Theme, Unity, and Purpose
Now looking at it, I realize it is just backwards: I went from exposition to support to explication to a stating of my theme.
One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.
Mrs Roeber never seemed to let Jimmy go outside, which, to my thinking as an 11 year old, was why he was so smart. Most days after school, I’d rush two houses down the street and get Danny Gannon to come out and play. Then the two of us would go to Jimmy’s house next door. If Mrs Roeber answered, she would always be polite and say something like, “Jimmy needs to catch up on some science work. Perhaps he can play later.” If Jimmy answered, he’d usually be out of breath from running upstairs from his basement “office” and plead with us not to give up on him—or at the very least go out back and talk to him through the basement window. So me and Danny would sneak out back and lay on our stomachs on the pokey grey gravel outside his basement window. Five feet below, Jimmy would be doing his work at his workbench (which, in all honesty, was a pretty cool place). I always wished I was smarter, so I could do his work for him and get him outside to play. I was better than Jimmy at a lot of things, but those things never got graded, and most of those things you couldn’t appreciate until “later in life.” But, to my Tom Sawyer way of thinking, I preferred being outside and average to being inside and smart. Danny was an outside kid, and smart, too, and that always troubled me, but not enough to let it call my inside/smart: outside/not smart philosophy into question. Danny’s voice was always the one that tried to tell me that the sledding jump was too high, or that branch would not support my weight, or those snakes would bite, or that we couldn’t run faster than a nest of bees we just destroyed. Once we got Jimmy outside, he was like a mad scientist: ”We’ll, just have to see how high Fitz can go on his sled,“ or, ”I’ll distract the snake so Fitz can grab it from behind,“ or “Bees have been clocked flying at 80 miles per hour.“ Looking back, we probably seemed like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and we did tend to go our different ways as we grew older, but we always still manage to reconnect somehow, and it doesn’t seem like we are a day older. It’s kind of hard to put into words because Danny and Jimmy might not be the best friends of my daily life, but they will always be the best friends I need. Just thinking of the three of us together is like a window opening to a cool and welcome breeze. And the coolest thing is the window is always there. It might be that the only thing we actually had in common was living next door to each other, but still, we made it work; we made it real, and we made it last. No choice. No problem. The world should live this way.
I have always loved this paragraph, and I consider it one of my best—but it does not fit neatly into the “rubrics” I love to foist on my students; however, it does introduce a theme in a vague, implied, and roundabout way; it does give some specific imagery as proof of me, Danny and Jimmy’s friendship and our crazy boyhood shenanigans—and it does a pretty fair job of explicating why that is still important to me today, and so long as it is, it is still a paragraph because it has theme, unity, and purpose.
Now looking at it, I realize it is just backwards: I went from exposition to support to explication to a stating of my theme.
A mighty book requires a mighty theme
We are born to tell and listen to stories of all kinds, but the most popular and pervasive of these is the narrative story—a story which retells an experience in the first person. Every time someone asks you: “how was school? how was your trip? did you catch anything? what do you like about him? “was it a good game”? … and you answer with more than a grunted single-word response, you are telling a narrative story and YOU are the narrator. The only difference between a narrative story and a fictional story is how much you can play with the truth. The art of telling the story is the same.
Of course, some people tell better stories than other people, but why? The answer is probably because they tell more stories or they read more stories; they are not satisfied with the single grunt because they love and want to recreate the moment as vividly and compellingly as possible, and by the process of elimination and addition they have figured out how to tell a good story. Good storytellers know what goes into a good story, and, just as important, they know what to leave out. They know that a good story, well told, brings great satisfaction to them as the tellers and writers and to their audience as listeners and readers.
Truth be told, if you can’t tell a good story, it will be hard to get people to listen to you when you really want and need them to listen to you, like when you want to get into a certain school, or you want a certain job, or you are meeting new friends, or you are asking someone on a date, or you desperately need to get through that border crossing…really, anytime you are in a position where someone or somebodies want to hear your story, you need to be able to produce—and to produce, you need to practice.
Kind of like I am doing now.
Thankfully, you probably are already a good storyteller, at least in your head. The harder job is to get your mouth to say it like you think it or your hand to write it like you think it—it being the story. Sometimes this means you have to ignore what your teachers may have taught you about writing, for a good story needs to sing and flow with the unique rhythms of your natural way of speaking, which is rarely what a teacher is looking for in your essay. Imagine if your speaking was graded as harshly as your writing pieces? You would barely get out three sentences without being stopped dead in your tracks! Your mouth would be covered in so many red x's that you probably would never speak again--and that would be the end of good stories. At least from you. (Even now, my grammar checker is underlining way too many phrases and words--even whole sentences--with green scribbly lines asking me to reconsider how I am writing. I just ignore them. For now.)
The irony for you as a writer is that to recreate your inner voice into a story your readers enjoy reading, you have to write deliberately and carefully to be sure that it sounds and "feels" like you, and that (at least for me) takes a good deal of editing and revising and reading aloud--something most of us know how to do. We just don't do it enough. But if you do, and if you like what you have created: man oh man, what a great feeling!
