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 10: Ten Out of Ten Day

Today, the tenth day of the tenth month, is the perfect day to do some evaluations on a scale of one to ten, with ten out of ten being the top of the traditional scale, unless of course you’re prone to hyperbole. In that case you can go to eleven.

Before we begin, however, we should address the fact that October’s position on the calendar has not been a permanent fixture of history. The name of our tenth month retains vestiges from its Roman past. In Latin octo means eight, as in octagon and octopus. When the Romans inserted the months January and February, they pushed October forward from the eighth to the tenth position. They did not, however, change its name. So today, the last four months of our calendar, the four months that were formerly months seven through ten (September, October, November, and December) are all numerical misnomers.

Today’s Challenge: The Rating Game
We live in an age of evaluations, surveys, and ratings. The internet has given us access to unlimited opportunities to read ratings written by others as well as provided us the opportunity to write ratings ourselves. Whether it’s books, music, teachers, or dog food, somewhere, someone is writing a review. What is a category of things you know enough about to evaluate? How would you rate each of five things in your category on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being outstanding?

Begin by selecting a general category. It can be anything as long as the category contains at least five members and as long as you know enough about each each item to rate it. Here are some examples of categories:

Letter of the Alphabet   

Movie Sequels

Carbonated Beverages

Fairy Tales

Superheroes

Pixar Films

Aspects of Camping

Poetic Forms

Halloween Traditions

Animal Farm Characters

Hall of Fame First Basemen

Greek Gods

Next, list the members of the category, and rate each of the members on a scale of 1 to 10. Beside the name of each member and its score, write a rationale for your rating, explaining why you scored it the way you did. This may be subjective, but it should also be specific. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure. -Alfred Lord Tennyson

October 9: Imaginary Places Day

On this date in 1899, L. Frank Baum (1856-1918) finished the manuscript of his finest work called The Emerald City, a work that would later bear a more familiar title: The Wonderful World of Oz. To commemorate the occasion, Baum framed his pencil with the following note: “With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of The Emerald City.”

Wizard title page.jpgFor the name of his imaginary setting, Baum claimed his inspiration came from the label on the third drawer of his filing cabinet which read O-Z. Other inspiration came from his boyhood home of Peerskill, New York, which had roads paved with bright yellow bricks imported from Holland.

Unfortunately Baum’s book was not the Harry Potter of its day, and although he wrote 13 sequels, he never earned a lot of money. When he died of heart disease in 1918, he left just $1,072.96 in his will.

Even the film version of the book, The Wizard of Oz, lost money when it was released in 1939, 21 years after Baum’s death. The film did not begin its journey to becoming an iconic classic until the 1950s when it was shown on television. Fourty-five million people watched it the first time is was broadcasted on November 3, 1956 (1).

Today’s Challenge: Go to Your Imaginary Happy Place
What imaginary place would you rate as the greatest of all, either from books, television, or movies? What makes this place so special? Brainstorm a list of all the imaginary places you can think of; then, select one and explain what makes it your top fictional setting. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation: Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams – day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing – are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. -L. Frank Baum

1-http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/5949617/L-Frank-Baum-the-real-Wizard-of-Oz.html

 

October 8:  Rebuttal Day

On this date 1917, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), an English soldier recovering from shell shock, composed the first draft of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The poem is one of the most vivid, realistic depictions of the horrific trench warfare of World War I and is one of most powerful rebuttals every made to the argument that it is valorous to die for one’s country.

Wilfred Owen plate from Poems (1920).jpgOwen joined the army in 1915, and after he was wounded in combat in France in 1917, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It is there that he penned the first draft of his poem and sent it to his mother with a note:  “Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).”

The poem begins with an image of the exhausting druggery of life on the front lines:

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.

Druggery and exhaustion then turn to nightmare as Owen describes a gas attack and the horror of watching one of his comrades in arms die before his eyes after too slowly dawning his gas mask:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.       

