October 20:  Adopt a Literary Character Day

On this day in 1833, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) completed his great dramatic monologue Ulysses.  

The voice of the poem, or persona, is Ulysses, the Latin name of the epic Greek hero Odysseus.  In writing this poem, Tennyson adopts the character Ulysses from Homer, the author of the epic Greek poems The Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Odyssey is the epic narrative that follows Ulysses’ 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War.  Once home on Ithaca, Ulysses faces another challenge to out wit the suitors vying to win the hand of his wife Penelope.  Displaying brawn but also brains, Ulysses defeats the suitors in a contest, slaughters them, reunites with his wife, and once again becomes king of Ithaca.

Alfred Lord Tennyson 1869.jpgThe poem Ulysses imagines the hero years after he has returned to the throne.  In the tradition of the dramatic monologue, we hear only the voice of the old king as he reflects on his past, on his relative idleness as King of Ithaca, and on his desire to once again set out on a bold adventure.  The understood audience of the poem is the crew of his ship, the men who will join him on his new journey.

In the poem’s opening lines we hear the voice of a king, weary of his kingly duties on Ithaca and restless to return again to sea:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;

Willing to give up his throne to his son Telemachus and to leave his wife, Ulysses looks forward once more to bold adventures and seeing “a newer world.”  Rather than staying put and rusting, Ulysses wants “to shine in use!”  It is appropriate then that the poem ends with a string of parallel action verbs:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Like much of the verse of William Shakespeare, Ulysses is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Today’s Challenge:  Write a SPAT Monologue
What fictional character from literature or film would you adopt for a dramatic monologue?  Brainstorm some interesting characters from either books or film.  Like Tennyson did for Ulysses, imagine the life of the character after the work you know them for is over.  What would he/she be thinking about and what would he/she be saying — and to whom would he/she be saying it.  Write a dramatic monologue using the mnemonic SPAT:  the Speaker, a Problem (or dramatic situation), the Audience, and the Tone (or attitude).  Try to capture the distinctiveness of your character, impersonating his/her voice so that it can be understood by your reader. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  A monologue presents a single person speaking alone, but a dramatic monologue presents an imaginary or historical character speaking to an imaginary listener or audience . . . . -Edward Hirsch

October 13: The Battle of Hastings Day

The year 1066 marks the most important year in the history of the English language. The most important single day in that year was October 13th. It’s a date that might have signaled the beginning of the extinction of English; instead, it marks the beginning of a remarkable evolution and enrichment of the language.

Harold dead bayeux tapestry.pngAt Hastings in Sussex, England on this date, the Saxon army of King Harold confronted an invading army of French-speaking soldiers from Normandy, a province of France just across the English Channel. The Battle of Hastings was fought from approximately 9 am to dusk. Thousands of soldiers died that day, and the Norman army, led by William, Duke of Normandy, prevailed. Harold was killed, shot through the eye with an arrow, and William marched his victorious army to London, where he was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

Scenes from the bloody battle are depicted in the colorful Bayeux Tapestry, a 229 feet long embroidered cloth, which was commissioned by William’s brother not long after the battle (1).

William the Conqueror was now King of England. The French speaking Normans thus ruled England, and Norman-French as well as Latin became the language of government. The Saxons were defeated, but their language did not die. The conquering Normans were outnumbered by the Saxons, who continued to use English in their common, everyday activities. So instead of being stamped out by French, English adsorbed French words, enriching its lexicon over the next two hundred years.

The Norman Invasion of 1066 marks the end of the Old English period of the history of English and the beginning of the Middle English period. One of the rich legacies of this period is the great variety of words and rich well of synonyms that are characteristic of English. Richard Lederer, in his book The Miracle of Language, states it eloquently:

Bequeathing us the common words of everyday life, many of them fashioned from a single syllable, Anglo-Saxon is the foundation of our language. Its directness, brevity and plainness make us feel more deeply and see things about us more truly. The grandeur, sonority and courtliness of the French elements lift us to another, and more literary, level of expression (1).

