January 6: Personification Day

Photograph of Sandburg
Carl Sandburg

Today is the birthday of American writer and poet Carl Sandburg, who was born on this day in 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

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The son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs to help support his family.  In 1898, he volunteered to travel to Puerto Rico where he served with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American War.  After the war, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point but dropped out after just two weeks after failing a mathematics and grammar exam (1).  Returning to his hometown in Illinois, Sandburg enrolled in Lombard College.  At Lombard, he honed his skills as a writer of both prose and poetry, and after college, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he worked as an advertising writer and a journalist.

Sandburg achieved unprecedented success as a writer of both biography and poetry.  His great work of prose was his biography of Abraham Lincoln, an exhaustively detailed six-volume work that took him 30 years to research and complete. Not only did he win the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his stellar writing, he was also invited to address a joint session of Congress on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 1959.  This was the first time a private citizen was allowed to make such an address (2).

Before he began his biography of Lincoln, Sandburg established himself as a great poet, winning the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1919.  Writing in free verse, Sandburg’s poems captured the essence of industrial America.  

Perhaps his best-known poem Chicago begins:

HOG Butcher for the World,

              Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

              Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

              Stormy, husky, brawling,

              City of the Big Shoulders . . .

One of the primary rhetorical devices at work here is personification.  Sandburg does not just describe the city, he brings it to life, giving it job titles, such as “Tool Maker,” and human characteristics, such as “brawling,” and even human anatomy, such as “Big Shoulders.”

Personification is figurative language used in either poetry or prose that describes a non-human thing or idea using human characteristics.  As Sandburg demonstrates, the simple secret of personification is selecting the right words to animate the inanimate.  The key parts of speech for personification are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and pronouns:

-Adjectives like thoughtful or honest or sneaky

-Verbs like smile or sings or snores

-Nouns like nose or hands or feet

-Pronouns like I, she, or they.

In the following poem, Sandburg personifies the grass.  Notice how he makes the grass human by giving it not just a first person voice, but also a job to do:

GRASS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work–

         I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:

         What place is this?

         Where are we now?

         I am the grass.

         Let me work.

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Homework, I Make You Sweat

What are some everyday objects that you might bring to life using personification?  If these things had a voice, what would they say?  Using “Grass” as a model, select your own everyday non-human topic and use personification to give it a first person voice, writing at least 100 words of either poetry or prose.  Imagine what it would say and what it would say about its job.  Your tone may be serious or silly.

Possible Topics: alarm clock, coffee cup, textbook, guitar, bicycle, paper clip, pencil, car, microwave, baseball

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America. -President Lyndon B. Johnson

1- Wikipedia Carl Sandburg. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sandburg.

2-Poetry Foundation. Carl Sandburg.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carl-sandburg.

December 27: Editorial Day

On this day in 1845, an editorial appeared in the New York Morning News by John L. O’Sullivan (1813 – 1895).  In the editorial, Sullivan, a newspaper editor and proponent of U.S. expansion, argued for the United States’ claim to the Oregon Country, a large region in the West for which England and the U.S. had rival claims.  To Sullivan, expansion of the U.S. across all of North America to the Pacific coast was more than just a hope for the young nation; instead, it was its duty and its fate:

Away, away with all these cobweb issues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, continuity, etc.… our claim to Oregon would still be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us. (1)

Sullivan’s editorial popularized the motto: manifest destiny, giving proponents of expansion a rally cry.  By the end of 1846, Oregon became a U.S. Territory after negotiations with Britain established the border at the 49th parallel (See June 15: Parallelism Day). At the time of Sullivan’s editorial, the United States had just 27 states.  By the end of the 19th century that number would expand to 45.

Sullivan’s editorial and the motto that it popularized are just one of many examples of how newspaper editorials have influenced American history.  

