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What. No Posts?

Does it seem weird to anyone else that Monday will come with completely new schedules? New courses, new faces, new stresses. I can't quite wrap my head around it. Then again, if this ice-rain/snow keeps on keeping on maybe we'll have a snow day! Doubtful, I know, but they say it's good to dream. I keep checking for your usual Sunday posts and except for a few of you dedicated bloggers, there are none. Not even the send-off posts I encouraged you to write. Do something for the sake of closure. Or don't because you spent the day napping and plan to watch a movie tonight instead because it's between semesters and--finally--you have no homework. I get it. I do.


I hope you will keep writing in some way. It doesn't have to be your blog, you can abandon it if you want to, but keep writing. You have all improved so much from those summer "Why I write" pieces. Your revision essays (after I scared the bejesus out of you and you went back to the drawing board) turned into really good pieces. Your writing is something that will change as you change and with each new challenge, you'll grow just a little bit more. Remember what Orwell said? By the time you've perfected any style of writing you have always outgrown it.

Ah, Orwell. I'm thinking about tattooing Orwell on one wrist and Bitzer on the other. What do you think? JK. But only sort of. Well, only about the Bitzer part. Orwell has about wisdom to offer and has taught me nearly everything I know that it would be fitting. But 

By the way, your vocab sentences were hilarious. I sent a few of the Mr. Motes' mustache ones to Mr. Motes. He enjoyed them.





BLA final assignment due sometime tomorrow (Wednesday).
Vocab assignment due in class Thursday. (You picked this up during final exam funtime, remember?)

Tomorrow we have more presentations and Thursday we have one last thing we'll do together. Any spillover presentations will go Thursday, too.

Rhetorical Analysis revisions are updated in skyward. There are no comments, but if you want your essay back, ask.

MC and short-shorts are in skyward, not test corrections or written responses, or that thing you had to draw. Those things will gradually make their way into the gradebook this week/weekend. Your revised revision essays are a work in progress. I've had time to look at, like, six of them. Be patient. Knowing your grade today, or tomorrow, or Thursday is really no different than knowing it a week from now when grades are finally "due" and become finalized. There's nothing you can do about it anyway. No negotiating. No more revisions. No more corrections. You've learned what you've learned and done what you've done. It's like that cliche about chips falling where they may or whatever. In the end, grades really don't matter anyway. I know your counselor is breathing down your neck about your grades and maybe your parents are too. They are well-intentioned, but only you can really assess what you have learned and what is of value to you.



Some words of wisdom:

"We writers translate the experiences we have been given. Our task is to translate with as much empathy and integrity as we can to be true to each experience. We translate life into the narrative that we create."

~ Terry Tempest Williams

This is what you need to do. This is it. This is everything.

After I made you feel two inches tall this morning, I continued to think about why and how your essays could have missed the mark so much. It's not that you didn't write sentences or paragraphs that mostly offered a coherent experience or commentary on something, it's just that--apart from a few exceptions-- there was nothing really there, under the words, that you were communicating. The so what was tragically missing. There was nothing really at stake in the writing. It maybe mattered to you, but it would never--could never--matter to anyone else. You didn't let it.

Last night, well into the wee hours of the morning, I was reading overly sentimental accounts of such and such, empty, cliche statements about all kinds of things, positions that reflected obviously limited and selfish perspectives, and essays that were just not essays at all. They were stories, some of them. Stories about this one time when or this person who, without any real connection to anyone or anything outside yourself. In re-reading your mission statements I'm realizing that you did not or could not see beyond the scope of your idea for a way to say something important--to translate your experience--to craft the narrative of that experience in a way that another human--any other human--could relate. This was the whole assignment, though: Take that starter and expand it. Develop it. Re-envision it. Make it into something more than it is now. Didn't do that? That means you failed. That doesn't mean you are a failure, though. Just the piece itself. I've written failures. Everyone has. I once wrote this terrible "analysis" of the symbolism of light and "whiteness"--whatever that means-- in Moby Dick a book you know (if you've been paying attention) I despise. It deserved an F. I would give it an F. Incidentally, it didn't ruin my life. I went on to write perfectly acceptable things and even the occasional amazing thing. Mostly I couldn't write well about it because I didn't care about it.

