Category Archives: teaching

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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THE ART OF PREPARING FOR THE BEST

"Riders of the Dawn" - by Frank Tenney Johnson, 1935 (all photographs by Marylin Warner, with permission by the Broadmoor Hotel)

“Riders of the Dawn” – by Frank Tenney Johnson, 1935 (all photographs by Marylin Warner, with permission by the Broadmoor Hotel)

"Indian Weaver"- 1914 by Eanger I. Couse

“Indian Weaver”- 1914 by Eanger I. Couse

Last week’s post, “Preparing For The Best,”  offered suggestions for preparing for a visit with a loved one who suffers with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  There were many responses and additional suggestions, and I sincerely thank each of you for sharing excellent information with us.

Gallivanta of “Silkannthreades” provided this link to the “The Art Of Urging those With Dementia to Think.”  This is excellent information about the benefits of viewing art, making art and responding to art for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8739661/The-art-of-urging-those-with-dementia-to-think

Pablo Picasso said,  “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” In my experience with the failing memories of both my parents, art also temporarily washes away the confusion of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For instance, using the three wonderful paintings from the early 1900s, imagine viewing these very large, colorful paintings with an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient.  For “Riders of the Dawn,” the focus could be the action. Which horse do you like best? Or start with a statement: My favorite horse is this one (and point), and then ask if they agree. For early stages of dementia, you might ask, Where do you think they’re going? and let them create a story or build on a memory.

Or move on to “Indian Weaver,” and early Alzheimer’s and dementia patients might respond to the weaving and the parent and child.  The picture might trigger memories of trying to work with children around, or cute things children do.

My favorite of the three paintings is “The Peacemaker.” After breakfast at The Broadmoor Hotel’s Charles Court recently, my husband Jim and my brother David and I studied this wonderful 5’x5’ 1913 painting and debated which of the characters is REALLY the Peacemaker. Art truly does make us all think, and for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it might possibly be the nudge that triggers memories and responses.

There are no medical solutions for dementia and Alzheimer’s at this point, and there are no quick fixes or easy answers for helping those we love who suffer with confusion and memory loss.  Pablo Picasso says, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Maybe the same is true with keeping alive the attraction to art in the lives of ourselves and those we love.

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With thanks to Rod of “Just Rod” for suggesting using CDs with favorite old songs, hymns or tunes; to Diana of “The Best Chapter” for suggesting that we read aloud to our loved ones; and to Nancy of “BackPorchBreak” for suggesting we look at family pictures together.

And special thanks to Clem, a psychiatric nurse of “Zachandclem,” who gently reminds us that Alzheimer’s victims’ fury has nothing to do with actual angry emotions, but with the dementia reaching the frontal lobe.

(My sincere thanks to the 5-star Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for allowing me to photograph some of their valuable paintings and share them with you on this blog.)

"The Peacemaker" - 1913 by Ernest L Blumenschein

“The Peacemaker” – 1913
by Ernest L Blumenschein

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LEFT? or RIGHT? (and we’re not talking politics)

The left hands of six good friends and very talented writers. Can you tell which ones are right-handed or ambidextrous?

Dear Mom,

I remember first grade, proudly holding my hand up TWICE in answer to the teacher’s two questions. First question: “How many of you are right handed?” (We were 5 and 6 year olds, it was the first day of school, and she had to explain the question to some of the students.) In answer, I held up my right hand, as did many of the others. Then she asked, “How many of you are left handed?” I paused a second and then held up my left hand.

The teacher gave me an irritated oh-no-here-we-go look. But after I showed her I could print my name with my right hand AND my left hand, she tapped my right hand with a ruler and said, “From now on, beginning in this classroom, you will use this hand.”

At home I continued to use both hands, but at school I avoided the ruler and joined the majority of right-handed students. Maybe it bothered me more than I realized. In 5th grade I began “mirror writing”—even in cursive—writing from right to left. I could write it quickly, and anyone could easily read it by holding the paper up to a mirror, but the teacher wasn’t impressed, so I stopped doing it at school.