We can see this difference illustrated by the Anglo-Saxon words ask, end, fear, and dead and their synonyms of French derivation, question, finish, terror, and deceased. Some writers argue that we should favor the short, precise words of Anglo-Saxon origin to the longer words derived from French, Latin, or Greek. Winston Churchill, for example, expressed his bias when he said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Today’s Challenge: Saxon Short Short Story
Is it possible to tell an effective story or give an effective speech using words of only a single syllable? One way to test Churchill’s claim is to try your hand at writing using words of only one syllable. It’s also an excellent way to learn to pay careful attention to your word choice. In general, the foundational Anglo-Saxon words in English are one syllable words, unlike words from French, Latin, or Greek, which tend to be more than a single syllable. Write a narrative of at least 200 words and make sure to use only one syllable words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: To do all that one is able to do is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do is to be a god. -Napoleon Bonaparte

1-http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html
2- Lederer, Richard. The Miracle of Language. New York: Pocket Books, 1991: 19-21.

October 11:  Apocryphal Anecdote Day

Today is the birthday of Parson Weems (1759-1825), the man who might be called “The Father of the Father of Our Country.”   It was Weems’ biography of Washington that first published the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree.

Parson Weems, also known as Mason Locke Weems, was a book agent, author, and ordained Episcopal priest.  His primary employment was as a book salesman.  When George Washington died in 1799, Weems saw an opportunity.  He thought that a biography of the venerated first president would be a big seller.  Weems published The Life of Washington in 1800, one year after Washington’s death.  Excerpts of Weems’ biography were later included in the enormously popular McGuffey Readers, the most widely read elementary textbook from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century (2).  

One of the excerpts included in the McGuffey Reader was Weems’ account of the cherry tree incident, an anecdote that Weems claimed he got from one of Washington’s distant relatives:

One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning [an] old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.” (2)

The historical veracity of this anecdote is questionable.  Certainly by modern standards of historical research, Weems’ citation of a single distant and unnamed relative makes it dubious.  To be exact, however, we cannot call it a myth nor a total falsehood.  What we can call it is apocryphal — that is, a story that is widely circulated as true, yet is of doubtful authenticity.  The adjective derives from the Greek apokryphos, meaning “hidden or obscure.”  Another relative of the word is the Latin noun Apocrypha, a word used to identify the books excluded from the cannon of the Old and New Testaments.

No doubt a part of a story’s appeal is its foundation in truth, but often we can sniff out an apocryphal story if it sounds just too good to be true.  This is the nature of stories we call legends, stories based on actual characters from history but that cannot be verified as true.  If we try to classify Meeks’ Washington story on the continuum of narrative between fact and fiction, the most accurate term would be legend.

Today’s Challenge:  Bogus Back Stories
What are the keys to creating a story that sounds believable enough to be really true?  Try your own hand at a little fact-based fiction by selecting a well-known person who is no longer living.  Think about what you know about that person’s character; then, craft an anecdote that seeks to explain a defining incident in the person’s youth that formed his or her character.  Include a plausible setting and vivid enough details to make it believable.  Share your story with some of your friends to see if they can detect any dubious details. (Common Core Writing  3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself as a liar.  -Mark Twain

 

1-http://edit.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-man-the-myth/

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parson_Weems

 

October 7: Gender-neutral Pronoun Day

Today is the birthday of  C.C. Converse (1832-1918), an American attorney and composer of church music who is perhaps best known for his attempt to fix a glitch in the English language:  its absence of a gender-neutral singular pronoun (1).

The glitch that Converse was attempting to repair can be seen in the following sentences.  Which one sentence would you select as correct?

  1. When a person arrives at work, he should check his phone messages.
  2. When a person arrives at work, she should check her phone messages.
  3. When a person arrives at work, he or she should check his or her phone messages
  4. When a person arrives at work, s/he should check his/er phone messages.
  5. When a person arrives at work, they should check their phone messages.

