January 31:  Factoid Day

Today is the birthday of American writer Norman Mailer (1923-2007).  Born in New Jersey, Mailer graduated from Harvard in 1944 and then served in the Phillipines during World War II.  After the war, Mailer published a semi-autobiographical novel called The Naked and the Dead.  Based on his experiences in the war, The Naked and the Dead was incredibly successful, and brought Mailer fame at just 25 years of age.

Normanmailer.jpgWriting in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, Mailer coined the word “factoid,” a word that has taken on a number of interesting usages in the past few years.  In his biography of Monroe, Mailer defined factoids as “ . . . facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper . . . .”  In its original sense, a factoid was not, as some believe, “a small fact”; rather, a factoid was an untruth that was stated as if it were an actual fact and was repeated so many times that many believed it to be true.  A classic example would be the often stated belief that the Great Wall of China is visible from space.

It’s appropriate that Mailer would coin the word, considering the fact that his writing often blurred the lines between fiction and journalism.  For example, Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his novel The Executioner’s Song, a book that he called a “true life novel,” and which is based on the actual events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore for murder by the state of Utah in 1967.

Because so many people have mistakenly mixed up the meaning of the words fact and factoid for so long, factoid has recently taken on another, opposite meaning to Mailer’s original definition.  Today when people use the word, they mean “a trivial or fascinating fact.”  So, we can sum up the interesting history of this word by saying the word that originally meant “a fake fact” has evolved to mean “an interesting fact.”

As a result of the history of the word’s usage, lexicographers would call factoid a contranym — a word that has two opposite definitions, as in the word “dust,” which can mean “to add fine particles” or “to remove fine particles.”  These words are sometimes also called “Janus words,” based on Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings, gateways, and doorways (See January 1:  Exordium Day). Other examples of contranyms are apology, bolt, finished, handicap, trip, and weather.

Today’s Challenge:  Factlet or Factoid?

To clarify the often confusing and contradictory definitions of factoid, columnist William Safire suggested a new word be added to the English lexicon:  factlet, meaning “a small, arcane fact.”  By adopting factlet, writers would help readers differentiate between the two meanings of factoid.  How do you determine whether something is true or false?  When you’re reading, how do you determine whether something is fact or fiction?  Using a recent newspaper or magazine, gather five interesting factual details based on a variety of different articles; try for factlets – small, arcane facts. Once you have a list of at least five factlets with citations, use your imagination to create five factoids, that is some details that sound plausible but that are made up.  Finally, select a random item from your list of ten, and read it to a friend to see if they can tell the factlets from the factoids.

Quotation of the Day:  Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t. -Mark Twain

1-Authorisms

https://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2014/jan/17/mind-your-language-factoids

 

 

January 30:  Blurb Day

Today is the birthday of American author and humorist Frank Gelett Burgess (1866-1951).  Some might argue that today should be “Purple Cow Day” because Burgess is best known for the four-line nonsense poem, “The Purple Cow”:

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!*

Although “The Purple Cow” is one of the most quoted American poems of the twentieth-century, Burgess is also known for another momentous literary achievement:  the coining of the word “blurb,” the short promotional descriptions or reviews by which consumers judge a book by its cover.

The story of the blurb begins in 1906.  Burgess was promoting his latest book Are You a Bromide? at trade association dinner.  To capture the attention of potential buyers, he created a dust jacket with the book’s title and a brief description.  To make the book more eye-catching, he added a picture of fictitious young woman he called Miss Belinda Blurb.  The name stuck as a way of describing the promotional text that publishers place on book jackets.  Today the term is also used to refer to the written endorsements  by fellow writers or celebrities that are found typically on a book’s back cover.

One could argue that American poet Walt Whitman should be given some credit for inventing the concept of the blurb — though not the word itself.  After Whitman published the first edition of his poetry collection Leaves of Grass in 1855, he received a letter of praise from the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely of fortifying and encouraging.

Seeing an opportunity to use Emerson’s words for promotional purposes, Whitman had them stamped in gold leaf on the spine of his second editon.

Today blurbs have expanded beyond books.  They’re written for movies, for websites, and just about any product you can imagine.

Today’s Challenge:  Judging a Book by It Blurb

What is a book, movie, or other product that you are enthusiastic enough to endorse with words of praise?  Brainstorm some titles or products your really love.  Then, select one and write a blurb.  Image that your words of praise will be placed on the actual item and that your words will determine whether or not consumers buy the item.  

