in:

All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned from ___________

One example of this kind of spinoff is a book, published in 2014 by Paul Oyer, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Credo

How would you finish the following titles, and what principles would you include in your personal credo?  

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in/from ______.”

“All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned in/from ___________.”

Create your own spin off of Fulghum’s credo.  Brainstorm some ideas based on books, movies, television shows, the internet, or some other aspect of life that you know well.  Once you have selected a single focus, generate a list of principles that spring from your selected area.  Your list may contain serious insights or humorous insights. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be. -Robert Fulghum

 

October 29: Rules for Correspondence Day

On this date in 1890, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English writer and mathematician, published an essay entitled “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing.” Best known for his works Alice in Wonderland and “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s essay on letter writing was included as a booklet in the “Wonderland” Postage-Stamp-Case, a product designed to help letter writers organize their postage and correspondence.

tinted monochrome 3/4-length photo portrait of seated Dodgson holding a bookIn his essay, Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, offered letter writing tips on opening a letter, closing a letter, and on keeping a registry of correspondence. The main focus of the essay, however, is the section entitled “How to go on with a Letter” in which he provides his key considerations for the body of a letter. The nine rules are summarized below:

Rule 1: Write legibly.
Rule 2: Begin with remarks about your reader or your reader’s last letter rather than about yourself or about your apologies for not having written sooner.
Rule 3: Don’t repeat yourself.
Rule 4: If you think your letter might irritate your friend, set it aside for a day and re-read it again. Then, re-write the letter, if necessary, to make it less offensive. Also, keep a copy of the letter so that you’ll have a record of what you actually said.
Rule 5: If your friend makes a severe remark in his or her letter, either ignore it or respond in a less severe way.
Rule 6: Don’t try to have the last word.
Rule 7: Watch out for sarcasm and humor. If you write in jest, make sure that it is obvious.
Rule 8: If you write in your letter that you have enclosed something, stop writing for a moment and get the item for enclosure and put it into the envelope immediately.
Rule 9: If you get to the end of the note-sheet and you have more to say, take out another piece of paper instead of cross-writing. (Cross writing was a paper-saving practice of writing vertically over the horizontal lines of a letter).

What seems to unify Carroll’s rules is the consideration for the reader. Carroll reminds writers to avoid egocentricity and to craft every sentence with the reader in mind. Even though letter writing today is certainly less popular than in Carroll’s time, his emphasis on this universal writing principle — “Put the reader first” — makes his rules applicable to just about any form of writing.

American humorist Will Rogers stated the rule using an apt metaphor: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but with what the fish likes.”

Today’s Challenge: Rules for Email
What are your rules for crafting an effective email? Brainstorm some rules that effective writers and communicators should consider when writing an email, either for personal or professional purposes. State at least three rules, and follow each rule with an explanation and rationale, using specific examples where appropriate. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: . . . when you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend . . . put it aside till the next day. Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself. This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead, and thus making a much more palatable dish of it! -Lewis Carroll

October 28:  Salute to Contemporaries Day

On this day in 1930, British playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) spoke at a dinner honoring Albert Einstein (1879-1955).  Shaw presented a short speech saluting the scientist for his work, calling Einstein “the greatest of our contemporaries.”

Shaw began his speech by identifying eight great men of history whom he called “makers of universes.” These men were Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein  — all great men of science, who unlike the “makers of empires” did not have hands “stained with the blood of their fellow men.”  Shaw continued by comparing Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Einstein, explaining how Einstein challenged Newton’s rectilinear view of the universe, replacing this view with his curvilinear universe.  The Englishman Newton presented a model for the universe that stood for 300 years.  In 1916, at the age of 26, Einstein gave the world a new model, his theory of general relativity.  

