Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Best first lines

I've just been doing some prep work for the writing class that I'm teaching this semester and thought I'd share it with you:

The 100 Best First Lines from Novels

Unless I overlooked it on the list somewhere, my favorite seems to be missing:
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” In John Irvings's A Prayer for Owen Meany.

But what strikes me most about the list is not how few of these books that I have read but how few I have even heard of. Sure, most of the authors are familiar but I probably haven't read a third of these. I feel so uncultured!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Because otherwise I'd cry

Over Christmas I graded over 100 papers concerning popular culture, the American Dream, Individualism and work ethics. Some were good. The rest contained things like this:

J Lo's goal was to become a multiasking superstar.

Despite all of his success, he hasn't become swollen.

Donald Trump believes that 'faster is weller.'

We all must have good work hobbits.

After failing several times, Pitt never got up.

If you don't know how to wok, you won't be able to eat.

Benjamin Button joined a battle on a thug boat.

There are many massages we can see in this film.

This is my "Illogical Perspective" paper.

Differences make life tasty.

Jennifer Hudon beat up hundreds of other competitors for the roll.

Madonna moved from Michigan to America so she have the American dream.

And then I just gave up writing them down...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

If Pavlov had a sound machine

Starting in college I began using a sound machine when I slept. Sometimes it was the ocean playing on a cd and set to repeat all night. While in the States a few years ago, the people we lived with let us use a shmantzy one in our little basement apartment. Everyone in their family used one. Then when @ was born, we got a separate machine that played a variety of soothing sounds like tropical rain forest, white noise, or that creepy heartbeat one. We've moved on to using our iPod which makes it even more portable for when we travel.

In theory it's a great idea: get your body comfortable with a set type of sound that can be turned up louder when there is street noise, sounds from the television in the next room or the mosque down the street.

But the reality of it is that now, especially when I'm in our room, the sound of rain, real rain, knocks me out quick. Last night we were listening to a podcast from our friends in Greenfield while it was raining. I was trying to pay attention. I was trying to stay awake. I was trying to focus But that patter of raindrops on the roof flipped the switch in my brain that said it was time to doze. By the time the podcast was over, I could barely keep my eyes open. So now, for the four months of the rainy season, I will be fighting my subconscious reaction to what my ears are hearing.

I guess I should be happy. I might salivate instead.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dead, drunk or in love?

Here's the idiom game that I pulled out for last night's English Club.

1. Jot down as many English idioms/euphemisms for describing death, drunkenness, and being in love (or getting married) as you can come up with.

2. Scramble up your lists.

3. Write them on a white board.

4. Have participants try to guess which of the three categories each idiom fits in.

5. Depending on time and setting I sometime have students come up with a list of their own (my American students at Eureka College knew way too many for getting drunk) or a list of local language equivalents.

Examples: bought the farm, tipsy, on cloud nine, over the moon, worshipping at the foot of the porcelain god, three sheets to the wind, toasted, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies, spending the night with Captain Jack, shot by Cupid's arrow, head over heels, visiting St. Peter, six feet under, worm food.

I think I first used this game when teaching Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" which really ties in nicely.

Other fun idiom categories include crazy, pregnant or peeing. But be careful of your audience. I'm sure I've offended plenty of people by not considering cultural sensitivity.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Concealed but not carrying.

Last week I stubbed a toe on the stairs. Not a major injury but it did result in the need to bring a walking stick to school for a bit of extra support. I took an older one, a bit worn but usable and tossed it into my backpack with only the tip sticking out.

While moving through traffic on my motorcycle, I noticed a policeman on his bike following me closely. I slowed down and drove a bit more carefully until he flagged me down. I thought I might have been guilty of driving while white but knew I had done nothing wrong. Still, I pulled over and started getting out my drivers license and bike ownership. But what he wanted to know about was the barrel sticking out of my backpack. I guess it did look a bit like a gun, especially from a distance as I moved through traffic.

After he was satisfied with my busted toe pantomime and an examination of the telescopic, spring loaded pity stick, he sent me on my way.

The next day I saw him again and noticed how he eyed the walking stick closely. This time, no traffic stop, just a courtesy head nod.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A man about a horse

Yesterday I spotted a student who was absent from my just-finished class. When I asked him why he was gone, he responded:

"I had to see a man about a horse."

While I was impressed with his use of the American idiom, I wasn't quite sure why it took him an hour and forty minutes (the length of the class) to go to the bathroom. So I asked him to clarify.

"I had an appointment across town. Isn't that the right expression?"

For the next ten minutes I tried explaining the term as delicately as I could while also making sure that he really wasn't literally negotiating the purchase of any kind of livestock.

I was relieved that the discussion didn't end up like the one in Africa where I learned far too much when explaining "He knows where the bodies are buried."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A bad grade won't kill you...here

In the year that I've been teaching here on the island, I've noticed that I don't hesitate very much when it comes to failing a student (on the national scale, that actually means giving an E since F wouldn't really mean "fail" in the local langauge.) I guess one of the reasons might be that I'm finally maturing or thatm that I'm getting meaner. But mostly I think it's because I know it isn't the end of the world - for them or me.

When I started teaching at Eureka College, I was probably overly concerned that failing too many students might reflect poorly on me as a teacher. If I was a better teacher, I reasoned, then the students would have no problem doing well on the tests and papers. If I was encouraging them in the right way, they'd turn in everything on time after having deligently done their best. The cheaters I failed without hesitation but the failure of those other students; that was my fault.

In Africa, I knew that most of the students simply didn't have the advantages that my American students did. Most lacked basic necessities like good nutrition and adequate healthcare. Few had computers or books of there own. But what made me hesitate failing students wasn't pity, it was the knowledge that when students left the University they headed to the military where the conditions were much worse than on the campus. For some it would mean frequent beatings. For others it meant training in 100 degree heat with little more than hard rolls, tea and some lentils for food. Even in the best cases, it meant working for free until the gov't released them or they had a chance to escape the country.

But here, I know that it would reflect more poorly on me if at least some of my students didn't fail. And while many of my students come from poor families, the conditions are nowhere as difficult as they were in Africa. So now, just two weeks into my second semester teaching without another professor, I already feel more confident in relying the students to determine their own success or failure in my classes.