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . consumers aren’t stupid, and they’ve grown increasingly cynical about the dubious art of the blurb. After you’ve been tricked into paying for a couple of really bad movies because of one, you realize the difference between real praise and a plain old con job. Every good blurb of bad work numbs the consumer’s confidence and trust.  -Stephen King (3)

*A purple cow is the mascot of Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

1-http://www.npr.org/2015/09/27/429723002/forget-the-book-have-you-read-this-irresistible-story-on-blurbs

2-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/12/i-greet-you-at-beginning-of-great.html

3-http://www.ew.com/article/2008/03/20/stephen-king-art-blurb/2

 

January 29: Show and Tell Day

Today is the birthday of Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904).  Chekhov began writing as a way to support his family when he was a teenager, selling stories to newspapers.  Although he is today recognized as one of the greatest fiction writers of all time, Chekhov’s first love was medicine.  He described his relationship with medicine and writing with an apt metaphor:  “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.”  Unfortunately Chekhov had barely started his career as a doctor when he contracted tuberculosis, which took his life when he was just 44 years old.

Chekhov seated at a deskOften a prescription for good writing is to “show, don’t tell.”  This is great advice, and the three-word maxim is an excellent example of concise writing; however, the irony of “show, don’t tell” is that the statement itself does more telling than showing.  For a better, more illustrative version of this advice we can turn to a quotation that’s often attributed to Chekhov:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Here we have an example of the kind of concrete language that creates a picture in the reader’s mind.  Concrete language engages the reader’s senses, allowing the reader to see, hear, feel, smell, and/or taste vicariously.

Although the “glint of light” quotation is consistently attributed to Chekhov, an investigation by Garson O’Toole has determined that it’s more of a paraphrase than a direct quotation.  At his website www.quoteinvestigator.com, O’Toole reports that the source of the quotation is a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother Alexander in May 1886.  As we can see by Chekhov’s advice to his brother, sensory imagery is a must:

In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball (1).

Too often writers don’t follow Chekhov’s advice.  It’s okay to talk about abstract ideas like love, war, freedom, or failure, but to truly show and to truly evoke images, the writer must use concrete language that engages the reader’s five senses.  This is the type of language that creates a dominant impression the mind of the reader.  

For example, notice how the two passages below both go far beyond telling the reader that “war is an oppressive struggle”; instead, they both show the druggery of war in vivid detail.

Passage 1 is an excerpt from a poem about World War I; Passage 2 is an excerpt from a novel about the Vietnam War:

Passage 1:  “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Passage 2:  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak.  They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct.  They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery.  They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds.  They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky.

Today’s Challenge:  Show Me the Details

How can you support a generalization with strong imagery and sensory details that create a showing picture for your reader?  Support a telling generalization with specific showing details that make a dominant impression on the reader.  Use sensory language that engage your reader’s senses, by including details that the reader can see, hear, feel, taste, and/or smell.

Learning a new skill can be difficult.

Persistence is an essential trait for successful people.

Failure is often a springboard for success.

Procrastination is a major problem for students.

Summer is the best time of the year.

Quotation of the Day:  When you show people something, you are trusting them to make up their minds for themselves.  Readers like to be trusted.  Don’t dictate to them what they are supposed to see, or think, or feel.  Let them see the person, situation, or thing you are describing, and they will not only like what you have written, they will like you for trusting them. -Gary Provost

1-http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/07/30/moon-glint/

 

 

January 28:  Right Words, Right Time Day

On this date in 1986, President Ronald Reagan gave a short speech that he did not want to give, yet it was a speech that needed to be given.  A shocked nation, and the world, had just witnessed the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, an explosion that killed everyone aboard including Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who was attempting to become the first teacher is space.

On that fateful and tragic day, Reagan was planning to given another speech entirely, the annual State of the Union Address.  When the Challenger exploded at 11:39 EST, Reagan immediately cancelled the State of the Union Address, the first time in modern history this had been done.  Reagan’s staff then went immediately to work on the difficult task of crafting  the right words to describe the day’s tragic events.  

The principal writer of the speech was Peggy Noonan.  She new that writing this speech would be a difficult task, not only because of the terrible circumstances that required it to be writing, but also because of the many different segments of the audience that would watch it.  Because of Christa McAuliffe’s participation in the launch, children across the country had witnessed the explosion.  The speech had to balance sorrow with perseverance; it had to honor the dead but also make it clear that life would continue; it had to admit the failure of the mission, but also make it clear that exploration of space would continue.  If all this was not enough, it also had to consider the disaster in light of geopolitics, after all, the Cold War was still being being waged at the time.  The U.S. had never lost astronauts in flight before, and the Soviets would be watching to see how the American president addressed this tragedy.

