Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Strategies That Worked

"Tell me something that you mean, not just what comes to mind."-- Lyle Lovett

Unsuccessful college essays, in my view, are unsuccessful largely because the writer doesn't "mean" what he or she says. This sad state of affairs results from choosing a topic ("what comes to mind") for the wrong reasons, usually from a misguided attempt to write what the writer falsely thinks the admission officer will consider an "important" topic. Hence the astounding number of badly written essays on Gandhi, Jesus, MLK, my grandmother, and why I think diversity is the most important thing I will experience in college.

Saying "something that you mean," on the other hand, involves selecting from those events and experiences that have meant the most to you, that have been most memorable, that represent the people and memories and projects and causes that you cherish most. Don't write about your summer vacation/community service trip to Spain unless that really is one of the most important events in your life.

 Although very different in subject matter, the sample essays from Connecticut College have at least four things in common, qualities that, for me at least, make them "work" as personal statements. ( I am referring to essays by James W, Sophia M, and Benjamin B which may be found here).

  1. Hook. Each writer grabs the reader's immediate attention by starting in the middle of the story. The lights went out. We rumbled up a goat path for three hours. The phone rang. Simple, vivid opening sentences—no gimmicks, no weird stuff—create interest. College admissions officers read hundreds or thousands of these statements. You have maybe three minutes of their time; don't waste any of it with a long, drawn out opening.
  2. Detail. Lots of specific concrete detail. The smell of the lady's french fries on the subway. Contents of drawers in great-grandmother's house. The movies John and Ben watched together, the games they played. Readers want to be able to see, hear, and smell what you're talking about. General language won't do that. Details will.
  3. Narrative. Each of these writers has a story to tell. It doesn't have to be a unique or life-altering story. It just has to be your story. Tell it truthfully, and someone else will want to read it.
  4. Reflection. Especially near the end of each of these pieces, the writers explain why this story is important, what the experience means to them, how it affected them, how it illustrates something about their personalities. James Walsh knew he had just become global. This was not merely an old house in the mountains, it was home distilled. If it weren't for my friendship with John, I wouldn't have gotten beyond my first impression of Matt to start a conversation with him. Make sure you are telling your story for a reason.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chalant, ept, and kempt

A propos our discussion of "unpaired words" yesterday, I found this poem on the internet.

A very Descript Man .... J H Parker

I am such a dolent man,
I eptly work each day;
My acts are all becilic,
I've just ane things to say.
My nerves are strung, my hair is kempt,
I'm gusting and I'm span:
I look with dain on everyone
And am a pudent man.
I travel cognito and make
A delible impression:
I overcome a slight chalance,
With gruntled self-possession.
My dignation would be great
If I should digent be:
I trust my vagance will bring
An astrous life for me.

And if you want to read the rest of the story "How I Met My Wife", here is the link.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Notes on Romance and Courtly Love

Follow this link to material adapted from Loyola University of New Orleans and Cal Poly University.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Paper #2

English IV & AP
Paper #2 assignment: Beowulf and Grendel
Mr. L. Coon
October, 2012

A few of you asked for a little advance notice about the next paper assignment. While I will post more complete details in a few days, here is what I know so far.

Length: 600-750 words (2-3 pages)

Goal: Narrow and deep. Repeat after me: narrow and deep. That’s your mantra for this assignment. Write a concise opening paragraph, clearly identifying your key point in the form of a provable thesis, then develop that point in 3-4 further paragraphs. Maintain a tight focus on the central idea throughout; no extraneous comparisons or digressions. Offer a few ESSENTIAL pieces of evidence and draw the most specific conclusions you can about their importance.

  • What is Grendel’s “arc” as a character in the novel Grendel? In what important ways does he grow, change, or develop?
  • Gardner suggests that the Danes are unhappy with the arrival of the Geats. Take a close look at the passage in Beowulf describing their arrival and reception. On what does Gardner base his interpretation?
  • Look at the character of Wealhtheow in both versions, especially chapter 7 of Grendel and the celebratory banquet after the slaying of Grendel’s mother in Beowulf? What are the key features of her character? Are the two portrayals consistent? Is there more to her than meets the eye?
  • What does it mean to be a hero?
  • What is glory? Why is it important?
  • Put the two versions of Beowulf’s argument with Unferth side by side. Then consider the most important differences. How do those differences give that scene two very different meanings?
  • Contrast Grendel’s view of Beowulf to that of the Beowulf poet? What effect does Gardner create by giving such a different view of Grendel’s killer?
  • Several of you noted similarities between Grendel and Frankenstein’s creature. How far do those similarities go? Are there essential differences in their roles in these two novels?

Serious caveat: there is way too much information available online on some of these questions. My very strong advice to you is to do no online research whatsoever. You will only run the risk of inadvertently or deliberately plagiarizing that material. Think about your interpretation of the question and go from there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blog assignment--creative piece

As you finish reading Grendel, choose one of the following options for your next blog post. Write a piece of at least two paragraphs, let's say around 400 words, on one of the following "creative" options:

Write a "survivor's" account of one of Grendel's attacks, from the point of view of someone who was there and lived to tell about it. (Keep the blood and gore within bounds on this one, and concentrate on the experience and emotions of the survivor). Alternative version of this piece: write a newspaper reporter's account of the attack, after having interviewed a couple of the survivors.

Create an internal monologue for Wealtheow about her new life as Hrothgar's wife, using some of the hints Grendel gives us in his thoughts about her. (an internal monolog is a character's unspoken thoughts)

What would Unferth write in his diary (assuming a strapping young warrior such as he has one) after having met Grendel and Beowulf within a few weeks of each other?

Write 20 or so lines of the Shaper's poetic account of the final battle between Grendel and Beowulf. (Remember, 4 or so strong beats per line, some alliteration in each line, no rhyme.)

Due for class 19, Thursday October 4 or Friday, October 5, depending on section. Team members will write comments once these pieces are posted. Don't be late.