This is a bit of a trick question because each sentence has its own problems:

Sentence A uses the pronoun he, assuming the gender of a person is male.  Although some in the past have argued that the masculine  pronoun should become the default generic pronoun, embracing the feminine, most people today see this as an unacceptable sexist usage.

Sentence B has the same problem as Sentence A.  Some writers will randomly alternate the use of the masculine and feminine pronouns to avoid charges of sexism, but this can be confusing and distracting to the reader.

Sentence C, while attempting to avoid exclusive use of either one or the other pronoun, adds an element of clunkiness by adding the conjunction “or,” especially when used repeatedly.

Sentence D is just plain awkward.

Sentence E creates an ungrammatical situation in which the antecedent of the singular noun person is the plural they and their.

Columnist Lucy Mangan captures a typical writer’s frustration in the following rant:

The whole pronouns-must-agree-with-antecedents thing causes me utter agony. Do you know how many paragraphs I’ve had to tear down and rebuild because you can’t say, “Somebody left their cheese in the fridge”, so you say, “Somebody left his/her cheese in the fridge”, but then you need to refer to his/her cheese several times thereafter and your writing ends up looking like an explosion in a pedants’ factory? Billions, that’s how many. Even if the Queen, Noam Chomsky and Stephen Fry said it was permissible to use “their” to refer to a defiantly singular, sexless something, I couldn’t. It’s not right, and for once its wrongness is mathematically provable. Look. 1 = 1. 1 not = 2. I crave a non-risible gender-neutral (not “it”) third person singular pronoun in the way normal women my age crave babies (3).

In an attempt to solve the problem, Converse coined the word thon in 1858, blending the two words “that one.”   If we apply Converse’s coinage to our sentence it becomes:

When a person arrives at work thon should check thons phone messages.

Obviously Converse’s new pronoun didn’t stick; instead, it joined the pool of other pathetic, failed pronouns of the past, such as:  ne, co, xie, per, en, hi, le, hiser, ip.  However, credit is due Converse in that Thon is the most successful attempt at a solution to date.  Thon made it into two dictionaries and was actually adopted by some writers, as we can see by this example from a psychology textbook published in 1895 by Henry Graham Williams:

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge (1).

As of today we are still stuck without a solution to our pronoun glitch. So when a person comes upon this thorny thicket in his/her/his or her/their writing, he/she/he or she/they remain without many good options.

Today’s Challenge:  Playing with Pronouns and Points of View
If you were to write a story, from what narrative point of view would you tell the story?  When creating a fictional narrative, authors must consider point of view, the lense through which the reader sees and hears the story.  Point of view in fiction correlates to the grammatical point of view of pronouns:

First Person – I:  In the first person point of view a character in the story is the narrator,  which allows the reader to see and experience the plot intimately.  However, just as in our own lives this can be limiting since we are only privy to the thoughts, experience, and perspective of that single character.

Second Person – You:  In the second person point of view, a character directly addresses “you” the reader, as if the story is a letter.  Like a letter, the effect is a feeling of intimacy, of being talked to directly by the narrator.  The limitation, however, is that you only see and hear what that narrator reveals.

Third Person – He or She:  The third person point of view involves a narrator outside the story who reveals either the thoughts of a single character (3rd person limited) or the thoughts of more than one character (3rd person omniscient).  With third person, the voice of the narrator becomes a vital element of revealing a story’s setting and the thoughts of its characters.

Read the Aesop Fable below called “The Cat and the Fox”; then, rewrite it from three different points of view:

1:  First Person – The Cat as narrator.

2:  Second Person – The Cat speaking to the Fox’s family

3:  Third Person Omniscient – A narrator that reveals both the thoughts of the Cat and the Fox.

The Cat and the Fox

A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.”

“I have only one,” said the Cat; “but I can generally manage with that.” Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs. “This is my plan,” said the Cat. “What are you going to do?” The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen. Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said:

“Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.”

