Saturday, February 18, 2017

IT'S ALL QUITE ELEMENTARY...

Currently, in our year 1 IB Language and Literature Diploma Program class, we are reading through various short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, while several of our year 2 scholars are completing their Individual Oral Commentaries on these works, as well.  While there are many things that make Edgar Poe especially intriguing, one big thing is that he is aptly named "The Father of the Detective Story."  As Americans, we can be quite proud to be the country of that particular "first" in literature.   While the Scotland born Doyle may be the proud creator of the most popular literary detective,  it is the American author, Poe, who ultimately inspired him; yes, he is the first to take up the pen and the risk in writing the stories centered around Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, thus creating a whole new genre of the Detective Story.

Some of the most serious public figures of our time, from Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill to W.B. Yeats have been addicts of this form of fiction.  Millions of people all over the world are avid fans of the television dramas and movies that fall within this designation (as a forever addict of Law and Order, I am here to tell you, it is very serious business...I admit freely that my love of this genre may be said to border on obsession!)  We know through our studies of Poe and his own strange, mysterious and in many ways tortured, too short life communicated through Dupin something of his own ratiocinative intensity.  Despite the spider web level of complexity through which Poe weaves his tales, the detective story stuck fast.  The public cried out for more, and at Poe's untimely death, there were plenty of other gifted and creative minds to take up the pen and answer their demands.  The detective story has held fast to our imaginations, even through two decades of great wars, and has become, through its own series of evolution, more popular than ever before!

What's not to love about a good Detective Story?  EVERYBODY is suspect!  All the characters,
majors, minors, and those that fall upon a couple pages in between play a potential role in the perpetration or solution.  The streets of the various settings are full of lurking agents whose allegiances we simply cannot fully know.  Nobody is guiltless, and nobody is safe...a perfect formula for suspense!  We are walked through the various clues - too much information is given, and like the detective, we, the reader, must sift through it ALL.  No more does our reading become merely an escape from our lives and realities: we are active, we play a role!  Both left and right brain are engaged as we seek to untangle the mystery and crime along with the brilliant mind of the protagonist.

*Author Joe Bunting offers two theories as to why people love the Detective Story and why it is a genre that is firmly fixed and here to stay:

1.  People Love Puzzles.  "Murder mysteries and Detective Stories are the only genre of literature which consistently offer the chance to figure out the story for yourself.  Puzzlers LOVE to catch the killer before he/she is revealed.  Detective stories are not just tales, they are games and puzzles.  They offer a unique brand of excitement."

2.  People ARE Puzzles.  "In no other genre does a team of people expend such energy to understand the identity of one person.  We usually focus on the murderer, but it is really the dead who are the stars for one last moment.  To solve the murder, the detective must know the victims' history and their motivations.  They have to find out no only who killed them, but why and how.  In looking for the killer we have to discover the soul of the one killed first.  The murderer is, therefore, not the only one on trial.  Detective stories give us a glimpse into people we would never get in real life."


I love a good detective story, and because I do, I am very grateful to  Edgar Allan Poe, and all those who followed and kept that genre alive, on the page and on the screen. I often wonder what he might think if he could come and see ALL the great works of mystery his own life's work inspired??

 Just for fun, I have below links to several trailers for some of the best and most famous crime shows and even one video game (with two links) inspired by Poe's great first detective.  The first is a tour of the set of my favorite, Law and Order, led by Jerry Orbach (my favorite Law and Order Detective) featuring Jesse Martin (my other favorite detective) and Sam Waterston (my favorite L and O attorney).  Enjoy a few of them, and then comment...

1.  What is your favorite detective show, book, story, or movie and why do you like it? 


2.  Which of the trailers did YOU find most interesting?

When it comes to the Great American Detective Story, it's truly elementary, my dear DP scholars:  we owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, whose own life and death reads like many of the mysteries he wrote and inspired....









