Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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Once You’re Out Of The Business Of Daily Public Writing, It’s Hard To Remember How You Ever Did It. Or Why. Or Even If You Could Ever Do It Again Because Where Did That Time Come From And Where Does It Go Now?

March 11, 2012

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. • Norbet Platt

I miss my daily writer self—the one who blogged every day for an academic year, putting the words out there, good and bad, and moving on without regret or revisiting to correct, expand, or edit. What I wrote that year is a treasure trove from which I can draw gems to polish and use in further iterations of thought. There are plenty of clunkers too, but I’ve always been a treasure hunter, a woman of the “sharp eye,” the eye that my Grandpa Wilkins used to tell me to use during our weekly visits to the dump and to the Shantytown that surrounded it where his best friend Whitey lived. I found lots of useful trashy treasures there.

I have other blogs now and usually write once a week on at least one of them. I post occasional pairs of breast quotations and related thoughts. I just began dog8, a place where I’ll post alternative “homework” assignments. I have a blog devoted to autobibliographical musings and another that focuses on the use of quotations as inspiration. Insights into the various Collectorys that define my professional and artistic life can be found in my blogs and my posts. But what I miss is the regularity and inevitability of that daily public commitment. It’s different if I don’t have to do it.

If I don’t have to do it, I usually don’t post because nothing feels significant enough. Why bother? But as I reread my work from those months of dailies, I realize that significance sometimes arises from the seemingly insignificant. Thought is complicated and thinking my way into meaning often takes time. There are seeds planted in one post that reappear as delicate and tender shoots in another, get nurtured to sturdiness in still another, and blossom months later online or elsewhere in my life. Meaning is hard to make and significance accrues. Some people blog to see how many followers they can acquire. Although I know that this would be satisfying, I can’t bring myself to care. I write because I want to remember what I’m thinking, and while I entertain the fantasy that some of my words might mean something to someone else, my first audience is me: are my words true and meaning•full?

I toyed with the idea of making a new year’s resolution to post every day for an entire year. I know myself well enough not to engage in this foolish failure set-up. I do write every day, but I don’t write finished pieces daily. And I want to write poetry. And make art. And do research. And plan classes that will be fun and entertaining and significant. I want to put together the perfect outfit with seven varieties of leopard print or one that mixes and matches eleven different patterns in a fiesta of subtle and harmonious clashery. I want to find a place for the latest mask I found at the Goodwill. I want to read. I want to stay connected to countless people and things and places. And I want to take a walk. I want to take a walk to the Goodwill and look for more masks and leopard print and plaids and books and all the other realia that enchants me and makes me smile. And I want to sit and do nothing. And think. I really like to think and record my thoughts. That’s why you’ll see some of them here.

What words are true and meaningful for you? What thoughts do you record?

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. • Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

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Ten Reasons To Consider Writing A Teaching And Learning Blog (Reason Zero: You Can List The Main Points Of Your Presentation In An Easily Accessible Format That Also Illustrates Your Topic)

April 22, 2011

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether people do. • B.F. Skinner (1969), Contingencies of Reinforcement

I am presenting at an educational technology summit today and although I have a handout with examples, I also wanted to illustrate the use of a blog in some related way. As I was working on something else, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was write a post that listed the main points I’ll be covering. I’ll have something to show and I’ll also be creating an outline for the presentation (and yet another reason to “consider writing a teaching and learning blog”). Ain’t life grand?

Here are my ten reasons to consider writing a teaching and learning blog:

1. You Can Embed Class Assignments In Your Posts

2. You Can Address Concerns Without Singling Out Offenders

3. You Can Model Civility Through Your Digital Fingerprints

4. You Can Create Content Collaboratively

5. You Can Provide Easily Accessible Assessment Help And Hints

6. You Can Reference Research You’d Like Students To Think About

6. You Can Encourage Reflective Journaling And Metacognition

7. You Can Connect With Colleagues Who Face Mutual Challenges

8. You Can Provide Food For Thought About Important Issues In And Out Of The Classroom

9. You Can Learn To Write Brief—Or Relatively Brief—Pieces Quickly

10. You Can Learn About Yourself As A Writer, Teacher, Learner, And Otherwise Creative Person, Even If You Don’t Intend To!

