Archive for the ‘brain exercises’ Category


Rule Two—Lessons Of Rock Success: Establish The Name*

July 8, 2010

We got this band together, the Banana Convention. • Greg, The Brady Bunch

My sporadic, mostly out-of-townish obsession with band names is long-standing. I was once an Academia Nut and with my partner nut, Mike Jager, I keynoted and presented at conferences and wrote curriculum. The Decades Project was one of our curricular creations. We explored history decade by decade, looking for information bypassed by textbooks. In an exercise from The Sixties: A New Twist (This Will Intrigue Students & Teachers), we asked students to create their own name, logo, and look–all sixties’ inspired–for an aspiring rock group, mimicking names like Ball Point Banana and Frosted Suede.

There were plenty of examples since the sixties gave birth to an explosion of imaginative band names that linked unexpected words and phrases: Chocolate Watchband. Electric Prunes. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. Daisy Overkill. Ultimate Spinach. Strawberry Alarm Clock. Other names I love from this period include:

The Charging Tyrannosaurus of Despair
Frumious Bandersnatch
(a reference to Lewis Carroll’s poem, “Jabberwocky”)
The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities
Transantlantic Chicken Wicken No. 5

Hmmm indeed.

Beyond the sixties, I love A Cat Born in an Oven Is Not a Cake, Frogs Don’t Cry, Jabbering Trout, Two Cow Garage, and The New Squids on the Dock. And then there’s The Baby Won’t Eat His Corn Dog and People with Chairs Up Their Noses.

This is just a warning. Chicago, Portland, and Washington, D.C., band name stuff is on its way.

You know what I’m going to ask. Just do it! Name your band. And don’t think just because you’ve done this before that you can stop. Before the Beatles became the Beatles, they were the Beat Makers, Johnny and the Moondogs, the Nurk Twins (John and Paul only), the Quarrymen, the Rainbows, Ricky and the Red Streaks, and the Silver Beatles.

In my fantasy, I have a band named Fix Your Own Damned Supper and my first song is called “Unless Your Arms Are Broken, You’ll Have to Wash Your Own Dirty Clothes.” Mothers everywhere will download it. • Comment regarding women’s work at my exhibit, “You & Your Big Mouth: Insight and Irreverence from Irrepressible Women.”

* Thanks to Malcolm McLaren, performer and former manager of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls, for the title quotation.


Little Surprises Around Every Corner, But Nothing Dangerous!*

July 4, 2010

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. • Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The fourth of July is one of my least favorite holidays, not because I’m not patriotic, but because I don’t like fireworks unless they’re being set off safely by some professional who knows what s/he is doing, preferably at Disneyland, where I can enjoy them from a distance while waiting in line to ride on the Matterhorn or It’s a Small World or something else where I’m outside and can see the sky. You already know how I feel about parades.

I don’t enjoy hearing fireworks explode near our house. I am reminded of the neighbors we once had whose sons were old enough to know better but still liked to put pieces of some sort of high explosive under manhole covers and blow them up. It was stupid and dangerous and their father thought it was hilarious. Those of us who lived close by were less entranced.

If you want to light the fuse on Dragon Dazzlers, Pop-Em-Off Whiz Bangers, Whippety Snap Surprises, and other fanciful sparkly stuff, do it somewhere else. Endanger your own property. Not mine. Not your neighbors’. Having fun that causes someone else anxiety seems to skew the whole equation of delight.

Alas, it is easy to rant, isn’t it? I meant for this post to be a reminder that you can Sillybrate a Mirthday in many ways and to share with you how to make an “Ire Cracker,” a RecycleLit idea from Dr. Z’s House of Fun. And so I shall.

“Ire Crackers” were born when I was trying to decide how to use a big box of empty toilet paper rolls delivered to my classroom.** My first idea was to use them for Toilet Paper Roles, a classroom version of literary/pop culture charades in which the roles were hidden in the rolls (lame wordplay never fails to amuse me as you’ve probably noticed). We stapled one end shut and used a binder clip to close the other end until it was drawn from a big basket. A version of this activity allows the use of toilet paper to create accessories and props. You can recycle this paper to make toilet paper modeling clay.

“Ire Crackers” was a stress relief idea we thought up while we were trying to figure out a clever delivery method for our anonymous messages of good cheer to faculty and staff, family and friends, and utter strangers. I’ve always loved Christmas crackers and it was just a small step from sharing some of these traditional celebratory treats I’d picked up cheap at a ninety percent off after-holiday sale (since seen in Harry Potter) to making our own. It was student who said they reminded him of fire crackers and a short mindtrip from there to “ire.”