Law and Order Tour:  https://www.youtube.com/watchv=9RJQghAf95Y&index=3&list=PL7FUsYBdSKVynvO4qU-RNnh36tNmBVlbO

C. Auguste Dupin Video Game:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vtycPqw4l4  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xDE3MNSSiM

The Raven Movie-(a Mystery featuring Poe as detective):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuireoKBiC0

Sherlock Holmes Series, BBC:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B89DeXZ7mhc

Sherlock Holmes Movie:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7nJksXDBWc

Columbo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8-tBxALvyA

Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZfKF8SwEw

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI6Y7is723A

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysterieshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aEqGHISwqk

HBO's True Detective:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXG1netn9_g

(    *Bunting, Joe.  "Why People Like Detective Stories."  The Write Practice Blog:  http://thewritepractice.com/detective-stories/)

Monday, January 23, 2017

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: In Learning, Language, Life and Love

IN LEARNING


Shakespeare's power of imagination was as fertile as that of any man known to history, but he had another power which is quite rare in the high tech, fast-paced world of today:  the power of absorbing or assimilating the fruits of reading.  Spenser, Milton, Burns, Keats, and Tennyson had a like power, but probably none had it to quite the same degree as Shakespeare.  In his case, as in the case of the other poets, this power of assimilation strengthened and rendered more robust the productive power of his imagination.

IN LANGUAGE

Shakespeare's readers can find themselves caught in a series of implicit choices where, for example, a particular wording or phrasing may correspond to a specific stylistic effect, which is used by the author to persuade the audience.  All of Shakespeare's plays draw on the resources of rhetoric, which is not considered as a mere method of composition, but also a tool to experiment with language. Linguistically, Shakespeare's manipulation of language serves to construct characters, conflicts, and themes.  As readers of his texts and audience members of his plays, we are challenged to analyze Shakespeare's choices at the levels of word and phrase, and at a more abstract, figurative level, specifically in relation to how those word and phrase choices reveal power or powerlessness.  In this regard, we focus on sound devices, such as alliteration and onomatopoetic phrasing, a range of metaphoric usage--chiefly metaphor, imagery, and symbolism.  Technically, we complete a simple analysis of metrical features, such as iambic meter, rhythm and rhyme.  Through the study of Shakespeare's works, we can draw clear connections between the meaning elicited from a text and how Shakespeare went about creating that meaning stylistically.

IN LIFE

Shakespeare never goes stale.  And there are good reasons for that.  Through the years, Odyssey scholars have studied the plays of A Midsummer Nights Dream, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet.  As your experience with Shakespeare's texts expand, so does your understanding and appreciation of the author's work and its connections to life.  Shakespeare has been done and redone hundreds of times in settings as varied in time and place as one can imagine.  Shakespeare had a profound understanding of human kind: our struggles, our desires, our hopes and fears.  These common sufferings and triumphs connect the characters on his stage with those people we meet in real life.  This is what it means to be universal.  No matter how old we are, where we live, or in what time, all boundaries can fade to nothing in a tale of Shakespeare.  As the characters fall in love, so do we; as they grow enraged at injustice, so do we; as they are overcome with jealousy or humiliation, we blush crimson right along with them.  The brilliance of Shakespeare comes through his mastery of the mechanics of the English language to elaborate on his intrinsic knowledge of the human psyche.

IN LOVE

Each year, the English Speaking Union invites students and their teachers/directors who share a love and enthusiasm for the Great Bard to participate in their National Shakespeare Competition.  It all starts in the classroom.  Schools all over the country conduct in house, school wide Shakespeare competitions in which scholars present a memorized monologue of no more than twenty lines.  After the school selects a winner, they are sent along with other scholars across their state, to compete at the branch level.  This time, they present their monologue and one of Shakespeare's sonnets.

The lucky scholar selected at the branch level is then flown out for a week long trip to New York
City, where they are dined, entertained, and have the opportunity to mingle with other branch winners and students of the infamous Julliard School.  The grand finale, however, is that each student gets to perform his/her monologue, sonnet and a cold read on the stage at Lincoln Center in the National competition.  The competition is stiff.  Every scholar brings with him or her a uniquely brilliant interpretation of a beloved work.  The judges no doubt agonize over their decision, but only one lucky scholar will be chosen as the grand prize winner.  This scholar will win an all expenses paid trip in the summer to study at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A second place scholar at competition will earn an all expenses paid trip to study Shakespeare with other classical actors in Staunton, Virginia, including tuition, transportation, food, and accommodations.  The third place scholar wins a $500 scholarship from The Shakespeare Society of New York City.