I can think of other reasons, but I’m not planning to talk about them today, so, well, never mind! Here’s some home•work for you:

If you were beginning a blog—or starting a new one if you’re already a blogger—what would you write about first? What would you call your blog? Why? What advice would you give yourself—or any other blogger—related to carefully crafting a public persona?

This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man—if man is not enslaved by it. [Women too.] • Jonas Salk

 

 

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Overcoming Writer’s Block: A Favorite Hint From The Ex-Lax® Of Writing Teachers (That Would Be Me!)

April 6, 2011


I asked Ring Lardner the other day how he writes his short stories, and he said he wrote a few widely separated words or phrases on a piece of paper and then went back and filled in the spaces. • Harold Ross

A student once called me “the Ex-Lax® of writing teachers” and I know what you might be thinking. However, this title was not bestowed because my assignments encouraged students to produce nothing but crap. (I do not censor this word here because it got me into trouble several times as a high school teacher, as did the word piss. There are some people who consider these words swearing, but my Grandma Wilkins, an extremely religious woman who said “hmmmm” instead of hell, used these particular vulgarities all the time, so I am inured to their power to shock.) No. I got the laxative title because the alternative school students with whom I was working were producing writing—lots of it—much of it coming from angry adolescents whose reluctance to put pen to paper had caused them to fail previous classes.

I am trained as a secondary English teacher. This means that I know the conventions of writing and I am also overly familiar with the conventional ways to approach writing as a task in school. And that’s the problem. Writing can be fun, but writing that’s always bounded by rules and prescriptions of properness is seldom fun for anyone. Because I made my living with words, often writing under deadline, before going back to school to become a teacher, and because I have been a lifelong researcher of creativity, I know that much of what I was supposed to be teaching about the processes of writing was also crap. I am definitely in favor of eventual correctness and I am not suggesting opening the gates and letting all manner of misspellings and grammatical incorrectness run rampant over the world’s pristine white pages. I am suggesting that an initial focus on these things can stop writers before they begin. I am also suggesting—No, wait! I’m asserting!—that the process of writing is highly idiosyncratic and that processes designed to help student writers may actually hinder some of them.

Some creative people approach writing tasks in well-mannered ways. They are organized and they know where they are going before they begin. I admire them. Surely this is some species of magic. There are writing teachers in this group. Other writing teachers—or teachers who require writing in their courses—are not writers themselves beyond having written the requisite papers or theses or dissertations for the courses they took along the way to getting their degrees. They muddled through these tasks and are sure that if they recommend the magic of well-ordered writing to their students, it will work for these others in ways that it did—or didn’t—work for them.

These teachers can be dangerous. They require standardized pre-writing and brainstorming. They require students to provide carefully detailed outlines before beginning papers. They require well-organized rough drafts that must be approved before an actual paper is written. They require perfectly stated theses and perfect paragraphs from the start. There is a correctness at the heart of their approach and all things must be done properly and in the proper order. These teachers require. They require. And they require some more. And they constipate those of us who have our own processes, whose writing emerges from the chaos of ideas.

I have long admired the work of Peter Elbow who reflects in his 1973 book, Writing without Teachers, on his own experiences as someone who wanted to be a teacher but struggled with writing. Elbow’s theories of composition are autoethnographic, and emerged from his life. Mine have as well. My favorite writing laxative comes from his book, Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (1981, 1998). It can be found in Section II: “More Ways of Getting Words on Paper,” where Elbow describes “first thoughts,” saying that this activity asks the writer to just dump* out what s/he is thinking about the topic, acknowledging that these initial ideas are “not good thoughts or true thoughts—just first thoughts” (p. 61). This initial dumping reduces the pressure of initial significance and organization that often causes writers to procrastinate. Once students have something, they can begin to find directions for potential exploration.

Elbow’s idea is related to Ken Macrorie’s (1970, 1976), “I-Search” processes detailed in Telling Writing. To begin an I-Search project, the researcher asks questions:

• What do I want to learn more about? Why am I interested in this?

• What do I already know about this subject?

• What do I need to learn about this subject?

“First thoughts” and “I-Search” beginnings are kinds of brainstorming, another piece of writing theory that has become formulaic and patterned, with well-meaning teachers requiring students to draw circles and lines and make Venn diagrams and engage in multiple kinds of teacher-directed pre-writing activities with colored pencils and Post-It® notes and other aids to creation. However, as the writer Jessamyn West said in an interview in September 1957 in the Saturday Review,There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.” I heartily agree. I am a list maker, a card collector, a file creator, and a bitpiecer. This means that I write my way into projects bits and pieces at a time—a paragraph here, a phrase there, a page or two in the morning when I awake—filing it all away until the deadline looms and I have to piece together the wordy mosaic of thought and bring order to the chaos.

There is a time for editing and proofreading and making sure that writing is ready to be read. There is a time to consider audience. There is a time to adhere to accepted conventions, particularly in an academic context. That time is not at the beginning of a writing task when writers must mindfully make meaning through an activity as personal as expressing voice on paper. I’ll end with a lengthy quotation from Writing with Power. If you want to be Ex-Lax® for your students, consider his words:

“Perhaps my general point would be clearer if I called this section ‘More Ways of Producing a First Draft,’ but I want to emphasize the fact that first-stage writing need not take the form of a draft. That is, it need not be a single connected piece of writing. There is no good reason why you must try to produce something in your first cycle of writing that resembles the form of what you want to end up with, Of course, if you have a vision of how your piece ought to be structured, yes, by all means do your raw writing in the form of a draft. But if you only have the hint of a hunch or some initial thoughts or incidents or images and you can’t see how they should be shaped, it’s usually best to go ahead all the same and plunge into what I call raw writing. Instead of a draft you will be producing a pile of rough ingredients. The fact is that you usually get more and better visions for how to shape these ingredients by starting to write them out however they happen to come off the pencil than by waiting till you get the so-called ‘right’ structure. Any structure that you dream up before actually getting your hands dirty in the writing itself is apt to be like a plan you work out for travel in an unfamiliar country: it usually has to be changed once you get there and see how things really work” (p. 47).

What do you do to overcome writer’s block? How do you begin a new writing project?

The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax. • Alfred Kazin, Think, February 1963 [Or herself. Sigh.]

* I trust that you are applauding my restraint as I pass up the opportunity to indulge in some verbal pun-ishment here.

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If Confusion Is The First Step To Knowledge, I Must Be A Genius* Or Mournful Teacherish Whinges About The Ambiguity Of Unclear Reference

November 13, 2010

I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face.
• Johnny Depp

Pronouns are extremely handy. They protect a writer from endless repetition of nouns: “Lorac gave Mij and Lenny Lorac’s crayons so Mij and Lenny could color” is much less cumbersome when it’s “Lorac gave Mij and Lenny her crayons so they could color.” Unfortunately, this kind of sentence can drift into ambiguity: “Lorac gave Mij and Lenny their crayons so they could color” is an altogether different box of crayons indeed. And a level of complexity is added to the whole thing because, after all, we are probably wondering if generous Lorac is going to color with M and L. If so, this probably should read “Lorac gave Mij and Lenny her crayons so they could color with her.” Sentences are tangled webs just waiting to wrap writers in the sticky web of confusion.

For clarity when you’re writing, you need to be certain that it’s evident from the progression of your sentence to whom–or what or where or other-noun-wise–your pronoun makes reference. Here’s an example taken from The Big Book of Confusing, Vague, and Uncertain Tales Desperately in Need of Clarification Created for the Edification of Children Everywhere (Algernon P. & Merrypat E. Prindlesnap, 1884)**.

Once upon a time there were three little pigs named Oink, Grunt, and Squeal, and a big bad wolf named Gotcha. They had an even littler brother too and he called him Scaredyhoof for he was afraid of just about everything and often ran away at the first hint of danger. He was particularly afraid of him. This is their story:

Houses needed to be built. Immediately. He didn’t know what he was going to do. They didn’t know what he was going to do. None of them knew what they were going to do. Even the people in the town knew that something had to be done about the situation, and fast, but they didn’t know what they were going to do either. He was uncertain too. And everybody was frightfully scared of what loomed ahead.