How to make them? Stuff the toilet paper tube with good cheer. Jokes and silliness and inspiring quotations and little gifts. I like to use small bottles of blowable bubbles, balloons, bubble gum, and other things that “blow up,” in keeping with the firecracker idea. A bit of tissue paper wadded and stuffed in each end of the tube keeps the treasures inside.

Wrap the tubes in tissue paper, using a piece large enough to gather and tie on each end. Tie off the ends with ribbon or string. Decorate the crackers, writing a message on the outside. One of my favorites is this quotation from Nikita Khrushchev who reportedly said, after he was replaced as Soviet premier, “Life is short; live it up!”

What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Live and work, but do not forget to play, to have fun in life and really enjoy it. • Eileen Caddy

* Quotation courtesy of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

** Why the box? I always recommend that teachers provide opportunities for folks at home to contribute to the life of the classroom. I created a wish list that included things that don’t cost any money along with the other stuff like smelly markers and crayons and paper and feathers and sticky-backed googly eyes—all the things that a teacher often has to purchase with her or his own money so that there’ll be a variety of creative materials to inspire students. The box of tp rolls was a particularly generous contribution that lasted us for several years!


My Philosophy Is: Don’t Think.*

June 16, 2010

For Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I’ve mentioned one of my favorite teaching moments before: Several years ago a student told me—in defense of an extremely poorly researched and written paper—that the syllabus didn’t say he had to think. Since then, I’ve added this requirement to selected syllabi when I fear that this reminder may be necessary. I was reminded of this incident when I overheard two girls talking in the train station about their recently-completed finals and one complained to the other that her teacher actually expected her to “think and stuff.”

I like to think. Here are several quotations that inspire me. If you’d like to ponder something, give one of them a whirl:

What you don’t know would make a great book. • Sydney Smith

What don’t you know? This is a really long list for me. What I don’t understand would fill another book. What confuses me is yet another. I could fill a library with unknowns and uncertainties. And, of course, I am a smartypants too, and could fill several volumes with both useful and useless information. How about you? Which volumes in your library would be the largest?

Three fortunes found in one day at an ATM, on the sidewalk, and with Chinese food, NYC, May 29, 2006: 1) Believe in yourself and others will too. 2) Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. 3) Don’t be afraid of fear.

Write three interrelated fortunes for yourself that you’d like to have come true.

First sentences are doors to worlds. • Ursula K. Le Guin

Write a series of first sentences and then choose one to explore further.

In the movie, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, Arthur O’Connell says to Gregory Peck: “Write me your autobiography in one hour—everything you can think about in one hour. Explain yourself for us. Examine your life—tell us what kind of person you are and why we should hire you—and at the end, I want you to finish this sentence: The most significant thing about me is. . .”

Write a one hour autobiography and be sure to answer the question: What’s the most significant thing about you?

What inspires your thinking? What do you like to spend time thinking about?

The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths treaded with flowers planted by the mind. • Katherine Mansfield

* Clearly, this philosophy worked well for Charles Manson, the notorious man who said it.


Playing Games With Band Names: “Rendered Useless” As I Explore The “Staggering Depths” Of “Unfallen Heroes” And “The Deep Sea Vents” “Beyond the Red Horizon” With “The Control Freaks.” Stop Me Now.

June 12, 2010

For Friday, June 11, 2010, still on the road and still having problems connecting, although fortunately, not with my brain.

I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells. • Dr. Seuss

More band names from Portland, Oregon, entertainment mags to entertain you, along with suggested braindancing activities:

School-related band names: Math the Band (What math-themed songs might they play? Invent the names; write the lyrics.) Doubleplusgood (What other literary allusions would make good band names?) Guidance Counselor (Cliques or other school groups and employees?)

Early morning foodish names: Create your own, inspired by Pancake Breakfast, Brkfst Sndwch, and Breakfast Mountain. Mine are: French Toast, Western Omelet, Overeasy, Huevos Rancheros, TV Dinner, The Spamtones, and The Velveta Underground (definitely a tribute band with recipe-themed tunes). My husband suggests Pigs in a Blanket.

Directives: Create a band name that orders people around like Stick to Your Guns, Bring Me Solace, Explode Into Colors, Raise the Bridges, Cage the Elephant, and Close Your Eyes.

Wordplay: Thuggage and Bearracuda. Create a band name that’s a play on words.