Shaw summed up his admiration for Einstein as follows:

The heavenly bodies go in curves because that is the natural way for them to go, and so the whole Newtonian universe crumpled up and was succeeded by the Einstein universe.  Here in England, he is a wonderful man (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Salute
When we speak of “contemporaries” we are talking about people who lived at the same time.  For example, George Bernard Shaw and Einstein were contemporaries; Einstein and Newton were not.  What person living today would you argue is the most influential?  Who would you label as the greatest of our contemporaries?  Brainstorm some names of great people who are still living.  Identify the one you would honor, and like Shaw write your short tribute, making your case for the person as the most influential person alive.  For some help in your research, read one of Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People” editions.  This annual issue features the most influential living people with tributes written by their contemporaries. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  He and I, in a sense, grew up together. We were within a year of the same age, and we were kind of naively optimistic and built big companies. And every fantasy we had about creating products and learning new things — we achieved all of it. And most of it as rivals. But we always retained a certain respect and communication, including even when he was sick. –Bill Gates about his contemporary Steve Jobs

 

1-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1997: 206-8.

October 27:  The Federalist Papers Day

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper 1 was published in the Independent Journal of New York..  

Today Americans take the Constitutional form of government for granted.  But in 1787, shortly after the young, ragtag nation had thrown off the British monarchy and won its independence, a constitution was not a given.  The questions at that time were — would  there be a central federal government at all, and if there were, what would be its powers?  The original basis for the united thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation, but this gave the federal government little power:  no power to levy taxes, to regulate trade, or to enforce laws.  The Constitution, which offered a plan for a federal government based on checks and balances, was drafted in September of 1787, but it still needed to be ratified by at least nine states.  

In October 1787, therefore, federalists began their debate with the anti-federalists.  One of the chief proponents of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, the chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and an elected representative from New York state to the Congress of the Confederation.  Hamilton knew that New York would be a key swing state in the debate, so he hatched a plan to write essays that would be published in New York newspapers to promote and explain the new Constitution.  To help him, Hamilton enlisted James Madison, who had served in the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a lawyer and diplomat.  

Between October 1787 and May 1788, the trio wrote a total of 85 essays, totalling more than 175,000 words.  Each essay was published anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” an allusion to Publius Valerius Publicola, a supporter of the Roman Republic.

The Federalist Papers served as a kind of user’s guide to the Constitution, explaining how the people, not a king, would govern and how a federal government was needed to increase efficiency and to prevent the risk of another monarchy.  The papers also explained the separation of powers between the branches of government, and how government should operate to maintain individual liberty without anarchy.

In the end, the federalists won.  All thirteen states ratified the U.S. Constitution.

Today we have all 85 Federalist Papers intact as testimony to the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  Reading them, however, is not easy.  They are written in dense 18th century prose.  With careful focus and attention, however, they can be understood.

It is this kind of careful close reading that the College Board had in mind when it redesigned its Scholastic Aptitude Test, which will take effect in 2016.  One specific area of emphasis in the redesign of the SAT Reading test is U.S. founding documents.  The College Board explains the importance of passages like The Federalist Papers as follows:

Over the centuries, the founding documents — a body of works that includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers — have moved, influenced, and inspired countless individuals and groups at home and abroad. The vital issues central to these documents — freedom, justice, and human dignity among them — have also motivated numerous people in the United States and around the globe to take up the pen to engage in an ongoing dialogue on these and similar matters.  (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Federalist Paper in a Nutshell

What are the keys to writing a good summary?

Read Federalist Paper 1, or one of the other papers, and write a one-paragraph summary.  Read and re-read the passage until you understand its main ideas.  Before you write your summary consider the following “Six Summary Secrets”:

  1. Open with a topic sentence that identifies the author and title of the work being summarized.
  2. Make sure your summary is clear to someone who has not read the original.
  3. Focus on the main points rather than the details.
  4. Paraphrase by using your own words without quoting words directly from the original passage.
  5. Be objective, by reporting the ideas in the passage without stating your own opinions or ideas regarding the passage or its author.
  6. Use concise, clear language.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide, by their conduct and example, the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. -Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 1

 

1- Beck, Glenn with Joshua Charles.  The Original Argument:  The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century.   New York:  Threshold Editions, 2011:  xxi-xxxi.

 

2- The College Board.  The Redesigned SAT  “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation”

https://www.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/founding_documents_and_the_great_global_conversation.pdf

 

October 26:  Four Word Film Review Day

On this date in 1999, a web developer named Benj Clews had a brief but ingenious idea.  Clews wanted to create a web site for movie reviews, but he wanted it to be different.  His idea was to limit the movie reviews to four words or fewer.  That same year he created the website Four Word Film Review, which in the internet tradition of crowdsourcing, invites readers to submit their reviews.  Most of the reviews at www.fwfr.com are not so much reviews as they are new titles, but the fun comes in the wonderful wordplay that results. Puns, alliteration, and adaptations of other film titles are all a part of the creative writing game of making every word count.

For example, here are seven examples of reviews for the film Jaws:

Gulp fiction

Shaw shark retention

Jurassic shark

Shooting barrel in fish

Gil against island

Diet: fish and ships

Amity’s vile horror

Below are ten four word reviews. See if you can identify the titles before you look at the answers listed below:

  1. World’s survival chance: slim
  2. Lion, witch, wide road
  3. Twist ending sleighs me
  4. Song of sam
  5. Ford. Explorer.
  6. If the shoe fits . . .
  7. Humans make bad batteries
  8. Small medium, large twist
  9. Original space ‘n Vader.
  10. Fish finds friends, anemones (1)

Reading four word movie reviews is fun in itself, but there is also something to be learned here. Shakespeare said that ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’ In other words, the essence of good writing is economy. As you read four word reviews and begin to write your own, you’ll learn that wordplay can be hard work, but the rewards are satisfying for both you, the writer, and your readers. Also read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet, title of four words or fewer.

Today’s Challenge:  Four Word – Fantastic Flair
What movie or book would you sum up in four words or fewer?  Create your own four word film reviews. But don’t stop with movies. Write a four word review of your favorite book. Read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet title of four words or fewer. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The four most important words in the English language and in leadership are:  “What do you think?” – Bill Marriott

  1. Dr. Strangelove, 2. The Wizard of Oz, 3. Citizen Cane, 4. Casablanca, 5. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 6. Cinderella, 7. The Matrix, 8. The Sixth Sense, 9. Star Wars, 10. Finding Nemo

1-Clews, Benj and Michael Onesi.  Four Word Film Reviews.  Massachusetts:  Adams Media, 2010.

October 25:  History Into Verse Day

On this date in two different years, 1415 and 1854 , a historical battle was immortalized in verse.

Schlacht von Azincourt.jpgThe first was the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in which the outnumbered English army defeated the French in a major battle of the Hundred Years War.  The battle took place on Saint Crispin’s Day, a feast day honoring the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian.  The English were lead by King Henry V who joined his soldier in hand-to-hand combat at Agincourt.

Though history does not record exactly what Henry said that day, William Shakespeare, in his play Henry V (Act IV, Scene iii), imagines what Henry might have said to spur the undermanned English to action.  In a speech of 49 lines, Henry expresses his confidence that they will win and that each year as they near St. Crispin’s Day they will look back and remember their glorious victory and the bond they share with their brothers in arms (1).

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.  

More than 400 years later in 1854, Britain and France joined forces against Russia in the Crimean War.  On October 25, 1854 the British Light Brigade under the command of General James Cardigan rode into history.  Following an ambiguous order to charge into a treeless valley surrounded by Russian field artillery, hundreds of British horsemen were mowed down as they swept across the open ground.  Miraculously some of the horsemen managed to temporarily disable the Russian guns and return under fire across what would become known as “the valley of the shadow of death.” The charge, although courageous, resulted in senseless carnage.  Of the 673 British horsemen who began the charge only 198 survived (2).

