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 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan, teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers — many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silkworms.

In the United States, Mississippi became that last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter, Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Compulsion for Education

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum?  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Elementary Education Act of 1870. https://archive.org/details/elementaryeducat00greauoft.

2-Green, John. An Open Letter to Students Returning to School. YouTube 7 Aug. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x78PnPd-V-A.

 

November 28:  Haiku Day

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

On this day in 1694, Japanese Haiku master Basho died.  Born Matsuo Kinsaku in Kyoto, Japan, the poet began to write under the pseudonym Basho in 1680 after one of his students presented him with a gift of basho (banana) trees.  Clearly this was an appropriate gift for a writer known for his close observation of the natural world.

Basho adapted the haiku from a longer form called haikai no renga, which opened with a hokku, or “startling verse,” made up of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.

 

In the cicada’s cry

There’s no sign that can foretell

How soon it must die.

 

Temple bells die out.

The fragrant blossoms remain.

A perfect evening!

Today’s Challenge:  Seventeen Syllables of Insight

What are the key elements of writing a haiku?

-The focus of haiku is sensory imagery that describes your observation of nature

-You don’t have to name a specific season, but you should use a “season word” (In Japanese it’s called a kigo) that gives a clue to the season you are writing about.

-Also, since you are trying to capture a moment in time — the now — write in present tense and don’t worry about writing a title. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Poetry Foundation. Basho. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/basho.

November 27:  Sonnet Day

On this day in 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. We know little about Shakespeare’s personal life, but based on marriage records, we do know that he was 18-years old when he married, and Anne was 26.  Six months after the wedding, Will and Anne’s first child, Susanna, was born. Two years later, Anne gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl named Hamnet and Judith.  Soon after the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left his family in Stratford upon Avon and traveled to London where he began his career as an actor and playwright.  When Shakespeare retired from the theater in 1610, he returned to Stratford, where he lived with Anne until his death in 1616.  Anne died seven years after her husband in 1623. The couple is buried next to each other in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford (1).

In Shakespeare’s plays there are many memorable marriages as well as memorable married couples.  In Romeo and Juliet, for example, we have one of the most memorable and hasty marriages in literary history.  The young lovers meet at the end of Act I and are married by the end of Act II.  And of course there are the many marriage ceremonies that bring closure to the plots of Shakespeare’s comedies.

But when it comes to the topics of love and marriage and Shakespeare, what probably comes first to mind are his sonnets.

Shakespeare did not invent the sonnet form, but he certainly perfected it.  Among his 154 sonnets we have not only the greatest examples of the form, we also have some of the greatest poetry in the English language.

Notice, for example, Sonnet 116.  It follows the usual form of the Shakespearean sonnet, fourteen lines consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet.  The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The basic structure and form of these immortal love notes may be the same, but like flowers, each features its own unique combination of images, argument, diction, and pathos:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Not Just Another Thank You Note

Who are some people you care enough about to write a heartfelt note expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks?  In addition to commemorating Shakespeare’s marriage and verse on this day, we might also remember that it is the anniversary of the very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which took place in New York City in 1924.

Write a prose sonnet, a 14-line heartfelt note, addressed to an individual you care about, expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks.  It does not need to be a romantic note, but it should provide specific details that show the addressee why he or she is special to you and why you are thankful for this person. Carefully craft each sentence to balance your reasons and your emotions.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try to write it as a Shakespearean sonnet.  If you write in prose, make sure you have 14 lines, but don’t go just for word count; instead, like Shakespeare did when he wrote in either prose or poetry, make each word count. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Pressley, J. M. Mrs. Shakespeare: Anne Hathaway.  Shakespeare Resource Center. http://www.bardweb.net/content/ac/hathaway.html.

2-Shakespeare, William (1564-1616). Sonnet 116. Public Domain.

November 26:  Abecedarian of Awesome Day

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

On this day in 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated for the first time under the new U.S. Constitution based on a proclamation signed by President George Washington.  However, it took over 150 years for Thanksgiving to be recognized as an official Federal holiday.  On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Congressional resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In June 2000, Neil Pasricha started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things as a reminder that although there is plenty of bad news every day, there are also a lot of things to be thankful for, things that Pasricha characterizes as “the free, easy little joys that make life sweet.”  At Pasricha’s blog each “Awesome Thing” is numbered. Below is a small sample of numbers 498 to 492:

#498 Long comfortable silences between really close friends

#497 The moment after the show ends and before the applause begins

#496 Seeing way worse weather on TV somewhere else

#495 When it suddenly just clicks

#494 Cutting your sandwich into triangles

#493 When that zit growing on your forehead suddenly just disappears

#492 The first text message between new friends

Each numbered item is linked to a detailed entry, describing in vivid detail what makes the thing truly awesome (1).

Today’s Challenge:  26 Awesome Things to Be Thankful For

What are 26 things you are thankful for?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 awesome things to be thankful for, one for each letter of the alphabet, such as, Accordions, The Beatles, Canned Food, Donuts, etc.  Once you have your A to Z list, select one item on your list and write a detailed description that shows and tells why that one item is so awesome.

1-1000 Awesome Things. http://1000awesomethings.com/.

