Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Humble Suggestion for Eliminating, Revising and Replacing Textspeak

In short, stop it, you idiots. Every acronym and code for a reaction contributes to the further erosion of our verbal and written communication skills. Or do you want Orwell proved right?

But speaking politely, The Flannel Diaries' Social Research Department (a subsidiary of Flannel Diaries Social Research and Development) has devised some "training wheel" replacements for your favorite emoticons and text codes so as to make our transition back to the use of nouns, adjectives and verbs that much easier. Basically, every time you feel the urge to communicate in SMS, consult this list (devised through a painstaking Google search and early morning coffee binge) instead. It's what you're really trying to say after all. Keep these for handy reference, and in no time, you'll be reacquainted with our old friend Mr. Word.
LOL: "Your comments have just elicited an audible reaction indicating amusement on my part."

G2G: "American Idol is on now and I must watch it or I'll die."

TMI: "All I said was, 'How did the honeymoon go?' Put your pants back on."

AAMOF: "I've just made a completely imbecilic point, and am now about to hype it up with manufactured facts of my own device." (Favorite of Tso)

SLAP: "Yes, we should definitely go to the mall and hang out."

TTFN: Males--"I like to boink guys in the butt."; Females--"I like to hang around guys that boink other guys in the butt." (Another favorite of Tso's)

ROTFLMAO: "Those Youtube videos are awesome! Did you see that? That guy totally punched himself in the crotch!"

OMG: "Gracious!"

WTF: "Goodness gracious!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

God, Incorporated

Basically, when I first got some photo editing software, I stayed up all night screwing around, trying to do something appropriately sacrilegious. But I abandoned it after the first page.

P.S. You have to click on it. I can't figure out how to get Blogger to leave more room for images.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Retort to Facebook Moms

Retort to Facebook Moms

And whoever feels the need to tell the world,
"Oh, how I need a mani and a pedi!"
Ensures my absence at her child's First Communion.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

I can't concentrate on my work. Because I've been drinking too much. So:

Heroic Couplets I Wrote Today

"On Flipping Through the Classified Section of the Chicago Tribune"
To break the wave, and see what skies behind
Ope arms and opportunities divine?
Or, making anchor fast, to hunker down
In waters stagnant, true, but not unsound?

"On Drinking Heavily While Doing Lesson Plans"
The beer commutes from hand to mouth to brain
And throws a wall betwixt my will and gain.
Tis foolish, true, to gorge on nectar sweet,
But comfort tis, since I've goals yet to meet.

"Why I Want to Marry [My Girlfriend] (for reals)"
That woman calls herself my "common" wife.
I'd think this folly, if not for the strife
That does her presence dear accompany--
No trophy that which comes too easily.

Summer Employment Emerges

The Shakespearian powers that be in Washington, D.C. have bestowed a stipend upon yours truly to study four Shakespeare plays this summer and ways to integrate them into the high school curriculum. So, for a month, I'll be living in downtown D.C. boning up on Macbeth, Henry IV Part One, Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night (I think) and cooking up lesson plans for today's beleaguered high school teachers. Nifty.

I have to strut a bit here. Sorry, but this is just further evidence of the quality you get when I'm in the picture. My position on the arts and literature in today's public school curriculum is hardly news (I've written and spoken about it extensively in circles where, in all honesty, people would prefer to be speaking about the Chicago Bears or their own cutie-pie kids instead), but now I've got the full power of the NEH and the Mellon Foundation writing me a check to carry out my crusade to Save the Humanities. From now on, when you envision me, envision me with a cape. Because I think it's more accurate to envision me as a caped crusader.

Oh yeah, and my "wife" said I could go. So, you know, I'm unstoppable.

For posterity, here's the essay that got me in:

Take me into your program, goddammit!

An Application Essay

In Alan Bennett’s Tony Award-winning play History Boys, seven Oxford and Cambridge candidates conduct mock interviews in front of a triumvirate of teachers, filtering out personal interests and passions that might potentially be obstacles to admission. One of the students professes an interest in the theater and acting, to which the more utilitarian teacher warns him not to “play it up too much. Most dons think acting is a waste of time.” To this, Hector, the defender of the humanities, responds wearily, “So much for Shakespeare.”

“So much for Shakespeare” is practically a trope in certain pedagogic circles today. The artists and literature that inspire educators and make us wish to pass along knowledge, perspective, language and feeling to our students are being swallowed up by naysayers and test prep seminars. Forget acting: reading Shakespeare in the classroom has suddenly become almost an embarrassment. “You can’t expect them to ‘get’ Shakespeare, “a colleague of mine recently scoffed. “I didn’t get it at their age, and I wound up being an English teacher!”

