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Let's Try Again


Um, fix your family member "character profiles."

Most that I read were too short, too one-dimensional, and too superficial. "Grace" is the model for this assignment and I expected (still expect) to see writing that was (is) substantive, thoughtful, artfully crafted, detailed, interesting, and voice-driven. Only a few stand out in my mind as meeting that criteria: shout out to Michelle, Marissa, Rizwan, and Sophie. Everyone else: go read their blogs and then re-do yours.

I love you guys but GET IT TOGETHER. You're better writers than this. Just because something is on your blog does not mean that you should slack on it--exactly the opposite is true. AP formers can vouch for this. Invest. Invest in your blog. Write like you mean it. Every time. Write. Don't just park a few ideas there and call it a day. It's not a journal, a diary, a Facebook status feed, it's your vehicle to improve your writing, to take risks, to try out different techniques, "voices," approaches. So if you still haven't added links, played with your layout until your eyes begin to cross and the clock blinks 3am at you, what are you waiting for? Some of you, it seems, are not really getting the point of what we're doing in this class. It seems that you are dragging your heels, digging in at every opportunity, resisting. KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!

Mini rant over. Go write something better than what you had before.


Thanksgiving Homework: Be Thankful for Your Education

Extended Blog Assignment

Later on this term, we are going to work on a narrative that requires some detailed observations you are going to make this weekend. You don't have a ton of AP homework over Thanksgiving. You do have this really fun extended blog.


Oftentimes, on Thanksgiving, family and friends gather and eat and celebrate. It sounds fantastic. Sometimes. You'll learn more about this as you get older, but a common irony of family get-togethers to celebrate is that family can be incredibly annoying and dysfunctional at times. Watch the Thanksgiving film Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, and you'll know what I mean.

Anyway. I pretty much just want you to tell me about your family. Record your observations, tell stories, note traditions. Write a lot. I want you to write a lot more than you've been writing for your previous blog posts. This is an extended journal. Like, you should be writing for at least an hour.

You can do this in multiple posts, or one big post-information-dump. It should be narrative, or descriptive, or in a list, or include pictures--it should be personal and funny and beautiful; but most important it just has to be. This is your forethought, your brainstorming, where you get it all down (remember, that's Lammott's advice, first in Shitty First Drafts--this is your down draft). It might not be the essay you come back to later. Or, you might find it's about Christmas or some other holiday that's not Thanksgiving, or some other thing about family that's not even about the holiday that it's "about" on the surface. 

Tell me about your Thanksgiving. Tell me what you observe this weekend, and then let the reflections that come directly from those observations inform what else you include in your post.

Be observant. Maybe you're noticing secret metaphors that live around your house, like the only pictures your mother hangs are in black and white, or your father is always in charge of the turkey, because it turns out your mother burned it the first year they were married and has been embarrassed about it ever since. Maybe you always play canasta. Maybe you go shopping with your friends on black Friday and only buy presents for yourselves. Maybe you decorate your tree.

Create round characters of your family members: maybe your uncle Jim always wears that yellow shirt with the airpit stains that match the same brown as your grandmother's gravy.

Reflect on the essay we read today: Barry's Lost/Turkeys in the Kitchen. His essay, turns out, is pretty significant, a character- and image-driven piece that defines a tradition and comments on social dynamics and gender roles. Another piece that you should read that we didn't have time for is Grace by Kevin Kling. It's on Moodle and my website. Go find it. Go read it. I bet both Kling and Barry wrote a blog post just like this one before they wrote those essays.


Other work: Remember that you won't get class time to work on your blog study. Because your only other homework is this really fun and awesome blog post, you should be tracking your blog and keeping up with your journals. Don't procrastinate on this. Just don't. You'll regret it so hard come January if you do.

BLA reading.

What else? Happy Thanksgiving! Check each other's blogs over break--comment and joke and enjoy. I'll probably be blogging, too.


BLA Ideas

Remember how you need to find a book to read for term 2 BLA? Remember what I told you about how to find the right kind of book? Remember the criteria for it?

  • It must be nonfiction
  • It must be argument-driven
  • It must be book-length (as in, continuous, not a collection of short works)
BLA does stand for Book Length Argument, after all, so you must find just that. I spent the last ten minutes sniffing around for some books to add to my list. Here's what I found:

Blink, Outliers, Tipping Point (pretty much anything Gladwell)
The Silenced Majority
The New Jim Crow
The Swerve
Twilight of the Elites
The Price of Inequality
What's the Matter with White People
Better Off Without 'Em
The Party is Over
Half the Sky (yes, this is what the documentary is based on, but don't assume they're the same)
The Digital Divide
The Shallows
Eating Animals
The Ethics of What We Eat
Who Stole the American Dream
American Lion: Andrew Jackson
The God Delusion 
The Purity Myth
Culture of Fear 
Nickeled and Dimed
The Beauty Myth
The Body Project

Politics? Pop culture? History? Economics? Food? Digital things? There's something for everyone, people. Something for everyone.

I have plenty of copies of Omnivore's Dilemma, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, The Gatekeepers, Outliers.  And I have maybe a few copies of Fast Food Nation, Savage Inequalities, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Nickeled and Dimed.

By Tuesday 11/20, you need to know which book you want to read and who else is in your group. I will be back that day and I will ask you. There will be a sign-up. It will be great.

Don't hastily choose a book just cuz other people are or just cuz it's one I have. There are a lot of interesting books out there. Look for them. Just remember the criteria and the examples I offered--not every nonfiction book will fit the bill. If there's a book you're interested in and it's not on this list, you should definitely run it by me.



