Thursday, July 11, 2013

Style Imitation

...of the literary variety.

I belong to a class of teachers who cannot help getting sucked into summer school or curriculum writing or tutoring or SAT prep or any other garden variety "let me add some beans to my pitifully tiny pocketbook" summer tasks.

This summer, I refused to commit to more than two weeks of curriculum writing. Of course, a gotta-take-a-four-day-course-to-teach-an-AP-course course snuck its way into my life. (Yes, I see the plethora of "course," and it's intentional...of course.)

However, these smatterings of professional development offerings, if you will, help me see the following school year with crisper clarity. If I'm writing curriculum, then I certainly know what I want to teach and how to teach it.

Anyway, you want to know why I'm rambling about all of this nonsense. Well, while writing curriculum, I decided to create a model paragraph that imitates a passage from Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (Yes, the book is always better.) I must confess. I'm taking a little pride in my creation because I realized that I have not, in fact, lost all of my sensibility to penis-drawing sophomore boys and YOLO-screaming dingbats.

Mini Life of Pi background: In part one of the novel, Martel provides background on Pi, a young boy from India whose ship wrecks before his family and their zoo animals can reach Canada, the place to whom his father has sold all of the animals in his zoo from India. After the ship sinks, Pi winds up on a life boat with a pack of animals, which ultimately dwindles to a population of one, a tiger. Anyway, in part one, we learn that Pi is a religious fellow, a characteristic that becomes quite relevant in parts two and three. By religious, I mean that he participates in three religions: Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Third time is the charm, perhaps? Anyway, at one point he describes being Hindu.

He says this:

I am a Hindu because of sculptured cones of red kumkim powder and baskets of yellow
turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of the
clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine of the reedy
nadaswaram and the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors
down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because
of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung,
because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful
stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word—faith.  

Another teacher suggested that I ask my students to imitate the structure of this passage with content of their own. Students can write about being athletes, musicians, members of a religion, anything. I decided to write one about being an American. I can't say that my personal beliefs inspired me to write what I wrote, but I felt inspired after I wrote it. I felt a little more American after spending time considering what it means to so many people who are American.

I composed this:

I am an American because of barbecued burgers with Heinz ketchup and trays of sweet
watermelon slices, because of fields of wheat and whiffs of fresh-cut grass, because of the rising
of Lady Liberty to welcome foreigners’ weariness to sanctuary, because of the singing of purple
mountains and the signing of the Declaration, because of the skipping of tiny toes against
scorching asphalt down neighborhoods brimming with giggles of innocence, because of the
aroma of opportunity, because of magnates of great oration inspiring from the podium, because
of championships being valiantly won, because of bald eagles soaring high to perch, because of
city skyscrapers standing magnificently tall, because of Old Glory signaling, continuously
revered, the nation’s cornerstone—independence.

For those of you who often feel uninspired or you do not know what to write or how to write it, take a page from your favorite book and imitate the sentence structure. If you find beauty, symmetry, and lyricism in a passage, use it to foster your own creativity. Obviously, you need to find your own content, but allow their structure to serve as a vessel for your ideas. Ultimately, we must find our own voices and our own style, but it helps to practice with someone else's when we're feeling uninspired. We use our favorite bloggers and celebrities for sartorial style inspiration, so why not use some of our favorite writers for literary style inspiration? 

Oh, and here's a throwback picture for you all. It's my "literary" picture because Jeff, a man who says "why read a book when I can watch the movie?", actually made a connection to the symbolism of the green light from The Great Gatsby BEFORE the movie entered the scene. I'm so proud.  

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