Each day the editorial boards of American newspapers produce written pieces that reflect the opinions of their newspaper and its publisher.  By definition an editorial is a subjective expression of opinion, distinct from news articles which are objective.  Another term closely associated with editorials is “Op-Ed,” an abbreviation of “opposite the editorial page.”  Like editorials, Op-Ed’s are opinion pieces; however, unlike editorials, they are written by outside contributors or columnists.

The basic structure of editorials and op-eds is similar in that both present arguments supporting a central claim, and each has a fundamental three-part organization:

Introduction:  State what the issue is, along with its history. Explain who is affected by the issue and why it is relevant today.  Clearly state your claim regarding the issue and the reasoning behind your position.

Body:  Support your argument with reasoning, evidence, and counterarguments.  Use specific facts, statistics, examples, and quotations from authorities to support your position.  Provide clear explanations of your proof, along with your vision of what the final outcome related to the issue should be.

Conclusion:  Consider an appeal to pathos, revealing the emotions around the issue or showing your passionate concern for the issue.  End with a call to action or by restating your position.

Today’s Challenge:  Make Your Opinion Manifest

What is a current issue that is relevant today, an issue that you have an opinion about?  Write an editorial expressing and supporting your opinion on a specific relevant issue.  If you’re not sure what to write about, look at the news in today’s newspaper, and respond to what you see there.  Or read editorials or op-eds, and respond to those. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-O’Sullivan, John L. Editorial. New York Morning News 27 Dec. 1845. Public Domain.

December 26: Boxing Day

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, celebrated each year on the first day after Christmas because Stephen is recognized by the Christian church as its first martyr.

The New Testament Book of Acts provides an account of Stephen being brought before Jewish authorities and accused of blasphemy.  After giving an impassioned speech to the assembly of judges, in which he denounces his audience for its long history of persecuting the prophets, Stephen was dragged from the city and stoned to death.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a traditional day for giving food or money to the poor.  The lyrics of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” reflect this tradition:

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even (1)

The carol tells the story of Wenceslas, the 10th century Duke of Bohemia.  Seeing a peasant gathering wood in the snow, the King is moved to help him and puts together a parcel of food, wine, and pine logs. Accompanied by his page, the King then trudges through the blinding snow and the dark night to deliver his gift to the peasant’s door.

Boxing Day, an English holiday celebrated on December 26th, reflects the example of giving we see in the Christmas carol. Traditionally on this day, household servants were given a box of presents to take home and share with their families, an early version of what we know today as the “Christmas bonus” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Boxes Within Boxes

What is a subject or topic that you could divide or classify into 12 different parts?  Boxing Day is the perfect day for planning a calendar — after all isn’t a calendar made up of boxes within boxes?  As you prepare for the beginning of a new year, instead of buying a calendar, brainstorm ideas for making one of your own.  Below are twelve possible topics:

12 Labors of Hercules

12 Books that Everyone Should Read

12 Olympian Gods

12 Signs of the Zodiac

12 Precious Stones

12 Great Science Fiction Films

12 Greatest Rock Songs

12 Reasons that ‘12 Angry Men’ Is the Greatest Movie of All Time

12 Most Important Years in History

12 Holidays to Celebrate

12 Ways to Save Energy

12 Greatest Great Annual Events That Everyone Should Attend

Once you have selected the theme for your calendar, create an outline of the content of each month, including notes about what specific textual content you will include, what artwork you will include, and what other features you might include to make your calendar unique. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Neale, John Mason Neale. Good King Wenceslas 1853. Public Domain.

2-Rufus, Anneli.  The World Holiday Book.  New York:  HarperCollins, 1994.

December 25: Call to Action Day


On this day in 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware, leading the soldiers of the Continental Army in a surprise attack on a Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey.  

After suffering defeat in the Battle of Long Island and losing New York City to the British, the Patriot forces were in danger of losing the Revolutionary War.  Hoping to mount a comeback and surprise the Hessians who were celebrating Christmas, Washington planned a night crossing of the half-frozen waters of the Delaware River.

