Friday, July 25, 2014

Why I Have A Renewed Hope in Humanity

I think the world can be a pretty depressing place.  Especially English classrooms.  English classrooms can be very depressing.  I love English and I love classrooms, but so often those two things combined do not maximize their full potential.  At library summer program last week, I was talking to some girls about books and The Fault in Our Stars and I was like, "Hey, have you studied that in school yet?"  And they were like, "Um no we're in middle school we don't read books for school yet are you dumb."  I realize now that reading TFiOS in middle school might be arguably inappropriate content-wise coming from the government curriculum (even though middle schoolers read it anyway), but the point is NO REQUIRED READING UNTIL HIGH SCHOOL??! Thank you, middle schoolers from library summer program, for properly scaring me out of my wits.

But I'd just like to say that, despite the decline of English classrooms in our time, we aren't too far gone yet. I have seen a glimmer of hope.

Watch out, world: Reading Rainbow is making a comeback.

That's right, kids.  105,857 people have raised over 5 million dollars on Reading Rainbow's Kickstarter project (which ended earlier this month) to bring Reading Rainbow to new audiences.  With addition of a 1 million dollar celebrity donation from Seth MacFarlane, the grand total was over 6 million.  OVER SIX MILLION DOLLARS.  Did I mention that the Kickstarter goal was only 1 million? Did I mention that in the first three days of the Kickstarter, they raised a million each day? Did I further mention that this is CRAZY AWESOME and that it spells hope for future generations?

This is huge because we actually do have a reading problem in our country/educational system, in case you've been living under a rock. (I was. Until library summer program.) And Reading Rainbow (the show, the app, and now other cool stuff) does more to instill in kids a love of reading and the magic of a story than you might think. It's changing lives by changing the way and how much kids read both in and out of the classroom.  

The Reading Rainbow "revival" project is called a literacy fundraiser because, according to the Reading Rainbow stats, kids are growing up illterate.

this is what Reading Rainbow says

But illiteracy aside, reading is crazy important.  You can be literate without maximizing your full potential. And I guarantee that reading helps you maximize your full potential. Reading other people's stories helps you realize what you want out of your own. 

So what is Reading Rainbow doing with all that money?  In this digital age, they're adapting Reading Rainbow to screens of all sorts.  They're formatting books and their "video field trips" for not only personal use but also for full fledged classroom use. They have three specific goals (which they can now meet thanks to SIX MILLION DOLLARS): 

This is super duper awesome.  Free books? In English classrooms that are otherwise dying from a lack of BOOKS? I'm a fan.


The Kickstarter is now closed, but click here if you still want to support the project.  And follow Reading Rainbow on Twitter for more cool book news.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post: The Hemingway Challenge with Monica

Hey, Charlie and Me peeps. Ally here. I bet you weren't dreaming of lions on African beaches last night. I bet when you opened your eyes this morning you didn't realize that it was Ernest Hemingway's birthday. Bet ya didn't know that July is Hemingway month. Hemingway was born in July and he died in July, so this is his month. Cheers, Ernest. *raises glass of sobriety*

Today we have a special guest. She is a writer, a reader, a ridiculously cool person, and she blogs at Veni Scripsit Vici. The old timers probably remember her from when she guest posted last year. She is about as Englishy as they come, and it's incredibly frustrating to hear her speak because it lowers the IQ of everyone else in the room by about a zillion.* Although she hasn't written her inevitable award-winning novel yet, she did win a Jane Austen award at school for being the smartest, most Englishy person around. More importantly, she is my roommate. A few weeks ago, she and I honored Hemingway's legacy by doing a six word story challenge together, and she's here today to tell you about it. Please welcome Monica!

~   ~   ~

* DISCLAIMER: Contrary to Ally's introduction, I do not lower the IQ of the whole street. However, a lack of sleep can certainly do something to the human mind akin to IQ lowering. Observe.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who pulled a late night working on this post.
Edit it out? Never. Too funny. Anyways...

Relaying a story to a friend is an excellent exercise as a writer. It’s a real time opportunity to put all those literary devices to the test. With a dash of irony, a pinch of hyperbole, and the proper diction, you can elicit tears or laughter in minutes. No editing. No rewrites. No take backs. The feedback is instant and the critics always have your best interests at heart. One can learn a lot from real-time story-telling. Oral tradition is, after all, the origin of quite a few famous literary works.

