Posted in Teaching, Theatre, Writing

ENG 126: Drama Workshop, Session 1

Welcome to our first drama workshop and our first WordPress gathering. Although I wouldn’t have chosen for us to work exclusively online as a community of writers, I value the opportunity that it will afford us, in May, to look back and weigh the merits of the two versions of our class: the before and the after–or, more accurately, the before and during (COVID-19 time).

The points I have included below are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments. I offer them as suggestions only. I will probably address some of them in the follow-up remarks that I’ll post at the beginning of our second session.

  • From the first line of the play, we know what one of the characters wants. What do other characters want? How do the conflicts among their desires advance the action?
  • In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway notes that “good dialogue will convey most of its tone as an integral part of the lines, and when this is the case, there is no need to announce the tone of voice in a stage direction” (327). Are all of the tonal directions necessary? If not, which ones could be omitted?
  • The particular day, year, and hour of the setting are essential to the play. Are any other time or setting cues essential as well?
  • What is the symbolic significance of the ’87 black Chevy Silverado? What other set pieces take on symbolic significance?
  • What plays, if any–ones in Imaginative Writing or others that you’ve read–would you recommend to the writer as models or possible sources of inspiration?
  • And lastly, some what ifs: What if Harry and Henry were never on stage at the same time? What if Sally was alone with Harry at the beginning of scene 1? She could still make the same mistake, and Harry could still correct her–but then what?

Post your response of twenty-five words or more as a reply. If you address a point that one of your classmates has written in a previous reply, mention that classmate by name in your own reply.

You are welcome to post more than once.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

 

Posted in Reading, Teaching

ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction

Dear Readers,

Oscar-winning director Gillermo Del Toro first read Frankenstein when he was a fourteen-year-old growing up in Mexico. Mary Shelley’s novel transformed him. As we conclude our study of Frankenstein, consider these words of his:

I saved my Sunday allowance for a couple of weeks and bought it [the paperback]. I read it in one sitting, and by the end of it, I was weeping. It was my Road to Damascus. It illuminated the reason I love monsters, my kinship with them, and showed me how deep, how life-changing, a monster parable could be–how it could function as art and how it could reach across distance and time to become a palliative to solitude and pain.

And here we are, two centuries later, faithfully depositing flowers to this most exquisite storyteller, this extraordinary Galatea who refused to be shaped by her circumstances and gave us all life. And we try, in return, to help her creature stay alive. We strive to turn a curse into a blessing.

We hope that in some way, somehow, our gratitude, our love, can reach him like a whispered prayer, like a distant song. And we dream that perhaps he can stop–amid that frozen tundra and the screaming wind–and can turn his head and look back. At us.

And we hope that then he might recognize in our eyes his own yearning. And perchance we can walk toward each other and find meager warmth in our embrace.

And then, if only for a moment, we will not feel alone in the world. (xiv-xv)

Although Mary Shelley’s novel may not have transformed you as it did Del Toro, you are reading, or rereading, its final chapters as the COVID-19 pandemic transforms all of our daily lives.

  • Have the unprecedented circumstances of the past two weeks altered your perceptions of Shelley’s novel? If so, how?
  • If you’d rather not write about finishing Frankenstein in the days of coronavirus, write about one of the novel’s themes or one of the moments in the narrative that lingers in your mind.
  • Or respond to Del Toro’s remarks.

Post your response of twenty-five words or more as a reply. If you address a point that one of your classmates has written in a previous reply, mention that classmate by name in your own reply. In the coming weeks we may turn back to some of your replies/comments as we study Dickens, Carroll, Stevenson, and Doyle.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Sincerely Sequestered,

Dr. Lucas

Work Cited

Del Toro, Guillermo. Introduction. “Mary Shelley, or the Modern Galatea.” The New Annotated Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, W. W. Norton, 2017, pp xi-xvii.

Postscript

And the early-bird bonus points go to these CVCC Red Hawks: Grey Sacona, Caeley Arney, Madison St. Clair, Gabe Carswell, Chandler Danner, Lauren Setzer, Jenna Ramsey, Joshua West, Ruben Castillo, and Joe Van Story! Well Done!

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 011/101: Educated, Chapter 22

Chapter 22, “What We Whispered and What We Screamed,” marks a change in Tara Westover‘s journal writing.

Reread the final pages of the chapter, 195-97, and write a short response that describes the change.

Post your response of twenty-five words or more as a reply. Next week we will turn back to your responses as a starting point for our conversations about Educated and the craft of writing.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 011/101: The Norton Field Guide and OWL

Your revised readings in The Norton Field Guide to Writing will prepare you for the six quizzes that you will complete during the remaining weeks of the semester. I selected the six subjects for the quizzes (words often confused, punctuation, precise words, active and passive voice, main points and support, and MLA documentation) based on patterns that I have identified in your essays. Most of the readings that will prepare you for the quizzes are in the yellow-edged Handbook section of Norton.

Each weekly quiz should be completed by Sunday at midnight except the quiz on precise words for the week of April 6-10. That quiz should be completed by midnight on Thursday, April 9, so you will not have a quiz to complete during Spring Break, April 10-15.

To supplement the material in The Norton Field Guide to Writing, I am including a link to the general writing section of OWL, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab. It’s one of the most helpful and user-friendly writing sites I’ve found. OWL’s PowerPoint “Conquering the Comma” may be particularly helpful as you prepare for the quiz on punctuation.

To the left, on the menu bar on my blog, there’s a link to OWL’s home page.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

 

Posted in Reading, Teaching

Welcome Back to English 011/111

Wherever you are in your reading of Educated, I encourage you to look back at the pages where Tara Westover recounts her first days on campus at Brigham Young University (155-58). Stepping into the unfamiliar–as she was then and we are now–is always difficult.

As we continue our study of Educated, consider not only what Tara Westover’s memoir reveals about the craft of writing but also how her resiliency can serve as a model for us in this time of uncertainty.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

We will get through these days.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

Welcome Back to English 126: Dovetails and Q-tips

This post serves as both a welcome back note and a blog entry on the writer’s craft, the second one I’ve written with you. (I posted the first one on January 22.)

I’m always grateful when I discover that readings and assignments in my various courses dovetail. It reminds me that although the particulars of the courses differ, communicating effectively in writing and closely examining written texts are fundamentals they all share.

Two dovetail discoveries occurred earlier this semester. The first one happened when I was reading the composition students’ weekly assignment in The Norton Field Guide to Writing. It was in the chapter devoted to description. There the textbook’s authors include excerpts from two pieces of writing about multiple sclerosis that together illustrate lucidly the differences between the general description of objective nonfiction and the concrete, significant details and voice that bring creative nonfiction to life. Read the two excerpts that follow and consider both the differences between the words and how the words in each excerpt affect you.

First, a description from a brochure published by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system (the brain, optic nerves, spinal cord). It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system incorrectly attacks a person’s healthy tissue.

MS can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness. These problems may be permanent, or they may come and go. (qtd. in Bullock et al. 444)

Second, an excerpt from “On Being a Cripple,” by Nancy Mairs, a writer with MS:

During its course, which is unpredictable and uncontrollable, one may lose vision, hearing, speech, the ability to walk, control bladder and/or bowels, strength in any or all extremities, sensitivity to touch, vibration and/or pain, potency, coordination of movements–the list of possibilities is lengthy and yes, horrifying. One may also lose one’s sense of humor. That’s the easiest to lose and the hardest to survive without.

In the past ten years, I have sustained some of these losses. Characteristic of MS are sudden attacks, called exacerbations, followed by remissions, and these I have not had. Instead my disease has been slowly progressive. My left leg is now so weak that I walk with the aid of a brace and a cane, and for distances I use an Amigo, a variation on the electric wheelchair that looks rather like an electrified kiddie car. I no longer have much use of my left hand. Now my right side is weakening as well. I still have the blurred spot in my right eye. Overall, though, I’ve been lucky so far. (qtd. in Bullock et al. 443-44)

Another dovetail discovery occurred when my composition students were studying Chapter 11 of Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated. The latter half of that chapter, “Instinct,” depicts Westover’s brother Shawn reining in the frightened gelding, Bud, preventing him from throwing Tara.

As my composition students and I examined the series of conflicts that propel the chapter forward, it occurred to me that the concluding pages of Chapter 11 would serve as an ideal segue from our study, in English 126, of creative nonfiction to our study of fiction. That scene exemplifies the structural similarities between fiction and memoirs, such Westover’s, that follow the same narrative arc.

In the span of only two and a half pages, Westover presents five conflicts: (1) Bud, the gelding, in conflict with the angry mare, (2) Tara in conflict with the frightened Bud, (3) Tara in conflict with herself (Should she let go of the saddle horn?), (4) Shawn in conflict with the mare, and (5) Shawn in conflict with–and ultimately prevailing over–Bud. Thanks to Brennan for pointing out the fourth conflict, which I had overlooked earlier.

Lastly, I’ll address our final in-class reading on March 12, Christopher Durang’s For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls. Not only did Durang’s play let us exit laughing, it also showed us how quirky, well-wrought parody can pull readers into a play regardless of their knowledge of the source. When Lawrence says: “I call this [cocktail stirrer] Q-tip because I realized it looks like a Q-tip” (19), readers will laugh even if they don’t know that he’s a spoof of Laura Wingfield.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments. We will get through these days–and exit laughing again, I hope.


Bullock, Richard et al. Chapter 42: “Describing.” The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Handbook. 5th ed., 2019. pp. 443-44.

Durang, Christopher. For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls. Christopher Durang: Twenty-Seven Short Plays. Smith and Krauss, 1995. pp. 12-27.

Posted in Reading, Teaching

Welcome Back to English 242

Graphic Title: Victorians Online, For Reading like the Dickens

Dear Readers,

As we begin a new chapter online, consider how less remote we are than the arctic explorer Robert Walton was when he wrote to his sister, Margaret Saville, in England.

Since our seated classes were canceled before your copies of the Victorian volume of the Norton anthology were issued, I have included in this blog post a list with links to texts that we’ll study that are available through Project Gutenberg.

Before I write more about the list, I should address the subtitle of the paper-craft graphic above (one I created recently during some much-needed time away from the screen). The phrase “like the dickens” is not a reference to the Victorian author. It’s a euphemism. More specifically, it’s a minced oath: an expression that’s created by altering the spelling or pronunciation of a word that’s considered profane. Shakespeare penned the minced oath “like the dickens,” for “like the devilkins” (little devils), in his comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, which he wrote more than two-hundred years before Charles Dickens was born.

Now to the list, and a second one that follows. The first is a chronological list of the longer Victorian works that we will study. The second includes the MLA-style works cited entries for the four texts, plus MLA style entries for both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on Project Gutenberg and your Barnes and Noble paperback edition. When you write about these texts, you will need to include MLA-style documentation. Bookmark this page for quick reference.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

We will get through these days.

Sincerely sequestered,

Dr. Lucas

Longer* Victorian-era Readings

*Longer readings for English 242. By Victorian standards, these book-length works aren’t long; A Christmas Carol and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are novellas, and “The Speckled Band” is a short story.

Sample MLA Works Cited Entries

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 1865. Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11/11-h/11-h.htm. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. 1843. Project Gutenberg,  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” 1892. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1661/1661-h/1661-h.htm. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818, 1831. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbeiner. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818, 1831. Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/42/pg42-images.html. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

 

Posted in Reading, Teaching

Rockin’ the Boat: Iron Maiden’s Metal Mariner

A sailor kills a bird of good omen, his destructive act dooms his shipmates and curses him with retelling the tale over and over: So the story of the Ancient Mariner goes. Yet those plot details convey neither the epic nature of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem nor its influence on later writers. Only the poem itself places readers fully in the imaginative realm of the tale, but its late eighteenth-century diction creates a gulf between the poem and contemporary readers. Consequently, one of the challenges of introducing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to millennial students is bridging that gulf. Iron Maiden’s adaptation offers one solution. By eliminating the shifts in the narrative voice and updating the story with contemporary language, their heavy-metal version draws listeners into the story with emphatic rhythms that capture the spirit of the original lines.

Archaic words, such as “stoppeth” (line 2), have a way of stopping readers in their tracks, calling attention to their temporal distance from the poem. Along with the distancing effect of the language, the shifts from one speaker to another can pose problems for twenty-first century readers. Although the Mariner tells his own story, the first words that he speaks are in the fifth stanza. The four stanzas that precede his first words are voiced alternately by an unnamed narrator and the wedding guest who becomes the Mariner’s captive audience. In prose such shifts are easily navigated with paragraphing and dialogue tags. Most poems, however, lack such signals, and their absence in Coleridge’s poem compounds its difficulty. Not only are some of the words obstacles, it’s not always clear who is speaking them.

Iron Maiden’s adaptation eliminates those issues with updated diction and a consistent narrative voice. Rather than shifting speakers, Iron Maiden’s version presents the tale sung by a single storyteller, not the sailor himself, but a narrator who tells listeners to “[h]ear the rime of the ancient mariner” (1). Those first words of the song, penned by lead singer Bruce Dickinson, form an imperative sentence: a command with the understood subject “you”—“[You] hear the rime . . . ” (1). I am master and commander of this story, Dickinson seems to say, and you will hear it now. Such is the power of the imperative. Rather than leaving the reader questioning, as Coleridge’s first stanzas may, Iron Maiden’s song speaks directly to listeners, taking hold of them with the pull of a powerful tide, drawing them out to sea to witness the Mariner as he kills the albatross and seals his fate.

The nature of that fate, that the Mariner must tell his tale over and over, is effectively emphasized by the song’s repetition. The recurrence of the words “on and on,” which first appear to underscore the length of the voyage (17, 18) are repeated in the last line: “And the tale goes on and on and on” (89). That ending may be more fitting than the original. The “sadder and wiser” (624) listener at the end of Coleridge’s poem also appears in the last verse of the song. But by returning to the retelling of the story, the song’s ending shifts the focus from the wedding guest who hears the story only once to the teller who must tell it over and over.

Making the Mariner’s story more accessible through song is valuable not only as an introduction to the poem but also as a starting point for understanding its influence on later English writers, including Mary Shelley, the second-generation Romantic who featured both images and lines from the poem in her novel Frankenstein. Coleridge’s poem was one of Shelley’s favorites, one that she first encountered as a child when the poet recited it in her father’s study (Karbeiner xiii). Iron Maiden’s version captures the spirit of what Mary Shelley, Coleridge’s fan girl, heard: the epic ballad of an eighteenth-century rock star.

Works Cited

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. pp. 448-64.. EMI, 1984.

Iron Maiden. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Power Slave. EMI, 1984.

Karbeiner, Karen. Introduction: “Cursed Tellers, Compelling Tales—The Endurance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. 1818, 1831. Barnes and Noble, 2003.