What I've realized, I think, is that you either lack the significant experiences, or lack the skills to render them, or lack the interest in doing so. Two of those things exasperate me because I have been trying to equip you with the skills and spark the interest since before September. I cannot give you the experience though. I cannot give you perspective and that is the last and final ingredient in any compelling essay. I also cannot, though I may try, make you care. Skills come with practice, experience and perspective only come with time, but the interest in doing so? That comes only from you. Now and forever. That interest must be beyond anything tangible and extrinsic. If that is not there, your writing really cannot be better than meh. Audiences know when you don't care. They can smell it from afar. Not interested in broadening your perspective to include anything beyond your own experience? Not interested in considering how this thing you wanted to write about connects to everyone in some way? Audiences know it and it slaughters your ethos, and your point--whatever it might have been--is now moot. But I also can't make you less self-absorbed. You're teenagers, that's what you're good at. Even you nice ones.

You know that I like you. You know that I geek out about good writing. You know that I want you to be successful in your written endeavors--and all the others ones, too. But you also need to know that sometimes you make me sad. And that's really it--sad. I so want you to get it. I want you to see that you have something to say and I want you to learn how to say it and then I want you to do that. That's why I teach this subject and not another that would free up my nights and weekends. I also want you to know that sometimes you will work super hard on something (note: hard work is something you have yet to understand completely) and that will still not be enough, but that doesn't make it nothing.

Want to know the secret to writing? The key to our final exam and the AP exam in May? Fall in love with language. That's it. Re-read the first passage on the practice test from this morning. It's brilliant. Figure out why it's so brilliant and the answers will LEAP OUT AT YOU LIKE THIS.


Living for the Weekend or #finalsFML

Boy, I sure love the weekend, don't you?

Well, perhaps you don't love these weekends at the end of the term when you spend your precious few moments of free time tweeting about how your classes/teachers/final projects/tests/etc are ruining your life and/or killing you. Just to keep things in perspective, consider the following (from Hyperbole and a Half):

0:  Hi.  I am not experiencing any pain at all.  I don't know why I'm even here.

1:  I am completely unsure whether I am experiencing pain or itching or maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth.

2:  I probably just need a Band Aid.

3:  This is distressing.  I don't want this to be happening to me at all.

4:  My pain is not f***ing around.

5:  Why is this happening to me??

6:  Ow.  Okay, my pain is super legit now.

7:  I see Jesus coming for me and I'm scared.   

8:  I am experiencing a disturbing amount of pain.  I might actually be dying.  Please help.

9:  I am almost definitely dying.

10:  I am actively being mauled by a bear.

11: Blood is going to explode out of my face at any moment.

Too Serious For Numbers:  You probably have ebola.  It appears that you may also be suffering from Stigmata and/or pinkeye.

In other words, quit overreacting.

Your essay should show me that you have been paying attention to all of the things we have been studying and discussing about successful, effective writing. It should demonstrate your very best writing. There's no getting around that. I know I'm not supposed to say things like that because it "causes undue stress" or something, but we all know that writing does that anyway. By now you know what I'm looking for in quality writing and you know what I will and will not tolerate. (Will: mild cussing and appropriate snark. Not: anything trite, cliche, empty, boring, or ignorant. Note: this does not mean that your essay should necessarily contain naughty words and sass, I'm simply pointing out that those things are not forbidden while crappy writing is.) See previous post(s) and actually go read those documents I provided as resources. If you do not, or if you read them and choose not to heed their advice, I will know. Your writing will tell me; it always does.