Certainly there was danger and they had reason to be afraid. They knew it would soon be winter and they needed shelter from the cold as well as food to eat once the endless snows of winter descended on the valley where they lived. There were other dangers too. So they separated and each went their own way, looking for what was needed. One of them took their most recent acquisitions down to the meadow to the woodchopper’s shed where they often stored such things. He often used it for storage too.

He wasn’t happy with this hiding place. They didn’t want any of them to find the bricks and sticks and straw and stones and didn’t know what to do with them so they couldn’t find them. And they needed to hide him too.  So he took them instead to a cave in the woods. There, he thought, they would be safe, and if he were careful, he wouldn’t be able to find them.

He decided to build a house for them and asked him to help, but they couldn’t find the materials. They weren’t around to tell him where to look, so he asked him to help find them. They weren’t anywhere they looked and while they were looking, he came looking for them.

Well, that’s aplenty. You get the picture, I’m sure, but just in case, answer the following questions:

Who hid the materials?

Who was looking for the materials?

Who came looking for whom?

Always check your writing to make sure that pronouns such as he, she, it, they, that, which, and who that you’re using to replace another word refer clearly to the word they are meant to replace. This word is known as the pronoun’s antecedent. The antecedent should precede the pronoun in the current or previous sentence. Once other nouns intervene and too much distance develops between the pronoun and its antecedent, the waters of clarity become muddied (or the web becomes stickier–take your pick). Beware as well of creating problems because you are referring to a word that is implied rather than explicitly stated. (You likely know what you’re talking about, but your reader may not.)

In an effort to avoid the awkwardness engendered (pun intended) by non-sexist language, some speakers and writers replace constructions like she and he or hers and his with them and they and theirs. This can lead to ambiguity. “The student turned in their fundraising money,” for example, is unclear. Whose money did the student turn in? There’s no way to be certain from this sentence whether the student was handing in her or his contribution or was in charge of the contributions of the entire class.

When you’re done writing something—emails to essays to everything else—what are your strategies for making sure you’ve said what you intended to say?

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.
• Thomas Reid

* Thanks to Larry Leissner for the title quotation.

** The Prindlesnaps were a brother and sister whose works were well-known in the schoolrooms of late nineteenth century England. Their opus, Commas, Periods, Semi-Colons, and the Odious Exclamation Point: A Study of Punctuation Abuses in Fairy Tales (1897), is no longer in print, although almost any reader would benefit from its study. Should you locate a copy of this rare tome, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

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The Write Stuff Too, Or As Nathaniel Hawthorne Said, Easy Reading Is Damn Hard Writing

November 6, 2010

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
• Gene Fowler

I’ve just finished more than ten hours of reading over the last few days and I’ve been keeping track of some hints for writers based on things I’ve been seeing over and over in papers.

The ablest writer is only a gardener first, and then a cook: his tasks are, carefully to select and cultivate his strongest and most nutritive thoughts; and when they are ripe, to dress them, wholesomely, and yet so that they may have a relish.
• Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare (1827), Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers

Edit. Edit. Edit. This is hard work and requires you to read what you’ve written with a critical and thoughtful eye. I read many essays that are compilations of ideas from several essays that are stewing in the writer’s mind. It is not the editor or reader’s job to tell you what to include. It’s your job to determine a direction so that the editor/reader will be able to help instead of becoming lost in a forest of words.

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
• Elmore Leonard

Lengthy, repetitive paragraphs that include the same information said in several ways generally need sentence-combining and serious deletions. And lengthy paragraphs need to be broken up. Any time there’s a paragraph of a page or more, it’s probably too long.

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.
• Truman Capote, McCall’s, November 1967

Read what you’ve written out loud to someone else. You’ll likely catch awkward sentences this way. When someone says that your writing is “awkward,” it generally means that something is poorly worded and stops the reader who has to try and figure out what it means or who is struck by something that just doesn’t sound right.

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.
• Enrique Jardiel Poncela

Please, I beg of you, do not rely on the thesaurus provided in your word processing program’s “toolbox.” It doesn’t necessarily provide you with the correct word when you’re seeking a substitute. When you look up the definition of a word online, be sure to read all the meanings to be certain that you aren’t accidentally saying something you don’t really mean. This is a particular problem with words that may have negative connotations.

