Sunday, September 17, 2017


Communication break-down can occur at any time and in many different settings.  There's Group Project Anxiety: everyone has great ideas at discussion meetings, but you feel like the only one with a sense of urgency to get any actual work done.  There's Discussion Frustration:  whenever you engage in a discussion with your group, you feel as if your thoughts and ideas are not valued or brushed aside with no regard to your feelings.  And finally, there is just sheer information overload: why is it that after a full day of school, you feel completely zapped of energy, consumed by an overwhelming need to be where people are not?

We all realize that we are social creatures.  We seek out and thrive within interpersonal relationships. We long to be heard and appreciated, to create and explore.  This is probably not new information.  Rewarding as they may be, however, relationships of every type are complex and not without their
difficulties.  People are different.  Where we come from, our experiences, our beliefs, and our DNA all go into who we are, how we see and interpret the world, and how we communicate.

Many corporations have invested large sums of money on consultants with one goal in mind:  to improve inter-office communication and efficiency.  Where do you begin?  The communicators, themselves!  Knowing who you are helps you to better understand how and why you communicate the way that you do.  Knowing who your co-workers are can help you better understand how to communicate with them more effectively and efficiently.

So, as Aristotle taught centuries ago, we will begin by seeking the wisdom that comes from knowing ourselves.  Here is a link to a personality inventory:  Once you complete the test, you can have your results emailed to yourself and you can read all about your personality type: how you relate to others, how others see you, how you work, etc.

The test takes about 20 minutes, but it provides a wealth of information as it analyzes four distinct areas of personality and then adds a fifth area that analyzes overall identity.  It is created from a combination of the infamous Myers/Briggs and Carl Jung's Theory of Psychological Types.  The four areas are explained as follows:

1.  Introversion vs Extroversion: (I vs. E) This is more than just "shy" vs. "outgoing."  In fact, according to Jung, it is really not about that at all.  It has to do more with where you get your energy.  Do you find yourself getting energized when you are around others, or do you find that you need to be away from people to re-energize?
2.  Intuitive vs. Sensing: (N vs. S) Intuitives are creative, imaginative and curious individuals who are open-minded.  They tend to go with novelty over stability and see/feel possibilities.  They tend to have strong discernment in new situations.  Sensing or Observant individuals are practical, pragmatic and down to earth.  They tend to have strong habits and rather than going with their gut, they are more focused on what has happened or what is happening.

3.  Feeling vs. Thinking: (F vs. T) Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive.  They are more empathetic and tend to be less competitive than T's.  They tend to focus on social harmony and cooperation.   Thinkers focus on objectivity and rationality, prioritizing logic over emotion.  They tend to hide their feelings and value efficiency over cooperation.

4.  Judging vs. Perceiving or Prospecting: (J vs. P)  Judging personalities are decisive, thorough and highly organized.  They value clarity, predictability and closure preferring structure and planning to spontaneity.  Perceiving individuals are good at improvising and spotting opportunities.  They are flexible, relaxed, non-conformists who prefer to keep their options open.

Identity Variables of Assertive vs. Turbulent: (A vs. T)  Assertive types are confident, self-assured and pretty resistant to stress.  They do not push themselves too hard.  The turbulent types are self-conscious and sensitive to stress.  They are perfectionistic types who experience a wide array of emotions.

So, test away, and then....
3.  NOW, as a BONUS, click this link, and find out if you are more left or right brained, and let me know your results!

 For example:  I am an INFJ - T.   This was absolutely no surprise to me, but a big surprise to those who know me, as I come across as an extrovert (SO not true!)   I think this is because I am a people pleaser, a trait I am working hard on to mellow.  I am also a J, but BARELY.  I need to feel organized in my environment, but DO NOT open any drawers!  They show my true, right-brained, messy creativity!  Now, it's your turn!

Friday, September 1, 2017


A very long time ago, in a state not so far away (California), I was beginning my teaching career at a very innovative school in Turtle Rock, a community in the city of Irvine.  When I assumed my brand new position, we had a training in a relatively new program that had been launched by parents and educators that was born out of the "Self-Esteem" movement that had first blossomed in the late 1980s. 