The final text of  the speech that Peggy Noonan wrote deftly hit on each necessary element and adeptly addressed each of the segments of the varied audience.  The text also included a historical analogy by noting that January 28th was also the anniversary of the death of Sir Francis Drake, who died at sea in 1596.  Like those who died aboard the Challenger, Drake died dedicated to the task of exploring new frontiers.

As Noonan crafted the speech, she remembered a sonnet that she had memorized in 7th grade.  It was a poem called High Flight and was written by a 19 year-old, World War II aviator named John Magee.  It is a poem that celebrates the majestic experience of flight, and what made it especially poignant is the fact that its young author was killed in a mid-air collision just months after he composed the poem.  It’s Magee’s words that eloquently end the speech:  “[The Challenger crew] slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.

Ronald Reagan’s national eulogy, given less than six hours after the explosion of the Challenger, is an excellent backdrop by which to examine two important principles from classical rhetoric:  exigency and kairos.   

Exigency is the Latin term for “an urgent need or demand.” In other words, the exigency of a speech or composition involves the catalyst that caused it to be written.  Understanding exigency helps us explore the backstory and the occasion of a speech as well as the writer’s motivation for writing. To fully understand Reagan’s speech, for example, we must understand the historical context in which it was given and the preceding events that “demanded” it be given.

Kairos is the Greek term for “timing” or “timeliness.”  The Greeks had two concepts for time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos was used for “linear, measurable time”; it’s the root we find in the English word chronology.  Kairos, in contrast, related to the “opportune time” for something to be done, or the doing of something at the “exact, most advantageous time.”  Understanding kairos helps us to better explore the timing of a speech.  As we can see by Reagan’s address to the nation, for example, the speech’s kairos is what makes it so memorable.  Reagan was able to say the right thing, with the right tone, at the right time.

Each speech, article, or other piece of writing you read has in its own rhetorical situation, which includes exigency and kairos.  As demonstrated by Reagan’s speech, by analysing who the speaker is, why he is speaking, when he is speaking, and to whom he is speaking, we gain a much more complete understanding of not just what is said, but also how it is said.

Today’s Challenge:  Audience Analysis

What were the different segments of the audience for Reagan’s Challenger Address, and how did he specifically address each one in his short speech?  Read the entire text of Reagan’s speech.  Then, write an analysis of how the different segments of his audience would have taken his words based on the exigency and the kairos of the speech.  Look at the following segments of the audience separately:

The General American Public

Elementary-Aged Children

The Family Members of the Astronauts

The Employees of NASA

The Soviet Union

Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986

by President Ronald W. Reagan

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (2)

Quotation of the Day:  By using kairos as a guiding principle for your own texts, you can bring interest and timeliness to your writing projects. So when you begin to write, think of the moment that your writing will enter into—the audience that will read it, the conversation that it joins, the history surrounding the topic, and the words you use to craft your argument. Awareness and use of this knowledge create beautiful writing that, like turning the key in your door at the end of a long day, seems perfectly timed, effortless, and just right.  -Kate Pantelides, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee (3)

1-https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/28/how-ronald-reagan-explained-the-challenger-disaster-to-the-world-its-all-part-of-taking-a-chance/

2-http://history.nasa.gov/reagan12886.html

3-http://writingcommons.org/open-text/information-literacy/rhetorical-analysis/rhetorical-appeals/595-kairos

 

 

January 27:  The Book of Qualities Day

On this date in 1984, J. Ruth Gendler published The Book of Qualities. In Gendler’s unique book she writes individual profiles of over 50 human emotions, using personification to bring each to life.  In Gendler’s book we’re reintroduced to familiar emotions, like joy, innocence, and discipline — not just as abstract ideas, but as living breathing individuals.  

Each of the profiles is an excellent reminder of the power of personification to enliven writing.  In our normal life we don’t have the power to breath life into inanimate objects.  When we write, however, he can wield this rhetorical superpower by employing personification.  With personification, it’s as if we’re putting arms and legs on an idea, allowing it to walk around the room, and teaching it to talk.

In the following examples, Gendler employs personification to introduce us to “Despair,” “Stillness,” and “Confidence.”   Notice how she employs specific action verbs and concrete nouns:

Despair papered her bathroom walls with newspaper articles on acid rain.

Stillness will meet you for tea or a walk by the ocean.