The words that end the poem, as well as the words in the poem’s title, are Latin, written by the Roman poet Horace.  The first four words, which also serve as the poem’s title, translate:  “It is sweet and glorious.”  The final three words of the poem that complete the exhortation translate: “to die for one’s country.”

The words from Horace that Owen calls “The old Lie” would have been familiar to his readers since they were often quoted during the frenzy of recruiting at the war’s inception.  These Latin words are also inscribed on the wall of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Berkshire, England.  In the United States the words are etched in stone above the rear entrance to the Memorial Amphitheater, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington National Cemetery (1).

After his recovery, Owen rejoined his regiment and returned to the trenches of France.  He was killed in battle on November 4, 1918, one week before the war ended on November 11, Armistice Day.

Owen’s poem is a rebuttal — the presentation of contradictory evidence — to an ancient expression of conventional wisdom, as seen in Horace’s Latin exhortation (here translated into English):  How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.

To make his rebuttal, Owen structures his poem inductively, with details that move from specific to the general.  Instead of stating his point (his thesis or claim) at the beginning of the poem in a deductive structure, he, instead, begins with detailed imagery to shows rather than tell.  Owen’s use of such powerful figurative language and sensory imagery create such a horrific picture that Owen hardly needs to state his point.  Instead, he lays out such vivid details that readers can infer the point for themselves; even a reader who does not know Latin would be able to make a logical inference regarding the “old Lie.”

Today’s Challenge:  Rebut With Reality
The practice of questioning conventional is a tradition that dates back to Socrates.  It’s an excellent way to discover ways in which common sense is not always perfectly logical and to explore counter-intuitive insights.  It’s also an excellent way to avoid poor decisions.  In 1962, for example, executives at the Decca Recording Company rejected the Beatles because conventional wisdom led them to conclude that guitar music was on the way out. What are some examples of conventional wisdom (widely accepted truisms) that you have encountered, and how might you challenge conventional wisdom with a detailed, evidence-based rebuttal?  Write a rebuttal in either prose or poetry of a single statement of conventional wisdom, such as, “If you work hard you will succeed” or “Pride goeth before the fall.”  Organize your writing inductively, using specific imagery and figurative language to show your point rather than tell it.  If you are successful, you may not even need to state the central claim of your rebuttal at the end. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  

Conventional Wisdom:  My boss doesn’t motivate me.

Reality rebuttal: He shouldn’t have to. It’s exhausting to hug you, burp you, coddle you, and wind you up every day. The best in any business create more motivation from the inside-out, with a compelling purpose; any external pats on the back they get are appreciated but not necessary for them to get or stay motivated. -Dave Anderson, business consultant and author (3)

 

1-http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/wilfred-owen

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

3-http://www.dealerbusinessjournal.com/articleview.php?id=765-83114

 

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

October 6:  Xerox Day

On this date in 1942 Chester F. Carlson (1906-1968) received a patent for his invention, electrophotography.  His discovery was a giant leap in the history of publishing.  For centuries making a copy of single document was arduous and time-consuming.  Electrophotography, or xerography as it came to be called, made this process fast and easy.

Unlike previous wet copy processes, Carlson’s process was “dry.”  First an electrostatic image of the original document was created on a rotating metal drum; then, with the help of toner – powdered ink – a copy was transferred to a piece of paper and the print was sealed in place by heat (1).

To differentiate the name of his invention – electrophotography –  from print photography, Carlson searched for new term.  He settled first on the word xerography from the Greek xeros (meaning “dry”) and graphein (meaning “writing”).   Xerography later became xerox because of Carlson’s admiration for the name Kodak, the iconic American photography company.  Carlson especially liked the fact that the name Kodak was nearly a palindrome (a word that is spelled the same frontwards and backwards).  Adding an “x” at the end of his invention’s name, Carlson reasoned, would give it the same memorable ring.  Thus, xerox, the word that would become synonymous with copy duplication, was born (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Copywork, Not Copy Cat
Long before Xerox, copying by hand – or copywork – was a popular method of teaching writing in America.  As children we learn to talk, at least in part, by imitating others, so the rationale behind copywork is that we can also learn to write by imitating others.  