 

November 25:  Fable Day

On this day in 1998, the computer-animated film A Bug’s Life was released.  The film was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios.  The film, which was directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, featured the music of Randy Newman and the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, and Julia Louis-Dryfus (1).

The plot of the film is based on a retelling of one of Aesop’s fables: The Ant and the Grasshopper:

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

There’s a time for work and a time for play. (2)

No one knows for certain if Aesop actually lived, but some ancient historians report that he was a slave who lived either in the 5th or 6th-century B.C.  Whether he actually lived or not, today we have over 300 fables, each with a plot the centers on animals and a moral that applies to the human reader (3).

Walt Disney made a cartoon-short of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” in the 1930s, but when Pixar got ahold of the story in the 1990s, they turned the short fable into a full-fledged film, featuring a full colony of ants and a rowdy gang of grasshoppers.

Today’s Challenge:  An Awesome Aesop Adaptation

Which of Aesop’s Fables is your favorite, and how would you adapt the story to create a feature animated film?  Write an explanation of which of Aesop’s Fables you would adapt and how you would transform it from a brief fable into a full length feature film.  If you want, you may use the Pixar Pitch template from November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Pixar. A Bug’s Life. https://www.pixar.com/feature-films/a-bugs-life/#abl-main.

2-Aesop Fables. The Harvard Classics 1909-14. Bartleby.com.  Public Domain. https://www.bartleby.com/17/1/38.html.

3-University of Massachusetts Amherst. Aesop’s Fables. https://www.umass.edu/aesop/history.php.

November 24:  Five Ws and H Day

On this day in 1703, the winds of one of the fiercest storms in British history began to blow.  They would continue blowing for an entire week, resulting in 123 deaths on land and 8,000 drowned at sea. More than 800 houses were destroyed along with over 400 windmills.

Almost as notable as the storm itself was the publication of an account of the storm that was published by Daniel Defoe just a few months after the storm.  At the time, Defoe had not yet published his best known work, the novel Robinson Crusoe (See February 1: From News to Novel Day).  Defoe had just been released from prison after serving several months for seditious libel after publishing a satirical tract on the religious intolerance of the Church of English.  His sentence included being put in the pillory in the center of London for one hour on three successive days.

Desperate for money after his legal troubles, Defoe hatched the idea of writing about the great storm.  He didn’t just write his own account, however. Instead, he placed newspaper ads requesting individuals to send him their stories from the storm.  Although there were newspapers at the time, the type of objective news reporting we associate with journalism today was non-existent.  Defoe’s book The Storm is seen today as a pioneering work of journalism, containing approximately 60 separate first-hand accounts of England’s great tempest (1).

In the excerpt below, Defoe recounts a grim anecdote of a double suicide by a ship’s captain and his surgeon:

One unhappy Accident I cannot omit, and which is brought us from good Hands, and happen’d in a Ship homeward bound from the West-Indies. The Ship was in the utmost Danger of Foundring; and when the Master saw all, as he thought, lost, his Masts gone, the Ship leaky, and expecting her every moment to sink under him, fill’d with Despair, he calls to him the Surgeon of the Ship, and by a fatal Contract, as soon made as hastily executed, they resolv’d to prevent the Death they fear’d by one more certain; and going into the Cabbin, they both shot themselves with their Pistols. It pleas’d God the Ship recover’d the Distress, was driven safe into —— and the Captain just liv’d to see the desperate Course he took might have been spar’d; the Surgeon died immediately. (2)

Defoe’s legacy remains alive today in the form of six basic words that form the essential toolkit for journalism:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.  Known commonly as the 5 Ws and H, these six words are excellent reminders of the basic questions we should use to investigate any topic, whether writing a news story or an investigative report:

Who was involved?

What happened?

When did it happen?

Where did it happen?

Why did it happen?

How did it happen?

Today’s Challenge:  Searching for Sense with Six Question

What are some examples of the most important events in world history?  Brainstorm a list of significant events from world history.  Then, select one specific event and begin researching the event by asking and answering the 5 Ws and H. Put together a brief report that includes answers to all six questions.  Write for an audience who knows little about the event.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Miller, John J. “Writing Up a Storm” Wall Street Journal 13 August 2011.

2-Defoe, Daniel. The Storm. Project Gutenberg. Public Domain. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42234/42234-h/42234-h.htm.

 

 

November 23:  Jukebox Day

On this day in 1889, the first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. Although it is somewhat of an anachronism today, the jukebox was one of the key influences on music and culture throughout much of the 20th century.

The idea of a coin-operated phonograph was hatched by Louis Glass, president of Pacific Phonograph Company.  Glass adapted Thomas Edison’s phonograph, which played songs on wax cylinders, by attaching four stethoscope-like tubes for listening.  Each tube was individually activated by the listener inserting a nickel.  In fact, the machine was first called the “nickel-in-the-slot player.”  The term jukebox did not enter the vernacular until the 1940s.