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  When you pick up a book, everyone knows it’s imaginary. You don’t have to pretend it’s not a book. We don’t have to pretend that people don’t write books. That omniscient third-person narration isn’t the only way to do it. Once you’re writing in the first person, then the narrator is a writer. -Paul Auster

1- Dickson, Paul.  Authorisms:  Words Wrought by Writers.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014:  166-7.

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-specific_and_gender-neutral_pronouns

3- http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/mind-your-language/2010/jul/24/style-guide-grammar-lucy-mangan

September 21:  Compose a Novel First Line Day

On this date in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published.  Tolkien began the book in a rather unexpected way.  As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, Tolkien would augment his salary in the summers by marking School Certificate exams, a test taken by 16 year-olds in the United Kingdom.  In a 1955 letter to the poet W.H. Auden, Tolkien recounted the moment that launched what was to become a classic in fantasy and children’s literature:

All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On the blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.

TheHobbit FirstEdition.jpgThe opening line that Tolkien scribbled on a blank page that fateful day remained intact in the published final draft, followed by a sentence that elaborated a bit on the hobbit habitat:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

While the book was still in manuscript form, publisher Stanley Unwin gave it to his 10-year-old son Rayner, who wrote the following review:

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.

Rayner’s favorable comments were the final confirmation that Urwin needed to publish the book (2).

Today’s Challenge:  From Blank Page to Page Turner
What character and setting would you introduce in the first two sentences of a story?  Grab your own blank piece of paper and draft at least two sentences that introduce a character and a setting for a story.  Hold a contest to see whose novel first lines resonate the most with readers. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.  -Louis L’Amour

1- http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/12/jrr-tolkien-teaching-exhausting-depressing-unseen-letter-lord-rings

2- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayner_Unwin

 

August 12:  Mythology Day

Today is the birthday of Edith Hamilton whose writings on ancient civilization and mythology have been read by generations of students.

File:Edith Hamilton.jpgBorn in Dresden, Germany in 1867, Hamilton immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. At the age of seven, she began studying Latin and committing biblical passages to memory. She completed her education in classics at Bryn Mawr College in Baltimore where she later became headmistress. She gained a reputation as an excellent teacher, storyteller, translator, and interpreter of Greek tragedies. Encouraged by her friends to write, she published her first book, The Greek Way (1930), in her 60s.

Hamilton continued writing into her 90s, publishing a total of nine books. Although she wrote about ancient Rome and Israel, the civilization she seemed to admire the most was ancient Greece:

The fundamental fact about the Greek was that he had to use his mind. The ancient priests had said, “Thus far and no farther. We set the limits of thought.” The Greek said, “All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought.”

Hamilton’s best known and most widely read book is Mythology (1942), which she wrote as an overview of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. This book is known by generations of middle school and high school students who read it as a primer on the myths.

Prior to her death in 1963 at the age of 96, Hamilton received several honorary degrees in the U.S. and was also honored internationally as an official citizen of Athens, Greece in 1957 (1).

Words from the Gods

Many common English words spring from the stories that Hamilton told of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Given the eight clues below, see if you can name the words.

  1. This word for any grain, such as wheat or oats comes from the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.
  1. This word for a repeating sound comes from the name of a nymph who loved Narcissus.
  1. This word for maintaining health and preventing disease comes from the name of the Greek goddess of health.
  1. This word for psychically induced sleep comes from the name for the Greek god of sleep.
  1. This word for being full of happiness and playfulness comes from the name of the most powerful Roman god.
  1. This word for being changeable or volatile comes from the name for the Roman messenger of the gods.
  1. This word for sudden fear comes from the name of the Greek god of fields, forests, and wild animals.
  1. This word, used to refer to something that induces sleep, comes from the name of the Roman god of sleep.

In addition to being embedded in the etymology of English words, the characters from mythology and their stories are frequently alluded to by many writers.  The works of Edith Hamilton are one the best ways for students to become familiar with these fascinating stories as well as to become familiar with allusions – indirect or passing references – to these characters that are made throughout our culture, both past and present.