In their article on copywork’s historic roots, Brett and Kate McKay trace how many great American writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Benjamin Franklin, and Jack London used copywork to learn their craft.  They explained London’s process as follows:

. . . London most admired the style of Rudyard Kipling. For hours at a time, and days on end, he would make it his assignment to copy page after page of Kipling’s works in longhand. Through such feverish effort, he hoped to absorb his hero’s rhythmic musicality and energetic cadence, along with the master’s ability to produce what one contemporary critic called “throat-grabbing phrase” (3).

By zeroing in and copying the words, phrases, and clauses of a single exemplary model, you discover elements of style you wouldn’t otherwise notice.  Like a cook who samples and dissects the dishes of a master chef, you become both inspired to produce your own recipes and equipped to combine the ingredients more artfully.  What is a short passage of published writing that you admire for its rhetorical craft, the kind of passage that might be held up as an exemplary model for writers?  Select a published passage of at least six sentences, and, following the principles of copywork, reproduce the writing verbatim — that’s Latin for “word for word.”  Make sure to write the author’s name and title of the work your passage is from at the top of your paper.  The purpose here is not to plagiarize; rather, it’s to use our pens to help us better pay better attention as we read and write. (Common Core Reading 1 – Close Reading).

Quotation of the Day:  The oldest copier invented by people is language, the device by which an idea of yours becomes an idea of mine. We are distinct from chimpanzees because speech, through its irrepressible power of reproduction, multiplied our thoughts into thinking.  The second great copying machine was writing. When the Sumerians transposed spoken words into stylus marks on clay tablets, they exponentially extended the human network that language had created. Writing freed copying from the chain of living contact. It made thinking permanent, portable, and endlessly reproducible. -David Owen

 

1- http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/duplication-nation-3D-printing-rise-180954332/?no-ist

2- Owen, David. Copies in Seconds:  How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communication Breakthrough Since Gutenberg.  New York:  Simon and Shuster, 2008:  146.

3-http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/03/26/want-to-become-a-better-writer-copy-the-work-of-others/

October 5: Epistrophe Day

On this date in 1988, a candidate for the United States vice-presidency made one of the more memorable and rhetorically nuanced retorts in political history. The candidate was Lloyd Bentsen. His opponent was Dan Quayle, a younger and much less experienced candidate. It was inevitable that Quayle’s lack of experience would come up in the debate. When it did, Quayle made a historical comparison, saying he had as much experience as did John F. Kennedy before he was elected president. Bentsen seemed to anticipate the comparison and pounced:

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Bentsen’s response was not only the most memorable line in the entire debate, it was also the most memorable line ever from any vice-presidential debate. Even more, it might just be the most memorable line ever from a political debate.

It’s not just the repetition of “Jack Kennedy” that gives the quip its force, it’s also the placement of the name. Notice that of the four times “Jack Kennedy” is repeated, three of them are at the end of a clause. Each time Bentsen repeats the name, it echoes, like the sound of gavel pounding on a judge’s bench.

This rhetorical repeater is called epistrophe (eh-PIS-tro-fee), and it’s simply defined as repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive phrases or clauses (1).

The best way to understand epistrophe is to see it in action. Here’s an excellent definition and example from Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence:

When you end each sentence with the same word, that’s epistrophe. When each clause has the same words at the end, that’s epistrophe. When you finish each paragraph with the same word, that’s epistrophe. Even when it’s a whole phrase or a whole sentence that you repeat, it’s still, providing the repetition comes at the end, that’s epistrophe (2).

Great writers and great speakers use epistrophe to make their sentences more rhythmic and more dramatic.