Homer Reciting His Poems by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1790

With this in mind, I’d like to take a conversational approach to this blog post. I’m not going to moralize, teach a new skill, or reveal a profound truth. I’m just here to talk, to share a good story. While I can’t see if you’re rolling with laughter or scrolling with boredom, my hope is that the comments section below will make this feel a little like a regular dialogue. So without further ado, pull up a chair, let me pour you something hot -- tea or coffee? -- and tell you a little story about what this post was supposed to be about.

Some time in late June, Ally and I contrived to get together to catch up, eat food (obviously), and work on the blog collaboration which now sits before you. Earlier in the summer, Ally had suggested we take the Hemingway Challenge, and I had proposed we blog about it. (You can watch the video that inspired us here and read about the legend that inspired it here.) We thought we would do the challenge together, write a snappy blog post about it, and publish it on Hemingway’s birthday. Which we did. Just... not in the way we had planned.

After I arrived at Ally’s house with my sister and sleeping bag in tow, Ally and I contemplated when/how we would actually complete the challenge. Should we take pictures of this momentous occasion? Did we want to modify the rules of the game? What kind of tea best accompanies flash fiction? And then, like Frodo and Sam, a strange wizard in the form of Ally’s mother called us on an unexpected journey. We left home behind, and faced the world ahead as we traveled to that place where darkness thrives and fire rages. There is an evil that dwells there that could make even the strongest of men quake with fear. We would face Mt. Doom. We would face...

... Wal-Mart.

We did what any aspiring authors would do. We improvised! Why did we have to write our challenge prompts on paper? Why not use some concrete objects, like ridiculously low priced rollback items? And as long as we were about to do something borderline insane, why not vlog the whole event!? If we died in the attempt, at least there would be videographic evidence that we had done it in pursuit of literary greatness. We weren’t just going to write some stories: We were about to make some!

Long story short, I learned quite a few things on that trip. First: I can’t vlog. You would think my devotion to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries would have prepared me to wing it on screen, but the truth is, I sound like an airhead straight out of a 90’s chick flick. I think I’ll practice my narration skills in the mirror next time. Second lesson: Life is too short not to be crazy once in awhile. Sure, Ally and I were mistaken as Wal-Mart employees, stared at while we filmed in front of a Pampers display, and eyed suspiciously while walking around the store with nothing but a piñata and a notebook (I named her Nina -- the piñata, not the notebook), but it was a blast. Our six word stories weren’t too shabby either.

Ally’s greeting card Wal-Mart prompt: 

“Five thousand in bank, or else.” -- Ally

Moni’s Duck Dynasty beard Wal-Mart prompt: 
“Billowing beard bespeaks big bill bucks.” -- Monica

The third lesson is likely the most important. Number three: Know your technology. See, Ally and I were having such a blast fooling around with Avengers toys and baby clothes that we didn’t pay mind to our camerawork. Neither of us stopped to relive our most recent embarrassing footage or do any mid-adventure editing. All of our attention was diverted to the Don’t Mind Us, We’re Just Talking to Ourselves in the Outdoors Section component of the vlogging experience. Little did we know that one of us had hit “stop” when we thought we were hitting “record.” Instead of clips of us smiling at the camera and giggling with childish delight, we found several minutes of our feet hitting the floor and one shot of me naming all the goldfish in the pet aisle. Still funny, but not exactly four minutes worth of funny. Hence the lack of footage in this post.

So, Ernest Hemingway, I hope you like our little birthday gift of flash fiction and humiliation. I know you probably expected something a little flashier, like a hysterical vlog or a meaningful tribute to your impact on the world, but inspiration has been tight these days and this was the best I could do.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Well, that was it. Your mug looks like it’s almost empty. Would you like some more? I’ll go fetch the sugar, and you go ahead and take to the comments section. I would love to hear your flash fiction, or your own funny stories, or your happy birthday Hemingway message. I’m sure Ally, Athena, and Marlene would love to be in on the conversation too! Thanks for having me, and I hope to be back again soon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Haiku Shmoo

I've been thinking about poetry lately.  That sounds really deep.  Actually, I was just very tired last night and surfed the web in an effort to fight sleep.  Ok, really, I was randomly scrolling through Twitter because I was bored.  And somehow in that messy, tweety ball of links and shortcuts that is Twitter, I stumbled upon the haiku hashtag and other gems of #micropoetry.  It was a bit addicting.  It was also contagious.  So, I got a little carried away.

Do not judge.  YOU try writing coherent anything--much less poetry--while you are 85% asleep.

Yes, I realize that I have to work on first lines.  I know that haiku first lines are only supposed to have five syllables and that half of my first lines above turned out with six.  It was a moment of weakness when I was counting the syllables on my fingers (math was never my strong point).  And as for the last two unfinished haikus ... do not judge.  Hard mental poetry work goin' on there.

Mmmmmmm ok I may not be the best poet ever a poet at all, but poetry which is not mine is da bomb. Like, the platonic form of poetry is da bomb.  Poetry, aside from being beautiful sounding and speaking to the interior rhythm of your being, has the power to capture thoughts and concepts and feelings and emotions in ways that prose never can.  Not only can poetry do what prose cannot ... but poetry does it in many less words. Prose specializes in using as many words as necessary to get a point or a thought or an image across. Poetry specializes in using meter to set up a maze that the reader has to follow to see the treasure at the end. It's like ... word fencing.

A haiku is composed of a total of seventeen syllables.  5 + 7 + 5.  That's it.  Haikus are just teensy snippets of poems. But like the power of all micropoetry, the power of haikus lies in a beautiful truth: that absence is a kind of a presence. The absence of spoken words to convey thoughts that are sometimes better left un-conveyed.  There is a force in absence, a power in silence.  You don't necessarily have to fill something with words to make it meaningful.

In an effort to help me better appreciate the silences in life, 85% Sleeping Me From Last Night briefly considered doing a haiku challenge wherein I write one haiku a day about anything.  As an exercise in constructing a word fence.  But for right now, I think I'm just going to sit back and admire the poetry of others. Twitter is a good place to start.  Gosh some people are so creative.  It makes me sick.

I can't figure out how to embed these dumb things so you just get a screenshot

not a haiku

If you have a Twitter account, go read some spontaneously tweeted original poetry for yourself.

All the meaningful silences and present absences.  Gah. <3  And goodness it makes me feel all Englishy inside.  So do yourself a favor today and read haikus.  Or write some.  Golly, if you write some, send them/comment/tweet to me so I can be impressed.  Kk?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Great Potential: A Tribute to New York

Two years ago in April, I fell in love. With a city. It's an interesting but complicated love story, so I won't go into it.  I know someone who is going to my city this summer, and I want to send this friend on her way with something to ponder.  A city has its faults and its quirks and its wonders.  A city is a complex combination of historical and contemporary particulars, but sometimes if you step back far enough, you can see the universals.  So today I'm picking up some scattered particulars of my city which all together, I think, sum up one of its universals.  There is great literary and human potential in this city even if it isn't always likable in its pieces.

New York City Aerial View HD wallpaper for Standard 4:3 5:4 Fullscreen UXGA XGA SVGA QSXGA SXGA ; Wide 16:10 5:3 Widescreen WHXGA WQXGA WUXGA WXGA WGA ; HD 16:9 High Definition WQHD QWXGA 1080p 900p 720p QHD nHD ; Other 3:2 DVGA HVGA HQVGA devices ( Apple PowerBook G4 iPhone 4 3G 3GS iPod Touch ) ; Mobile VGA WVGA iPhone iPad PSP Phone - VGA QVGA Smartphone ( PocketPC GPS iPod Zune BlackBerry HTC Samsung LG Nokia Eten Asus ) WVGA WQVGA Smartphone ( HTC Samsung Sony Ericsson LG Vertu MIO ) HVGA Smartphone ( Apple iPhone iPod BlackBerry HTC Samsung Nokia ) Sony PSP Zune HD Zen ; Tablet 2 Android ;

"New York. The city of a million stories. Half of them are true. The other half just haven't happened yet."
                                                          ― The Angels Take Manhattan

“If there were a god of New York, it would be the Greek's Hermes, the Roman's Mercury. He embodies New York qualities: the quick exchange, the fastness of language and style, craftiness, the mixing of people and crossing of borders, imagination.”
― James Hillman

The Doctor: “New York growled at my window. But I was ready for it. My stocking seams were straight. My lipstick was combat-ready and I was packing cleavage that could fell an ox at twenty feet.”
Amy: Doctor, you're doing it again.
The Doctor: I'm reading!
Amy: Out loud. Please could you not. 

"This fair but pitiless city of Manhattan was without a soul ... its inhabitants were manikins moved by wires and springs."
―  O. Henry, "The Making of a New Yorker"

Rory: What's the book?
The Doctor: Melody Malone. She's the private detective in Old Town New York.
Amy: She's got ice in her heart, and a kiss on her lips and a vulnerable side she keeps well-hidden.
The Doctor: Oh, you've read it?
Amy: No, you read it. Out loud. Then went, "Yowzah!"
Rory: Only you could fancy someone in a book.
The Doctor: I'm just reading. I just like the cover.

