July 21:  Six-Word Memoir Day

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, born in Illinois in 1899.  Like so many other American writers, Hemingway began his writing career as a journalist.  At 17 he worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. When America entered World War I, he tried to enlist but was rejected on the basis of a medical condition. He traveled to Europe anyway and became an ambulance driver for the Italian Army. He later wrote one of his best-known novels A Farewell to Arms (1929) based on his experiences in the war.

Six-wordmemoir.jpgAfter World War I, he returned to the states, but soon was back in Europe as a journalist for the Toronto Star. Living in Paris, he met other expatriate American writers such as Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald who encouraged him to write fiction. He took their advice, writing about his experiences as an American living in Europe in The Sun Also Rises (1926). He traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the setting of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). He won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Old Man and the Sea in 1953, and the next year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Hemingway committed suicide on July 2, 1961.

Hemingway’s characters reflected his own experiences and personality. War, adventure, drinking, bull-fights, big game hunting, and fishing were his favorite topics, and, when he wasn’t writing, these were his own favorite activities.

Hemingway’s writing style is known for its clarity, simplicity, and terseness. His characters’ dialogue is straightforward and honest, except for the occasional understatement. In talking about writing, Hemingway said: “All you have to do is write one true sentence, a true simple declarative sentence” (1, 2).

One legend that reflects his penchant for clear, forceful language goes like this: Hemingway was once challenged to write a short story in only six words.  Not one to back down ever, Hemingway responded with, “For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.”  The anecdote is probably more folklore than fact; nevertheless, it inspired an online phenomenon called Six-Word Memoirs, a project of SMITH Magazine.  To date nearly 1 million stories have been shared at sixwordmemoirs.com.

In 2008 a book of Six Word Memoirs was published called Not Quite What I Was Planning.  The book is probably the most “crowdsourced” book in history and contains the mini-memoirs of 950 contributors.  Here are a few samples:

Oldest of five. Four degrees. Broke. -Kaitline Walsh

Bad breaks discovered at high speed. -Paul Schultz

Happiness is a warm salami sandwich. -Stanley Bing

On her birthday, my life began.  -Lisa Parrack

Veni, vidi, but haven’t vici yet. -Neenakshi Nadini

Nerdy, wordy, learned to shut up.  -Caren Lissner (3)

Today’s Challenge:  Your Memoir in Only Six Words

How would you sum up your life so far in just six words or fewer?  Write your own six-word memoirs.  Create a variety of memoirs based on different themes, such as work, school, moms, dads, technology, love, advice, and food.  For inspiration, visit sixwordmemoirs.com for more themes and more examples. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Today’s Quotation:  Brevity is the soul of wit.  -William Shakespeare

 

1 – “Ernest Hemingway.” The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954.Nobelprize.org

2 – Adler, Mortimer. “Biographical Note on Ernest Hemingway” from Great Books of the Western World. Edition 60: Imaginative Literature: Selections from the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1996.

3-Fershleiser, Rachel and Larry Smith (Editors).  Not Quite What I Was Planning:  Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.  New York:  Harper Perennial, 2008.

 

 

July 20:  Antithesis Day

Today is the anniversary of what many consider the single greatest human achievement of all time: the successful Moon mission of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969 at 4:17 p.m. (EDT), Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon. Armstrong was soon joined by Buzz Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the Moon collecting 46 pounds of moon rocks before returning to the Lunar Module (1).

Circular insignia: Eagle with wings outstretched holds olive branch on Moon with Earth in background, in blue and gold border.The race to the Moon that began with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957 was over, and the first words from a human being on the Moon were in English:

That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.

To mark mankind’s most remarkable technological achievement, Armstrong needed to craft a message in words worthy of the moment.  To do this he turned to tried and true trick dating back the classical orators of ancient Greece and Rome.

The specific rhetorical device he used is called antithesis. As a word antithesis means “the exact opposite,” as in Love is the antithesis of hate. But as a figure of speech, antithesis juxtaposes two contrasting ideas in a balanced, parallel manner, or — as in Armstrong’s case — a contrast of degrees: small step and giant leap, and man and mankind.

We live in a world of dichotomies:  hot and cold, light and dark, tragedy and comedy, love and hate.  Antithesis is the technique of juxtaposing these opposites.  Notice, for example, how the following quotations play with contrasts and parallelism to make concise, clear, and balanced sentences:

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyway. -Groucho Marx

Lives as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi

To err is human, to forgive divine.  -Alexander Pope

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, . . . . -Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Using antithesis creates contrast but also brings balance, revealing the tone of someone who sees the world in all of its broad contrasts and particular opposites.  When writers use antithesis, the contrasts and opposition create a tension that keeps the reader interested.  When ideas clash, something is at stake, so there’s more reason for the reader to stick around.

Today’s Challenge:  Opposite Day

What are some examples of words that are opposites — antonyms such as ‘speak’ and ‘listen,’ ‘war’ and ‘peace,’ ‘present’ and ‘past’?  Brainstorm a list of opposites, and select one pair from your list or the list below to write about:

above/below

quantity/quality

victory/defeat 

actions/words

before/after

left/right

dark/light

fast/slow

order/chaos

freedom/slavery

good/evil

yesterday/today

Then, write an opening sentence featuring antitheses that makes a claim based on the differences in the two topics, such as:

Logic teach us about the world; creativity teaches us about ourselves.

Then write a short composition of at least 150 words in which you support the claim using contrast, details, examples, and evidence.

Example:

When we read, we travel to a world of imagination; when we write, we imagine a world of our own.  With reading, the words are fixed on the page for us, and although words evoke different pictures in the minds of different readers, we still are limited by the words that were selected for us by the author.  When Robert Frost, for example, describes the snow, he says, “The only sound is the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.”  Whoever reads this imagines falling snow.  When we write, however, we are in control of the words we choose and, therefore, the worlds – and the weather – we create.  We become omniscient and omnipotent.  If we choose, we can defy gravity, we can defy logic, we can defy nature.  If we choose we can create a snowstorm in August, a world where words grow on trees, where trees speak in Latin.  Reading exercises our imagination, opening our eyes to see more; writing challenges our imagination, forcing our minds to be more.

Quotation of the Day:  Hillary [Clinton] has soldiered on, damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t, like most powerful women, expected to be tough as nails and warm as toast at the same time. – Anna Quindlen (3)

 

1- Apollo 11. The 30th Anniversary

2- “Antithesis.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

3-Anna Quindlin “Say Goodbye to the Virago.” Newsweek, June 16, 2003