Washington had an unconventional attack planned, but another key element of his strategy was to employ some especially motivational words, words that would light a fire under an army that was freezing on the shores of the Delaware. On Christmas Eve, the day before the crossing, Washington ordered that Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis be read aloud to troops of the Continental Army.

In words that he had written just one day before, Paine frames the situation with stirring words that challenge the Patriots to move forward with courage and to seize this opportunity to transform the trials they face into a triumph:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God. . . .

Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.

After successfully crossing the Delaware, Washington and his men arrived at Trenton the next day.  Catching the Hessians off guard and hung over from their Christmas Day celebrations, the Americans won an easy victory.  

Victory in the Revolutionary War would not come for five more years, but the success of the Colonial Army at Trenton revived the spirits of the American colonists, showing them that victory was possible.

Today’s Challenge:  Say It So You Can Make It So

What is something you feel so strongly about that you would advise everyone to do it?  As Paine’s writing demonstrates, words have the power to move people to action, the kind of action that can change the course of history.  Write a speech in which you argue for a specific call to action on the part of your audience.  As the title of your speech, finish the following:  Why everyone should . . .

The following are some examples of possible topics:

Why everyone should learn a second language.

Why everyone should meditate.

Why everyone should study abroad.

Why everyone should take a self-defense class.

Why everyone should sing in the shower.

Why everyone should read more fiction.

Why everyone should vote.

Why everyone should use the Oxford comma.

Provide clear reasons, evidence, and explanation.  In addition to logic, move your audience with emotion by showing how important your suggested activity is and how it will bring fulfillment to their lives.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Paine, Thomas. The American Crisis. 23 Dec. 1776. Public Domain. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm.

December 22: Laconic Reply Day

On this day in 1944, American soldiers of the 101 Airborne Division at the Belgian town of Bastogne were surrounded by German forces.  In what later became known as the Battle of the Bulge, the American forces were caught off guard when Hitler launched a surprise counteroffensive.  

At 11:30 on the morning of December 22, German couriers with white flags arrived at the American lines, delivering a letter demanding the surrender of the Americans.  

The acting commander of the 101st, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, read the letter.  After pausing for a moment to reflect and to ask for input from his subordinates, he scribbled the following laconic reply:

To the German commander:

Nuts!

The American commander

The German couriers spoke English, but they were puzzled by the general’s reply.  As U.S. officers escorted them back to the defensive line, they explained to the Germans that “nuts” meant the same thing as “go to hell.”

The soldiers of the 101st continued to hold their ground under the attacks of the Germans for the four days that followed until the siege was finally broken with the arrival of U.S. tank forces of the Third Army, led by Lieutenant General George S. Patton.

The laconic reply has a long military tradition that dates back to the Spartans of ancient Greece, who were known for their blunt statements and dry wit.  In fact, the word “laconic,” meaning “concise, abrupt” is a toponym, originating from a region of Sparta known as Laconia (See July 5: Toponym Day). In Spartan schools, for example, a boy whose reply to a question was too verbose was subject to being punished by having his thumb bitten by his teacher (1).  When Philip II of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great — invaded Greece in the third century BC, he sent the following threat to the Spartans:   “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

The Spartan’s replied:  “If.”  (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Your Best Advice

If you had just three words of advice to someone younger than yourself or three words of advice to give to your younger self, what would those three words be?  Brainstorm some pieces of advice, like the examples below, that are just three words each. Select your best piece of advice and use it as your title; then, write a paragraph explaining why those three words are so important.

Get a job

Always eschew obfuscation

Read good books

Don’t get tattoos

Go to college

Value your education

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Cartledge, Paul.  Spartan Reflections. University of California Press, 2003:  85.

2-Online Etymology Dictionary. Laconic. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=laconic.

December 21: Sports Metaphor Day

On this day in 2002, President George W. Bush was meeting with his closest advisors in the Oval Office to review the evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.  Determining whether or not Iraq had such weapons was crucial in the president’s decision on whether or not to commit U.S. forces to the invasion of Iraq.  At one point in the meeting, President Bush turned to CIA Director George Tenet, asking him how confident he was that Iraq had WMDs. His reply was, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk!”