Do you know what I want from you? Do you? Think about that for a while. What, do you suppose, is my ultimate goal here? What are my motives? If "torture" wormed its way into your response, you're only partially right. Ha. Just kidding... I'm being 100% serious though, please consider what my goals are for you and for your writing. Your weekend blog post assignment is to write a mission statement for your essay. What is your purpose? What is the point? What are you trying to accomplish with this piece? This is the so what question. If I finish your essay and I look up all quizzically asking so what? you did not achieve your goal. So what if you had this amazing experience this one time. So what if this place/person/activity is super special to you. SO WHAT. As a writer, you have to extend and communicate your experience to your audience so that they give a hoot. So that they see an application of this experience/message/story/argument/proposal/idea/whatever to their own existence. Remember the so what. 

My previous post outlines some other things and reminders. Like that event at the Loft Literary Center. Which you should attend. The night before our final. It will probably be a better use of your time than freaking out about something that an hour or two of studying won't fix anyway.



First of all, I encourage you to attend this FREE event next Wednesday at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I am obsessed with this place. I have never been disappointed by their productions and this one promises to be entertaining. The website I just linked too will also give you directions for getting there and where to park. (Tip: their parking lot is tiny so either arrive REALLY early or park elsewhere.) See you there.

On to the other things:

I have only met with three students about revision essays. This concerns me a wee bit. I really hope you are not making some kind of unforgivable mistake with your essay since there is no safety-net, revision option, and it basically serves as your culminating written work for this class. See previous post. Due Monday. I will collect the original essay and the new one only, not the in-betweens.

Your blog study project is the last grade to go into the almighty Skyward. It goes in the 85% category. It's your last opportunity to demonstrate that you understand how language works. Show me that you get rhetoric. Give us your astute observations and analysis of the blog--all elements of it--and talk about how it all works. What makes this blog interesting/effective/entertaining/etc? Your presentation has to work. It has to be obvious that you know what you're talking about (the elements of rhetoric/language as well as the various components of the blog--content and form) and that you have carefully prepared your presentation. Remember, you should be so comfortable with your blog that you could just show up, pull up the blog and go, but you should not literally do that. Prepare. Have a visual aid for us. Make your visual aid rhetorically appropriate (remember visual arguments? remember font?). Also, use your visual aid/handout. Like I said, we're not going to keep a tally of your ums, but if we think you're unprepared or it seems like you don't really know what you're doing, we--your audience--can tell and, as the magic of rhetoric goes, that defaces all your credibility and then we will get restless and unruly. Just like you are analyzing the content and form of the blog, you are evaluated on the content and form of your presentation. As a rule: never forget your audience.

Some resources for your consideration:

A caution: if you're gonna get all fancy on us, you must be practiced and not lose sight of the goal here. If you're going to play it safe and go with Power point or the Google apps version, or whatever else you might be plotting, you must be practiced and not lose sight of the goal here. Creativity is always worth something, but creativity can't simply replace quality content. They have to go together.

BLA final assignment: Figure out your arrangements for viewing your group's documentary together. If that's impossible, figure out a way to at least have a discussion together about it. There are online "view together" tools that allow virtual discussion as you view. Fine. Do that. There is something about watching a film as a group that cannot be replicated, though, and I want you to experience that. I want you to have conversations about the film as (or probably after) you watch it. What argument does this film raise? Is it the same as/similar to/different from the argument your book raises? Is it more or less effective? What rhetorical features of the film make it so? Then allow your thoughts to simmer a bit before you post your response. I'm interested to know what you think about the book you read and the film you viewed, but you cannot simply voice your opinions. You have to also explain them and comment on what these arguments mean for society (or whoever/whatever). Compose a legitimate, thoughtful, intellectually sound response.

Final exam: I do not recycle tests from previous years so that copy you just paid 20 bucks for is basically worthless, unless you plan to set it on fire to keep warm so your final exam doesn't exist in its finished state at this time, and probably won't until I hand it to you. You can expect it to be fairly similar to the term 1 final, though. There will be MC questions, there will be some writing, there will be some things that challenge you to prove your skills and your knowledge. Weird, huh? A final exam that does these things that final exams are supposed to do? My point: review what we've done. Revisit anything that isn't solidly a part of your everyday thinking. You can pretend to study by leafing through things and trying to memorize terms if it makes you feel better, but that is not the same thing as preparing for a final assessment of what you've learned.


