Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WORDS TO THE WISE: Sage Advice from the Class of 2018 to a future generation of IB Diploma Program Language and Literature Scholars

Well, it is hard to believe, but we are almost to the close of another year at Odyssey.  Soon, our third graduating class, the Class of 2018, 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 have officially finished both years of study, 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…

  1. Be prepared for ANYTHING.
  2. Find a motivation buddy.
  3. Set aside time to relax.
  4. Get a change of scenery every once in awhile.
  5. Start your work as soon as you get it.
  6. Actually get a good night’s rest.
  7. Don’t wait until Sunday night to do your work.
  8. Have a recuperation day on the weekends.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  10. Be friendly to your fellow DP students.
  11. Make shared class study guides.
  12. Always check the website if you are absent.
  13. Work on the weekends not school days. 
  14. Get earphones or headphones, you'll need them.

-GO TO CLASS it's pointless to just miss school because you don't feel like it. 
-Try your best, it feels good to turn in your work knowing you did the best you good. And good work pays off :)
-Participate in class and bond with you classmates. Class is so much more meaningful when you care about the book, topic, character etc and you can build relationships with you class. 
-Enjoy the class. This is has overall been my favorite class, being with my friends and talking about amazing works of literature has become a relaxing class where we can express our thoughts and emotions in a safe and comfortable environment. 

-Appreciate Mrs. Caraway. Mrs. Caraway cares for each one of you more than you know. Ask her questions, ask her for assistance, and tell her how much you appreciate her. :)

Do not let your work pile up. You will struggle to complete it and catch up, causing you undue stress. Just do it when you get it.

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.

Avoid procrastinating when at all possible. However if you do procrastinate and you find yourself behind in work, don't let big assignments and getting behind discourage you from working hard to get back on track. You'll be grateful in the future to be caught up on everything.

Definitely the right choice to take this class.  Even if you don't like English or writing...TRUST ME!  I hated English, especially writing, but this is the only DP class I take.  Mostly because of how amazing a teacher Mrs. Caraway is, but also the fun and important things I learn in class everyday!  SHOW UP.  I can barely do it sometimes, but it was so important.  And when Mrs. Caraway gets on to you about it, it's because she CARES about you and wants you to be here.  She loves her students!  

Find enjoyment in the stories and experiences that IB English will provide you with and don't take them for granted. There is no need to stress about any work this class gives you. You will be more than prepared for every assignment. If you feel you aren't, just ask for help! This class will prepare you for more than you know, so pay attention, absorb information and READ THE BOOKS! ALWAYS!

One piece of advice I would offer is to not procrastinate at all. A lot of the work that we do in class can be finished in class, so it is best to use your time wisely and finish it then. One thing that can happen if you procrastinate is you can fall behind on your reading and depending on the book, that can be really hard to catch back up on. I know it can be done, but writing a written task and doing an FOA in one night is so stressful so it's best to do it all on time and make sure that whatever you do, don't procrastinate.

Just read the assignment's a hell of a lot easier than being lost in class trying to shmoop your way through the class. 

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

The main advice I have for you is to cherish these days. This class in particular has allowed me to see the beauty in literature and given me a new perspective on many things. A note for you incoming IB scholars: presence is the most useful tool you have,  you'll be lost if you don't show up and you'll feel the wrath of IB teachers. 

Commit.  Commit to your work, because it will show, and it matters. Enjoy your time because it goes by fast. Support each other, and always give your best!

To begin I would like to say I have no idea what I'm doing. Even as I'm writing this I have no clue what I should say but I've learned that it's okay. Whatever happens it's going to be okay. The sun will still come up, and you will still wake up. So my advice is to live in the moment. Soak up every experience and lesson. Try to become as knowledgeable as possible. Be spontaneous because you never know what tomorrow is going to hold for you. Don't live in animosity because life is too short to be feeling negative. Someone once told me that every minute you spend feeling bad is sixty seconds you could be spending happy. A whole sixty seconds! Your life will be full of surprises (good and bad) so the best thing to do is just accept it, learn from it, and move on to the next surprise. This year I have learned that no matter how hard you plan and nurse every possible outcome nothing will ever turn out exactly as you want it.  Of course don't just do nothing, that's definitely not what I'm saying.  Just remember that whatever happens, everything will work out.

Act like it's okay when you're stressed. You're not the only one who is suffering, your friends and classmates are too. Be stressed together. Create a cult. Call it the stressed club and cry. You'll make it. 

High school is one of the best and one of the most stressful times of your life. You will meet new people and gain and lose friends throughout this time. It’s an experience that makes you, you and it’s something that certainly shapes you as a person and who you will become in the future. It’s important to always put in your best efforts in order to achieve what you want in the future. Even if you don’t have any idea on what you want to do or what you plan to do, it’s always important to do your best. My advice is to study hard and prioritize things wisely. Be balanced and think of things in advance, it’s important to do. Don’t procrastinate. Do not. If you’re stressed, procrastinating only makes things worse, I know it because I do it all the time. Also be sure to sleep a lot during this time if you have the chance. Nap when you can or sleep early because some assignments will leave you up late at night and tired as heck in the morning. I lived off coffee for most of my senior year. Also, senioritis is very real and it tackles everyone. E v e r y o n e. But don’t let that be what stops you. Push hard through the tough times in life and you’ll get through it. Good luck and stay strong! :) 

These two years in DP Language and Literature have seemingly flown by and has ended before I was even able to realize. The best advice I can give to you is to get things over with; do not procrastinate whatsoever. The sooner things are finished the better. If you’re aim is to sit for the DP exams, which I recommend everyone do, then you’ll want to be able to put in your best work on all the assignments because it all makes a difference in preparing you for the exams. Get your Written Tasks done ASAP so you can receive critique sooner and have more time to act upon it. Not only that, but you’ll be able to enjoy your free time more if all the stinky Written Tasks and QPAs are out of the way. This goes hand in hand with the warning I have for you: do not slack on your reading. If you’re going to sit for DP exams, you’ll want to have really read into and analyzed the books, especially the year two ones. Paper 2 is supposed to be a written comparison of two books you’ve read in class. If you really want to get them spicy discount college credits you better read the books in depth. All in all, godspeed to all of you getting after it next year.

For those of you doing this class that signed up for the DP papers, God bless you and good luck. There’s no need to stress about the papers, if there is one thing that Mrs. Caraway does wonderfully is prepare you for the papers. Your best friend throughout this class is gonna be spark notes, but I’m sure you’ve all figured that much out by now. With that being said, we actually read some pretty cool books this year, so don’t get caught lackin. You’re going to have a great time in this class although it will take a little work. I encourage you all to take the test, and you won’t regret it at all. I guarantee if you pay attention in class and apply yourselves you will pass the test beyond a shadow of a doubt. Y’all are gonna bool in this class, and shmeak this test easy peasy. Y’all got this.

My advice to both Junior and Seniors is to do your work and turn it in. Pay attention in class and participate during class. It worked for me. Some advice for the juniors is to be present in class!! Mrs. Caraway does not like it when you are not in class. Always read the book, it will really help you when it comes to writing the written task. Seniors enjoy your last year in this class, you get to go over some fun and interesting topics through out the year. 

Ask questions! Seriously!

My advice to future scholars in DP Language and Literature would be: to make sure they breathe, and to not overwhelm themselves. There’s always a lot going on in high school and much to focus on, but it’s important to know that everything will work out, and that these students are perfectly capable of achieving all they feel they need.  Second, I would tell them to make sure they focus, and pay attention. It’s important to just be present and give all of your focus on learning to be able to support yourself later. Always ask questions, and seek any help you need. There’s absolutely no shame. Your friends sometimes can be so helpful and extremely supportive too, so never hesitate to turn to them. You’d be surprised:)  Third, I would just say to be present. High school moves extremely fast (even when classes seem so slow) it’s important to make sure you’re taking in the moment. As much as we look forward to what’s next, it’s just as important to notice what’s great about now. There’s so many joyful things around if you take the time to look.  I wish you and your classes the best of luck these next few years, and I know I’ve learned things within your class I will take with me moving forward. Thank you for a wonderful two years that have made me grow immensely as a person.

This is your last year, your best year, your toughest year, but never forget get that this is YOUR year.

- Avoid missing class AT ALL COSTS.
- Ask others to read over your work and give you honest feedback.
- Read the assigned books. You will save yourself a huge amount of time if you know the context of each works when it comes to your IOC and Paper 2.
- Do not add excessive words into your writing to make it sound more intellectual.
- Make sure your writing has purpose.
- Do not be scared to share your ideas or interpretations of a text.
- Pay attention and contribute in class discussions to gain insight.
- Ask questions if you are ever confused, chances are there are many other kids in the class who are also lost.
- Work hard when writing a written task. There is a chance it will be the one you submit to IB if you decide to test out. 

Hey all,
Language is not a big source of stress if you don't make it one. My personal experience is that when I actually tried, I did well. So actually try, and do your best not to procrastinate. Otherwise you will end up skipping class to finish and that is a BIG no no.

Also, actually read the books. Reading books is good. They make you smarter. They allow you to actually understand what is going on. Recommendation: Combine reading the books with reading the CliffNotes or SparkNotes of the parts you are reading so that you can glean things from the text you may not have understood or thought of the first time around. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Good luck! - Nathan "Byrdman" Byrd

Make sure to pay attention closely to her website and read her blogs. They supply a fair amount of not only study advice but important life advice.

This class will push you to the limit. This course will assess where you are in English and language comprehension.  You will learn through multiple critical perspectives, and it will honestly change your perspective on life, in general.

This last year of high school is going to go by really fast, even if it doesn't always feel like it is.  Take the time to not only appreciate your teachers and friends, but also the amazing education you are getting here.  As I'm sure you already know, you get to read some really awesome books and plays in the class and have wonderful discussions; don't abuse this precious time you have been given!

Throughout high school, don’t commit yourself to things you aren’t passionate about just for some external benefit. Try your best to do the things you KNOW on the inside is what you should be doing with your life at every moment.

Don't forget to prioritize your friends and family as you work through these last one or two years of work so you have a strong support system for when school can become overwhelming.


Within everyone of you is the potential to learn and grow and try somethings you never thought possible before. Don’t let labels define who you are, especially the ones you put on yourself. You can always learn from your mistakes and improve upon yourself, so do so!

I know you are going to be reading a lot of these and based on when we read these last year, you probably won't listen to any of this advice until it's already to late. I'm going to give it anyway, this way I can at least say I told you so when you make the same mistakes I did. The first bit of advice I have is to come to terms with procrastination. Don't lie, you are going to procrastinate, literally everyone does. The important bit is to learn that it has to be done eventually, and realize that putting it off just creates a larger pile to do late. Secondly, read the books! Yes you could just sparknote it, but it will be so much easier if you just read the book. It will help you on your tests, you will understand it better and Mrs Caraway won't be upset. Win win situation. Finally remember to have fun. High school is only 4 years long and if you aren't careful you might miss the chance to make some memories. Go to parties, hang out with your friends, take up a new hobby. Finding balance doesn't mean working yourself to death to maintain your grades, find time to enjoy yourself.  Good luck, you'll probably need it. - Mable Barcala

For the love of your grades (and everything holy) please re-read your writing BEFORE you turn it in!  Better yet, have another person read your writing, because I can assure you, it will save you time in the long run, and earn a better grade!

You will succeed in all of your classes if you manage your time and make what you do count. The next two years will fly by, so make every day count and leave nothing unsaid or undone. Savor all of high school while you still can, because these are the times you will remember for the rest of your lives. 

The worst thing you can do to yourself is not show up.  

Some advice I would give is to enjoy and learn everything you can, make sure to read the books and take good notes on them, make sure to stay organized especially if you plan on taking the DP tests! What I really enjoyed about this class is that Mrs. Caraway does NOT give busy work everything she teaches and all the worksheets she hands out, trust me you'll need them again later on because its all going to benefit you at some point; everything teaches you something. I overall loved taking DP English I enjoyed it very much and I recommend making the most of everything you not only in English but in life.  :)

Advice to Incoming Seniors - If you wanna get on Mrs.Caraway’s Good Side…

Always come to class on time and come everyday.  Notice the little things that aren't super obvious.  They help you with your Paper 2, Paper 1 and other things.  When doing a paper or an FOA always answer the question, "Why is this important," or "What impact does this have on the reader/audience."  She'll love you forever.  Do this blog.  All the time.  It's easy to forget, but can do wonders for your grade.  When reading the novels, please take notes on characters and themes, etc when you read, it's especially good in Senior year when you take the Paper 1 and Paper 2.  Be yourself; seriously.  This is a safe space--it's ok to be yourself.  Always be open-minded to other people's points of view.  You can use their thoughts, and mix them with your own.  Learn to read CURSIVE!!  Seriously, do it!  Mrs. Caraway's cursive is pretty.  Appreciate it and learn to read it.  It's not hard!  And, finally, when taking the IOC, remember to take it AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.  Trust me.  The more times you can do it, the better score you will get!  

Dear scholars, I am about to tell you something so extremely insightful and deep that you will be

absolutely awestruck. Do your work. Crazy! I know! Just one missing blog can drop you multiple points in your overall grade. The work in this class is not extremely hard and Mrs Caraway gives you all the tools in class to succeed. So, if your grade drops it is just because you aren't doing the work or aren't doing the work right. This leads me into another truth. Attend class. Please. Mrs Caraway works so hard to provide you with helpful material that is beyond useful. You might not see it now, but you will. If you don't go to class you miss so much that will not only help you get a better grade in this class, but every other class. Her material is useful in countless situations and if you aren't there to learn it you are cheating both Mrs Caraway and yourself. Listen to her. She has interesting and important things to say. Don't zone out in class or skip it entirely. This class has taught me more than all other classes combined. So, please, PLEASE, pay attention. It would be a shame to go through this course and brush it off. 

Have a fantastic year and learn to ENJOY learning... Mrs Caraway makes it easy! 

Good luck, my friends! 
Now, respond by sharing which pieces of advice resonated most with you.  Then, tell me what you are most anxious about, and what you are most excited about in year 1 or year 2 next year....

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Your teacher has just assigned you the one thing you dread, but know you will face several times during the school year in several of your classes.  Yes, that's right, kids, it's time to write


You let out a deep sigh as you feel the heavy weight of dread in your gut, and your entire attitude fades to black.  It's as if someone has pulled a dark veil over your formerly sunny outlook.

Okay, maybe that's a BIT dramatic.  But for many of us, writing the essay is a task that takes more gumption just to begin than to actually complete.

Year one scholars, we are now in the process of writing our final WT1, which is anything but the formal essay.  If that isn't punishment enough, we also must include a rationale with it to clarify for ourselves and our reader just what it is we are doing, and how this great idea meets the course criteria (thus providing a possible highlight of where we have fallen short!)

Year two scholars, you are preparing for the Paper 1 final, which is a comparative (gulp!) essay!  It involves looking at two strange texts you have possibly never seen or encountered before, and comparing them--attempting to discover every possible important detail from word choice to purpose/theme....all in just two hours.

Now, now, now.  Writing an essay or a WT1 doesn't have to be such a downer.  In fact, it can become something you look forward to!  (Okay, maybe that's taking it a bit too far).  At the very least, it can be a challenge you are ready and able to meet.

Like anything else worth doing, writing takes what I like to refer to as the three P's:  perseverance, passion and patience.  You need to eliminate the idea of "trying my best" and substitute that notion with "I will DO my best."  Do not even entertain the notion of "this will be hard" or "I cannot do this well," or "my teacher will hate this."  Do not put it off until the last minute or it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Instead, set aside a quiet space, do some relaxation breathing like we learned in class, and ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.  Silence your phone.  Do not allow yourself to text friends or scope out Facebook.  It's just you, some paper (or a screen) and words.  Take some time to go through your notes and quotes, and begin the process of writing.  Don't put the pressure of editing or grammar on yourself at this stage.  Writing is a process.  Allow your subconscious creativity to flow first, uninhibited.  You can fix it all later.
Be patient with yourself and your thoughts.  Wait for the right words or search them out until you find the one you truly feel is best.  Use a thesaurus for inspiration.  DON'T SURRENDER.

In the case of the WT1, write something YOU like.  Don't think about me (aka your teacher), or anyone else.  Take your topic, and write about it in an interesting way that appeals to you and reflects your writing style.

With the Paper 1, start with an organizational plan, even before you truly begin to attack the prompt and write.  Use what you know and have practiced in writing all year long.  Start simply with TAP and funnel down towards the nitty gritty details in the creation of the texts.  Go deep.  Again, revision and editing will come in the final stages.  The first stage of the writing process is....wait for it....PLANNING!  When you do begin to put your ideas and plans to paper and write, find something fun in it...something that stirs your creative passion.

Writing the essay or anything, for that matter, may never be your favorite thing to do, but at the very least it doesn't have to be a punishment.  Take some time to read these articles about "Writing" and specifically "Writing the Essay."  The tips are awesome, I think.  Drink them in, and come ready to attack ALL your writing challenges....


Here are the links to writing tips for the essay, and just writing in general.  Read through them--some of the tips in them may be repeated, but reworded in a different way.  Sometimes, hearing the same thing multiple times and in different ways is key in helping to cement your understanding!  Then, in your post, tell me the tips you found the most helpful or enlightening.




Thursday, April 5, 2018

PLOT TWIST: The Writer's Art of Misdirection


That's a lesson that life will teach you...eventually.  I think that's why as readers, we appreciate and even revel in a well-written plot twist.  It's not just that they surprise and challenge us, it's that they make us realize that even when we think we've got everything figured out, the track can shift, and we may find ourselves moving in an entirely new (yet not completely unforeseeable provided we are blessed with enlightened powers of observation) direction.

Literature's goal, as an art form, is to imitate life.  Even if a book is written in the realm of fantasy, it needs to feel, at its heart, possible.  We want characters we can relate to:  protagonists who are perfectly flawed, and antagonists that aren't without some redeeming qualities.  A good story can assure us that we are not alone...even when we are.  Our stories can intersect on some strange and cosmic level, connecting us to our favorite authors; even if we are separated by space, time, or both.  Stories are very much like the soul:  timeless and eternal.

So...what's the big deal about the plot twist?  Well, like complex characters, they add depth and texture.  Also, they are very real - life is full of them!  They can be good or bad; surprising or terrifying; but they definitely exist, and our fascination with them transcends cultures, just like great characters and themes.

Consider this story from the halls of American history... 

He was known as Easy Eddie, and he lacked for nothing.  He was the slickest of the slick lawyers and was already a big success when he started working for the most powerful man in 1920's Chicago:  Al Capone.  One of his most lucrative responsibilities for the Mob Boss was to run the dog track gambling ring. (Eddie mastered the simple technique of fixing the race by overfeeding seven dogs and then betting on the eighth!  Clever!)  Eddie became one of Capone's most trusted lawyers and legal advisors who helped keep his empire-- which was built on racketeering, bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution--out of trouble. 

So...why did he turn himself in?   Why did he offer to squeal on Capone to the Feds?  Didn't Eddie understand the ramifications of "ratting" on the mob?  He knew, to be sure.  Maybe he saw the writing on the wall.  Maybe he sensed that the carefully constructed empire of "Scarface" and his cronies was about to crumble.  Maybe he thought by being on the right side of the law when the dust cleared, he'd be able to continue breathing the fresh air of freedom instead of the stale air behind bars with all the rest of them.  Maybe.

Or maybe there was another hitch.  You see, Eddie had a son. 

Eddie had spent most of his own life with the deplorable.  He had smelled the stench of the underground long enough.  He wanted more than that for his son:  solid friends, respectable education, and a name to be revered, not just "remembered."  In order to do this, he would have to clear his own slate first, and so he did.

The tragedy here was that Easy Eddie never saw his dream come true.  After he squealed, Capone went to jail, but the mob remembered.  Two shotgun blasts would silence him forever.  We saw that coming, didn't we?  Nothing surprising about finding yourself six feet under after taking the mob to the table.

But...that's not the end of the story.  

For reasons still disputed, Eddie did the right thing.  Was it worth it?  I believe that if Eddie had lived to see his son; Edward, Jr., or "Butch," as he came to be called; grow up, he would have answered with a resounding "YES!"  I believe he would have been proud of Butch's appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  I think he would also have been proud of the young man's commissioning as a World War II Navy Ace pilot.  I think he would have been proud as he read about his son's downing of five Japanese bombers one night over the Pacific, and his saving the lives of hundreds of crewmen on the carrier Lexington.  I think the biggest twist of all that would have made Eddie proud, however, was when his son officially cleared the family name and became the first pilot ever to be decorated with the Medal of Honor. 

Sadly, in 1943, Butch led a squadron of night fighters and never returned home.  He died at the young age of 29, a hero serving his country.  Tragic as it was, I think that Butch's father, Easy Eddie, would have been proud of that, too.

Ready for the final one two punch in this real life story?  You most likely KNOW the name that Eddie was trying so hard to save--the name his son Butch so readily redeemed.  Ever been to Chicago?  If you have, you probably flew into O'Hare Airport.  Easy Eddie's famous son was named Edward "Butch" O'Hare, and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport bears their family name!

See? Wasn't that fun? 

In literature, just as in life, we enjoy a good plot twist.  What are some of your favorite titles or movies?  Do they have a plot twist that turned your world even just a little bit upside down? 

If so, please share...and then, watch the video about the art of the plot twist misdirection by clicking on this link:    

Aspiring writers and readers alike, please also enjoy this article entitled, "Ten Simple Tricks for Writing Clever Plot Twists:" 

Share your thoughts on the video and article, as well.

Next time you pick up a new book, sit down with your favorite snack in the darkened movie theater, or just step out the door into the world to start a new day, don't take anything for granted.  Remember to keep your eyes peeled, watch your step, and never underestimate anybody you meet.  The path of a good story has many a twist and turn...

And you never really know where the adventure will take you! 

Friday, March 16, 2018


C.S. Lewis, one of my all time favorite human beings (whom I have never met, but feel I know) writes about a friend who was truly there for him when his beloved wife, Joy, died of cancer.  A renowned academic from Oxford University, Lewis had many friends and colleagues.  When she died, many were there for him, and all were, undoubtedly, well-meaning.  They visited and talked with him, offering them their condolences and words of understanding.  Those who shared his Christian faith offered him words of encouragement.  But it would seem, according to Lewis, all of these words, lovely and articulate as they may have been, left him empty.

It was a friend who stopped by his home one day several weeks after his wife's death, who truly sustained him.  He didn't say anything extraordinary or profound.  In fact, he didn't say anything at all, he just sat down beside Lewis while he grieved, not saying a word, just listening with him in the silence; filling the space with his presence, offering him his own human "being-ness."  No words of apology.  Not one offer of understanding and encouragement.  He just sat with him, bearing the heavy burden of loss in that room, feeling the emptiness with him, allowing the melancholy silence to encircle them both.

Lewis writes that this was the friend who truly understood--who was the blessing to him in his darkest hours.  The loneliness was terrifying, but this friend was there to feel it alongside him.  Two friends, separated by experience, the only sign of life their shared breathing in a room together. Lewis said that volumes were spoken by his friend in the quiet that day... they were, in essence, joined by the language of presence.

In his book entitled A Grief Observed, Lewis writes:  "Imagine a man in total darkness.  He thinks he
is in a cellar or dungeon.  Then there comes a sound.  He thinks it might be a sound from far off--waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away.  And if so, it proves he's not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound close at hand--a chuckle of laughter.  And it so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark."

I have experienced this quite precious phenomenon just a few times in my life, once, when I was just out of college, enduring what I thought would be the worst possible heartbreak of my life.  Nothing seemed like it would ever hold any joy for me ever again.  I had lost the love of my life, a young man who had been my best friend in high school, and my sweetheart for five years beyond, and now, it was over.  I didn't want to hear that I would love again, or that everything would be alright in time.  I didn't want to be told that what I was experiencing was nothing new, but the age old right of passage experienced by nearly every young woman at LEAST once in her life.  I certainly didn't want to hear that familiar adage: "This may be the first heart break, but it certainly won't be the last."

Words are powerful, there is no doubt.  They can help, heal, hinder and harm.  They can also really make you mad--often times when they come with good intentions.  But that day, my good friend and apartment mate Bryn came home from work, saw me crying quietly, and said nothing.  She went to the kitchen, poured two glasses of wine (I was 23 so it was okay!) sat one in front of me, and then sat down next to me with her glass.  She said nothing.  No "I'm sorry," or "That really sucks," or even "He'll be sorry one day." She just sat there next to me, with one arm around my shoulder drinking her wine, and letting me cry.  I'm not sure how long we were there, a half hour, or maybe two, but when I started to talk about the sorrow I felt, and how I couldn't imagine being happy, she just listened.  She held my hand and sometimes nodded in agreement, but she said NOTHING.  She just was.  She was there, like a priest, I guess, listening to me pour out my heart...waiting.   She seemed to understand that truth that sometimes when we try to comfort someone in their suffering, we belittle it, and that is something no one needs in their darkest of moments.

When I'd had enough, she just said, "Let's go out and see a movie.  I'll buy you some cheesecake."
 That was it.  One sentence.  Not much wisdom to be found there, but there was truly an ocean of comfort in her just being there.  Words I don't know how to say and meanings I cannot define were spoken in her presence.

We are human beings, not human doings.  Yet, in the fast-paced, hyper-drive demands of life, we don't act like it.  To be appreciated and honored by someone's mere presence is truly nothing short of a miracle.  We are.  We exist.  And more than that, we co-exist, and when words fail, or there are no words that work to comfort our grief and our pain, it is the presence of one we love that offers all the communication we need.  It's like its own separate that is felt rather than heard.

When my father died, I remember coming home from the hospital, and suddenly finding myself unable to breathe.  His "gone-ness" was overwhelming me.  It felt like a wave was crashing over my head, over and over again, not allowing me a second to process what I had just lost that day.  I couldn't get my head above the water of grief.  It was too much.  I panicked and was hysterical.  I didn't know what to do. That man who had cared for me, taught me, carried me; the man who had so often been my strength and security was gone.  In a world that often seemed like a dark and bottomless void, he was the island. Now, where was my footing?  To whom could I go for that wise, sound, logical and loving guidance?

It was my husband this time who was there.  Somehow, he knew.  He had walked through losing his father, and he knew what I needed to hear more than anything:  Nothing.  He knew there were no words that could make this even remotely close to better.  He helped me up off the floor, took me over to sit, and he just held me and stroked my hair while I cried and shook.  It's not something I like to talk about or share, being so weak and completely vulnerable, but I remember feeling like more than I had ever read or heard in my entire life was being said in that moment.  It was almost as if through him, my father was reaching out to me.  His silence was my comfort--a lighthouse, if you will, reminding me that there was secure footing, and even though this would be one of the worst days of my life, I could still stand on solid ground with confidence.

What does this mean for you?  You are all very young, and I desperately hope that you have not yet experienced a sorrow that eats you alive and leaves you unable to breathe.  But if you have, well, maybe there is some bittersweet gift to be found in that.  Perhaps you are stronger--wiser--and more than that, you may one day find yourself in the role of C.S. Lewis's friend; understanding that when you find a loved one drowning in the darkness of despair, you cannot give them the "right words."  In fact, you won't offer words at all.  You will just be--sharing their air, drinking in the sadness and hopelessness right along with them.  And then they will understand how powerful we truly are, just in our existence, and how there is a wisdom and a truth in the silence.

In his article entitled The Art of Presence, Woods summarizes it perfectly:  "What seems to be needed
here is the art of presence--to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the elemental situation. Allow nature to take its course.  Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process.  Let them define meaning.  Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness.  Be practical, mundane, simple and direct."

So, now it's time for you to post your response.  Here are two tasks:

1.  I wish to share a story that I shared last year in a blog about waiting.  But I believe this story has much more to do with offering the gift of presence to others.  Please read it by clicking on this link.  You may offer your thoughts on the story, too!  It is a memorable one, so I am sure many of my seniors will recall it.  Maybe a year will give you a new insight to it:

2.  What is the language of presence to you?  How does it communicate with no words or sound? You don't have to share anything too personal if you don't wish, but this is a language class. There are more and sometimes better ways to speak than with words.  I would love to hear about yours...

There is a sweet music in the silence,
if you really listen,
you will hear....(Caraway, 2007)

Saturday, February 17, 2018


As many of you know, math has always been a difficult subject for me in school.  I just couldn't see things the way many students could when looking at an equation, and I cannot tell you how insecure and anxious that made me.  My father was brilliant at math; he had a masters in economics, for goodness sake!  I saw how easily he could add and subtract numbers in his head--big numbers--and even though he never made me feel foolish or showed frustration when he tried to help me with math, I felt like a failure.  What made matters worse, is that I had a math teacher in 6th grade who told me, "Well, math just isn't your area."  And so it goes.  I accepted it, much to my father's chagrin:  I was just not a "math person."

Then, I got to high school and met Mr. White, math department head, and, to my good fortune, my teacher for Algebra 2/Trigonometry.  He told me there is no such thing as a non-math person: everyone could learn and love math, it just might take a different method of instruction to get them there.  He offered to give me and a few other students help during 0 period and after school--whichever worked best.  I remember asking him, "You really think you can help me confidently find the answers to problems like these?"  and most of all, I remember his answer:  "I think I can help you learn to ask the right questions to confidently solve problems like these."

It really doesn't matter what the subject area; asking the right questions is the only way we get to the very best answers.  It is how new inventions are born, cures are discovered, and the trickiest of problems are solved.  So what is the secret, then?  Is there, in fact, an art or skill involved in developing the right questions?  We often reply to others, "That is a good question!" when we find ourselves confronted with a question that is difficult to answer.  So is that it then?  Is a good question characterized by being difficult to answer?

According to Vincent F. Hendricks, professor of formal philosophy and logic at The University of
Copenhagen in Denmark, the answer is "No, not necessarily."  He knows a thing or two about asking the right questions, and has plenty of guidance to offer.  "We can all ask, 'What's for dinner?' But we have to think carefully if we move up the hierarchy.  Do I want the answer to something specific or just an assessment?  You have to ask yourself that type of questions before you can ask a good question."  Henricks teaches that context is key.  As a whole, there are two types of questions you can ask and each of them are important depending on the answers you are specifically seeking.

Open questions are good if you want an answer that includes consideration and assessment, for example:  "What's so intriguing about a good detective story?"  The danger of asking open questions is that they can be too open.  For example, "What is the most important problem we must solve?"  A question like this is so open, we don't know how to answer, and it may create more problems than it solves!  What type of problem are we talking about?  Is it environmental, economic, political, scientific or personal?

Closed questions are good if you want a very clear answer, for example, "Can you ride a unicycle?" You can only answer this type of question very simply, in this case, "yes" or "no."  The danger with closed questions is that they often produce answers that make things seem simpler than they are in reality.  Hendricks suggests that if you want to become more informed, "A good question is not necessarily one you can answer "yes" or "no" to, but one where your answer depends on conditions or qualifications.  Open questions invite reflection, but they need a frame or a context to help us understand and focus on the specific issues that are needing our concentration.

Hendricks has developed three rules of asking good questions that are as follows:

1.  Frame the question- give it a context.  This is how you avoid talking at cross-purpose.
2.  Establish some agreed facts.  The more you agree about the framing of the question, the clearer your answer can be.
3.  Ask a short, clear, precise question to avoid ambiguity.  If any doubts arise over how to answer the question, you'll get a bad answer because you have asked a poorly formulated question.

So then, whether we are trying to solve a math problem in Trigonometry or a country-wide economic crisis, we must begin in the same place.  The best answers truly are already there waiting to be found in the carefully formulated best questions.

Click on the link here to read an article in Forbes Magazine about asking the right questions.  Tell me the single thing that stood out to you the most in that article.  Then, check out the "mystery puzzle below."  What three questions must you ask yourself in order to come up with the solution?  What is that solution?  I am interested in hearing your theories!

Forbes link:

The Case of the Insured Painting

     Conrad Sleuth’s alarm clock and telephone rang at the same time.  He turned off the alarm and answered the phone.
     “This is Hilda Dean,” a young woman said.  “Someone broke into my house last night and stole a valuable painting.”
     Sleuth took her address, put on some clothes, and drove to her house.  She let him in, and he asked her to tell him exactly what had happened.
     “I was asleep,” she said, “When the howling wind woke me up.  I got up to close the window, and I thought I heard a noise downstairs.  When I got downstairs, I realized that the street light was out, and it was too dark to see anything.  So I lit a candle and walked out on the front steps.  Sure enough.  I saw a man running off.”
     “Then what did you do?” Sleuth asked.
      “I came back inside and looked things over,” she said.  “Nothing seemed to be missing, so I went back to bed.  Then, this morning, I noticed that a painting had been taken from the basement.”
     “Is the painting insured?” Sleuth asked.
     “Well, yes. But money will never replace it.”
     Have you called the police, Ms. Dean?”
     “No.  I’ll call them now.”
     “I’ll do it.” Sleuth said.  “While we’re waiting for them, you can decide whether you want to repeat your story to them – or tell them the truth.”

Why does Sleuth think Hilda Dean is lying?

Saturday, January 20, 2018


"Don't get upset by what he said.  They're only words." 

 Does this statement, or any close variation of it sound familiar to you?  How many of you embrace it as your own philosophy?  How many of you would like to give the speaker a nice, firm sock in the arm?  Well, I am going to start the semester here by making a bold statement.  Here it goes:  Whether you acknowledge it to be true or not, your words have power.  Lots of it.  You may not feel very powerful when you utter them, but they are, as the great English proverb tells us, "Mightier than the sword."

Now, allow me to explain and expand.  For some, the words of others don't sting as much as they will for others, but whether you are tough as nails or a marshmallow when it comes to matters of the heart, those to whom you communicate may not fall into your same category.
For this reason, being a thoughtful, empathetic, yet clear communicator is a precious skill--especially for those of you who plan to be in any form of upper management.  The best leaders in any industry got there because they knew how to communicate.  They were aware of the great power of their words, and they used that power with skill and wisdom.

If not everyone receives the same words in the same spirit, than how do we become astute at the great art of communication?  Well, the answer is in the question:  it is an art, so we practice.  We test the waters.  Observe more than just verbal communication/language.  We communicate who we are to others in many different ways and within many unique nuances.  Reading people --really taking the time and presence of mind to actively listen to not just what they say but how they say it--can really tell you a lot.

In year one and year two of the IB Language and Literature, Diploma Program, we have already done a lot of communicating with one another in various groups and partnerships, as well as all together on our blog.  Most notably, the seniors have just completed the novel The Book Thief, in which the power of words becomes one of the central themes in the novel.  We learn that "words truly are life," figuratively and quite literally for our young protagonist, Liesel Meminger.

This semester, you will continue to have many opportunities to observe and learn from each other's communication style, and practice wielding your language "sword."  The spoken and written word both have their moment on the world's stage, and whether their influence is felt on a small or large scale, it is a moment that carries power for the listener: a moment in the ears can lead to a lifetime on the heart.  In his novel The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfus writes: "Words can light fires in the minds of men; words can wring tears from the hardest hearts."  See?  I'm not the only literary person to make those bold statements.

In the link below, you will have the opportunity to read Cat Thompson's article, The Power of Language.    Read through it, maybe even commit some of it to memory as a resource to use when you communicate.  See what happens!

Afterwards, click on the second link, which features an essay written by a College student (and fellow Communications major) when she was also, like many of you, a senior.  In her own words, her essay was written mainly because she wanted an excuse "to talk about why I loved The Book Thief so much."

You are powerful.  Whether written or spoken, your words carry the power to build someone up and bring life, or tear them down and bring death.

Just like that mighty sword the English were talking about.

Read both of the articles.  Then, reflect on what you learned, and what most resonates with you on the topic.  I would LOVE to hear your your own words.

Just for fun....
The idea that language has great power is nothing new!  Even though our modern society is much more sensitized and defensive in nature (we seem to have lost the art to debate and replaced it with the great art of mudslinging in the public arena), in ancient times and during the Renaissance, the power of our language was acknowledged.  Here are a few famous quotes, including those collected from Proverbs in the Bible and the great bard, Shakespeare, himself.  If you would like to share another quote or discovery you have personally made with regards to the power of words, I am truly all ears!