In using a basketball metaphor, Tenet was expressing his belief that the presence of WMDs was a sure thing.  History tells us that Tenet might have been better served by selecting a different metaphor considering the fact that the eventual absence of WMDs became a huge embarrassment for the Bush administration after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Metaphors from sports are such a common element of our language that we forget how often we use them.  As George Tenet demonstrated with slam dunk, a term begins as sports jargon and is then adopted as a metaphor that applies to a situation outside of sports.  The metaphor then becomes an idiom (also known as a dead metaphor) as it is used by more and more people. Below are some examples of the expressions that have become idiomatic – that is they have become so integrated into the language that we forget that they originated and are associated with a specific sport:

Kickoff – football

Keep your eye on the ball – baseball

Down for the count – boxing

An end run – football

Game, set, match – tennis

Face-off – hockey

Throw in the towel – boxing

Putting on a full-court press – basketball

The inside track – horse racing

Hot hand – basketball (1)

Today’s Challenge:  The Game of Life Metaphors

What sport do you think serves as the best metaphor or analogy for life?  What elements of that sport compare best with real life, and what lessons does the sport teach that provide wisdom for success in real life? In addition to expressions from sports that are metaphors, we also often turn to sports as a metaphor for understanding our lives, as the following quotations reveal:

In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is:  hit the line hard. –Theodore Roosevelt

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. –Oprah Winfrey

Select the single sport that you think provides the best metaphor or analogy for life, and write a paragraph in which you extend the metaphor by explaining how the elements of the sport and the lessons it teaches parallel real life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Grothe, Mardy.  I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2008:  274.

December 20: Polysyndeton Day

On this day in 1946, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life premiered in New York at the Globe Theatre.  Seventy years after its release, the story of how George Bailey arrived at his joyous epiphany is still one of the most popular holiday films ever made.

The film was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift.”  After unsuccessful attempts to get the story published, Stern mailed 200 copies of the story to friends and family during the holiday season in 1943 as a Christmas card.  After the story came to the attention of executives at RKO Pictures, they bought the rights to the story for $10,000 (1).

One rhetorically interesting aspect of the film is the dialogue of its protagonist George Bailey.  In one of film’s most famous scenes, George pleads with his antagonist, the scheming misanthrope Mr. Potter:

Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?

Notice the intentional overuse of conjunctions here.  This rhetorical device is called polysyndeton.  The added conjunctions slow the list down, emphasizing each individual item.  The repetition of conjunctions gives the reader the feeling that things are piling up and creates a tone that is more formal than a typical list.

The film’s dialogue features polysyndeton at another dramatic point.  It’s Black Tuesday, October 29, 1932, and George is trying to convince the citizens of Bedford Falls to resist the temptation to withdraw all their money from his savings and loan:

No, but you . . . you . . . you’re thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Joe’s house . . . right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others.

The close cousin and opposite of polysyndeton is asyndeton, where instead of adding conjunctions to a list, a writer removes them all.  Comparing the following lists might show us why Julius Caesar chose asyndeton for his most famous proclamation:

Typical List:  I came, I saw, and I conquered.

List with Polysyndeton:  I came and I saw and I conquered.

List with Asyndeton:  I came, I saw, I conquered.

Instead of slowing down the list, as with polysyndeton, asyndeton has the effect of speeding things up.  Asyndeton also has the effect of making the list seem like it is continuing into infinity, as if there is more there than meets the eye.