We will enjoy watching the winning performance of 2016 in class.  But for our blog post assignment this week, we will watch an inspirational educational video by the creators and actors of the Oscar award winning film, Shakespeare in Love.  I promise, you will enjoy it!  It is about 45 minutes in length, so allow for some time to put your feet up, brew some tea or hot chocolate, and enjoy!  (There are two possible links--they are both the same.)  It looks at the life and art of William Shakespeare through the lens of his play, Romeo and Juliet.  For your post, please comment on the story, what you learned and anything specific that impressed you, and then see how it all comes together at the end:  summary, poetry and then...the color!  I promise, it will be worth the time...for, as we know, "Never was a story of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo..."





Wednesday, January 4, 2017

THE NEXT GENERATION...

Today's generation.  The Millennials.  "Worst generation ever."  "The ME ME ME Generation." There are many commentaries on those born from mid-80s to 2000, and frankly, none of them are very positive.  Honestly?  As a parent of three millennials, myself, I find it very disconcerting and I don't like it.

There is a lot that goes into "creating" or "molding" a generation of people:  Their parenting, their environment,  their education and coaching and training.  I would say that if we put down a generation for their failures or lack of "gumption," we really need to point that finger back at all of ourselves.

Whether you are happy or disgusted with our most recent election results, it definitely put a big
mirror up to all of us:  who we are, where we are going, and how we cope with it all. Universities called off classes and set up cry rooms.  People took to the streets and vandalized and looted businesses.  Others refused to accept the results or the new president even before inauguration because it was not what they personally wanted.  But I would ask the question: what does that say about us?  I was taught growing up that learning to lose gracefully is one of the biggest lessons to be learned about winning.  But in a society where participation trophies are awarded whether you win or lose; in a society where you are told you are special, in general--with no specifics--just "you are special"; in a society where so many of us fear giving any form of constructive criticism because it may hurt someone's feelings, what are we really accomplishing?  Who is really responsible for the negative qualities we point out in this generation, and what are we doing about it in the business/corporate environment, or otherwise known as "the real" world?

A video of an interview with Simon Sinek was sent to me by a friend recently, and honestly, I believe it really nails the Millennial "problem."  Instead of whining and complaining about the next generation, it offers an explanation for how it all came to be and a possible solution.  I have often told many of you that while it was harder, I am so grateful to have grown up in a society before cell phones and computers.  You know what?  I was surprised that many of you told me that you wished you had, too!  That makes me sad.  It is not ANY generations' fault what time or environment they are brought into!  Frankly, it is more the fault of those who bring up that generation: what sort of boundaries are we creating?  What sort of guidance and teaching are we offering?  What example are we setting?  Do we allow our kids to experience the agony of defeat from time to time, or do we rescue them?  Do we put limits on their technology access and use, or do we just give up and let them use their technology to keep themselves busy and out of our way?  Do we teach our kids that learning and growing involves making mistakes and seeking out constructive criticism for ways to improve, or do we just give them a blanket "you're special and perfect?" Do we offer, instead, specific praise for their gifts and acknowledgement for what they really do well, and advice for areas in which they can improve?

I would love to get YOUR feedback.  Where do you see a need for personal growth?  What are your goals?  What do you think you do well....specifically?  Who are the classmates you admire, and for what?  THIS is where it starts.  I want to say as a member of the previous generation, I am sorry for the ways that WE have failed YOU.  We all need to work together to make this world a place we can all learn, grow, fall down, and get back up again in...a place where we can learn to interact with each other, to endure awkwardness, and to find time to just think and create and be innovators!  What a great goal for 2017!