Here are some examples:

. . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

If women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work … their families will flourish. -Hillary Clinton

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” -Jacob Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

Today’s Challenge: Save the Best for Last
Epistrophe is especially effective when you want to emphasize and drum home a concept or idea. What is a basic concept that all children should be taught, either in school or out of school, such as manners, creativity, patience, or dental hygiene? Brainstorm a list of possible concepts. Then, write a catchy, but brief, Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the one concept you think is most important and why you think it is most important. Use epistrophe to make you PSA unforgettable and to leave your concept echoing in the mind of your audience long after they have listened to it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

1-Farnsworth, Ward. Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric. Boston: David R. Godine, 2011: 32.
2-Forsyth, Mark. The Elements of Eloquence. London: Icon Books, 2013: 77.

October 4: Elevator Speech Day

On this day in 1911, the first public elevator began service at Earl’s Court Metro Station in London.  In England an elevator is called a “lift,” but whatever it’s called, an elevator ride is a short trip that puts you in a confined space with total strangers.

People who work in the business world make frequent trips on elevators. Maybe that’s why the elevator has become such a powerful communication metaphor in business the past few years.  The “elevator pitch” is a short speech put together by salespeople, entrepreneurs, or other business people to capsulize their ideas and to communicate them clearly to potential clients and investors.  The idea is to know your project, idea, or product so well that you can “sell” it to anyone on a short elevator ride.

In an elevator pitch, time is of the essence, so they must be crafted carefully. Each of the Seven Cs below is followed by advice on how to avoid a clunky ride:

1 Concise:  The speech should be no more than 60 seconds, so each word must count.

2 Clear:  There’s no time to repeat yourself, so make sure that your ideas are clear enough to be understood by your audience.

3 Compelling:  Include a hook, some dramatic tension, and vivid imagery to show your audience that your ideas are important and that something significant is at stake.

4 Credible:  Include credible evidence that shows that you have done your homework and that you know what you’re talking about.

5 Concrete:  Give your audience specific, tangible details and evidence that shows, not just tells, your point.

6 Conversational:  Write out your complete elevator speech, but include plain, forceful language that makes is sound spontaneous and natural.

7 Complete:  Any speech, even a short one, needs a beginning, a middle, and and end.  Organize it with these three parts, writing strategically to open strong, to maintain interest in the middle, and to close confidently(1).

Today’s Challenge:  Going Up with an Up-to-the-Minute Pitch
How would you complete the following title with an idea that would make a compelling speech:  “Why You Should . . . “ ?  Brainstorm some ideas; then, select your best one, and write an elevator pitch that follows the principles of The Seven Cs.  Be prepared to share your pitch, attempting to get as close as you can to the one minute time limit.  Work with a partner to practice, time, and perfect your pitch.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Examples of elevator pitch topics:

Why you should floss.

Why you should go to college.

Why you should not be afraid of failure.

Why you should become an organ donor.

Why you should take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Why you should make your speeches short and to the point.

Why you should take notes by hand instead of with a laptop.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  The purpose of an elevator pitch isn’t to close the sale. The goal isn’t even to give a short, accurate, Wikipedia-standard description of you or your project. And the idea of using vacuous, vague words to craft a bland mission statement is dumb. No, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you’re with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over. -Seth Godwin

 

1-http://elevatorpitchessentials.com/essays/ElevatorPitch.html

October 3:  Read an Essay Out Loud Day

On this date in 1890, Harvard Professor Barrett Wendell read an essay aloud to his class of 50 undergraduate English students.  The essay was written by one of the students in the class, a student who would go on to become one of the most important African-American intellectuals and leaders of his generation.  The essay’s author was W.E.B. Du Bois, who signed up for the class because he realized that without the ability to write well, his ideas would never be taken seriously.  He explains this in his autobiography:

I realized that while style is subordinate to content, and that no real literature can be composed simply of meticulous and fastidious phrases, nevertheless that solid content with literary style carries a message further than poor grammar and muddled syntax.

