“Is there a word for that? When something makes sense in your head but sounds stupid when you say it?…. and DON’T you say ‘blonde’!”
“Is there a word for that? When something makes sense in your head but sounds stupid when you say it?…. and DON’T you say ‘blonde’!”
On Tue, Dec 09, 2014 at 11:51 PM, Nadia PakesLiterally how I feel now that I’ve finished Hamlet. I was hoping that people were kidding about everybody dying. BUT THEY ALL DIED! This is a sad night.
It was one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong.
I mean, the day had started off badly enough–missed breakfast, late to class, failed French quiz (pourquoi, oh pourquoi?!), et cetera. Not good things, definitely, but not huge catastrophes or anything as unfortunate as that.
It wasn’t until the afternoon when things got…interesting. I solemnly swear, hand on the bible, that I had no intention of burning miss Catherine Miff’s eyebrows off.
How does one ever start a fire with a magnifying glass unintentionally, much less BURN THE SUBSTITUTE BIOLOGY TEACHER’S EYEBROWS OFF WITH IT?
It started innocently enough. Mrs. Merrier (who was definitely not called Mrs. Scarrier behind her back) was out sick, and so we had this twenty-two-year-old sub who, let’s face it, knew nothing about biology.
In all fairness, Miss Miff was told that she would be showing us a video. No one warned her that the DVD player had been broken for the last month and a half, and she’d have to give us an impromptu activity to do.
After a good twenty minutes of research on my part and staring at a blank sheet of Geometry homework on my part, we were seated with magnifying glasses, tape, pencils, paper, and our fingers. The point of the exercise was to take rubbings of our fingerprints and examine their differences under the magnifying glass. A somewhat rudimentary experiment that I’d done in second grade, but I mentally applauded Miss Miff for trying.
However, there is only so much finger-print-identifying a fifteen-year-old freshman can bear to do for forty-five minutes, so I, understandably, became sidetracked after a (short) while.
I examined split ends with the glass for a little while, before proceeding to examine my neighbor’s split-end-less hair (note to self: ask Shelby where she gets her shampoo and conditioner. Dang!)
After I absentmindedly played around for a few minutes, Miss Miff came over to inspect my progress on the lab. I’d been done for upwards of twenty minutes, and when I told her this she looked both happy and disappointed: a mixture of approval that I was the first student done with the assignment, but uncertainty about what to do with me for the rest of class.
She leaned in to look over my work. I moved my magnifying glass out of her way. It ended up right next to the window, the sun streaming through it, positioned inches or so from her left eyebrow.
The more she nodded, the more intense the odd burning smell became. What was that? Had there been an accident in the back kitchen again, with the microwave (long story)? Was it… Oy. Her left eyebrow, so neatly plucked, was smoking. In order to stop the smoldering, I hit her eyebrow with my palm, shouting, “OH MY GOSH, YOUR EYEBROW IS ON FIRE!”
She didn’t seem grateful that I had just saved her life. In fact, she seemed downright angry as she told me to leave the room.
So now I’m sitting here, in the principal’s office, trying to figure out what to tell him about what went down in the science room, because “I-accidentally-caught-my-sub’s-eyebrow-on-fire-and-now-she-hates-me” doesn’t seem like the paramount answer to give your principal.
I guess all I can do is tell the truth, and hope the sub doesn’t give me a bad report, because I promise I didn’t mean to hurt her. It was just that kind of day, and I hope she understands.
I lie here, day after day, always in that same ratty old sheet your great great grandsomething knitted. The one with the flowers ’round the edges sewn in green thread. By the way, flowers shouldn’t be green. Maybe yellow or pink or a nice crimson, but not green.
Not that I would know what a living flower looks like. I don’t have a particularly excellent view out the window by your bed. However, I do think the tall beauties which spiral around the window outside, peeping in when the wind feels generous, are indeed flowers. The wind is nice too, soft. And when the trees outside began to dance to the cadency of the wind, the swirls of breeze swell and rejoice in mellifluous melody.
You didn’t expect your pillow to start reciting poetry, did you? Maybe it is high time you started paying attention to things. Things like the color of the flowers. And the sweet song of the wind. And I wish you’d remember to change my pillowcase sometimes.
-Anonymous submission from 9th grade English.
The following is another entry in our stream of Progymnasmata writings. This is my Chreia. An explanation of the Chreia is found at the end of the post.
Mr. Seay, my long-time, easy-to-live-with housemate, spent most mornings outside, watching birds. Mr. Seay is a soul of wildness and freedom; the kind of person who is loved by the world, and, thus, the kind of person who loves it back. I spent many mornings inside, watching saturday morning television of the lowest calibur, mostly because it was so intollerably hot. Mr. Seay’s brother would sometimes join us from Dallas, and would spend the mornings much like Mr. Seay: outside with nature. The two would talk outside while I read inside.
As I look back, I must admit that I feel I’ve missed something precious. While the preservation of my own comfort is not to be dismissed offhand, the finer things in life – spending mornings in the sunshine with friends and wildlife – should not be subordinate to personal comfort. I have read as much from numerous great minds. Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind, and if I had a quote handy, I would relate it, but one just has to see the picture of Ol’ Theo riding a moose to know that he always took the more difficult road, and benefitted from it.
I am determined to spend my time more fruitfully as I move into a new season. Unless, of course, it’s over a hundred degrees outside. That’s just ridiculous.
It exploded, feathers everywhere. I swore to myself this was the last time the chicken launcher 3000 would fail. I pulled on the welder’s mask and set back to work. Wire here, solder there, a few drops of oil on this, a few drops of blood on that. Through the night I worked on and on, until finally it was ready. I took another vict… I mean subject from the case. He went into the cannon, clawing and clucking. Finally, it was loaded. I stepped up and flicked a switch. A loud bang and a shower of sparks ensued, filling the room with a dark smoke. I saw a dark speck in the sky, and I knew I had done it. The chicken would finally fly.
So my students are working through the Progymnasmata, and I’ve committed (mostly) to working through it with them, side by side. I think it’s only fair if my writing is put out there for public criticism; we are all in process as writers–even the venerated Homer made some mistakes. Thus, in the spirit of solidarity, here is my narrative, part II of the Progymnasmata. You can find the guiding principles for a narrative at the bottom of the post.
Paris, beautiful, princely, adulterating, Trojan Paris was nowhere to be found. Menelaus circled the small arena marked for single combat, sniffing the air like a beaver checking for wolf musk before venturing from his den. He had been hauling Paris from the battleground by the crest of his helmet, poor Paris trying to wriggle free, when Aphrodite snapped the chinstrap and spirited him away to his rooms in sacred Troy. The battleground was empty and tense, both armies afraid that the truce – the winner would take home Helen and peace would reign – had been broken. The men looked nervously and with sympathy at each other, trying absent-mindedly to shake the excess gravel from their sandals.
Aggamemnon broke the silence, “Hear me now, you Trojans, Dardans, Trojan allies! Clearly victory goes to Menelaus dear to Ares. You must surrender Helen and all her treasure with her. At once–and pay us reparations fair and fitting, a price to inspire generations still to come!” It was true; Menelaus had won, but in the pregnant silence that followed Aggamemnon’s demand, one warrior was tempted by fate. Pandarus turned the matter over in his mind. If Menelaus was dead, perhaps the war would be that much easier. Perhaps Paris would shower him with gifts. The greed for fame and gear worked its way through Pandarus’ mind like an irrigation gulley, the quick little streams helping his pride to grow. He imagined himself as the executor of a fine estate, striding through the halls in a purple robe. As he pondered the marble fountain in his future estate’s courtyard, he notched an arrow. The arrow flew, missing the fatal spot on Menelaus, but wounding him in the thigh, and all the blood in Troy and Greece flooded from the wound.
A narrative should include six elements:
Person, place, action, time, cause, and manner. These should look a little familiar, as you’ve probably studied them in this form: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
There are three virtues of narrative:
Clarity, brevity, and persuasiveness.
The first two are often at odds: sometimes you must sacrifice brevity for the sake of clarity, and vice versa. The way to accomplish both at once is two fold: excellent writing style, which only comes with experience and reading, and vocabulary, which can be trained. One word can often do the job of several, e.g.: “He was really, totally mad,” can be, “He was furious”.
The last virtue, persuasiveness, seems to me to mean that your story has the intended effect in its audience. Sometimes you simply want your audience to believe and understand the story so you can tell them something else (this is where narrative closely relates to narratio in classical rhetorical form). Sometimes you want it to carry a moral. We’ve all heard this type from the pulpit. Sometimes you want your story to make your audience laugh, or, simply, for your audience to enjoy your story. These are still persuasive in a way. We’ve all heard non-persuasive stories. I call these “Non-stories”. They don’t really have a point and aren’t really enjoyable. When an acquaintance recounts the mundanities of his day without conveying meaning, humor, or anything at all, this is a non-persuasive narrative.
My ninth graders and I are working through the progymnasmata this year. The first exercise is writing a fable that evokes a moral. I have elected to write alongside my students whenever I can. Here is the fable I wrote. Please forgive any scientific inaccuracies (I don’t know if fish have eyelids. Nor do I know if salmon ever venture into the sea. I also don’t know when, exactly, salmon swim upstream. Am I going to go through the trouble of googling it? Nope.).
Chris and Jefff
Alaska, we all know, is filled with crystal streams which are, in turn, filled with fish. Two salmon, Chris and Jefff, didn’t notice the slight chill in the air one September morning. This was probably because they were under water. Anyone who knows salmon knows that it was just about time to start swimming upstream to find girlfriends before the winter set in for good. True, in this temperate part of Alaska their stream would never truly freeze, but it was a good idea, nonetheless.
“You heading upstream, Chris?” asked Jefff as his tail twitched eagerly from left to right.
“Nope,” answered Chris, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. “I’m just going to go with the flow.”
Jefff tried to conceal his amazement, which didn’t need concealing anyway since fish don’t have eyelids. They always look surprised. Chris continued, looking surprised, “Every year we bust our fins to get upstream to find girlfriends, and what do we get for it? Nothing but trouble. Not only are we tired, but we have to deal with the womenfolk. Not this year. I’m headed out to sea.”
Jefff, looking amazed, wondered at his friend and, after twenty minutes of fruitless rhetoric, decided to leave him be. Chris always had crazy ideas.
So Chris went to sea, thinking all the while how smart he was, how surprised he looked, and how pleasant it was to go down stream. Once he reached the ocean he started to think how salty it was, then how large that fish was. Then he wondered how a fish could ever grow such large teeth. Then he was eaten.
Jefff, on the other hand, worked intrepidly for his own sake, and that of his species, swimming dutifully upstream. He spent his time thinking how difficult the going was, and thinking about how he was such a hard worker and such a well behaved salmon. As he leapt from one pool to the next, higher up, though, he was snatched by a bear that devoured his dutiful little fish body instantly.
The moral? Work hard or not, we all die. Deal with it.
Have a great day!
I asked the students to write a public service announcement that championed a ridiculous cause. The great tragedy of this post is that you, my reader, won’t see the pictures they drew. The one of whaling in Nebraska is particularly fantastic. It has tractors. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites: