Monday, July 28, 2008

Ful redy hadde he his apothecaries
To sende him drogges and his letuaries,
For ech of hem made oother for to wynne—

The other night after I’d watched at least five dozen commercials for drugs on television, I dreamed that Chaucer’s Doctor of Phisik, or physician, spoke to me.
Amazingly, he spoke Modern English. “Yo, Hank,” he said. “Wassup? My apothecaries have developed a new drug. It’s totally awesome. It’s called Pilosec-H. I wanna introduce it to modern times, and I want you to tell the folks who read your blog about it. Don’t worry about the money. I’ll cut you in.”
What’ll Pilosec-H do?” I asked, intrigued.
Well, it’ll cure hemorrhagic fever, halitosis, hives, headaches, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, hernias, hysteria, hangnails, and flatulence.”
Sounds good. But what about the possible side effects?”
Not many,” replied my visitor. “Just warts, toenail fungus, body odor, chronic constipation, excessive drooling, bulging eyeballs, hairy palms, turkey neck, cellulite, buck teeth, coreopsis of the ductile tract, blindness, and death.”
Let me get this straight,” I responded. “Are you telling me that although Pilosec-H can cure ten medical conditions, it can also cause twelve others?”
You got a problem with that?” The worthy physician glared at me with eyes that could have shattered diamonds.
I was about to respond when I awoke from a deep sleep. “I must’ve been dreaming,” I croaked. “Must’ve been watching too many drug company commercials on TV.”
Yes, honey,” purred Elizabeth. “You usually just snore and grunt while you sleep, but this time you were muttering something about drooling, hysteria, coreopsis of the ductile tract, and death.”
Oh,” I responded as I reached for an aspirin.

Norma Jean Is Alive and Well in Boston

From the Boston Writing Project, Peter Golden reports that in one of several photo-related exercises he uses with students at South Boston High School he projects a photo of Marilyn Monroe (a Norma Jean photo) and asks the students to write down their responses and share them. After the students arrive at a general description of the subject, as in shy or sophisticated, Golden presses them for details. Then he directs them to write descriptions of Norma that convey their conclusion (shy or sophisticated) without using that word. “In other words,” he writes, “the reader should come to the same conclusion just by reading the description.”

“Marriage is a thing you’ve got to give your whole mind to.”
Henrik Ibsen, The League of Youth

This photograph of a bridal party in the Netherlands can stimulate many writing assignments. Here are the opening lines to one high school student’s imaginative fictional follow up.
"If you had told me last year that Dave and I would be getting married, I’d have said that you’re crazy. But here I am, a bride—and a very happy one, too. Now, as I look around and see the happy faces of my friends and relatives, I wonder why I waited so long. I must have been crazy!"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

O Folio, Folio! wherefore art thou Folio?
Ten years ago someone stole a rare 400-year-old Shakespeare First Folio from a display case at the Durham University library in England. On June 16, 2008 a man claiming to be an international businessman from Cuba walked into the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. and asked to have it authenticated.
Guess what? Suspicious staff members at the library asked to keep the book while they did research; identified it as the one that had been stolen; and contacted the FBI, which began an international manhunt for the thief.
On July 11, 2008 police in Durham arrested a 50-year-old man for the theft of the First Folio edition of 1623, which scholars consider one of the most important books in the English language.
Nice work, Folger librarians; FBI agents; and members of the Durham, England Police Department. It's comforting to think that the book thief won't find any rare books in the library at his new home in a prison somewhere across the pond.

How Martin Brandt Uses Side-by-Side Photos
In one photo-related exercise that he uses, English teacher Martin Brandt shows his students at Independence High School, San Jose, California side-by-side photos of two women and asks them to respond in writing to the following five questions: (1) What does each photograph show? (2) How is each woman dressed? (3) What do you notice about the environment of each woman? (4) What do you notice about the condition of each woman? What do the two women have in common?
If you have a favorite photo-related writing activity, why not share it with us?