Story creation: Insominac Folklore—choose a band name and write a story to go with it:

A Place to Bury Strangers

The Grave Babies

The Tallest Man on Earth

Old Death Whisper

Indelible Terror

Alien Parachute Man

Crypt of the Grave

Bloody Panda

Kill the Kids

Whispering Tongues

The Closet Monsters

Facing Extinction

Vampire Weekend

I Am the Monster

The Ghost Inside

Game creation: Jar of Lies. What would the rules for this game be?

And one of my all-time favorites: Dragging an Ox through Water. Plus still more mundane names to inspire you: Window Pane, My Morning Jacket, The Sale, and Stimulus Package. Just look around the room you’re sitting in. I see The Mirrors, Ice Bucket, File Folders, Scotch Tape, and Sofa Cushions.

Invent a game to go with the name of a musical group you like. Rolling Stones would probably be an outside game; write its rules.

Still more possibilities from The Simpsons: Steamed Hams, My Cat’s Name Is Mittens, Nerdy Likes His Booky Wook, Fatty Fat Fat Fat, and It Didn’t Die.


You Knew It Was Coming And Here It Is, A Traveling Band Names’ Posting. This Does Not Mean That The Bands Are Traveling, Although They Might Be. But I Am And The Collecting Continues.

June 10, 2010

Some possible band names suggested by quotations from The Simpsons, from the site You’ll Have to Speak Up, I’m Wearing a Towel; I Beat the Smart Kids; Tastes Like Burning; You Don’t Make Friends with Salad; and My Cat’s Breath Smells Like Cat Food.

I am disappointed and frustrated by my fruitless search for band names from the Midwest and the East coast. There was nothing useful in Minneapolis-St. Paul or Chicago and I’ve found nothing in Washington, D.C., although I’m still hopeful and still hunting. Of course, I could go online and find out the names of bands who are active in these areas, but that’s not the way this works. I want to hunt through pages looking for good ones. Otherwise it’s a chore and not a game. I don’t need more work in my life.

Fortunately for me—unfortunately for you—I found a bonanza in Portland, Oregon, before we left the train station there, and I’ve finally had a chance to go through the entertainment magazines and record some favorites. Today, I’m just going to share a few, but more band name games are coming at you soon. I know you can’t wait. These are from the Portland [Oregon] Mercury for May 27, 2010, and Portland’s Willamette Week for May 26, 2010.


Ghost Town Waltz

Million Brazillions

Throwback Suburbia

Yogoman Burning Band

Betrayed by Weakness

Tiny Knives

The Hand that Bleeds

Dead Winter Carpenters

Deformity and Gorbachev

Hairspray Blues


Puke ‘n’ Rally

The Beaker Heads

Drive-By Truckers

Several of my favorites also fall into the category of mundane names, making the common ironically amusing: The Student Loan, Hurt Bird, Shopping Cart, First Aid Kit, Cheap Eats, and Night Gown (although I believe that nightgown is the correct spelling for sleeping apparel so this may refer to some sparkly and spangled fancy dress worn by a lady singer).

What mundane name would you give your band?

And more from The Simpsons: Commander Cuckoo-Bananas, To The Beemobile, Flaming Moes, Purple Is A Fruit, and Just My Bones…And Organs.


Perhaps You Have Noticed That I Am Fond Of Excessively Lengthy Titles And Thus It Will Come As No Surprise That Today I Celebrate Some Bands With Sesquipedalian* Names

May 26, 2010

Empty heads are very fond of long titles.
• German proverb (Yes, yes, I know that this proverb likely refers to the kinds of titles bestowed on people like The Grand Poobah of Illuminated Graciousness and Seriousness of Purpose Related to Quantifying Brilliance, but I still like it.)

Some band names are brief. Get on with the music, they say; quit fooling around trying to decide what to name the band. Play. There were plenty of them in my recent collection, names like Bodybox, Greenhorse, Sledgeback, Widower, Thousands, Trainwreck, and Neutralboy.

There were also many delightful and sometimes random two-word combinations (perhaps those naming the band put words into a bag and drew them out until a particular combination was found amusing, although some things, like frog eyes and tea cozies, are examples of real life stuff that’s just inherently funny): Tuxedo Man, Smile Brigade, Tea Cozies, Killer Canary, Distant Relatives, Frog Eyes, Wooden Bison, Clarissa’s Weird (Isn’t everyone?), Nervous Energy, and Quiet Life.