A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one.
• Baltasar Gracián

Sometimes the writing I read, particularly when it’s related to personal beliefs, is platitudinous, filled with worthy aspirations and high-minded concepts, but devoid of personality because no personal connections are made with the content. Simply using first person does not assure that your words will connect the writer with your meaning. You must use stories, anecdotes, and other concrete examples that bring your beliefs to life and that make for interesting reading. Is your writing compelling, enthralling, infused with your experiences, and written in a way that only you could write it? Or could your work have been written by anyone?

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
• Anton Chekhov

Read what you’ve written after letting it sit overnight, or at least for several hours. Sometimes what’s on the page seems to be the opposite of what you mean. Getting distance from your work is useful.

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
• Henry Brooks Adams (1907), The Education of Henry Adams

Most unique. Peak pinnacle. Canine dog. Beware redundancy. Beware the use of clichés as well.

I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.
• James Michener

Regardless of how creative you’d like to be, when you’re writing something that will be read quickly by someone (an application letter or essay, for example), your writing should have a clear organizational structure that allows the reader to readily understand the point(s) you are making. This includes having a clear introduction with some kind of statement of purpose, an organized body, and a definite conclusion that returns in some way to the introduction, reminding the reader of your purpose.

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.
• Sholem Asch

There’s almost never a time when an exclamation point is really needed in formal writing. When you’re tempted to use one, think about it and unless you can truly justify its use, remove it.

An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
• F. Scott Fitzgerald

Then/than, choose/chose, loose/lose, and other personal challenges need to be identified and given special attention each time you write.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
• Mark Twain (Zinn’s corollary: And lightening is yet another thing!)

Write out the word and; don’t substitute the ampersand (&). This goes for words like 4th and 5th as well. Use fourth and fifth. I won’t list all the substitutions that reflect the drift of textspeak into writing, but each of them is inappropriate for formal writing.

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
• Mark Twain

Reading what other people have written and trying to help them improve their work is time-consuming. Few people who do so want to annoy the writers they’re hoping to assist. Still, this sometimes happens since many papers are hard-birthed and no one wants to be told that their baby is ugly in any way. Be grateful for feedback and realize that in the end, you can do as you wish with it (unless, of course, there’s a scoring guide or some other kind of guidelines you have to meet).

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper.
• Isaac Bashevis Singer

See “The Write Stuff “ (Zinnfull, October 25, 2009) for additional hints, including the correct use of myself, agreement issues, and the need for interesting titles.

What’s the first step you could take to improve your writing?

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
• William Wordsworth

Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.
• Theodore Dreiser, 1900

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I’m Ba-a-a-a-a-ck, Overwhelmed By All The Things I’ve Been Collecting To Write About Since I Last Wrote Something Here. Of Course, This Kind Of Thing Never Happens To You, Does It?

September 30, 2010

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell. • Edna St Vincent Millay

I took a break from Zinnfull writing. At first I felt guilty, although justified by the lack of internet connectivity while I was away from home. It didn’t take me long to realize—as I wrote things I couldn’t post—that I had become obsessive about this blog, and that I wasn’t able to quit thinking about things to write about. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was keeping me from writing about other things. It was also keeping me immersed in workthink while I was on vacation.

Poetry? Nope. That book proposal I want to get done? Nope. A letter to my mom? Nope. A story? An article? Nope and nope. All my scribe-ish energies were going into writing or thinking about writing or collecting things to write about or making notes and writing random paragraphs. All of it devoted to Zinnfullness. There’s a shelf on one of our bedroom bookcases (there are five, plus numerous stacks of books in a relatively small space—turn sideways to walk) full of possibilities because even though I decided to stop posting until a new quarter started, I couldn’t quit hoarding ideas.

I was happy not to be doing this daily, but I missed it like hell.

During the last academic year, I learned how challenging it is to write every day. Some days I had something to say. Some days were meaningful. As I reread them, I am happy. Other days are what can only be described as lame. Too bad, but I don’t apologize.

This year, I’ll be writing, but I won’t be doing it every day. I’ve done that, and now I want to get other writing done. I miss that like hell too. It’s piled on shelves, filed in crates, stacked in corners. Waiting.

What is piled, stacked, hidden away, stashed in drawers or folders or closets waiting for you to get around to doing something with it?