Revising the Revision Essay

First, I hope you didn't waste any of your time today. I hope you gave and received honest, useful feedback. Some of you need to hear that this piece you are working on, as it is, has no point and is boring and full of cliches. It hurts to hear this. It's not fun to admit that the work we have done doesn't... work, and probably just needs to be abandoned. It's not fun to admit that we have made a mistake.

It's great and terrible thing, this writing business. Perhaps you now better understand what Orwell meant when he likened writing to a long bout of some painful illness. It's a horrible, exhausting struggle indeed.

But why? Why is it so trying?

Or maybe more important, why do we do it then?

Orwell explains (remember, the four motives?) this, too. But even more than our motives for writing or the circumstances under which we are to write (in your case, because I'm making you), there is this thing about writing which is inherently self-aggrandizing and ego-centric (I have something to say and it matters enough to write it down and force people to read it! Ha! I am amazing!) and also self-deprecating and other-focused (Ugh, I can't believe I actually wrote this. It's garbage. People are going to judge me. I will bore them. What do I have to offer that is any different than what has already been offered?). We write for an audience. Sometimes that audience is ourselves (with, say, a private journal or diary, I suppose) but generally that audience exists outside of us--it should. Never lose sight of your audience.

Writing goes something like this: You have something to say. You figure out the best possible way to communicate what it is that you have to say so that someone else can read it and understand exactly what you mean in exactly the way you meant it. Or at least a close approximation of what you meant and how you meant it. All writing comes down to form, audience, and purpose. The first thing I taught you is, essentially, the only thing you need to know about writing and must always remember.

It's just that... it's hard. You're obsessed with your own aversion to failure, but (eh-hem, Orwell) all writing is a failure because it's at best a secondary representation of an idea. Turns out no writing can perfectly convey our ideas; we can only get close. But we must strive to get as close as we can. This is precisely why cliche kills writing, why empty, trite, boring phrases which reflect empty, trite, boring ideas are so poisonous to good writing. Not only does that kind of writing suck, the ideas behind that kind of writing suck, too, and are not even kind of close to that initial idea you had--that thing you have to say.

Now, having something to say--having a purpose--is not the same as having a thesis in the five-paragraph-way or the inquiry-based, researchy, MoPro way.  There are different occasions for writing--for rhetoric--for arguments. There are different forms and modes. You know this. You have learned this. Yet, you are acting as if you have never been exposed to this idea before when, in fact you have: since you started that summer prep work for this class. Not every essay is a thesis-driven essay. This is not the same as having a focus or purpose. Every essay must have a focus or purpose. You have to say something. But if you write an essay that has a neat little thesis package at the end of the first paragraph, I will feed it to my dog. 

You have to write an essay that matters in some way, that is interesting, that reveals something. If there is nothing at stake, if there is nothing in conflict, if there is nothing that gets your gut even a little bit as you're writing. Write. Something. Else. Consider the essays we've read together. Remember when we talked about which ones we enjoyed reading? Which ones we wished to model our own writing after? THIS IS THE TIME TO MODEL IT. If you cannot pinpoint at least one essay that serves as an inspiration or mentor essay for yours, that's a problem.