As I learned about the program, and how it
would be integrated into our teaching and classroom management and philosophy, which proposed lavish praising of kids and handing out trophies just for "trying hard," I felt myself inwardly cringe.  At first, I wasn't sure why.  I mean, isn't cultivating a "positive" self-esteem a good thing?  You would think so, but that still, small voice inside of me, you know the one? That sort of sixth sense or inspired discernment that just "knows" things to be true or not, whether or not you have concrete proof?  That's the one.  That voice whispered to me "bad idea."  While I couldn't articulate exactly why at the time, I just knew this was not the right approach to cultivate the dedication and enthusiastic engagement of young learners.

As time passed, I learned that low and behold, that voice was right.  It turned out that subsequent studies showed that kids did NOT try harder as a result of the program.  In fact, it was the opposite: coddled kids became softer, slower, and less likely to persevere.  Why?  Because there was one very important characteristic that past generations knew about and encouraged that was NOT fostered and learned in the process:  GRIT.

Carolyn Adams Miller, an author and speaker on the topic from Bethesda, Maryland, said, "This is not a gritty generation.  They become overwhelmed and stressed easily because they have been protected from failure."(1)  Like Miller, Psychologists now assert that grit, not a positive self concept, is the best predictor of future success and overall happiness.

So...what, exactly, is grit?  According to the dictionary, it is, in this sense, "courage and resolve; strength of character." (2)  It is a passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long term goals.  It is what determines survival of the West Point or Naval Academy student or who makes the cut for the Olympic team; in other words, it sifts out those who can ultimately make it to the finish line of hard goals in life from those who cannot.  Miller says that talent can only get you so far.  It is really your grit that determines whether or not you make it.

In fact, research has shown that grit is completely unrelated to talent. (3) At times, it is even
inversely related!  Those who are not blessed with talent discover they must work twice as hard, and with grit, they develop the skills of discipline and perseverance.   Grit is contagious.  It is inspiring.  It CAN be taught and fostered.  In a Washington Post article, Miller proposed some steps to cultivate Grit, and they largely relate to our thinking and how we view and approach challenges:

1.  When you face a tough problem, don't tell yourself "this is too hard."  Instead, ask, "Why not me?"

2.  When things get hard and you want to quit, mentally change the channel.   Focus on a spiritual phrase, mantra, or image that encourages you on.

3.  Build a team around you.  Encourage each other.  Be sounding boards.  Connect positively as you pursue your long term goals through the achievement of smaller goals.

4.  Instead of offering empty praise and pity in failure, parents should coax their kids through failure.  Point out the lessons and praise the efforts to keep on going through pain and failure.

5.   While it is tough for parents to let their kids experience failure, it is actually the most important KEY in developing Grit!

Back in the 1980s, many communities opted to "soften" neighborhood parks so that kids could fall into a pillow of wood chips.  This seemed, in many ways, very prudent, but as it turns out, it has made kids "softer" as a result.  Creeping grade inflation, allowing kids to take and retake tests that they "bombed," has also shown to erode the development of grit.  Alternately, participation in true, competitive sports and auditioning for roles (and experiencing the disappointment of not always getting the role you want) in theater arts has shown to cultivate grit.

This all really seems to put a spotlight this week on the IB profile attribute of risk taking.  We have learned through hard experience here that playing it safe, and protecting ourselves and our kids from failure doesn't seem to net anything but more anxiety and cowardice.  But taking risks, watching and learning from those who never seem to quit, that will actually encourage curiosity and feeling truly alive.

Nancy Wake, an Australian woman who went to fight with the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War Two, once stated that while she was incredibly grateful the war ended as it did and freedom was restored, she never felt more alive and like she was living in her true purpose than during those long, fearful months she spent with troops of thousands of men hiding out in the forests.  At a time of great danger, Nancy chose not to listen to the cautionary pleas and warnings of those around her.  She learned to fight like the men she ended up ultimately leading.  It turns out that her being a woman was not a "weakness" after all; in fact, it made her less likely to be seen as a threat by the enemy!  Several of her fellow fighters were quoted as saying that having one woman named Nancy Wake was like having "five additional men" in their ranks!

Kids with Grit are finishers.  They are the tortoises in the race that keep on
moving towards their own established finish lines.  You may trip and fall in life.  You may experience heart breaking defeat and failure.  But the kids who ultimately succeed are the ones who take risks and feel alive.  They are the ones who get back up after a blowing disappointment with a sparkle in their eye, and that sparkle? That's GRIT!