Please watch this video all the way through, and give your feedback, as well.  I look forward to your posts!
1.  Where do you see a need for personal growth?
2.  What are your goals?
3.  What do you do especially well?
4.  Who are 1-3 classmates you admire, and why?
5.  Reaction to video...what hit you, what felt true, why?

I think we can make millennials a truly GREAT generation that can climb the mountains of challenge willingly, with true grit, and bring a lot of bright innovation into the world!!

Video Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU

Monday, December 19, 2016

THE WAITING GAME

PATIENCE IS POWER.

Patience is more than just waiting.  Patience is restraint when you are provoked and hope when you are low.  It is about striving to get up no matter how far you have fallen.  And to do it without hurting others.  It is a means of purifying your heart...

Many of us feel like we spend a majority of our lives waiting and longing for what comes next.  We wait in line to ride the roller coaster, to pay for the groceries, to taste our lattes.  We wait for our food to be delivered to the table, the day we can get our driver's license, that text or call from someone special.  We wait for that college acceptance or (gulp) rejection letter.  We wait for healing when we are sick, that special vacation when all is well.


We wait for our father, mother, sibling, son or daughter to return from duty in places faraway.  We wait to be noticed...chosen...loved.  We are always waiting for the next season, hoping better things will come once we graduate, give our lives to a career worthy of of our talents, find that perfect person to marry, and then we wait to start our own families.  We live in an age that caters to our impatience: instantaneous overseas communication, overnight shipping and microwave ovens, fast food and fast tracks.  We are constantly looking forward to the next best thing, hoping to get through the now so we can get to the "then."

But is holding out for what's to come the smartest strategy?  We all want to live meaningful lives full of experiences and accomplishments we can be proud of.  We want a story to tell our grandchildren. But many of us fail to recognize that the best moments are the ones happening...
Right now.

Maybe the best time in our lives isn't ahead of us or behind us.  Maybe it is actually somewhere in the in between.  Maybe the "mundane" is really what it means to be alive.  Maybe we have an incredible opportunity to make of it what we will--to resent its lack of adventure or simply rejoice in the beauty of taking a moment to relish our next breath.

Real life doesn't happen on the big screen.  Sometimes, it's boring.  Sometimes, it is lackluster.   And as hard as we may try to hurry it all up, we are still often stuck in the waiting game...those less than remarkable moments.

So, what do we do with those?

We learn to embrace the wait.  We fall in love with the in-between, relishing those interruptions
instead of resenting them.  And in doing this...in allowing ourselves these moments to wait, we might just learn a few lessons that strengthen and nurture our souls.

When we are forced to slow down, we are reminded of the truth: we are not in control. Whether stopped at a light, stalled in a line, or put on hold, we can let it tie us into knots of anxiety, or we can accept that we cannot live in the past or the future; all we have is the right now, so we may as well take our time!  Waiting is not a detour, it is a very important part of the journey.  We need to learn to appreciate the space in between Point A and B.  After all, it is in this space that we grow.  It may happen slowly--almost painfully so--but one day, we will wake up and be amazed at the distance we have come!

Waiting can be about much more than waiting, and it can certainly involve more than the digital pacifiers we carry around with us.  We need to reframe waiting as an opportunity to disconnect from the task driven part of ourselves that craves stimulation and reconnect with the other, quieter part that longs for stillness, peace and reflection.  Maybe we can start to think anew about waiting as the space between the notes of music, a deep breath after a steep climb, a blank page dividing the chapters of a book, a patch of green in a towering, grey city.

In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, we are currently in a season of waiting.  Only one candle at a time may be lit on the Menorah and advent wreath.  Both holidays commemorate a "waiting" for a miracle, and both require a great measure of faith, hope and love and patience.  What better time then to stop and think? To create and capture rather than consume?  To work out unresolved issues and let yourselves daydream and take in the surroundings of right where you are?

Trust the wait.  Embrace the uncertainty.  Enjoy the beauty of "becoming."  Because when nothing is certain...

Anything is possible! 


Please enjoy this very special story/lesson on patience:  http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/story-one-taxi-driver-will-change-entire-day/

Then take some time to tell me what you thought.  What was the hardest thing you have ever had to wait for?  Did you learn anything in having to wait?  What was it? 