The origin of the term “juke” begins in Gullah, a Creole language spoken by the African-American population of the Sea Islands and coastal region of the southern United States.  In Gullah “juke” means “disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.”  Before the term was used for a coin-operated music box, it applied to a “juke joint,” a common term for a saloon or tavern.  Because these types of establishments featured “nickel-in-the-slot players,” the more concise term “jukebox” took hold (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Put in Your Two Bits

What would be the top five songs you would include on your personal jukebox?  Whether you have a jukebox or not, the playlist has become a prominent part of a modern culture where music is more accessible than ever.  Brainstorm your favorite songs, the kind of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life.  Select your top five songs, and write a description for each that explains why the song is important to you and what makes it a vital part of your playlist. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Casebeer. Today in History – The First Jukebox Made It’s Musical Debut. American Blues Scene.com 23 Nov. 2013. https://www.americanbluesscene.com/today-in-history-the-first-jukebox-made-its-debut/.

November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day

On this day in 1995, the computer-animated film Toy Story was released by Walt Disney Pictures.  The film, directed by John Lasseter, was the first feature-length film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney.  Widely considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, Toy Story and has earned over $350 million.

Today Pixar Animation Studios, located in Emeryville, California, is one of the most successful studios in movie history, grossing over $7 billion and winning 26 Oscars. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 have all won the Academy Award for Best Animated Features.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel H. Pink attributes the success of Pixar to “The Pixar Pitch,” a template that provides a structure for the most important part of every Pixar film – the story:

Once upon a time ____________.  Every day ____________.  One day ____________. Because of that, ____________. Because of that, ____________. Until finally ____________.

According to Pink, the strength of the Pixar Pitch format is that it a concise and controlled “framework that takes advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories” (1).  Just as the fourteen lines of a sonnet seem to be the best package for a message of love, the six-sentence template of the Pixar Pitch is the perfect way to deliver a packaged plot.

Today’s Challenge:  The Six-Sentence Sell

What story would you tell using the Pixar Pitch as your template?  Try your hand at creating a narrative that uses the six-sentence structure of the Pixar Pitch.  Imagine that you are making a pitch for the next Pixar feature.  If you are working with others, have a contest to see who can come up with the most compelling pitch. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Pink, Daniel.  To Sell Is Human. New York:  Riverhead Books, 2012: 170-174.

 

November 21:  Invention Day

On this day in 1877, Thomas Edison announced his latest invention, the tinfoil phonograph.  Edison, who held over 1,000 patents, came up with the idea of the phonograph while working on his telephone transmitter.

Working with his machinist John Kruesi, he constructed a machine with a grooved cylinder which was mounted on a long shaft.  Tin foil was wrapped around the cylinder.  Using a hand crank to record on the tin foil, Edison’s first recording was a nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  After playing the recording back and realizing that it worked perfectly, Edison was amazed but cautious.  He said, “I never was so taken back in my life.  Everybody was astonished.  I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”  Today we know Edison for the lightbulb, which came about in 1879; however, it was the phonograph that boosted Edison’s reputations as a great inventor. Edison continued working on improving his phonograph, and in 1887 he produced a more satisfactory commercial model using wax cylinders for recording (1).

Creating the name of a new invention can be almost as important as the invention itself.  Based one of Edison’s notebooks from his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, we have evidence that Edison gave careful thought to naming his invention before its launch, making a list of possible names, most using roots from Greek or Latin.  Before settling on the Greek phonograph (“phono” = sound + “graph” = writing or recording), Edison considered more than 50 possible names; the six listed below are some examples:

Brontophone = Thunder sounder

Phemegraph = speech writer

Orcheograph = vibration record

Bittako-phone = Parrot speaker

Hemerologophone = Speaking almanac (2)

Invention For Writers

Like Edison, ancient rhetoricians were devoted to invention; to them, however, invention was the name of the first phase of generating ideas for speaking and writing. Two of the three books of Aristotle’s Rhetoric are devoted to invention, and the Roman orator Cicero made invention the first of his five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery.

Sometimes called prewriting, invention is a deliberate process for discovering the best way to approach a writing task, and the best method is to ask yourself some key questions before putting together a first draft:

PURPOSE:  What is the purpose of your writing; in other words, what is the goal you are trying to accomplish by writing?

ARGUMENT:  What are the arguments on both sides of the issue you are addressing?  Imagine and anticipate what your opponent will say, so that you can construct the most cogent argument.

AUDIENCE:  What do you know about your audience?  What do you want from them, and what do they value and care about that is relevant to your case?

EVIDENCE:  What kinds of evidence do you have to support your argument? Do you have enough, and does it forcefully support your argument?

APPEALS:  How will you employ logos, pathos, and ethos to make your argument compelling?

Today’s Challenge:  Inventions Over or Under

What would you say is the most overrated and the most underrated inventions of all time?  Your task is to convince an audience of your peers that one invention is either the most overrated or most underrated invention of all time.  Begin by brainstorming two columns, listing both overrated and underrated inventions.  Then, use the questions regarding purpose, argument, audience, evidence, and appeals to generate the best approach to putting together the text of a successful persuasive speech. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Thomas A. Edison Papers. Tinfoil Phonograph. Rutgers University 28 Oct. 2016. . http://edison.rutgers.edu/tinfoil.htm.

2- Usher, Shaun.  Lists of Note:  An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.