The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. • Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Lady Macbeth: Was She Nuts? *

July 5, 2010

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. • Mark Twain (And lightening provides yet another opportunity for confusion.)

In the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep and I can’t write and I’m hoping to turn off my brain, I read cotton candy books, devouring them quickly, their insubstantial content entertaining me, while seldom provoking thought. Sometimes I don’t want to think. I want to rest.

Last night I read Linwood Barclay’s (2007) No Time for Goodbye, a book that has an intriguing premise and a far-fetched ending. I don’t say this as criticism. Most endings are a bit far-fetched since providing a denouement that ties everything together is required for mindcandy. Life is seldom so neatly packaged.

The protagonist of Barclay’s book is a high school English teacher (note to Barclay and to his editors: high school English teachers generally teach more than three classes and are seldom so casual about absences). On p. 118, this quotation from a student essay caused me to reminisce about wordish teaching encounters: “Mr. Whitman’s most famous writing was ‘Leaves of Grass,’ which some people think is probably about marijuana, but it was not, although it’s hard to believe that a guy who wrote something called, ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ wasn’t stoned at least some of the time.”

I was reminded of being called into the principal’s office (note to my students, yes, even the current ones who will soon be teachers: this is principal—the principal is your pal—not principle, although possibly principles should have offices where one could go to learn the basics of ethical living) and asked why I had been discussing smoking marijuana with ninth graders.

It was my first year of teaching and my freshpeople were immersed in John Steinbeck’s (1937) Of Mice and Men. I couldn’t remember saying anything at all about dope or pot or grass or weed. And then I realized what might have happened. After some trouble, Lennie and George leave Weed, California, and head south. I told the principal this might be it and he asked me to call home to clarify.

Before I could begin to explain, the parent said s/he didn’t know why we’d be teaching a book about Lenny and Squiggy anyway since s/he thought school should be focusing on something besides characters from Laverne & Shirley and was I sure they hadn’t been smoking anything?

I wish I could say that this was an effective call home, but all I managed to do was state my case, listen, and hold my tongue. The only more frustrating call I made that year was when I tried to tell a mother why her son should not call other students a dildo. “His father calls people that a lot. What’s wrong with it?” she said. I asked her if she knew what the word meant. She said no. I suggested she look it up in the dictionary. She must have since her son never used the word in class again.

Other memories resurrected by last night’s reading include these confusions: “She staired into the mirror.” “My father served on a mime sweeper” (okay, this might have just been a typo, but it remains one of my favorites). “Noah’s arc.” “ My Ant Janet.” “She revealed to (oh, dear) much bear skin.” “He dressed with flare.” “I forgot to sight my sources in my research paper.” “I was so embarrassed I thought I would dye.”

FYI, to further muddy the waters and confuse you, especially since there’s category overlap:

Homonyms are words that are pronounced or spelled the same, but have different meanings and origins.

Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings, origins, and sometimes spelling (knight and night). I wrote about roll and role yesterday. I am often amused when students write about using a role sheet in their classroom. I imagine that this is a list that says “Joanie McAloevera, Class Clown; José Montoya-Reyes, Knows All the Answers; Ping Lee, Always Asks If There Is Homework; and on and on.

Homographs are words that are spelled the same, but have different meaning, origin, and sometimes different pronunciation (wind as in “wind a clock” and wind as in “blowin’ in the”).

Although they fit none of the categories listed, further and farther are words I have to think about before using. How about you? What are your word confusions?

How often misused words generate misleading thoughts. • Herbert Spencer

* This is one of my all-time favorite titles. Too often I receive work that is non-titled—“My Philosophy,” “Managing a Classroom,” “Essay on Macbeth”—utilitarian listings of what will follow. Imagine going to a movie theatre and seeing “Vampire Movie,” “Action Flick,” and “Romantic Comedy” on the marquee or visiting a bookstore where all the books in the business section say “Business Book” and all the cookbooks, no matter what kind, say “Cookbook.” Titles should be grabbers, creating an audience eager to see or read what it’s all about. This has nothing to do with word confusion, although I am confused when I wonder why students might think that any teacher would look forward to reading fifty essays entitled “My Philosophy.”