But wait, there’re more: Campfire OK, Reflection Eternal, Eclectic Approach, Con Dad (What’s the story here?), Diego’s Umbrella, Hey Marseilles (Is this an indication that the band would like to greet the citizens of the largest port city in France or are they simply taking delight in the rhyme?), Strong Killings, Mother’s Anger, Tough Tittie, Planet Booty, Unmanned Drone, Afternoon American, and The Basements (Let’s name the band after our practice space?!), as well as ((Low Hums)) (((which I’m not sure how to pronounce, but maybe I just don’t get the purpose of the (()) ))).

Then there are the names that truly delighted me this time, the ones that really are more: more words, more syllables, more letters. I imagine these groups being introduced and it brings a smile to my face:

Super Happy Story Time Land
We Wrote the Book on Connections
Girls Just Wanna Have Prom
The Scarlet Tree All Stars
My Life with the Thrill Kill Cut
The Pioneers of Prime Time TV

Activate your brain. Give it a shot. It’s today’s braindance: neurobics for your gray matter.

Create your own band names using one word, two words, and at least five words. Imagine that you’re being queried by Rolling Stone and the interviewer wants to know why you chose those particular names. What will you say?

I’m naming my band Things They Say When They Really Want To Say Something Else. It’s an homage to my parents. Sometimes I wish they’d just yell at me instead of always being so reasonable.
• Student response, 1997

* Sesquipedalian describes long words, having many syllables, but can also refer to sentences that are long and ponderous, or, in this case, I’m using it to describe band names comprised of many words.


Poets Have Been Mysteriously Silent On The Subject Of Cheese.* Ditto Zamboni Machines.

May 21, 2010

A challenge was given. A gauntlet flung. I’ve been charged with writing a poem about the Zamboni machine. I am not a dare-ing woman, but I made the mistake of saying that poetry could be written about just about anything and thus, this.

The person who issued the challenge said that some words are just inherently funny and that Zamboni is one of them. I agree, although Zamboni isn’t in my top ten. George Carlin once said that kumquats, garbanzos, succotash, and guacamole were foods that, because of their names, were too funny to eat. Garbanzo is on my short list, although I prefer it paired with its natural mate: beans. Garbanzo beans. Go ahead, try it. It’s fun to say. Admit it.

Lumbago (lower back pain) is on my list. My grandma suffered from lumbago and complained about it regularly. It sounds like fun or like a small Eastern European country, but it isn’t either. I like slivovitz and Congoleum® and plethora. Plump is another favorite. It sounds like what it describes. But enough. You can come up with your own faves and I have another point to make.

I’m wandering a bit from the notion of a poem about Zamboni machines, but that’s going to take more thought. Ham boney, macaroni, cologne-y, rigatoni, baloney, groany and moany. Too many possibilities. There is a further point to be made, though, and it’s about conversation.

I’m teaching a course for future high school and middle school teachers called language and literacy and I’ve been doing some eavesdropping on conversations. I hesitate to call it eavesdropping since it’s just listening to what people are saying loudly to one another as though they are performing a play to which the rest of us are a captive audience. If you would like your conversations to be private, lowering your voice is a possible way to accomplish this.

Teaching students how to discuss issues and converse with one another is part of developing their language skills, and since I’ve noticed that conversations can quickly devolve into gossip fests, it’s useful to provide a topic. I don’t think that teachers will be able to completely do away with gossip, but I do think that they can point out that there are other ways to talk with your friends.

Many of the braindances I devise target helping students develop discussion skills without talking trash about someone or something, although I am not opposed to the occasional gripefest since I do love ranting myself. However, complaining about the anonymous people who toss unwanted clothing on the floor at Ross and TJ Maxx is healthy and harmless. Ditto highway litterers. I’ve yet to hear a rational explanation for tossing your Wendy’s or Arby’s or Taco Bell trash by the wayside. Please stay home if you’re too lazy to walk your trash to a receptacle. There you can wallow in mountains of it for all I care.

A simple question like “What words are inherently funny?” can get people talking and also disagreeing amiably. It can also teach them a new word, inherently, or “existing as an essential element of something.” I asked some friends this question last night and they replied with smidgeon, hyperbole, spigot, Fresca, ennui, and moist (a word described not as funny but as one that makes you uncomfortable for some reason).

What’s on your list of funniest words? And, if you dare, write your own poem about a Zamboni.

There are three things in life that people like to stare at: a flowing stream, a crackling fire, and a Zamboni clearing the ice. • Charlie Brown (Charles Schultz)

* Thanks to Gilbert Keith Chesterton for the cheesy quotation.