Here is a list of a few prominent figures from Greek Mythology:

Achilles

Ariadne

Hercules

Odysseus

Oedipus

Orpheus

Pandora

Paris

Persephone

Prometheus

Theseus

Today’s Challenge:
What characters and stories from mythology to you think are the most captivating?  Brainstorm a list of characters from mythology that come to mind. Identify which one character you think has the most captivating and fascinating story.  Then, tell the story of that character and explain what makes it such a captivating story. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3)

Today’s Quote: It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought — that is to be educated. –Edith Hamilton

Answers: 1. cereal 2. echo 3. hygiene 4. hypnosis 5. jovial 6. mercurial 7. panic 8. somniferous

 

1 – Sicherman, Barbara. “Edith Hamilton.” The Reader’s Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by Houghton Mifflin Company

 

August 8:  Dollar and Cents Day

Today is the anniversary of the Continental Congress’ establishment of the monetary system of the United States. The year was 1786, and the ordinance called for U.S. coins with the following names: mill, cent, dime, dollar, and eagle.

According to Bill Bryson in Made in America, bankers and businessmen wished to maintain the English system based on pounds and shillings, but Thomas Jefferson devised a distinctly new system based on dollars and cents.

File:US $2 obverse-high.jpgThe name dollar comes from a town in Bohemia called Joachimstal. A coin made there in the 1500s, the Joachimstaler, spread throughout Europe evolving from the taler, to the thaler, to the daler, and finally into the dollar.

The name dime comes from the French dixieme which means tenth. It was originally spelled disme and pronounced as deem.

The name cent comes from the Latin centum which means one hundred. The unofficial name penny comes from the Latin term pannus, which means “a piece of cloth”; at one time these pieces of cloth were used for money.

The name mill comes from the Latin millesimus which means thousandth. A mill would have represented 1/1000 of a dollar; however, the federal government never minted the mill coin. The lowest denomination of coin ever created was a 1/2 cent piece.

The eagle was a $10 coin.

The missing coin from the 1786 ordinance, common today, is the denomination that represents 1/20 of a dollar: the nickel, named for the metal from which is was made (nickels never were made of wood) (1).

Dollars and cents are certainly important in America, so important that many expressions contain references to money, such as fast buck, more bang for the buck, and pass the buck. The term buck has been slang for dollar since the mid-1800s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. See if you can find the English idioms that fit in the sentences below; they all have to do with dollars, dimes, or cents. The literal definition of each expression is also given as a clue.

  1. A virtual certainty: It’s _____ _____ _____ that the team will make the playoffs.
  1. To be absolutely sure: You can _____ _____ _____ _____ that he will be at the party.
  1. Unexpected good fortune. I didn’t think I would get a $500 rebate on my new car. When I got the check, it was _____ _____ _____.
  1. Stingy about small expenditures and extravagant with large ones. Dean clips all the coupons for supermarket bargains but insists on going to the best restaurants; he’s ______ _____ _____ _____ _____.
  1. So plentiful as to be valueless. Don’t bother to buy one of these — they’re a _____ _____ _____.
  1. To inform on or betray someone. No one can cheat in this class — someone’s bound to _____ _____ _____ and tell the teacher.
  1. Take action and end delay. It’s time this administration _____ _____ _____ _____ and came up with a viable budget (2)

Today’s Challenge: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
What is a story that you could tell that relates to the theme “money”?  Below are ten idioms containing the word money.  Using a money-related idiom as your title and as a spark for your memory or your imagination, tell a money-related anecdote. (Common Core Writing 3)

Money is no object

Money talks

Hush money

A run for your money

Time is money

A fool and his money are soon parted

Money to burn

Pocket money

Easy money

Not for love or money

Quote of the Day: There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either. ~Robert Graves

Answers: 1. dollars to doughnuts 2. bet your bottom dollar 3. pennies from heaven 4. penny wise and pound foolish 5. dime a dozen 6. drop a dime 7. got off the dime

 

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

2 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997

 

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 3:  Dog Day

Today is the first day of what is known as the Dog Days of Summer. The association of summer with “man’s best friend” comes to our language via ancient astronomy. During the period from July 3 through August 11, the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction with the Sun. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and is part of the constellation Canis Major, Latin for the Greater Dog.