Confidence ignores “No Trespassing” signs.  It is as if he doesn’t see them.  He is an explorer, committed to following his own direction.

Today’s Challenge:  Abstractions in the Flesh

How would you bring an abstract human emotion to life using personification?  Write a profile of at least 60 words on one specific human emotion.  Use your imagination to explore what the emotion would look like, what kinds of things it would be doing, and what it might say if it could talk.  Select one of the qualities below from The Book of Qualities, or come up with one of your own.  

Anger, Beauty, Certainty, Doubt, Excitement, Fear, Guilt, Honesty, Imagination, Jealousy, Loneliness, Perfection, Suffering, Terror

Before you write your profile, read the following example.  It’s on humor; one quality that Gendler doesn’t write about in The Book of Qualities:

Humor is unpredictable.  He hides around corners and jumps out when you least expect him.  He’s optimistic, healthy, and smart.  Never depressing or anxious, he thrives on the unsuspected and spontaneous.  He’s a great companion, constantly reminding you to loosen up, look at the bright side, and smile more often.  He loves to break up fights — when he’s around no one has the strength to make a fist.

Quotation of the Day:  There is no armor against fate; death lays his icy hands on kings. -Jane Shirley

1-Gendler, J. Ruth.  The Book of Qualities.  New York:  HarperPerennial, 1984.

 

 

January 26:  Isms Day

On this date in 1564, Pope Pius IV signed a letter certifying the decisions made by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.  This act by the Pope in effect sealed the official split of the Christian Church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

Ritratto di Pio IV.jpgThe 16th Century was a tumultuous time for Christianity.  Beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 99 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 (See October 31:  Thesis Day), individuals began challenging the authority and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1533, the influential French theologian John Calvin broke from the church, and in that same year, King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, making himself the head of the Church of England.  This act of defiance came about when the pope refused Henry’s request for the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The Council of Trent was, therefore, an attempt by the leadership of the Catholic Church to craft an official response to calls for reform.  The council met 25 times between 1545 and 1563 in the northern Italian town of Trent, discussing issues such as the requirements for salvation, the role of the Latin as the exclusive language for prayer, the celibacy of priests, and the veneration of relics and saints.  The council also authorized the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books forbidden by the church.  Although the Council did create some reforms in church doctrine, it ultimately failed to unify Christianity and resulted in the divide that is still present today between Catholicism and Protestantism (1).

When is comes to ideas, the suffix -ism is the go-to word-ending for words that relate to ideas or ideologies, as in philosophies, systems, practices, or movements.  As we see with Catholicism and Protestantism, each -ism has its own unique and distinct history.  These words are also noteworthy in that each one is attempts to wrap up a multitude of ideas into a single word.  As a result, each one, whether long (antidisestablishmentarianism) or short (cubism), is packed with dense meaning.

Today’s Challenge:  This-ism and That-ism

What is an -ism that you would be interested in exploring to better understand its meaning and history?  The list below reflects an A to Z sample of -isms from history, politics, philosophy, art, science, economics and religion.  Select one of the -isms from the list or another one that you’re interested in.  Research it for both its history and meaning.  Then, write a brief report in which you explain as clearly as possible the ideas and history that are encompassed in the single word.

Aristotelianism

Behaviorism

Capitalism

Dystopianism

Existentialism

Federalism

Goldwynism

Hinduism

Imagism

Jingoism

Keynesianism

Libertarianism

Malapropism

Naturalism

Objectivism

Pragmatism

Quietism

Romanticism

Stoicism

Totalitarianism

Utilitarianism

Victorianism

Wilsonianism

eXpressionism

Yankeeism

Zoroastrianism

(Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Ev’rybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism  -John Lennon in the song Give Peace a Chance

1- Marsh W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories From History, 2007.

 

 

January 25:  Burns Day

Today is the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796).  Born in Alloway, Scotland, on a tenant farm, Burns began writing poems at an early age.  Although he had little formal education, suffered much poverty and hardship, and died at just 37 years of age, his poetry and songs have made him one great poets, especially to the Scottish who recognize him as their national poet.

PG 1063Burns Naysmithcrop.jpgEven though he wrote his poetry in the Scottish dialect, today Burns’ poetry is read, remembered, and loved by people around the world.  One prime example is his song Auld Lang Syne, which is sang around the world each New Year’s Eve (1).