Hopefully, I have written well enough that you are still with me, and if you are still with me, and if you want to be a better writer and teller of stories, you will "listen" just a bit longer. As Maria sings in "The Sound of Music" when teaching her gaggle of children: "Let's start at the beginning/ It's a very good place to start/ When we sing we begin with do, rei, me..."
Rule #1: Get your reader's attention--and keep it!
Your opening line is like the opening whistle in a soccer game, the first pitch in a baseball game, or the kickoff in a football game. It creates excitement and anticipation. No one knows what exactly is coming, but it certainly keeps us in our seats to see what is coming.
Your opening line (or sometimes even just a word!) should be an expression of your passion for the story you are about to tell. As Robert Frost once said: "If there are no tears for the writer, there are no tears for the reader." So open with a line that gets you as excited as your reader.
Rule #2: Paint visually rich scenes.
Your readers need to see and think and feel the way you see and think and feel. They are not in your head, so you need to put them in your head using images and actions, which are created using nouns and verbs, not vague thoughts. Brain studies have proven that when a brain is presented by words representing images and actions, the part of the brain that commands motion is prompted into action. This is a great time to use similes and metaphors to help make your words feel alive and real ad make your reader feel the motions of your narrative.
Rule #3: Weave your thoughts into the story
Tie your thoughts directly to the images and actions of your story. No one really likes to hear or read a story that is just a bunch of one person's thoughts. Once your readers are engaged in your story, they will relish your thoughts about what is happening, and, if done well, these thoughts will spark their own thoughts, and not only will they be reliving your story, they will be creating a story of their own; they will wonder what they would think and feel and do in that same situation. The story then becomes their wondrous story, too—not just your story.
Rule #4: The End is a new beginning
Your story may seem to end with the last line, but for your readers, the end is a new beginning full of the thinking and pondering and satisfaction that is evoked from a story well-told. No reader wants to hear or read, "That's it. It's over. Move on." We don’t need to be reminded with some pithy summary that your story is over because we know it’s over. If we are reading your story, we can see it ending; if we are listening to your story, we will hear your story drawing to its close. This is not the time to point in the casket and say, “He’s dead,” as if it is a revelation we need to hear. It is a time, however, to more carefully and precisely craft your words into a final gift to your audience—like a parent, friend, or lover pressing a handful of gems into your palm before you leave on a journey and saying, “Here, take these; use them as you need them!” Your final words should read more like poetry than prose—a final reward of the best your head can create because the story is no longer yours: it is ours.
Every story is ultimately given away. It ends when you abandon it to your audience, and it then becomes a new experience—a new beginning—for your audience, and it is these final words they will mince and chew on through eternity, and so they should be crafted with care; however, remember that you have already given your audience the meat and bones of your story, so you do not need to feed them again with any kind of bland and boring summary.
When I finish reading or listening to a really good story, whether it is a real or fictional story, I get an urge to sit down and think for a really, really long time. The better the story, the longer I think.
Just to be sure...you should make sure that everything you wrote this past week followed the details of each individual rubric.
I am only writing this because I saw a couple of memoirs that were very short ( a couple of paragraphs) and did not follow the details--and it is the details I am looking for!
Before class tomorrow, post your memoir. Make it look good. Do the person you are writing about a favor--really let them know you care.
Beware of the person who can't be bothered by details.
Finally, the room is quiet, and at least to the untrained eye, all of you are working on your personal memoirs. I hope at some point in this assignment you feel that something that a writer feels when the right words in the right place in the right way fall upon the page, and you feel the rush of satisfaction a when writing works the way you dreamed it should.
Use the rubric as you write. As we move through the year, I will not force you to use the rubric--but for now I think you should. It shows me that you are trying to do what I am trying to teach.
Lucky for you guys that Monday is C day--and you do not have class on C day--so the memoir is not due until Tuesday! But that also means that I will be hoping you use that extra time to make your memoir a whamdammer of an essay: Cool title, maybe a quote and an image...
When you are finished with your memoir, post it to your blog, but also save the rubric in Notability as a pdf. You can share that pdf with me on Tuesday as it gives me a hard copy to markup and return to you.
Because I assigned so much writing this week, there are no journal entries due, though you are welcome to write some for extra credit. I do expect you to comment on the writing pieces posted on your classmate's blogs. Commenting is the single best way to help all of you become better writers. Maybe weird, but it's true!
Thanks for joining Schoology. I will try and get your grades up as quickly as I can. I am a big believer in keeping in open gradebook with each of you, so that you will always know how you are doing, and also so you can catch any mistakes I might make in the grading. Even for a perfect teacher like me, it is possible I'll make a mistake:)
I am impressed with your start to the year. Good stuff and good efforts.
Have a good weekend.
To honor the observance of Rosh Hashanah we will push all due date back a day:
Due Wednesday: A "Fitz-Style" Journal Entry
Using the rubric given to you in class, write a journal entry that uses the "Fitz-Style" rubric. This rubric should help you write a wham dammer of a journal post that engages and interests the readers of your blog. You can write about anything as long as it is something you know and love or have experienced and felt.