Today’s Challenge:   A Monologue and a List and a Lot of Conjunctions

What is a hypothetical dramatic situation in which an individual would be unhappy with another individual or group?  Write a dramatic monologue in which a speaker expresses unhappiness with the individual or audience that he/she is addressing.  Before you begin writing, identify a hypothetical dramatic situation in which a speaker would be unhappy and who the speaker would be unhappy with, such as a teacher who is angry with a tardy student or a customer who is unhappy that the Slurpee machine at his local 7/11 is empty. In the monologue include some lists using either polysyndeton or asyndeton for dramatic effect.  Try to capture the emotion in the voice of the character. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Ervin, Kathleen A. It’s a Wonderful Life. Failure Magazine 1 Dec. 2001. http://failuremag.com/feature/article/its_a_wonderful_life/P2/.

December 13: Concession Day

On this day in 2000, one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in U. S. history ended when Vice President Al Gore gave a speech conceding the presidency to George W. Bush. The day before, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore ended voting recounts in the state of Florida and effectively awarded the election to Bush. Although Gore won the plurality of the popular vote, he lost the election when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

Thus, on December 13, 2000, more than a month after Americans had cast their votes, Gore gave his concession speech:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession (1).

As Gore demonstrated in his speech, sometimes a politician has to admit defeat.  That does not mean, however, that the person is a failure.  After leaving public service, Gore gained prominence as an author and an environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work in combating climate change.

In argumentation, instead of being an admission of defeat, a concession is an admission that a portion of an opposing argument is true.  Inexperienced writers often see concession as a weakness, but experienced writers know it is a powerful method for establishing common ground.

When a concession is carefully and clearly framed, it shows the audience that you have conscientiously considered both sides of the argument.  By clearly addressing the opposing views and showing that you understand them fully, you can better neutralize them by combining them with arguments that support your thesis.

Imagine for example that a police officer pulls over two drivers for speeding.  The first driver argues as follows:

“Officer, I wasn’t speeding and should not get a ticket.”

In contrast, the second driver states the following:

“Officer, I probably was going too fast, but if you look at my driving record, you’ll see that I’m a safe driver.” 

Which of the two drivers do think has the better chance of getting off with a warning?  If this were a bet, you probably would put your money on the second driver.  He understands that making a concession is not admitting defeat; instead, a concession is a valuable move, requiring that you give a little ground to gain a lot.

Today’s Challenge:  Comparison, Contrast, and Concession

Given two items in a category to debate, how might you include a concession in your argument?  Write a comparison and contrast paragraph in which you argue for the merits of one thing over the other.  Include a concession in your argument, acknowledging at least one of the merits of the opposition side. Select one of the topics below, or come up with your own:

Seasons:  Summer or Winter?

Pets:  Cat or Dog?

Sports to watch:  Football or Baseball?

Sports to play:  Team or Individual?

Continents to Visit:  Europe or Australia?

Sci-Fi:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Movie Genres:  Action or Comedy?

Political Parties:  Republican or Democrat?

Political Philosophies:  Capitalism or Socialism?

Books:  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Bands:  Beatles or Rolling Stones

Presidents:  Lincoln or F.D.R?

NBA Franchises:  Celtics or Lakers?

Fast Food Franchises:  McDonalds or KFC?

As you write, make sure that you make a strong claim for your side of the argument while at the same time conceding a strength of the opposition’s side.  Use the templates below to help you frame your concession:

People who argue X are correct when they say that _______________; however, a more important point is _________________________________.

Admittedly it is true that _____________________________________, but it does not necessarily follow that _______________________________________.

Although it is true that _____________________, I believe __________________ because__________________________________________.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gore, Al. Vice President Gore Concession Speech 13 Dec. 2000. Authentic History.com. http://www.authentichistory.com/1993-2000/3-2000election/3-dispute/20001213_VP_Gore_Concession.html.

November 30:  Satire Day

On this day in two different centuries, two great writers and two great satirists were born.

The first was the Irish writer Jonathan Swift born in 1667. Swift wrote two of the greatest satires in the English language; the first is the classic political allegory Gulliver’s Travels, where he employs fantasy to expose human folly.  The second is his essay A Modest Proposal, where he takes on the voice of a pompous British politician who blithely proposes an outrageous solution to the problem of Irish poverty.