The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is just one of many American who recognized Burns’ genius.  On the centennial of Burns’ death in 1859, Emerson addressed commemorated burns at a gathering of admirers in Boston:

He grew up in a rural district, speaking a patois unintelligible to all but natives, and he has made the Lowland Scotch a Doric dialect of fame. It is the only example in history of a language made classic by the genius of a single man. But more than this. He had that secret of genius to draw from the bottom of society the strength of its speech, and astonish the ears of the polite with these artless words, better than art, and filtered of all offence through his beauty. It seemed odious to Luther that the devil should have all the best tunes; he would bring them into the churches; and Burns knew how to take from fairs and gypsies, blacksmiths and drovers, the speech of the market and street, and clothe it with melody. (2)

Beginning in 1801, five years after Burns’ death, his friends gathered at a dinner in Alloway to honor the Scottish Bard.  Ever since Burns’ admirers around the world have gathered on his birthday at Burns Suppers.  More than just a meal, the Burns Supper has evolved into an elaborate, scripted event involving the playing of bagpipes, the presentation of formal speeches and toasts, and the recitation and singing of Burns’ poetry and songs.

One vital menu item for ever Burns Supper is haggis, Scotland’s national dish: a pudding made of sheep offal (the liver, heart, lungs), oatmeal, minced onion, all encased in the sheep’s stomach.  Pipes play as the haggis is presented to the dinner guests, and before anyone digs in, Burns’ poem Address to the Haggis is recited.

The highlight of the evening, however, is the keynote address called the “Immortal Memory,” presented by one of the attendees.  The purpose of this speech is revive the memory of Burns’ life and to express appreciation for his work.

Today’s Challenge:  Immortal Memory, Memorable Meal

What person, who is no longer living, was so important and influential that he or she should be immortalized with an annual birthday supper?  What would be the menu, and what would be the agenda of activities for honoring the person and symbolizing the person’s life and achievements?  Brainstorm some individuals that you would recognize as having made a significant contribution to the world.  Select one individual and write an explanation of why this person should be honored.  Also, give a preview of the meal’s menu and festivities. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence. -Robert Burns

 

 

January 24:  Life Sentence Day

Today is the birthday of American writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937).  Although she lived in a time when women had limited opportunities for publishing their writing, she rose to become one of America’s greatest writers.  In 1921 she became the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  Wharton is remembered mainly for her novels, The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, but she wrote in a variety of genres and on a variety of topics, including architecture, interior design, and travel (1).

Edith Newbold Jones Wharton.jpgWharton embraced life, and although much of her fiction explored its darker, more tragic sides, she was able to examine and capture life’s essence so well that her characters resonate with readers as real people.  In her 1903 novel Sanctuary, Wharton wrote a memorable sentence, capturing an insight about life and the role of experience:

. . . life is the only real counselor, . . . wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissues.

Later, writing in her journal on March 23, 1926, Wharton wrote an entry reflecting on life.  This time she juxtaposed two metaphors in attempt to capture the best definition:

Life is always a tightrope or a feather-bed.  Give me the tightrope.

Edith Wharton is obviously not the first to attempt to capture the essence of life in words.   Writers both past and present have attempted their definitions.  Wielding a virtual Swiss Army knife of rhetorical devices, these writers take the one thing that is common to each of us — life — and reframe it, describing it in uncommon terms that allow us to see it in new ways.

Read the examples below, and notice the different ways the writers define life, using images, juxtaposition, antithesis, metaphors, and personification.

Life is not a spectacle or a feast:  it is a predicament. -George Santayana

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. -Soren Kierkegaard

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. Albert Einstein

Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on. -Samuel Butler

Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quick you can hardly catch it going. -Tennessee Williams

Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. -Jack London

Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think. -Jean De La Bruyere

Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid. -Michael Crichton

Today’s Challenge:  You’ve Been Assigned a Life Sentence

How would you complete the following in one or more sentences:  Life is . . . ?  Take your own stab at defining life by beginning with “Life is . . . “  Try to define it in a way that goes beyond the obvious so that your reader can see it in a new way.  Brainstorm some ideas using analogies, metaphors, personification, or some other rhetorical technique.  Then go with the one idea that you like the best and that seems the most insightful and original. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-http://www.edithwharton.org/discover/edith-wharton/

 

 

January 23:  Docendo Discimus Day

Today’s date when written numerically follows is the basic sequence 1, 2, 3.  Therefore, today is a day for looking at basic process analysis: explaining step by step how something is done or how to do something.  When you explain the basic steps for how to do something — such as baking a chocolate cake or building a treehouse —  it’s called directive process analysis.  When you explain the basic steps for how something is done — such as how a bill becomes a law or how new words get into the dictionary — it’s called informative process analysis.