I wish you ALL a very Merry Christmas, Happiest of Hanukkahs, and most wondrous of holidays! 

  




Sunday, November 27, 2016

A FEW OF YOUR FAVORITE THINGS...


Right now, one of the big trends on facebook is the gratitude posts.  People will post something for which they are grateful each day and then number the days.  I love the idea.  I think that in this world with all of its choices, daily stresses, and, well, just everything on the news everyday, it is a good way to refocus, reset, and empower ourselves with all the many positive things and blessings we have in this country and community.

A relative of the gratitude post is the list of "My Favorite Things."  Making such a list of the things you hold most dear can provide a springboard for a gratitude list.  It is the perfect time at the beginning of the year to direct your mind to those things that are positive in your life--those things that make your heart happy.  In one of my favorite musicals, The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family governess, Maria, even sings about her favorite things to help the eight children in her charge refocus their fears on a stormy night to think of things that make them smile...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IagRZBvLtw

So, here are the rules for this week's post:  Make a list of your 25 most favorite THINGS.  The key word is THINGS.  No people allowed on your list.  That removes the pressure you may feel to name every family member and friend.  People and things should never be categorized together.  People come first.  This list is much more light-hearted.

It was REALLY tougher than I thought to narrow it down to 25 for me (initially, I was afraid I would draw a blank!) but here is what came to mind first for me.  If you get stuck, go back and listen to Maria's song again, or review my list for inspiration, but really try to just take pen to paper and write what comes to your mind first.  It will probably be the most honest answer.  :)

Let's start the Christmas Season off with a list of all the things we love...those things for which we are most grateful.

Your soul will thank you.

MRS. CARAWAY'S FAVORITE THINGS...(in no particular order)

1.   Cathedral bells
 2.  Classical/Romantic piano music
3.  Fire places and how it feels to sit next to them on a cold day or evening
4.  Christmas Eve
5.  Ireland - the most beautiful country I have seen to date, and the loveliest people!
6.  Big Ben in London, and the view of it from Westminster Abbey
7.  The walk along the Seine from Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame in the autumn.
8.  Hanalei Bay & Secrets Beach (Kauai)
9.  WW2 History
10.  Handwritten letters with wax seals
11.  Romeo and Juliet  (and Shakespearean language)
12.  Books, movies and plays that make me cry, for joy and sadness (I can watch Phantom of the Opera over and over and over again)
13. Things that sparkle (candlelight, glitter, crystals, diamonds, etc.)
14.  Standing on a stage after a late night dress rehearsal...and it's dark, and there's anticipation everywhere....
15. The color red
16.  Reading or writing inside on a cold rainy day
17.  Twinings English Breakfast Tea
18.  The sound of my children laughing
19.  Watching my plays and my favorite plays come to life on the stage with my favorite people in them.
20.  Lacy, vintage dresses and button up boots (the combo of it)
21.  Flowers--especially poppies
22.  My faith (which gives me hope--my favorite virtue next to love)
23.  Perfume (I LOVE trying it all on!)
24.  The way it feels outside just before the snow falls (the sacred quiet of it--like nature holding its breath)
25.  Heroes - the real kind
                                                     



Monday, October 24, 2016

THE LIFE THAT'S FOUND IN LITERATURE....

"When masterful storytelling aligns perfectly with a humanitarian payload, the effects will be felt around the world, transcending genre or political agenda." (Tom Blunt)
What is it about a good book?  It can draw you right out of this world with all of its pressures, problems, demands and reality and into another time, place and existence, until you are immersed and all sense of the passage of real time seems to vanish.  Characters on the page become real, breathing entities - they are your dearest friends.  You are racing towards the end of the story, desperately seeking resolution, while at the same time terrified to see the whole experience come to an end.  What will you do without the experiences of these beloved characters to occupy your thoughts?  There have been many occasions when I have closed a book and desperately wondered how life dared to continue marching along as if nothing had just happened.  Now that I had read that book-experienced those pages-I would never be the same.  I was forever changed.  I am not too ashamed to admit that when I finished The Book Thief for the first time, I carried it around with me for a few days because I just wasn't ready to let go of that story - of that experience.  I couldn't even think about reading something new.  I wasn't ready.  For me, finishing a great book is like finishing a relationship:  you just need time to fully heal before starting a new one.