I would caution you against, but will not outright forbid, the following: writing something satiric, writing a proposal, writing a topical "about" essay for, these contain dangerous sinkholes. 
  • Satire is fun. Being all outlandish and snarky and taboo feels daring and satisfying (I should know, that's usually my m.o.) but it's difficult to do well. I fail at it most of the time and I've had many years of practice. You will think you are being clever and wry and all that good stuff, but usually, it just won't quite work, and for this essay, it's just not the best idea. We will be working with humor and satire in these next couple of weeks; save some of your snark and hyperbole for that. 
  • Proposals are nice and formulaic, but require a great deal of justification and research and are often satire (see previous caution) or devoid of personal connection and voice, which are primary components I'm demanding to see for this essay. This does not mean that a proposal couldn't involve interesting discussion of something that really matters--and matters to you, or couldn't beautifully demonstrate your voice, it's just that they often don't because they're inherently more direct and down-to-business. 
  • Similarly, those "about" essays I mentioned can end up lacking personal connection, lively discussion and exploration, or the substantial research that they require. This is not the time to write a persuasive, research-based essay about some hot-button issue unless you can successfully and maturely couch it in something else. Fascinated with insect reproduction? Awesome. But beware of listing facts and sounding like a textbook. You aren't writing a report; you are writing an essay. An attempt at exploring a particular subject. An attempt and deriving some conclusions about something and making some kind of connection to something that matters somehow. 
It's not that you can't or couldn't write about the social hierarchy of the American red squirrel and apply this to some observation you've made about humanity--perhaps about your family, or your peer group,you can. It's just that you must make that additional connection. Further, you must explore the implications of this connection: what it says about us, what it means. This is true of any topic. You might want to write about hipsterism. Fine, cool, go for it. But say something new about it. Make a claim with it.

Writing about your mom/dad/sister/grandma/buddy/dog/third-nephew-once-removed? Why should anyone else care to read it? What are you revealing about this person (or about yourself, or about family, or about the nature of friendship--in which case your essay would actually be more an exploration of friendship than about that person)? What does your essay suggest or imply about the relationships we have? About our priorities? About our traditions, tendencies, etc.?

See? You can write about anything! You just have to write with intention and do something with your topic that matters. And, you know, dazzle me with your writing skills.  

So I kid around and exaggerate and intentionally say things to cause you stress and shock and joy and dismay because that's how we learn: when we're shaken out of our complacency, but in all seriousness we've been together for umpteen weeks and we've done so much and you've grown so much that I don't want to see you sell yourself short by opting for an essay that--on it's surface--appears to be the easier option. That essay is, I assure you, a trap. I want you to write something that you will be proud of. Something that you can confidently say demonstrates your writing skills, your ideas, your voice.

End lecture.


Update: evidently nothing works. Moodle is dead to me and my own site is giving me trouble, so... I resurrected an old Google website. It's pretty much empty except for the four things I want you to read. Maybe I'll add more later. Find them on the "library" page. Here's a link:


This weekend, as you're working on your essay, read the following pieces via "Doubt is Torture" from Writing Down the Bones, "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser, "Heavy Sentences" by Joseph Epstein and "How Long," a memo that should seem familiar to you because parts of it are in the syllabus. Originally written by Wayzata's own, Dave Motes. There are other suggested readings, but definitely read these four.

Write a blog post in which you rant about one or several things that irritate you. Pet peeves, etc. See if you can figure out what is it about this thing that sticks in your craw. Why does it bother you really? Due Sunday 10pm as per usual. 

Maybe visit the blog you're following/studying. Clock some reading/analysis time. We'll talk about next steps soon. 

Collect some words for your term 2 vocab assignment. Don't know what I'm talking about? See previous post mentioning it.

Note: Your revision essay is due Monday 1/14. This means you might get it back before the end of the semester or you might not, in which case it's a good thing you'll still be a student at this school and could conceivable pick your essay up after our class has parted ways. It also means there will be no post-grade revision option. All things come to an end.

Happy weekend.

Oh, here's some more:

[what follows is essentially plagiarized from Prokott's blog, but we're kind of the same person, so it's fine.]