Here is a link to a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth.  Listen carefully to all she has to say, and then comment below on what you have learned, and how you are going to apply it to your life.  Don't be afraid to get GRITTY!!


(Footnotes:  1.  Holland, Judy.  Washington Post, "The Key Ingredient to Your Kids' Success."  March 9, 2015.  2. Merriam Webster Dictionary  3.  Holland, Judy.  Washington Post, "The Key Ingredient to Your Kids' Success."  March 9, 2015.) 

Friday, May 5, 2017

WORDS TO THE WISE: Sage advice from our Seniors to the Next Generation of IB Lang and Lit Scholars...

Well, it is hard to believe, but we are almost to the close of another year at Odyssey.  Soon, our second graduating class, the Class of 2017, will be zipping up their gowns, donning their cords, and looking forward to the next phase of their exciting life journey:  college, career, military service...wherever their dreams take them...

They have, no doubt, learned a great deal over these past four years; not just academically, mind you, but also in the realms of life skills, cultivating and nurturing relationships, and learning from both mistakes and triumphs.

It is for this reason that I thought reflection was in order:  reflection that can help our next generation of upperclassmen, juniors and seniors, as they navigate through similar waters and build upon their knowledge as IB scholars.  So, here it is:  advice from your seniors to you...those who have successfully reached the summit of IB Language and Literature in the DP program.  They were the "official first" to finish it, so really take their words to heart!  And to you seniors who are quoted here, please know that I have learned just as much, if not more, from working with you as you did in this classroom.  I will miss you terribly, but I am ALWAYS and FOREVER in your corner, cheering you on, through all of life's challenges and celebrations!  LOTS of love, gratitude, prayer and pride to YOU from me!

Buckle up, here we go...

To the kids who have not yet been through their first year of IB Language and Literature, and those about to begin their second, we have some advice that will help you get through the two years…

First and foremost, DO YOUR WORK ON TIME.  Some credit is better than no credit/getting points docked for it being late. But do try your best. I find it great looking back on my written tasks, projects, and other assignments. You can really see your growth by doing that, so save your work and keep it organized. 

Try to relax and have fun. I'm not just saying this to make you feel better, it's true: I really enjoy DP Language and Literature. Don't make it stressful, and it doesn't have to be. Just do your best, and you'll make it through just fine :)

Although we write many written tasks over the two years, appreciate them.  You get to be creative with them and pretty much have your own structure.  Also make sure you use the in class time.  That is a whole 65 minutes to help get a start on your written task.  The time Mrs. Caraway gives in class helps tremendously, but only if you use your time correctly!

Learn to love "Critical Friends."  Although the first time doing it can be hard and scary, because who am I kidding, who wants to sit in silence and listen to your friends tear apart your essay?  But with all the great feedback they give, it is something you most likely would never have thought to add.  Therefore, you are able to add to your word count and come out with a better written task.

Listen in class.  Although Mrs. Caraway doesn't yell at students for being on their computers in class and for not really paying attention like most teachers do.  The things you learn in IB language and literature build on knowledge that you can use in other classes, at home, and definitely in college or the work field.  We don't just discuss books, but culture, and the history behind these cultures, novels and plays.

A piece of advice I would like to give to the incoming juniors is to be prepared to be challenged because language and literature is not just about reading books or writing essays, it involves critically thinking about pieces of text and applying that into a bigger context.

My advice to the future year one and year two DP language and literature is to not procrastinate when it comes to writing your written tasks.  It is a lot less stressful to write the written tasks in sections.  Also, make sure to actually read all of the novels and plays.  You will definitely be missing out if you don't!

Make sure you're extremely interested in whatever you pick for your Written Task One.  It's much easier to write a thousand words about something you're passionate about.

Put your best foot forward on all of your QPA's.  They may seem restrictive, but you'll learn to love the structure. 

Make a template for the QPA so you never forget the structure!

Always ATFQ.  ALWAYS.  Don't'll soon learn what that means!!

Read books you're interested in for your summer assignment.  Like with the WT1, it's much easier to read a book you're interested in.

Start your summer assignment early.  Don't be the kid who has to spend the last week of summer inside on your computer, writing!