It is a wise blogger who creates his or her posts in an offline editing program, such as Pages or Word so that the writing process is clear and uncluttered by the distractions of being online. When the writing is complete, the the fun of editing and creating an interesting "looking" blog post begins. During the Weebly editing part of the process, it is usually less frustrating (at least for me) to work on a laptop or desktop possible.
The attachment (if you need it) is a word doc than can be opened in a variety of apps, including Pages or Google docs.
Post your entry before class meets on Wednesday.
Bringing Your Blog To the Next Level
To write well in a sustained and dynamic way, you need to live, think and act like a writer. Writers need to live wise and literate lives that values the development and practicing of sound and timeless writing skills, acquiring a broad and rich vocabulary, and the reading and study of good and enduring literature. Living a literate life needs to be a choice, not a chore; it needs to be a conscious and willing approach to do what writers need to do, and, most importantly, living a literate life should be an unending source of joy, satisfaction, and pride for as long as you live on this small orb spinning slowly wide and barely charted universe.
Many amazing writers are self-motivated, self-taught and self guided, but usually that evolves out of a lack of opportunity to learn and develop with capable and inspiring teachers and enlightened guides. I have taught myself to plumb the pipes and wire the wiring in my house, but I would never presume to call myself a plumber, much less an electrician. I took on those tasks more to save money than to develop a skill. Writing, however, is my passion, my vocation and my avocation. Some people go to the gym. I go to the empty page, and it is there where I find the unmitigated joys and rewards above and beyond an ordinary life with its ordinary days and ordinary pursuits. It is through writing that I see the sublime and occasionally touch it, and, even more occasionally, capture the essence of that sublimeness in the confines of words; and it is through writing that I hope to guide you (my students) and help you experience the rewards of living a literary life.
Writers write best about what they know best. Our blogs are designed to help you continue writing and to create an awesome and interesting online digital footprint centered around your interests and passions. I hope to guide you in creating, curating, and sustaining an enlightened web presence using personal blogs to share and showcase a range of writing pieces and multi-media content--including podcasts, trailers, and video. I can also help you create a published e-book and/ or or print book that, in addition to your blog that will serve as a compelling digital portfolio of your writing pieces, travelogues, artistic endeavors, and personal interests, so when that time comes and someone important asks you what separates you from the rest of the pack, you will have something awesomely compelling to show them! And trust me: that time is coming soon.
Blogging is not just a class assignment; it is a shared writer's experience that is meant to be fun, engaging, and rewarding.
Read this & Comment
8th grade is really the start of your transition to manhood. If you think that only a couple of hundred years ago, when a boy reached your age, he was expected to be a man, to learn a trade---and sometimes even marry and raise a family.
That's a lot of pressure.
For a gazillion good reasons, that truncating of boyhood no longer happens in our modern American culture, but it does not give you a free pass on responsibility; it does not mean you deserve to have things done for you, and it does not mean that we adults can't or shouldn't expect a lot out of you. You can and should start practicing what it means to be a man because willing or not you are flapping your wings on the edge of the nest, and you'll soon fly or fall.
Why am I writing this?
Because I need and want you to take ownership of your prodigious potential, and I want you to take advantage of the opportunities placed daily at your feet--and I want you to enjoy the free fields of boyhood like you should. I want you to think about these admonitions when approaching your work in our class. It us as good a place as any to start.
I shouldn't have to remind anyone what to do. You should be able to figure it out and where and how to find the work you need to complete, and if you are here reading this, you are in the right place, doing the right thing, for the right reason. This should be the only place you need to go to find the work, to view your classmates' works, and to access the resources you need to complete your work.
With that said, I understand and I am sympathetic to those of you who are suddenly realizing that four journal entries are due on Monday, and if you are one of those students who are looking at an empty blog, I will grant you a mulligan--as long as you post at least one more decent blog entry along with your required narrative paragraph AND you comment on your classmate's blogs. If you have been diligent, came to this blog and read and completed the assignments listed on the sidebar of the eighth grade blog, I will give you extra credit.
I have no desire for any of you to do poorly in this class, and I will do my best to help you do well, but it is up to you to step to the plate and swing at the pitches thrown to you.
Click here to view Comma Rule #2 and/or view the video here
I will post an assignment for comma rules 1 & 2
for you to work on over the weekend!
Practice doesn't make perfect" perfect practice makes perfect.
Learning from Mistakes: Writing Prompt #2
Rough Draft Due Thursday
Final Draft Due Friday:
A favorite saying of mine is an old New Englander quote “Once burned, twice shy,” which is simply a pithy way to say we naturally learn from our mistakes and that hard experiences are often the best teachers.
In this paragraph (again 300-350 words) choose a difficult experience from your life that taught you a good life lesson—and share the lesson you learned.
TUESDAY HOMEWORK: Go to Quip and work for 30 minutes on the "Learning from Mistakes" Paragraph Rubric. Remember to use the app on the iPad, not the browser. Here is a link to the document on Quip. Always make a copy and save to your folder.
If you need to use a Word doc, I have attached the rubric as a word doc, which will open in Pages.
You can also view the narrative paragraph rubric here under Resources