We have all heard about the benefits of reading.  It inspires creativity and imagination.  It makes us
better writers.  It allows us to see the world through different lenses.  But can reading great literature, fiction, in particular, actually help us be "more human?"  According to a recent article by Tom Blunt of Penguin Random House Publishing, those who regularly ingest good fiction tend to be able to empathize more with others; in other words, you may be be able to acknowledge and understand that other people have other points of view outside your own.  The reason?  Because when you read a great work of fiction, you see the world through another person's eyes, namely, the protagonist or main character.  You get a glimpse into their world and experiences, and are thus able to sympathize with their feelings, thoughts and beliefs!  Therefore, reading good fiction does more than build your imagination, it makes you better equipped to understand your fellow human beings in the real world, and accept varying points of view with more compassion.

Now, I personally didn't need another reason to read good fiction, but articles like this are kind of like those news bulletins that reveal that chocolate is actually GOOD for your health.  It just makes the whole pursuit of something you love a little sweeter!

Enjoy this article by Tom Blunt.  Read it carefully, then post your overall impression of the article. What did you like reading most?  What surprised you?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

And, if you have any great recommendations in fiction, well, go ahead and post those, too!


 

Friday, October 7, 2016

THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH in an uncertain world...

"There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul.  We spend our entire lives looking for the outlines." ~Josephine Hart

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, each one of us is on a quest for truth.  It is human nature to wonder--to seek--to fill the gaps of knowledge, and color in the spaces between the known and the unknown.  We are not satisfied to "let it be" and accept that perhaps some information is beyond our grasp.  It is what makes life frustrating and wonderful.  It is what makes us pathetic and extraordinary at the same time.

We are seekers.

And thank goodness we are.  If we weren't, polio would still plague us.  The world would be flat.  Lands and islands would remain undiscovered.  We want answers.  We want to be able to look into the looking glass and see not the murky image but the real one.  We are searching for the truth.

Whether it's the Truth with a capital T or the truth about something specific, it is the same general concept.  Every subject you take in school supports this search:  What really happened on December 7, 1941 and what were the events that led up to it?  What is the answer to this mathematical puzzle, or what steps did Einstein take to derive his theory of relativity?  What is the author really trying to tell us in this passage, and does this symbolize anything profoundly universal?  We want the answers, and we want them to make sense to us.  We want to know, once and for all.  

Schools seek to teach us not only how to uncover "truth," but how to recognize when something might be masquerading as truth.  It starts early--some might argue too early--in elementary grades when we try to identify the differences between facts and opinions.  We try to define both--put them into a neat little box--so we can easily and quickly recognize both and decipher their differences.  

But...that begs another question...can "truth" be characterized in this way?  Can opinions also be facts?  What about morals and ethics?  Are they facts?  According to many dictionary definitions, they are not. So if our notions of right and wrong cannot be characterized as truth, but merely opinion, then why was the world so outraged recently when a cartoonist was brutally murdered because someone did not like what he had to say?  What right do we have to point fingers if "Murder is wrong" is a moral opinion, not fact?

So much to sift through.  I would like to challenge you to read this opinion article recently submitted to the New York Times.  Not only is it an excellent  piece of persuasive writing, but it also challenges the way we define truth and differentiate truth from opinion.  After you read, please answer the following questions:  1.  What, if anything, is wrong with the current distinction between fact and opinion?  2.  Is there such thing as "moral truths" or does everything that is classified as a moral or belief indicate opinion only?  3.  Is there such a thing as truth?  How do we recognize it? 
Maybe the search for the truth will always remain just that:  a search.  As the quote indicates at the top of this post, maybe truth is eternal.  Therein lies the quandary:  

We are bound creatures searching for  something boundless....