That Inevitable Part of the Semester When You Hate Me Even Though I Am Trying to Help You: ON THE DISCONNECT

Every year as a teacher, I struggle to help students build and maintain the bridge between reading and writing. As a whole, our class is a pretty great bunch of readers and observers. But we haven't yet mastered the skill of understanding that we're reading as writers: that the reason we read the essays we do is so we can use them as inspiration for our own work. That is, when we made that giant map of Bernard Cooper's essay on the board and labeled all the paragraphs and where the images occurred and were reinforced--that's what we do with our own essays, once we reach that stage of the writing process. Crazy. But that's what we do; that's what writers do. If you came to class this week thinking your essay was done, thinking that you could just tune up a few things: you were wrong. I'm sorry. I write this not because of the conferences I had yesterday, but because of what I've seen from writers in the past, in my own classes and the classes of the other AP Language teachers. You. Are. Not. Done. Probably not even close. You. Might. Have. To. Start. Over. Who cares? Just keep going and don't worry about it. Open a blank page and journal. Learn how to ask yourself the right questions and then how to answer them.

Anyway. One thing that is critically important to good writing is creativity. How to be creative and think outside the box and find the connection between what we read and what we write is what we have to figure out. That's hard.  But the first step in generating your own material is, ironically, to COPY. Don't steal, but start by copying. You can't exist in the vacuum of your own work because we read those essays so long ago. I know writing seems like a lonely thing--but it really only is if you're Emily Dickinson and refuse to come out of your upstairs apartment because the dude you love is totes married--so, understand that you are not eerily peering from behind your black velvet curtains unto the rainy, slick streets below, but are actually part of a community of writers. These are your peers, but they are mostly the ghosts of essays-we've-read-past. Orwell sits on my shoulder, and he should sit on yours; there should be a little Bernard Cooper in your ear and a David Sedaris looking back at you in the mirror and a Nancy Mairs whispering what's at stake is this really a language esasy? from your plate while you're eating your grilled cheese sandwich. These writers should be like the "face of Jesus" that self-important zealots think appear to only them.

You are supposed to copy them. You are supposed to have all those handouts and worksheets and hints and tips I've given you all year in front of you. You should borrow sentence structure every now and then from each of them. If your essay covers a similar issue--say, identity--you should be going back to those essays and examining how that particular author organized. Did he use space breaks? How did the essay open? How could I borrow that format but then change it to work for me? This is how genius is born.

Some people say you can't teach creativity, but that's not a very creative approach. I am telling you right now how to be creative; there is no magic creative button. There is only channeling what works, what you love, and then thinking I love this so much I must somehow make it mine. (Not in a Fatal Attraction way, though. Yikes.)

When I write, I pull my favorite books from the shelf and spread them out like a buffet of Christmas cookies in front of me. 
And I take little samples of each: delectable phrases, strong stanzas, powerful sentences, images that sucker-punch me in the stomach or make my skin crawl or make my heart race or make me sigh but in a good way. Those samples give me ideas.  They become part of my own work the way that we carry around with us all of our past experiences and those color who we are and what we do.

The point: STEAL. MODIFY.

I've been writing for a really long time, and I've gone to school for writing for a really long time. All my closest friends are writers, and I write for fun and I read books for fun and every day I think about what could be an essay and why everything in my life might be something at stake that I can metaphorically examine later.

And I still struggle with writing. This is the part of the term where you guys just trust me. Even if I tell you it's not working; even if your workshop group really liked it. Trust me.

This is not the time of the semester where you forget everything you've learned about form, audience, purpose, where you forget that you've been exposed to a plethora of accomplished essayists, where you forget what the whole dang purpose of this class is. It's January. It's cold. It's almost time to be done. But you have to get over it. If anything, embrace this darkness and turn it into your essay. I write my best when I'm really crabby. When the world is so gray and the cold numbs my bones and my hands turn red with freeze rash.

Writing is hard. I don't believe there was ever a day this term where I said: dude, get over it, writing is no big deal. So easy. Nope, never said that. In fact, on the first day of this class, I explained that you would fail in this class a million times and that failure was part of your success. When you hear this you thought yeah, that's for everyone EXCEPT for me. And now you're realizing it is for you. And you. And you.

Yeah, but that doesn't make writing any easier: writing is hard.


Title Case

Some of your were bemoaning the convention of title case -- what do I capitalize? Everything? Nothing? Should I just use a font that's pretty much all capital letters so I don't even have to worry about it? Gah!