It seems to me this is no time for those who would be full-throated defenders of the humanities to toil away alone in their classrooms, locking the door against progress and standardized exams. Networking is necessary. Collaboration is of the utmost advantage. And these are the main reasons I am applying to the Folgers Shakespeare Library Teaching Shakespeare Institute. I need help. And I wish to do my part as well.

The idea of studying the plays the Institute plans to address this summer is reason enough for me to apply, but the idea of studying them in an attempt to reintegrate them into the curriculum in the wake of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top is the real reason. I want to look into ways to use Shakespeare more interactively with the students, as well as finding ways to force them to wallow in his work on their own. I want students to have Shakespearian allusions and references at their disposal. I want them to know the vocabulary. I want them to be able to connect the characters and situations to today’s world, and discover a nuance previously unknown. If, as Marjorie Garber argues, Shakespeare reflects, anticipates and shapes both his own and our culture, I want today’s students to take a part in that. It seems to me that the Institute is a perfect opportunity to approach Shakespeare with the old school passion that drove me into the classroom in the first place, but also an opportunity to tackle the plays with 21st century technology and pedagogical theory in mind as well.

In all honesty, I didn’t develop a passion for William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets until relatively recently. I devoured the standard fare in high school, college and graduate school, of course: in my Family Systems Therapy seminar, for example, we spent a wonderful three hours dissecting King Lear’s behavior towards his daughter in the light of familial power grids. But one year into my current job teaching English, I was showing the film Henry V, which I had never read, to my Honors Sophomore English class, in order to assign them an analytic essay. I read the play, and then reread it. I found more of the lines familiar to me than I thought. I spent some time wallowing in the historical analogies (this was right smack in the middle of President Bush’s foray into the Iraq war, and the Prince Hal/Dubya comparisons were all over the pages of the New York Times). I cracked open Henry IV, then Richard III, and pretty soon, I was haunting the web for news about any of these plays going on stage anywhere near me. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m often told the best way to inspire students is to inspire yourself. After a summer studying the Henry plays and Richard III, I managed to cook up a week-long unit on the Evil Guy Speech in Shakespeare for my sophomores. The idea was to get them to memorize a speech of their choice in which an antagonist, be it Aaron the Moor, Richard III or Iago, would spill his plans, and then find a contemporary scenario in which this villain would thrive. I assigned a compare and contrast essay, and to me, the idea was simplicity itself: “Tell why Shylock would have thrived at Enron! Or how about Lady Macbeth in the world of fashion? Go to it, people. This essay will write itself.”

And it would have, if I had spent more time going over current events with them. Or if I had made the choice of characters wider (famous lovers, for example? or military advisers?) and given them more options to explore. The idea was sound enough, but in my private lesson plans, under “Explore Play,” I’d simply noted that the language would draw them in. I’d not made any effort to “sell” the material, whether out of intellectual arrogance or naiveté. As a result, I got about fifty essays basically saying that Lady Macbeth would have excelled in fashion. Because, you know, she’s ruthless. Like Meryl Streep in that Prada movie.

The following year, the lesson was much more successful: students were asked to find correlations between a modern-day icon of their choice and a corresponding character of their choice from Hamlet, Henry V or Macbeth. Some students glommed on to an interest I was taking in President Nixon at the time and cooked up arguments concerning Macbeth, Watergate and the notion of Abuse of Power; many students found moody grunge and pop rock stars to tie to Hamlet’s weariness with a corrupt and “phony” world. A few took the high road and argued that guys like Bardolph and Nym were just like Oliver North, John Dean and former NSA analyst Russell Tice, since their own base natures were consistent when their superior threw the book at them, making the superior the hypocrite and them the “tragic” heroes. What the essays lacked in historical perspective, they more than made up for in tone and enthusiasm. I have rarely enjoyed reading such dubious arguments as much as I did then.

Those lessons are currently ancient history. My high school did not make AYP for three years in a row, and as a result, we rewrote the course into a World Literature and Communication class, with an emphasis on incremental English and Reading skills. This is necessary in many ways: the complaint that too many teachers approach the arts as if they were literature professors is a justified one. But I firmly believe that, in teaching content, one teaches skills as well. My three-play unit on Shakespeare has been truncated to one (Macbeth), while Romeo and Juliet has disappeared from the freshman curriculum altogether. That makes the time remaining spent on Shakespeare that much more valuable, and I feel the Institute would be a good way to make the most of this time.

I have a voracious appetite for the works of William Shakespeare. I’m relatively tech savvy, with interpersonal skills and the discipline and focus necessary to embark on a long-term project such as this. I want to contribute ideas and hear the ideas of others. I absolutely love the idea of collaborating with a diverse group of teachers, all with a common goal, and I think I would be of considerable use. Please accept my application for the summer institute, and feel free to contact me with any questions. William Shakespeare is not done with my students yet, nor they with him. If indeed “The weight of this sad time we must obey,” that’s not to also mean we can’t speak “what we ought to say.”