Formal photograph of an African-American man, with beard and mustache, around 50 years oldDu Bois’ essay was the only one that Professor Wendell read aloud that day, and it was the essay’s conclusion that he particularly liked:

Spurred by my circumstances, I have always been given to systematically planning my future, not indeed without many mistakes and frequent alterations, but always with what I now conceive to have been a strangely early and deep appreciation of the fact that to live is a serious thing . . . . I believe, foolishly perhaps, but sincerely, that I have something to say to the world, and I have taken English 12 in order to say it well.

Du Bois went on to say many things well as an activist, a sociologist, and a historian.  In 1895  he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, and in 1909 he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of  Colored People (NAACP).  He worked his entire life for the cause of civil rights, and he died on August 27, 1963 — one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Today’s Challenge:  Extra-Sensory Reading
What is the value of reading out loud as a way of reading and of revising your writing?  Reading words aloud or hearing your words read aloud by someone else allows you to experience them in a different way than just seeing them. Listening and speaking the words involve different senses than just reading with your eyes, allowing you to catch nuances or areas for revision that you might not catch otherwise.  Exchange some of your writing with a partner.  Read each others writing with your eyes first, highlighting the parts you particularly like. Then, take turns reading and listening to each other’s writing. (Common Core Writing 5 – Writing Process)

Quotation of the Day:  Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body . . . . The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading. -Verlyn Klinkenborg

1- http://www.bolenderinitiatives.com/sociology/w-e-b-dubois-1868-1963/w-e-b-dubois-harvard-last-decades-19th-century

October 2:  Thirteen Ways Day

Today is the birthday of American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955).  Wallace won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 even though he never worked as a full-time poet.  His day-job was as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut.

Wallace Stevens.jpgOne of Stevens’ best known poems is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  The poem captures the essence of poetry, a form of writing that challenges both the writer and the reader to “look” at the world from different perspectives and to see it in new ways.  In the tradition of Imagism, a poetic movement that emphasizes precise imagery and clear, concrete diction, Stevens presents thirteen numbered stanzas, each featuring a different way of seeing the ordinary blackbird (1).

As you can see in stanzas 1 and 5 below, Stevens’ language in influenced by the haiku form, combining concrete descriptions of nature with philosophical contemplation:

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,   

The only moving thing   

Was the eye of the blackbird.   

V

I do not know which to prefer,   

The beauty of inflections   

Or the beauty of innuendoes,   

The blackbird whistling   

Or just after.  

Today’s Challenge:  Ways of Looking – the Seven “Sees”
What are ways you can see the world in a new way and from different perspectives even on an ordinary day in an ordinary place?  Writing itself, in its various forms, is an excellent way of looking at the world from different perspectives.  The different modes of writing described below mirror the various ways our brain organizes and processes information.  Select one topic — a person, place, object, or idea — to examine; then, explore that one idea in at least 7 of the 13 ways listed below:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Writing Topic

  1. Description:  Create a picture in words of what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, smells like, and/or tastes like.
  2. Comparison and Contrast:  Explain what is it like and what it is not like.
  3. Cause and Effect:  Explain where it came from and how it impacts the world.
  4. Definition:  Explain exactly what is it called, what it means, and what makes it distinctive from other things.
  5. Narrative:  Tell as story related to it that involves real people in conflict.
  6. Exemplification:  Make a generalization about it; then, support the generalization by giving specific examples that illustrate and explain it.
  7. Argumentation:  State a claim related to it, and provide your reasoning and evidence to prove your claim is valid.
  8. Problem and Solution:  Explain conflicts that arise because of it, and how those conflicts can or might be resolved.
  9. Process:  Explain how something happens related to it by giving a step by step sequence.
  10. Division and Classification: Identify its different parts and its different types.
  11. Poetry: Explore ideas related to it in verse, imagery, and/or figurative language.
  12. Fiction:  Create a story about it that has a narrative point of view, characters, conflict, climax, resolution, and themes.
  13. Drama:  Create a dramatic situation around it, with characters, conflict, and dialogue. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It is not every day that the world arranges itself in a poem.  -Wallace Stevens

1-http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/wallace-stevens