 

The second great writer born on November 30th was the American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known to us by his pen name Mark Twain.  Born in 1835 and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s masterpiece was his novel and satire The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885. Twain’s innovation in this work was to write in the first person, not using his own voice, but instead making the narrator an uneducated, unwashed outcast named Huckleberry Finn.

As great satirists, both Swift and Twain used humor as a tool to expose and criticize their societies.  However, they both knew that the recipe for satire included one other essential ingredient:  irony.

Successful satire uses irony to say one thing while meaning the opposite.  So, for example, instead of directly criticizing an opponent’s argument, the satirist speaks as though he is agreeing with his opponent while at the same time pointing out the argument’s flaws and absurdities.  Satire, therefore, possess a challenge for the reader who must be able to detect the ironic voice and realize that the author actually means the opposite of what he or she is saying.

For example, to truly comprehend Twain’s bitter criticism of a society that would condone slaveholding, we have to see the irony of Huck’s predicament regarding his friend, the runaway slave Jim.  By helping Jim to escape, Huck truly believes he is committing an immoral act, an act that will condemn him to hell.

Similarly, when we read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” it is important to realize that Swift is not truly arguing that Irish parents should sell their babies as food.  Instead, he is using irony to target the corrupt ways that the English have exploited the Irish.

As the following excerpt demonstrates, Swift takes on the persona (or mask) of a seemingly rational statesman who is using logical argumentation to reach an absurd conclusion:

I am assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London; that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food; whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled, and I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Seeing a Situation Satirically

What are some current societal issues for which you might make a modest proposal?  Before you attempt to write satire, read the complete text of Swift’s essay.  The complete title of the 1729 essay was A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of the Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to Their Public.  Today, the three words “A Modest Proposal” have become synonymous with a satirical approach to addressing an issue, where a writer uses humor and irony to target opposing arguments.  Brainstorm some real societal issues that people and politicians are currently trying to solve.  Select one, and determine what you think would be the best ways to solve the problem.  Then, put on your mask (persona) of satire, and try to capture the voice of someone who believes the exact opposite of what you do.  Use humor and hyperbole to reveal the weaknesses and absurdity of the proposal as well as to criticize the kinds of people who perpetuate the problem instead of solving it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Swift, Jonathan.  A Modest Proposal. 1729. Public Domain.  Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1080.

November 20:  Significant Object Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 2009, a fascinating five-month anthropological study was completed by two writers, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn.  The hypothesis of the study was that storytelling has the power to raise the value of a physical object.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers acquired 100 objects at garage sales and thrift stores at a cost of no more than two dollars per object.  In phase two of the study, each object was given to a writer who crafted a short, fictional story about the object.  Each object was then auctioned on eBay with the invented story as the item description.  Walker and Glenn carefully identified each item description as a work of fiction. Based on the results of the study, the average price of an object was raised by 2,700 percent.  The total cost of purchasing the 100 objects was $128.74; the total sales on eBay reached a total of $3,612.51.  For example, a duck vase purchased for $1.99 sold for $15.75.  A motel room key purchased for $2.00 sold for $45.01.

Walker and Glenn compiled the results of their study, including a photo of each object along with its accompanying fictional story, in the book Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.

To see additional objects and their stories, visit www.significantobjects.com.

Clearly, stories captivate our interest and attention like nothing else. Packaging both ideas and emotion in a narrative makes a powerful combination, and the results of the Significant Objects Study provide us with quantitative evidence of this.  As stated by Walker and Glenn, “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively” (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Junk Drawer Stories

What inventive story would you write to give value to a seemingly valueless object?  Go to your junk drawer and find a physical object of little value.  Then, craft a short narrative about the background of the object.  If you are working with a group or class of storytellers, have a Significant Object Contest or a Significant Object Slam (SOS) to share your stories. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Walker, Rob and Joshua Glen.  Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things.  Seattle, WA:  Fantagraphics Books, 2012.