The British cavalry’s charge was immortalized in verse by Britain’s poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The poet penned the narrative poem on December 2, 1854 after reading an account of the battle in the British newspapers.  On December 9, 1854 the poem entitled “The Charge of the Light Brigade” appeared in The Examiner.

The six-stanza poem immediately became popular, and even today its famous lines capture the plight of common soldiers, nobly and courageously following the orders of their superior:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Today’s Challenge:  Make History in Poetry
What historical event would you immortalize in verse?  What makes the event worth remembering?  Brainstorm some events from history that are worthy of being immortalized in verse.  Select the one you like the best, and compose a narrative poem (a la “The Charge of the Light Brigade”) or a speech in verse (a la “The Saint Crispin’s Day speech”). (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55

 

1-March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365: Your Date With History. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2004: 526-7.

2- March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2007: 342.

October 24: Alternative Titles Day

On this date in 1957 movie executive Sam Frey sent director Alfred Hitchcock a list of suggested alternative titles to the film that Hitchcock was shooting. The director has been in a continual battle with his studio, Paramount, over the movie’s title. Hitchcock was determined to go with the one-word title Vertigo; the studio, however, rejected the director’s choice. The list of 47 alternative titles was the studio’s last attempt to sway Hitchcock. It included the following suggested alternative titles:

Afraid To Love
Checkmate
The Face
Malice
The Mask and the Face
Shadow on the Stairs Shock
Two Kinds of Women

Vertigomovie restoration.jpgHitchcock stood firm with his choice, and when the film opened on May 8, 1958, the movie marquee read Vertigo. The film starring James Stewart is based on a French novel entitled D’entre les morts (“from among the dead”). Today it is recognized as one of the greatest psychological thrillers in Hollywood history (1).

Today’s Challenge: What’s the Word?
What would be your one-word alternative title to a classic book or film? Like Vertigo, three of the top grossing films of all time have one-word titles: Avatar, Titanic, and Jaws. The challenge of a one-word title is to evoke the quintessential core element that defines the film. Brainstorm some alternative titles to some classic book titles and film titles. You may not, however, use any of the words in the original title. The Wizard of Oz, for example, might be retitled “Rainbow” but cannot be retitled “Oz” or “Wizard.” Create a Top Ten list of your best alternative titles, and if you’re working with a group, hold an Alternative One-Word Title Contest. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: ‘Vertigo’ was about a murder, a love affair, memory and loss, and a police detective with a work-related injury. The title, however, perfectly captures the queasy, off-balance feeling the film induces in the viewer, as well as the psychological state of the protagonist. -Christopher Johnson

1-Usher, Shaun. Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.

October 23: OK Day

Today we celebrate not only the single most recognized Americanism ever, but also the single most recognizable word period.

On this day in 1839, OK was first published in the Boston Morning Post. Oddly, the word sprung from an intentional misspelling of “all correct.”  Following a pre-Civil War fad of misspelling words for comic effect, “all correct” was spelled “oll korrect.”  The word gained widespread usage but with a different meaning during the reelection campaign of President Martin Van Buren in 1840.  Van Buren’s nickname was “Old Kinderhook” which alluded to his hometown of Kinderhook, New York.  The initials OK became his rallying cry, and even though Van Buren lost the election to William Henry Harrison, OK gained popular usage, becoming an entrenched part of American English.

In the book America in So Many Words, David Barnhart and Allan Metcalf explain how and why OK became such a popular American linguistic export:

OK was quickly recognized as a brief, distinctive, universally understood annotation to indicate approval of a document, and a brief, distinctive, universally understood spoken response to indicate understanding and acceptance of a request or order. (1).

In fact Allan Metcalf, an English professor in Illinois, claims that OK is the single most spoken and typed word in the world.  He should know since he wrote an entire book on the word in 2010 called OK:  The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.

Clearly OK, no matter how you spell it — OK, O.K., ok, okay, okey, or ‘key — is here to stay.

