Great Writing About Great Writing

“Something has happened to me, something that I must record. I strain to recapture my feeling of purple. It quickly comes, and there I am in my imagination weaving in and out of desolate trunks with my eyes wide open. In a flash of energy, I write several sentences on this experience. But then rises in my mind that amassment of sludge and the doll fragment. I think to myself that I shouldn’t be excited over this season of sordid appendages and squalor. I stop writing. I look over what I have written. It is turgid, hyperbolic. With slight disdain, I begin to mark out extraneous words and phrases. I feel the brisk satisfaction of making lean what had before been bloated, of rubbing off a layer of dirt. In the end I am left with a three tight sentences and the slow-burning rapture of successful creation, the play of energy and form, the beating heart and the mind that’s chilled.”

–Eric G. Wilson, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 46-47

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Notes and Quotes, June 2014

Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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Science: Literature Changes Your Brain

Recently, some pioneering work in neuroscience has begun to suggest what English teachers have long known: that the power of literature is the power of alterity, creating the possibility of encountering the other in a form not easily recuperable, not easily assimilable to the self. “Imaginative sympathy,” we used to call it. To read literature well is to be challenged, and to emerge changed.

–“Dead Poets Society Is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities

 

My Favorite Hudson River School Paintings

Albert Bierstadt

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park, c. 1868, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Park, c. 1868, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

 

 

Frederic Edwin Church

A Country Home, 1854, Seattle Art Museum

A Country Home, 1854, Seattle Art Museum

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It’s All Downhill From Here

As the father of seven children, I’ve had to clean up a lot of gross stuff over the years.  I’ve only been peed on twice, and both times were my own dumb fault–I shouldn’t have been so slow with the transition while changing a diaper.

Still, what happened Monday takes the cake.

Our new daughter was one day old, and I was changing her diaper.

She had just gotten some work done at the hospital, and had a bandage on her heel where they drew blood.  As I started, it came off and she bled on me.  I put a new band-aid on.

I took off the old diaper and she promptly peed on me, and her clothes, and the blanket.  I got the old diaper back under there to get as much as I could.

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Why I Left My Last School

The 2010-2011 school year should have been my best ever: I was teaching at the same campus for the sixth year, teaching all honors classes, and only had classes that I’d taught before.

But by the middle of second semester, I was worn out from constant frustration.  A series of cheating incidents had made me paranoid and angry, I had faced a massive outcry after raising expectations for late and missing work, and I had gone through several confrontational parent conferences due to both.

During Spring Break, though, I had resolved to make the best of it and restore my optimism.  I was grateful for a lot of things about that job: I worked with great teachers and students, my leaders were generally supportive, and I loved the work I got to do.  I decided to focus on the positive from there on out and make the last part of the year the best part.

Then school started again…

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Students as Winners and Losers

I still believe that every student can be a winner.  A winner is someone who shows up every day and works hard, caring about achieving results, even if they don’t often succeed.  You can get Cs and still be a winner.

But too many of you are comfortable being a loser.  Being a loser has nothing to do with talent or even results: it has to do with maturity as evinced by discipline and effort.

Some of you may think it’s rude to label someone as a loser, but I know that honesty can be a higher virtue than immediate kindness.  It’s a sign of a greater caring, a devotion to guiding you to success, even when you don’t care enough to improve.

This truth leads to even more important truths: being a loser is a bad thing.  It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a bad student, and being a bad student isn’t good.  If you have chosen to be a loser, you should feel bad about that.  You should want to change it and be a winner.

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Three John Muir Quotes

I noted these in a biography I read last year:

“The sun shines not on us but in us, as if truly part and parent of us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing…”  –journal, 1872.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”  –journal, (1888?)

“The American forests, however slighted by man, must surely have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe.”  –first line of “The American Forests,” Atlantic Monthly, 1897

 

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How to Get a Letter to the Editor Published

Before starting this blog, I used to vent my thoughts by writing letters to newspapers. I’ve probably had about two dozen printed, but haven’t done many in recent years.

I actually wrote several before I had one published. After that, I hit on the formula, and most every letter I sent after that was printed somewhere.

Here’s my formula:

1. Always start by referencing a specific article or previous letter that recently appeared in the publication. Random rants are the stuff of blogs, not op-ed pages.

2. Keep it short. No paragraph should be longer than three simple sentences. You might be burning to pen an intricate analysis, but it’ll never see the light of day.

3. End with a memorable sound bite: a pithy quip, quote, accusation, or call to action.