Make sure you mark in your text, especially parts you go over in class.  You might even want to invest in a digital copy of the book to type in notes you take.

If you're having trouble with one of the books, read the chapter first, and then go over the Shmoop or Sparknotes.  Not the other way around.

Ask questions! Seriously!

Try to find ways to see the characters in modern day, it'll help when you are trying to go over their characteristics. 

I want to tell you to buy all of your books during the summer and to put them in your backpacks.  Trust me, if you don't, they WILL magically disappear.  Also, plan out how you're going to write your written tasks before you even read your novels/plays.  It may sound ridiculous, but get a good feel for the book.

As you are entering the second year, make sure to keep up on all of your assignments. Senior year goes by extremely fast, enjoy it, but do not forget about your responsibilities! Senior ditch day is extremely fun, but make sure you have everything ready beforehand, so you do not fall behind.

These blogs are actually fun!  Seeing that I love to write casually, the blogs are a free space to respond in anyway you would like!  There's not a set structure, and you can honestly say anything you would like.

The blogs are easy points!  They will add up quickly and can make or break your grade.  Just do them.  AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  They don't take up much of your time.  Just take the points.

Read the book.  Even when you think they are boring.  If I had a penny for each time I wanted to fall asleep while reading Jane Eyre, I would be a billionaire.  However, I wouldn't have passed my written task if I didn't push through.  The books can be boring, but Mrs. Caraway has this amazing way of talking about the books in a totally different way!  She makes you want to know more about the story, she makes you feel a part of the story.

There is no "busy work."  
Everything that is assigned to you
has a purpose.  Remember that.

HAVE FUN.  Throughout all of my years at Odyssey, I never quite felt like I was having fun while learning through multiple subjects until this class.  Mrs. Caraway is funny, and often lets us discuss things as a class to help with understanding.  We often turn and face each other and talk about our experiences with whatever subject is being taught.  This helps tremendously....
and we almost always end up in a class full of laughter!

So if you decide to stick with IB Language and Literature for the full two years, I promise you that it will become one of your favorite classes!

Now...FUTURE seniors, and those scholars just about to begin the journey that is IB Lang and Lit, DP, it is your turn to comment. What are you MOST excited about? What are your fears? OR, what words of advice really helped soothe your fears or inspire you? I cannot WAIT to begin and continue the journey with YOU!

Saturday, April 8, 2017


To this day, I believe the most incredible speech ever given by a human being is McRaven's inspiring commencement speech at the University of Texas:  "If You Want to Change the World, Start by Making Your Bed."  That has become my favorite pep talk to rewatch - even though I still struggle with making my bed on a daily basis.  Recently, I had the opportunity to read an interview with McRaven and others, and once again, I was stunned.  When training the future SEALS, McRaven said something to the effect that his job was not to teach them things they didn't know how to do. These guys are the best of the best when it came to physical conditioning and athleticism.  His job was to push them beyond that forty percent.

What does that mean?  Well, earlier in the interview, McRaven said that when we, as humans reach the point of exhaustion, we still have only used about sixty percent of our capacity.  That means, we have forty percent left.  Forty percent!  That's a lot, when you really think about it!  So, what is it that holds us back from pushing harder?  What is it that keeps us from accessing that power that we have in our own reserve tank?  How do we learn to push beyond to achieve that result we so desire?

I have thought a lot about this over the years.  I have watched individuals and teams achieve what many had said was impossible.  I have seen people shut down incredible odds to realize their dreams. What is it, exactly, that enables them to do that?  I believe it is that same thing that sets the SEALS apart in their training as elites:  They manage to push beyond into that extra forty percent.

In my own experience and observation, and in listening to those who have coached and achieved the impossible, here is what I have learned:

1.  "Any team can win on any given day" (Terry Bradshaw).  It all comes down to gumption.  How badly do you want this?  How far are you willing to push yourself to get it?  My mother used to say all the time, "Is this a mountain you want to die on?"  Same thing.  How important is it?  Your mind is king when it comes to pushing your physical limits.  Many think it is the condition of the body.  It is, to a degree.  But even more powerful is the will of your mind.  It is profound.  In short, passion is just about everything.