Today’s Challenge:  Okie-dokie Proverbs

OK is the most popular word in English, but what do you get when you string together popular words into phrases or clauses?  What you usually get are proverbs:  short, distilled statements of wisdom that are repeated frequently both because they are concise and because they express time-tested insights into human experience, such as “The pen is mightier than the sword” or “Practice makes perfect.”  Whether you call them proverbs, sayings, adages, maxims, motts, or aphorisms, they are recognized, repeated, and recycled from generation to generation.  What would you say is the single most important proverb?  What makes it important, and what do you know about its origin?   Brainstorm a list of proverbs.  Select the one you think is the most influential and important.  Then, make your case by explaining what the proverb means and why it is so important.  Do  a bit of research on its origin and history to provide your audience with some details that go beyond the obvious. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  I think OK should be celebrated with parades and speeches. But for now, whatever you do [to mark the anniversary], it’s OK. -Allan Metcalf

1- Barnhart, David and Allan Metcalf. America in So Many Words:  Words That Have Shaped America.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

October 22: Battle Writer’s Block by Journaling Day

On this date in 1804 and 1837 two famous writers, one British and one American, waged their own personal battles with writer’s block by writing in their journals.

The first was the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).  Writing in his journal the day after his thirty-second birthday, Coleridge expressed his exasperation at being unable to produce the kind of great poetry he had written in his mid-twenties:  “So Completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruites of a month. –O Sorrow and Shame . . . . I have done nothing!”  Although Coleridge was writing in his journal, he never again managed to write anything like his great narrative poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which had been published six years earlier(1).

The second writer was the American Henry David Thoreau.  After graduating from college at Harvard in 1837, Thoreau returned to his home town of Concord, Massachusetts.  There he met and was mentored by essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who encourage the fledgling writer to keep a journal in order to record his thoughts and to develop his craft.  

On this date Henry opened his first journal and began writing.  He started by recording the questions that Emerson had first asked him:

‘What are you doing now?’ he asked. ‘Do you keep a journal?’ So I make my first entry to-day.

Thoreau’s journals gave him a place to develop his ideas and to avoid writer’s block.  In the course of 24 years he produced over two million words in 39 notebooks.  As explained by Odell Shepard, editor of Thoreau’s journals, writing this way helped Thoreau in a number of ways:

It sharpened his observation and deepened his thought.  By preserving the memory of his best hours — those that had “a certain individuality and separate existence, aye, personality” –it enabled him to survey long stretches of earlier experience and thus to estimate his development or decline.

No doubt the journaling habit gave Thoreau the kind of confidence in his own ideas that lead to his two great works, the book Walden and the essay “Civil Disobedience.”

One interesting note is that the social networking messaging service Twitter used Emerson’s question as its prompt when the online service began in 2006.  Each tweet composed was prompted by the question “What are you doing?” In 2009 Twitter changed its prompt to the more succinct “What’s happening?” (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Six-Sided Solution
What are at least six of your go-to writing ideas when combating writer’s block?  A great way to defeat writer’s block is to turn your negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  Your task, therefore, is to construct an actual Writer’s Block that, instead of causing writers to stumble, will inspire and motivate them to write.  First, brainstorm as many writing ideas as you can, anything that might spark ideas and inspire someone to write.  Then, organize your ideas into six categories, one for each side of the Writer’s Block.  Finally, construct your block out of paper, wood, or some other material.  Write your categories and ideas on each side of your block, adding artwork, diagrams, graphics, pictures, etc. to make it visually appealing.  In constructing your own Writer’s Block you’ll be doing something that all great writers do, you’ll be transforming an abstract idea into a concrete one.  Use your Writer’s Block to spark ideas as you begin your daily journaling habit. (Common Core Writing 4 – Process)

Quotation of the Day:  A hammer made of deadlines is the surest tool for crushing writer’s block. -Ryan Lilly

 

1-http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/06/14/blocked

2-The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals (Edited by Odell Shepard).  New York:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1961.

3-http://mashable.com/2009/11/19/twitter-whats-happening/