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
 F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Doctor: “I followed the skinny guy for two more blocks before he turned and I could ask what he was doing here. He looked a little scared so I gave him my best smile and my bluest eyes. 
Amy: Beware the Yowzah! Do not, at this point, yowz. [The Doctor looks startled] Doctor? What did the skinny guy say?
The Doctor: “He said, ‘I just went to get coffees for the Doctor and Amy. Hello, River.’” 

“When I had a look at the lights of Broadway by night, I said to my American friends : "What a glorious garden of wonders this would be, to any who was lucky enough to be unable to read.”
― G.K. Chesterton

Amy: What's River doing in a book? What's Rory doing in a book?
The Doctor: He went to get coffee. Pay attention.
Amy: He went to get coffee and turned up in a book. How does that happen?
The Doctor: I don't know! We're in New York.

“I carry the place around the world in my heart but sometimes I try to shake it off in my dreams”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rory: What is going on?

“The city is like poetry; it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”
― E.B. White

Amy: Where did you get this book?
The Doctor: It was in my jacket.
Amy: How did it get there?
The Doctor: How does anything get there? I've given up asking. Date. Date. Does she mention a date. When is this happening?
Amy: Yes, hang on. Oo. April 3rd, 1938.

“New York City, city of exaggerations. Place of Herculean ascensions and perilous falls.”
― Kurt Wenzel, Lit Life: A Novel

River: You didn't come here in the TARDIS obviously.
Rory: Why?
River: You couldn't have. 

“New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Doctor: Couldn't have! What does she mean, couldn't have?

“It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
― E.B. White, Here Is New York

River: This city's full of time distortions. It'd be impossible to land the TARDIS here. Like trying to land a plane in a blizzard. Even I couldn't do it.

“For in that city there is neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy.”
― Evelyn Waugh

The Doctor: Even who couldn't do it?!
Amy: Don't you two fall out. She's only in a book.
The Doctor: Hunh. 1938. Easy one. 

“To Europe she was America. To America she was the gateway to the earth. But to tell the story of New York would be to write a social history of the world.”
― H.G. Wells

Amy: What was that?
The Doctor: 1938. We just bounced off it. 

“The streets of New York and some wards of its venerable institutions were packed with people who, despite being entirely forsaken, had episodes of glory that made the career of Alexander the Great seem like a day in the life of a file clerk.”
― Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale

Amy: The Weeping Angels.
The Doctor: It makes sense.
Amy: It makes what?
The Doctor: That's what happened to Rory. That's what the Angels do, it's their preferred form of attack. They dump you back in time, let you live to death.

“Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you'll live through the night.”
― Dorothy Parker

Amy: Well we're gonna get there somehow. We're in the rest of the book.
The Doctor [having trouble hearing]: I'm what?
Amy: Page 43. You're going to break something.
The Doctor: I'm what?
Amy: "Why do you have to break mine, I asked the Doctor. He fired and said, ‘Because Amy read it in a book and now I have no choice—’”
The Doctor: Stop! No! No! Stop! You can't read ahead. You mustn't, and you can't do that.

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
― Nora Ephron

Amy: But we've already been reading it.
The Doctor: Just the stuff that's happening now, in parallel with us. That's as far as we go.
Amy: But it could help us find Rory.
The Doctor: And if you read ahead and find that Rory dies? This isn't any old future, Amy. It's ours. Once we know what's coming it's fixed. I'm going to break something because you told me I'm going to do it. No choice now.
Amy: Time can be rewritten.
The Doctor: Not once you've read it. Once we know it's coming, it's written in stone.

“Cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real flesh and I myself am not a dream.”
― Helen Keller, Midstream: My Later Life

Rory: I always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty. I guess she got impatient.

“It couldn't have happened anywhere but in little old New York.”
― O. Henry

Amelia Williams: Hello, old friend. And here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone. So know that we lived well and were very happy. And above all else, know that we will love you always... And do one more thing for me. There's a little girl waiting in a garden. She's going to wait a long while, so she's going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she's patient, the days are coming that she'll never forget. Tell her she'll go to see and fight pirates. She'll fall in love with a man who'll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she'll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived. And save a whale in outer space. Tell her, this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends. 

Things happen in New York that don't happen in other places on maps.  Of course, that goes for all places on maps.  But everybody has a story to tell, and sometimes it takes a city to make us realize it.  That is the legacy of New York.  Hopefully, my friend, you'll have a story to tell when you come back.  Love you.