Writing a process analysis composition is a great writing-to-learn activity. The best way to truly solidify your understanding of a process is to teach it to someone else.  The act of putting it down in writing, step by step, helps you clarify and cement your own understanding of the process.  This is not a new concept; in fact, it dates back to the first century AD.  The Latin term for it was docendo discimus, or “by teaching, we learn.”

To craft your own process, follow the following three steps:

Step One:  Determine a “how to” topic using a strong verb, and use it as your title.  Think of a process that you know well enough to explain clearly to a novice, and think about whether it is a directive, hands-on process or a informative, explanatory process.  Use the examples below to help spark some ideas:

How to AVOID

-How to avoid procrastination

-How to avoid going into debt

How to BUILD

-How to build a sandcastle

-How to build a budget

How to MAKE

-How to make meatloaf

-How to make your mother happy

How to SUCCEED

-How to succeed at studying

-How to succeed at breaking a bad habit

How to SURVIVE

-How to survive an earthquake

-How to survive Spanish class

How to STOP

-How to stop forgetting birthdays

-How to stop eating too much

How to WRITE

-How to write a love note

-How to write a valedictory address

Step Two:  Break the large task into three vital steps from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end.  Think in threes:  What should be done first, second, and third?  Also, help your reader to see what might go wrong, by anticipating what should be avoided at each step.

Step Three:  Write your process out as at least one clear paragraph.  Begin by giving your audience a vision of what the process is and why this process is important to know.  As you write about each step, think about the process from your audience’s perspective, trying to remember what it was like when you did it for the first time.  Like giving driving directions to someone on how to get to your house, anticipate where they might take a wrong turn or where they might get lost.  

Today’s Challenge:  How to Write How To

What is a process that you know well enough to explain?  How would you divide the task into three key steps?  Use the three steps explained above and write a how to composition. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison

 

 

January 22:  Knowledge is Power Day

Today is the birthday of English philosopher, statesman, and scientist, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), known for the famous pronouncement, “Knowledge is power.”  In science, Bacon challenged the established deductive method of thinking, which was based on the classical writings of Aristotle and Plato.  Unlike deduction, which is based on the syllogism, Bacon’s inductive method is based on empirical evidence.  In Bacon’s method, the five senses become the basis of how we make sense of our world, by observation, data gathering, analysis, and experimentation.

Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpgWhile Bacon is known today for the development of the the scientific method, his devotion to that method might have also led to his own demise.  The story goes that one snowy day in 1626 Bacon was travelling with a friend in his carriage.  The two men began arguing about Bacon’s recent hypothesis that fresh meat could be preserved if frozen.  Seeing an opportunity to do some on-the-spot experimentation, Bacon stopped his carriage and purchased a chicken from a peasant woman.  After having the woman gut the chicken, Bacon proceeded to pack snow into the chicken’s carcass. He then put the chicken in a bag, packed more snow around the outside of its body, and buried it.  Unfortunately, in the process of gather his empirical evidence, Bacon caught a severe chill which lead to his death by pneumonia.

In addition to his important work in science, Bacon is also known today for his writing, principally the English essay.  Influence by Montaigne, the French writer who pioneered the essay, Bacon adopted and popularized the form in English as a method for exploring ideas in writing.

Bacon wrote on a wide range of topics, but preceded each of his essays’ titles with the preposition “of,” as in:  Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Love, Of Boldness, Of Ambition.  His essays are eminently quotable, for Bacon crafted his sentences carefully, making each one a profound package of pithiness — you might go so far as to call them “Bacon bits.”  As Bacon explained in his own words, aphorisms, those concise statements of general truth, were essential to his thinking:

Aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot be made but of the pith and heart of sciences; for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of examples are cut off; discourse of connection and order is cut off; descriptions of practice are cut off. So there remaineth nothing to fill the aphorisms but some good quantity of observation; and therefore no man can suffice, nor in reason will attempt, to write aphorisms, but he that is sound and grounded (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Everything is Better With Bacon

Why should an individual devote him or herself to study?  Is time put in toward the pursuit of knowledge worth it?  Read Bacon’s famous essay “Of Studies.”  Then, write a response to his ideas.  Do you agree or disagree with Bacon?  What do you think is the purpose of study? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Of Studies by Francis Bacon

STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study 197 the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt. (2)

Quotation of the Day:  The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will. -Francis Bacon

1-http://www.philosophy-index.com/bacon/advancement-learning/ii-xvii.php

2-http://www.authorama.com/essays-of-francis-bacon-50.html