It can be frustrating to figure out which words get to be capitalized (thus, deemed important) and which get to be lower case (thus, shuffled over and soon forgotten) when crafting a title, something some of you have yet to master...but more on that later.

Here's the deal: there's virtually no official agreement when it comes to matters of grammar and style. There are different schools of thought, different "camps" that have widely different philosophies of language and linguistic conventions. This isn't license to dismiss all of them and just do what you want because [whine] it's haaaaaaard but rather a fact of reality. Get a style guide to follow in those moments of uncertainty. Look it up. Memorize it. Whatever. Regardless of which method you prefer, consistency is key. Also important is what is required of know, form, audience, purpose? If you wind up with a professor who adores Chicago Manual Style, get ready to learn that set of rules. APA with it's glorious running header is loads of fun and MLA seems to change every few months or so. It's wise to have a general understanding of these different publication styles and wiser still to understand the motives behind them. What does CMS focus on? APA? MLA? APA cares more about when a work was published while MLS cares more about who published it. There's more, obviously, but even the basics can help you remember which requires what.

Okay, back to titles. Here's what we (schoolteachers) usually require of you:

Title case, or up style, is another method. Whether or not you capitalize a word in a title depends on its part of speech. According to most style guides that use title case, the basic rules are as follows:
  • Capitalize the first and last word in a title, regardless of part of speech
  • Capitalize all nouns (baby, country, picture), pronouns (you, she, it), verbs (walk, think, dream), adjectives (sweet, large, perfect), adverbs (immediately, quietly), and subordinating conjunctions (as, because, although)
  • Lowercase “to” as part of an infinitive
  • Lowercase all articles (a, the), prepositions (to, at, in, with), and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or)
For example:
Why It’s Never Too Late to Learn Grammar (all words capitalized except “to,” a preposition)
This handy explanation hails from Daily Writing Tips.  a blog, offering--you guessed it--daily writing tips. Subscribe. As the sample title indicates, it's never too late to learn grammar. Go learn it. It's really quite fascinating.

Or, it's at least reasonably useful anyway.


On Renewal (or something)

Well, here we are. 2013. A new year, full of resolutions and commitments of renewal, reinvention. It's a tradition that we have, this reinvention. We do it every New Year, every birthday, every spring, every new school year, every time we embark on some "new" timeline. This time will be different we think to ourselves. Maybe we genuinely believe it will be, or at least we genuinely want it to be, but it usually isn't. So what? We all excel at goal-setting and fail at follow-through? Perhaps.

But maybe it has more to do with our tendency to get swept up in well-intended, but empty traditions. Our tendency to believe in the media-spun myths of self-improvement. We cannot be content to be content with ourselves. Instead, we must strive for "improvement" which is more likely to mean "perfection" but we know that's pointless so we call it something else. What was that Shakespeare said about roses and their names?

Now, I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with trying to better ourselves; it' good to have goals. What I wonder about--especially this time of year--is our motives and whether they're as productive as we usually claim them to be. You want to run a marathon? Great; start training for it. But why do you suddenly want to run a marathon? Didn't use your gym membership as much as you should have in the last twelve months? Okay, fine, but what's different now? What's so special about January that will suddenly make you get off your duff and pound the treadmill regularly? Nothing.

Nothing is really different. It's just that in the days surrounding our holiday festivities, we're inundated with advertisements for discounted gym memberships and Quitplans and the like. We're encouraged to participate in "commitment days" in which we all pledge together to do whatever it is we say we're going to do. Hoping that maybe going public will keep us accountable. It's a public relations stunt. It's a tradition. It's something to talk about once those other holidays have passed. It's just one more of those things that we do.

And yet, there's something...human, I guess, about reflecting when we come to the end of a time and approach a new one--even if it is constructed for us and rather orchestrated. We learn from reflection and it is through that reflection that we can make changes, it's just a matter of whether or not we do. And that, it turns out, has nothing to do with the season.