2.  "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment" (Jim Rohn).  My dad called this work ethic.  Achieving the impossible requires discipline.  Discipline requires denying yourself things that you want now for the ultimate goal you dream to achieve then.  I have been very hard on my kids when it comes to this one.  Maybe your parents have, too.  You can play later.  Work and chores first.  It's a lesson I started learning very young.  My own father lived in poverty in South Dakota.  His home didn't even have actual flooring - it was dirt.  They lost their farm once, and had to work hard to get it back.  He had to set out on his own at thirteen because he didn't want to be a farmer like his father.  He lived at a boarding house, trading a place to live for cooking breakfast, cleaning, and other chores.  He worked three  jobs in high school, and went ROTC to pay for university.  After serving his country in the Korean War and landing a job with a huge retailing company, he promised loyalty as an executive with that company in exchange for them financing his Masters at NYU.  He was a self-made millionaire.  When dad told us to finish our work, we didn't challenge him!

3.  "I like criticism.  It makes you strong" (LeBron James).  Another thing that separates the wildly
successful from the moderately successful is their ability to take and apply criticism.  If I may be perfectly candid, our society has, in SO many ways, gone soft.  We have spent so much time focused on making everyone feel good about themselves, we have lost that art of offering and seeking constructive criticism.  If you cannot take criticism, you cannot grow.  You cannot develop.  You cannot challenge yourself to push harder.

4.  "Have patience.  Everything is difficult before it is easy" (Saadi).  Sometimes, the fastest way to something is far from the best way.  I have found in my life that anything that is worth having requires both hard work AND patience.  You may hear a thousand no's, but all you need is that one yes!  Instead of hearing no, hear "Not Now."  Waiting is SO hard....but anyone who has had to endure waiting knows it takes a lot of energy.  Patience is the art of enduring the wait and keeping the upbeat, will do (not can do) attitude.

5.  "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail" (Ralph Waldo
Emerson).  Closely related to patience (I call it patience's twin) is persistence.  You must have the endurance to persevere.  At the risk of using a corny runner's metaphor, Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  To those with big dreams, it is a race.  You need to tackle it as such.  Looking forward to what lies ahead is much more productive than looking back.  Use the hard lessons, pain and hurt to propel you forward.  You'll be a better person with a stronger character and lots of wisdom that way when you do reach your summit!

In all of this, be kind.  Accept the help and support of others, and when you have achieved, offer what you have learned to those who are in the midst of the storms of struggle.  Inspire others!  And always, above all things, be grateful.  Nobody reaches beyond that forty percent without someone shouting encouragement and urging them on along the sidelines.

I hope this is helpful in some small way.  At the very least, maybe it will give you something to think about as you assess your goals and dreams, your gifts and talents, and your willingness to push beyond that forty percent.

Attached, are two articles about pushing beyond limits, and, of course, the infamous McRaven speech.  What stands out to you?  What is your secret formula for success and pushing beyond your limits?  Teachers who read this blog:  here is your chance to also share your wisdom with scholars!

Article #1:
Article #2:

McRaven's Speech -

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Ever since Alanis Morissette released her song "Ironic," people have started buzzing about the true
meaning of certain literary terms and whether or not they are truly being used properly in context.
Irony confuses, and like the two p's and satire, which will be addressed momentarily, it depends somewhat on the intention of the writer or speaker.

Irony requires an opposing meaning between what's said and what's intended.  Stop.  Think about that for a long moment.  Even the definition is somewhat head scratching, so if you often find yourself confused by irony, you're in excellent company.  One of the confounding factors of irony isn't just that its definition is a bit, well, complex, but also the sheer number of possibilities for correct usage.  It's bad enough that irony is hard to grasp, but now add to that fact that there are, in fact, a multitude of definitions for different forms of irony, including verbal, dramatic, and cosmic. The sheer plethora of ways ironic can be used meaningfully suggests that is something of a "catch all" for a situation that seems odd, upsetting or amusing.  Enter Ms. Morissette...

If it rains on your wedding day, that may be seen as a coincidence, but not irony.  However, if you moved your wedding to an indoor venue because the forecast predicted rain, but the day turned out to be sunny, and then the sprinkler system at your venue malfunctioned and doused the ceremony with water, so you all get wet, after all, THAT'S ironic.  If you win the lottery and drop dead before claiming the money, that is simply good luck followed by bad luck.  If you meet the man of your dreams and then meet his beautiful wife, that's just a bummer.  But if, then, a song called "Ironic" contains no irony, is that in and of itself ironic?  Nope...not really.  It may just be an example of ignorance.  It depends on the creator's intent.  So if Alanis purposely wrote a song about irony with no ironic content at all, is THAT ironic?  We are getting closer....

Here are six ways to look at Irony:

1.  VERBAL IRONY:  when a speaker or writer is intentionally using words that literally convey the opposite of their true beliefs, generally for comic emphasis (sarcasm).  In fact, there is a strong overlap between sarcasm and comic irony.  Example:  Saying "Oh, that's just fantastic," when the situation is really poor.  OR Dimmesdale's sermons about how sinful he is, and how he deserves disgust resulting in the congregation loving him and following him even more.

2.  SITUATIONAL IRONY:  A sharp divergence between expectations or perceptions and reality.  Expectations, of course, often differ from results, but to rise to the state of irony, the gulf between them should be vast and the contrast sharp.  See the wedding example above with Ms. Morissette's song breakdown.

3.  DRAMATIC IRONY:  Perhaps the easiest to understand as its use is so specialized.  The device in which the reader or audience is tipped off to a crucial fact still unknown to one or more of the characters.  Example:  The audience and friar know that Juliet isn't really dead, but Romeo doesn't.

4.  COSMIC IRONY:  Not very often used.  It denotes the idea that the fates are against us, if not indifferent to us, and that our struggles are the result of higher forces amusing themselves at our expense.  Example:  The owner declared of the Titanic, "God, Himself, cannot sink this ship."  Well, you can infer the rest.

5.  HISTORICAL IRONY:  Some things become ironic with time.  If the passage of years creates an amusing juxtaposition between a historical event or claim and what has happened since to contradict it.  Example:  Isn't it ironic that the inventor of the machine gun thought his new weapon would end war?"  Answer:  YES! It is, in fact, historically ironic. :)

6.  SOCRATIC IRONY:  The pretense of ignorance used to draw an opponent into slipping up or revealing flaws in their argument.  Example:  She used socratic questioning in order to poke holes in his emphatic argument.

How's that for confusing?  If that isn't enough, irony is only one way to bring in humor or thought-provoking elements in literature.  There are also parody, pastiche and satire....Buckle up, here we go!

PARODY:  An imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialize an original work, its subject author, style or some other target, by means of imitation. Example:  The movie "Airplane" is a parody of 1970's disaster movies.  AND Most everything created by Weird Al Yankovic.

PASTICHE:  A work of visual art, literature, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists.  Unlike parody, the intention of pastiche is to celebrate rather than mock. Example:  Many modern artists seek to produce works of impressionism in homage to Renoir and Monet, who are very much beloved.

SATIRE:  A genre of literature and art in which the vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations or society, itself, into improvement.  Although funny, its intention is to shame or offer constructive social criticism.  Examples:  The Daily Show, most political cartoons

Just for fun, the definition of cynicism, or cynical, is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.  It is a form of skepticism that often leads to the production of satire.

There you have it!  Here's to understanding the various ways authors, speakers, poets and artists humor us, pay homage to us, and humiliate us in all sorts of creative and confounding ways!

I have attached the Morissette song for you to evaluate, armed with your new knowledge of irony.  I have also attached two very funny little videos for your enjoyment.  Reply with the following:

1.  Did you find any examples of true irony in the Morissette song?  Give me an example of irony in something you have heard or read.  What type of irony is it?  Why?

2. What are each of the funny little videos an example of and why?

3.  Which of the previous definitions confused you the most?  What literary device do you find most confusing?

Alanis Morissette:
Tim Hawkins Video #1:
Tim Hawkins Video #2:

Saturday, February 18, 2017


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:

C. Auguste Dupin Video Game:  and

The Raven Movie-(a Mystery featuring Poe as detective):

Sherlock Holmes Series, BBC:

Sherlock Holmes Movie:


Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot:

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple:

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

HBO's True Detective:

(    *Bunting, Joe.  "Why People Like Detective Stories."  The Write Practice Blog:

Monday, January 23, 2017

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: In Learning, Language, Life and Love


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.


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.


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.


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..."