Some ancient Romans believed that the sultry heat of the Dog Days was explained by the combined heat of Sirius and the sun; however, even in the days before the telescope, this belief was more prominent among the superstitious than serious students of the stars (1).

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dog in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cut throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Today’s Challenge: Dog Daze
What idioms, compound words, titles, quotations come to mind that contain the word “dog”?  First, brainstorm a list of at least ten words and phrases that contain the word dog, such as the following:

-Dog tired
-Hot dog
-Every dog has his day
-You Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog
-Dogtown and the Z-Boys
-“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” –Groucho Marx

Second, use your list of ideas as a springboard for a topic that you can write about — any form or genre is okay, as long as your writing is interesting: speech, argument, memoir, poetry, fiction, dramatic monologue, open letter, personal essay, description, anecdote

Third, begin writing.  Use the brainstorm idea that sparked your topic as your title. Make sure that the word “dog” is in your title. Write at least 200 words. (Common Core Writing 1, 2, or 3)

Quotation of the Day: To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs. –Aldous Huxley

1 – http://www.space.com/8946-dog-days-summer-celestial-origin.html

2- Claiborne, Robert. Loose Cannons and Red Herrings: A Book of Lost Metaphors. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

June 27:  Short Story Day

One of the most iconic and most anthologized short stories ever written is set on this day.  The story is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

The date is established in the story’s opening line:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

ShirleyJack.jpgWhile the story’s opening sentence paints a calm, serene picture, the events of the story soon turn dark and even horrifying as the reader discovers why the residents of an unidentified small American village have gathered.  In an annual rite, the villagers draw lots to determine which one of them will be stoned to death.

Soon after the story was published in the June 26, 1948 edition of the New Yorker, a deluge of letters arrived expressing the shock and bewilderment of its readers.  In fact, “The Lottery” sparked more letters to the New Yorker than any work of fiction it ever published.  Some of the readers were critical — including some who cancelled their subscriptions — but most were simply confused by the story, wanting an explanation of its meaning (1).

On July 22, 1948, nearly one month after the story’s publication, Jackson wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle, giving a brief explanation of the story’s meaning:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives (2).

The day and month of the story’s setting are noteworthy.  June 27th has significance dating back to the Roman calendar as the first day of summer.  It was known as Initium Aestatis or the Feast of Aestas, the Roman Goddess of summer (3).  

But perhaps more noteworthy in determining the meaning of “The Lottery” is the year of its publication:  1948.  In her take on the meaning of the story, Ruth Franklin, biographer of Shirley Jackson, explains why it makes sense that a story like this would emerge three years after one of history’s darkest and most brutal wars — World War II:

[“The Lottery”] anticipates the way we would come to understand the twentieth century’s unique lessons about the capacity of ordinary citizens to do evil—from the Nazi camp bureaucracy, to the Communist societies that depended on the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor and the experiments by the psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo demonstrating how little is required to induce strangers to turn against each other. In 1948, with the fresh horrors of the Second World War barely receding into memory and the Red Scare just beginning, it is no wonder that the story’s first readers reacted so vehemently to this ugly glimpse of their own faces in the mirror, even if they did not realize exactly what they were looking at (4).

Today’s Challenge:  Short Story Almanac
If you were to write a short story that takes place on a specific day and month, what would it be and why?  Write the opening paragraph of a short story that takes place on a specific day and month.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’ Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?  –Miriam Friend in a letter to the editor of The New Yorker.

 

1- http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters

2-http://northbennington.org/jackson.html

3-http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/aestas.html

4-http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters