Saturday, September 27, 2014


This week, we will begin exploring another section of Part I, Language in Cultural Context:  Language and Identity.

With each generation, it seems  discovering and defining who you are as an individual, and maintaining uniqueness and individuality within our communities becomes more and more challenging.  Often, as we go about our daily lives, we are forced to wear masks.  These masks reflect more of what we believe OTHER people expect us to be rather than who we truly are.  Most of us have many masks in our "wardrobe," and we are flipping through them so often during the days, weeks, and months, we eventually lose track of who we TRULY are underneath it all.

Who we are as individuals may be determined and defined by a myriad of different factors, depending on our beliefs and world views.  What is YOUR truth?

You don't need to answer that here.  Instead, watch this very unique short film about Identity.  Then, write a synopsis of the film:  what is it about?  What is the message?  What did you as the viewer take from it?
(Art work:  by Michelle Robb)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

THE EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE:  What does this do to our Registers?  How do we know when to slang or not to slang?  How do different nuances in English define communities?

I will be honest and say I am not a fan of slang....unless it is used in the appropriate setting.  I believe in moderation with most things, including language.

I recently spent months researching slang of the 1920's, and that was a whole lot of fun.  It also opened my eyes as to where some of our current slang originated, and how the meanings have changed.  Words go in and out of style in much the same way our fashions do.  What was hip to say in the 80's makes you sound "old" and "out of touch" today.  It can be hard to keep up, and in many ways, the changing slang landscape can be a way of excluding and including others via language.

Here is a very interesting article from the BBC on Slang.  Although the British slang may not be the same as ours, well, it is cool to learn about what "slang" looks like in other English speaking countries. I think this article is poignant because it also addresses how English is becoming a much more international language, and every nationality is dressing it differently to suit their cultural community. your slanglish, and enjoy the read.  I look forward to hearing your reactions!

Friday, September 12, 2014


“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” 
 Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

It is our class theme...and if I am totally open and honest, it is a major theme in my own life as a literature teacher and writer, as well:  The Power of Words....

I will share with you two stories from my life, as well as two very different videos that both address this theme.  In return, I want to learn about YOU, and how this theme is true for you in your life.

Flashback many, many, MANY years ago.  Mrs. Caraway is only about three, almost four years old.  This must have been a significant moment to me because I don't have memories from that far back...yet this one is clear.  My mother had bought me a magnetic letter set and board so that we could practice "making words."  She would move the letters around, and I would watch, in amazement, and listen to the sound of them sliding on the board.  She made the word cat.  She made the word dog.  She made other words.  And then she made the letters spell my name.  

That same day, she had to write a check at the table to pay a bill while I was busy sliding the letters around on the board.  I remember very clearly watching her sign HER name on the check--she wrote in swirly letters, and she had beautiful handwriting.  She wrote in that strange language you all know as "cursive."  I didn't say anything, but as she put the check into the envelope, I remember distinctly thinking to myself: I need to learn how to write my name--how to write these words the letters make in swirls.  That was powerful.  I recognized that power.  Even at three.

Flash forward to my freshman year at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California.  I was probably THE shyest girl in Honors English I.  I barely spoke.  Our first writing assignment was given:  write a description of a secondary character from Steinbeck's  The Red Pony in his same style of description.  I read the reading assignment we had over carefully.  I noticed how Steinbeck didn't describe his characters outright; instead, he put them into some mundane or routine action, and gave us a glimpse of what they did, how they did it, and the very subtle expressions in their face and words.  He basically SHOWED us who they were.  I wrote my description of Jody's (the main character) mother.  

The next day, the teacher said only one student did the assignment correctly and imitated the style of Steinbeck.  She was going to read that student's work out loud.  I remember the instant she started reading recognizing my words.  THAT was powerful.  She told me that day (aside, later) that I was a writer.  That's what she said:  you are a very good writer.  I still remember those words and their power.  They meant the world to me. 

We are about to embark on a reading of some very inflammatory texts this week.  They may upset you.  They may offend you.  Why?  Because words have power.  They use this power in many ways--depending on the author's intention.  They are weapons of anger and destruction or saviors of grace.  In just four weeks, we will begin reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.  You will see the power of words in one young girl's life and the life of her country.  You will see those words hurt and heal.  And you know what?  The experience will be powerful.

I love words so, so much.  I love to play with them.  I love to manipulate them and move them around on the page.  I love searching for just the right one.  They mean the world to me, so this will be probably my longest post of the year (sorry).  I will also confess that sharing the words I have written in my own novels with you in class was a powerful experience for me, too.  

Enjoy these videos.  Enjoy the message they convey.  I hope they move you in your heart so you experience that power working in you.  It is magic.  In closing, I wish to share a favorite quote by Markus Zusak with you...

"I have hated words, and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

I hope that this year, you will experience both the joy and sorrow of words so that you, too can fully appreciate and experience their power.

~from Mrs. Caraway with love

Friday, September 5, 2014

AMERICAN LITERATURE:  Vintage or View Screen?  What's YOUR style?  What's the Future for Authors and Publishers?

I love technology.  But it also frustrates me.  I love that I can create things in color, with imagery, flashy transitions, and even film clips to use in my teaching.  I love that when I get a great idea for a chapter in my book, I can get it all down on paper just as fast as I can type (which is about 60 words per minute, thanks to typing class in high school) then go back later and delete, cut, paste, and move it around if necessary.  I love how with just my IPhone, I can connect with people all around the world in an instant, watch a video, change my facebook status, and text my family what to pick up from the grocery store so I can throw dinner together once I get home.  Technology is convenient, fast, and pretty amazing.

But I think it also costs.  Not just money (although as a Mac owner, I can attest there is quite a monetary cost involved) but also in personal connections.  Technology can rob us of eye contact with each other.  Instead of a phone call now, we are more likely to receive a text.  Instead of getting together with friends physically, many people stay home in their comfy pajamas and facebook each other.  Technology is even changing our language in frustrating ways, as I just exemplified using facebook as a verb, and also in "text talk," where the personal I is now i (hint:  my personal PET PEEVE!!!)  and beautiful words are reduced to two or three letter clusters.

Come to think of it, the personal I to i is a great way to symbolically represent what technology can do to us as individuals and our relationships if we let it dominate our lives.  It reduces them to the lower case.   One very specific area we are seeing this is in the realm of book publishing.  Now, instead of a physical book, many people are opting to download literature on a tablet, Nook or Kindle.  No more glossy, cover art work to dazzle the eyes; no more turning of crisp pages, touching the story as you read the words; no more smell of print.  It is a little heartbreaking to me,  although I must confess, I truly enjoyed my Kindle this summer.  Instead of packing six, thick, heavy books along on a trip, I had a thin, lightweight Kindle, giving me access to thousands of titles with wifi connection and a touch of a button.

We all know that technology has both enhanced and in some ways inhibited education and personal relationships, but what about the world of publishing?  What do Amazon and iBooks mean for the author, agent and publishing firm?  What about the bookseller?

This week, I have two videos for you to watch.  Please watch both and then tell me your thoughts on technology, literature, and how the two both help and hinder each other.   I will be patiently awaiting, in front of my screen, with my real, honest to goodness "vintage" book in hand...