Comic Sans Criminal and Other Font Snobbery

Do we need to stage an intervention? Because we can.

Additionally, please read this post of mine from last year. It links to several things about font and, of course, about Comic Sans. There's a game, some cartoons--good stuff. Enjoy! 

And in case you'd like to enrich yourself with some font-study, go here:

And lest you think font and typography are still superfluous things that we only discussed today because I wanted "something light" to kick off the new term, read this: This stuff is real, people.

And browse this:

You see, there is an entire world of people like me who are fascinated by fonts.

Still more:

Also, offered up for your continued consideration/information/entertainment/indoctrination:

Now, before you get all inspired and go join the Comic Sans Nation, think twice. That's the motto for this week, right? THINK TWICE. The video is not a sincere appeal for you to defend the font, but rather, an indictment. If you missed this, perhaps it needs a sarc mark.


An Update

Some humor for you as you agonize over your grades and how you must wait to learn what they are:
I LOVE GEORGE ORWELL.                   

I'm whittling away at the pile of things this-needing-to-graded this weekend. So don't e-mail me every five minutes about your grade--in fact, don't email me about it at all--it will fluctuate as I enter things. Once things are finalized, do let me know if you see that something is missing, that I have accidentally given you 500 points or 5 points instead of 50 or something like that. Have patience. Go get one of those pretentious, indulgent salted caramel thingys at Caribou. They're amazing. They will wipe everything else from your mind. You will not worry about anything at all as you sip on your overpriced beverage with the fancy name.


Democracy & Rhetoric: 2012 Election

Election coverage is always laced with a certain pomp and flourish, sometimes seeming more like Mardi Gras than a civic event. Lights, gimmicks, confetti, rhetoric--it's all there! Don't get me wrong, it should be a celebration; it's important. I'm just saying it sometimes goes a little over the top.

Speaking of rhetoric, check out the graphic novel rendition of the 2012 election: The American election in graphic novel form

Clever animations and selected dialogue clearly shape the message. 


Culture Warriors

 Get in touch with your inner warrior--costumes are 50% off!

Some of you were wondering about who owns the media and how it is possible for so few to own so much. Freepress gives a nice overview of who owns what in different categories--note that Bain Capital shows up in there. But if you'd like a more objective take on it, consult the Pew Research Center --there's a wealth of interesting material worthy of a few minutes (or hours) of mouse-clicking.


Food for thought, as you begin freaking out about your BLA-final-as-blog-post:

Remember that Bauerlein is casting a wide net when he's describing a generation as dumb, civically illiterate, and apathetic about it. Are there certain areas of his argument that weigh on you more than others? If you're a lover of classical music, does pop music or autotune irk you? If you are drawn to art --Rembrant, Degas, El Bosco, El Greco, Modigliani, Matisse, Brueghel, Pollock-- do you resent the sentiment that art in the schools is supplemental and elective, not core? Does is matter whether we know the Bill of Rights, what the Magna Carta is, who the first or fortieth president was? Or does it just matter that we care to access that information when we need it? Apart from obviously being defensive because you are clearly not dumb, can you entertain his argument in some capacity that is relevant to you and your life? Are there certain cultural practices and traditions that are under siege that we must pick up our spears and defend? Whose job is it to defend them? Are you a cultural warrior? Am I? Are your parents? Where does the responsibility reside? What are you willing to defend?

No, these questions are not part of your official assignment, but as you comment on the effectiveness of Bauerlein's argument (which is part of the official assignment) I do want you to consider these positions or ideas.

In reading this book for the third time, I find that the onslaught of facts and figures is no less cumbersome, and the argument at the core of the book no less provocative. Being under 30 myself, I fall under his broad banner of dumbness and can pull from my own experience many points on both sides of this argument. Sure, I enjoy some trashy television, I can sing along to some terrible pop songs, I'm regularly on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, various comics, and whatever else I happen to find on the internet. But I also read actual books, pay attention to the news, and yes, visit museums. I have stood on the lawns of Monticello, looking out at the still, mosquito-pocked Potomac, cloaked in the mid-Atlantic's August. I have knelt on the blood-soaked grounds of Gettysburg, and touched the wounded trees there. I have enjoyed the performance arts in my patronage of ballet, opera, and theater. I have attended political rallies, I take my civic duty to vote seriously, I donate to charities that meet my criteria of ethical responsibility. I would--and do--defend these elements of our "rich American culture" (and to think more broadly, our rich, human culture) that Bauerlein laments is lost on today's youth (which, remember, includes me) even though I watch SNL and Modern Family, and maybe worse things like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (though I don't actually watch that hideous show) instead of reciting monologues from King Lear to Winnie and Lola.

So my point is that you should obviously strive to be well rounded and amazing like me it's not necessarily all or nothing. There is room for both entertainment media and information media, room for both smutty, top-selling books, and the so-called classics, room for Family Guy and Masterpiece Theater. But, of course, not everyone seeks that balance.

So do I think the future is "dim" as he does? Well, maybe sometimes, but generally I'm optimistic that enough people care about this stuff too. Maybe we won't devolve into an idiocracy after all.

Furthermore, there is the issue of frontal lobe development and it's bearing on conscience, altruism, and self-actualization. And it isn't until one reaches the upper twenties that one's frontal lobe is fully developed. Thus, Bauerlein's argument is, and will be forever, conveniently true, because, until we care, we don't.*

*Though I am not suggesting there aren't other factors, of course. Nor am I suggesting that we can use but my brain isn't fully developed yet as an excuse to indulge ourselves in stupidity.