There Will Be No Kellner's Own Highly Coveted Golden Pen Award This Week
That's because I saw Mister Bean's Holiday, which is probably the dumbest, silliest collection of images ever captured on film. What's more, the sound track is truly an abomination. About the only positive things I can say about this tribute to mindlessness is that some of the scenes that were photographed in France were quite nice. Oh, and there was one scene in which Mr Bean sang the aria "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.
Instead of a Golden Pen Award, I'm awarding Mister Bean's Holiday 5 1/2 wooden plungers.
Yak, Yak, Yak. Cell Phones Rule the World
Did you know that in mid-2006 there were an estimated 219 million cell phone users in the United States alone? Can you imagine how may there are today? And can you imagine how many of your students suffer from cellphonitis, a disease from which there is no cure?
I'll bet that if you show your students the photo at the left, they'd find plenty to write about. They could, for example, discuss the positive and negative effects cell phones have on their users. Or maybe they'd speculate as to whether or not cell phones help people become closer in their relationships. Maybe they'd discuss a time when using a cell phone got them into trouble. Or perhaps they'd like to tell about one or more interesting conversations they heard while others were using cell phones.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

Did you know that a recent study by the Intercollegiate Study Institute revealed that in a 60-question quiz given to 14,000 students at 50 colleges, a majority of the students could not identify the quotation cited above? And would you be surprised to discover that some of the students thought its source is the Communist Manifesto? Suzanne Fields, The Washington Times

Using Photographs to Teach Writing

Frank Holes, Jr. is the editor of Star Teaching and an English teacher at Inland Lakes Middle School, Indian River, Michigan. Holes shows his students photographs of children performing daily activities and asks them such questions as Who is the Child? What is his/her name? What is the subject's family like? How old is the subject? What is he or she feeling? "I also ask the students to give a full description of the setting that includes sense impressions," writes Holes. Then he asks questions related to a possible plot before he directs the students to write a story that places the child in the setting.

Kellner's Own Highly Coveted Golden Pen Award

Denzel Washington's performance in The Great Debaters won't earn him the highly coveted Kellner's Own Golden Pen Award, but it is notable for its intensity. Set in a small college in Texas during 1935, the film tells the story of a group of college debaters who beat the odds and go on to achieve success.

I Don't Like Honey with My Fried Eggs

Elizabeth and I were having breakfast at Billy Bob's Diner--yes, there really is a Billy Bob's Diner here in Winston-Salem--when the server looked at me and asked, "What'll it be, honey?" Uggh, I thought. If one more server at a restaurant or diner calls me honey or sweetie or darlin', I'm gonna go berserk!

Always quick to read my mind, Elizabeth looked at me, smiled, and warned me with her eyes that if I didn't behave myself, there would be consequences. Ignoring her, I looked up at the server and replied, "I don't like honey with my fried eggs!"

Unfortunately, my attempt at satire had no effect on the server. "No problem," she responded. "We don't serve honey with eggs, darlin'. Now how do you want 'em?"

Defeated, I slumped back in my seat and croaked, "I'll have a bowl of oatmeal."

As we left Billy Bob's Diner a while later, Elizabeth hooked her arm into mine, looked up at me, smiled, and purred, "Would you like me to drive, sweetie?"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Welcome to My Blog

Whatever Happened to “You’re Welcome”?
If you’re as ancient as I am, you can probably remember the time when people responded to your polite “Thank you” with a smile and a pleasant “You’re welcome.” That’s why, like me, you probably cringe when clerks and others respond to your thanks with a curt “No problem.”
No problem? Was there a problem to begin with? Oh well, maybe I’m being too critical. Even so, it would be nice to hear someone say, “You’re welcome” every so often. What do you think?

Here's How One Teacher Uses Photography To Teach Writing
Mary Ellen Meyer is a teacher consultant at the Prairie Lands Writing Project. In her high school English classes, she asks students to write “I Am From” poems based on photos that are significant to them in terms of their lives. To support this activity, she asks such questions as Where are you from? Who are/were your grandparents or great grandparents? What occupations did some of your ancestors have?
Meyer has also used this exercise at a writing institute for teachers. You can see samples at under "Writing Marathon Example 1 Addie” and at under “Example 1 Michelle.” And don’t miss Meyer’s blog at

Off Topic Musings

> I hope you noticed that I didn’t write Totally Off Topic Musings (above). Yucch! What a dreadful word. Totally, indeed! What do you think?
> I watched the film Love in the Time of Cholera on DVD last night. It was so good that I’m giving it the coveted Kellner’s Own Golden Pen and Ink Award for excellence in cinematography, acting, music, direction, and everything else that contributes to the creation of a wonderful film.
> Is stress getting you down? Well, now there’s a drug-free way to cope! Yes! Just go to and order Cottonwood Press’s Polka Therapy DVD. Even if you’re too, uh, advanced in age to prance around the dance floor to such classics as “Road Rage Polka,” “Acapella Polka, and “Pooper Scooper Polka,” you’ll love these immortal melodies.