Well Mom, guess what tomorrow, Monday, August 13th is?  It’s International Left-Handers’ Day!  In honor of those good old “confused about which hand to use” days, here are some statistics. About 90% of the population is right-handed, so that leaves 10% left-handed (but maybe some were actually ambidextrous and lumped into the big group against their wills). And speaking of ambidextrous, there’s an unproved medical theory that difficult or stressful births often happen among babies who grow up to be left-handed or ambidextrous. But the AMA doesn’t endorse it. Just as most religions do not accept the ancient superstition that left-handers were more prone to evil and are either weaker or stronger on both sides of the body than right-handers.

Eight of our presidents have been left-handed, most recently George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. On a Qwerty (standard) keyboard, 3,000 words can be typed with only the left hand; 56% of the touch-typing keystrokes are made with the left hand. In fencing, about half of the participants are left handed.

What I really want to say to you on August 13 is Thanks, Mom.  At home I could always use whichever hand I wanted. When I was learning to knit, you taught me the basic stitches, but you also took me to a left-handed knitter to learn, and then you let me choose. And when I did mirror writing, you were irritated only because I’d actually written a sentence on the mirror…with your lipstick. After I cleaned it off, you had me write on paper, and you complimented me, saying I was creative and talented.

Years later, a teacher myself, in a classroom of high school students I’d sometimes quickly write information on the board in mirror-writing. The students who could read it without hesitation would nod and smile, but most of the others had to squint and  figure it out. No one felt bad. It was okay either way. You had taught me that.

It was just one of the many things you taught by example, Mom, and I thank you.

I’ll be coming from Colorado to visit you in Kansas soon, and together we’ll celebrate International Left-Hander’s Day a few days late. I’ll bring the lipstick, we’ll write on the mirror, and then we’ll celebrate with cookies.   Love you, Mom.   Marylin

With my mom and Flat Grace (hand-colored by mom’s great-grandaughter, Grace)

 

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WASHING AWAY THE DUST OF EVERYDAY LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When Molly visited you and Dad the summer she was six, the art project you set up that week required washing away the dust of the garage. For “the marble village” your grandchildren created, marbles became the people who lived in the papier mâché town built and painted on a big piece of plywood on the garage floor. (The French term made the result even grander.)

You were also the grandmother who discovered a safe-to-eat recipe for play dough. You wrapped the colorful wads in plastic, tied them with ribbon and shared them with children in the neighborhood and at Sunday school. For a long time, play-dough rings, bracelets and necklaces were local gifts-of-choice, with painted snakes and rolled paper-clip holders a close second.

Encouraging art projects was always your trademark with me, Mom. I added to the projects and passed them on to Molly, and now your great-grandchildren have joined the adventures. Recently, Grace and Gannon both made portraits of me–in the style of Picasso–and proudly presented them for framing and hanging. In our family, creativity is the result of both nature and nurture. We’ve created with sidewalk chalk, puff paints, clay, old socks and T-shirts, watercolors, sand and glass, pen and paper, and computers. It’s all good. Sometimes surprising and open to interpretation, but still good.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” (Or, in my case, figuring out how I inspired two Picasso-style portraits.)

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging our creativity.

With love from your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren

(Above: Gannon’s and Grace’s Picasso pictures of Mor Mor)

(Below: Molly’s 3rd grade Indian Art sculpture with yarn)

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Thanks, Mom

Dear Mom,

Before I post my newspaper op-ed, I want to thank you. All my life, you’ve supported, encouraged, and sometimes gently questioned, my writing. When I was working on the article about Notre Dame vs. Chapman, Kansas, you listened as I explained it, but you fell asleep twice. Dementia and 93-years have made you a fast drop-off napper, and I wasn’t offended. You slept, and I kept writing. This was only my second newspaper article since my days at McPherson College, and it was slow going.

When I cleaned out the house where David and I grew up and you and Dad had lived for more than 50 years, I found a wonderful gift tucked in folders on a closet shelf. You had saved copies of my published stories, essays and articles through the years. Some of them I know you enjoyed and approved of more than others, but you celebrated each acceptance letter with me, and encouraged me to keep trying when there were rejection letters. I doubt you remember that now, but I will remember.

After “Notre Dame’s Missed Opportunity” was published in the Chapman Times News last week, I learned that a wrestling coach read it to her team, and readers were talking about it all over town. One long-time resident of Chapman posted a note on this blog (see ABOUT US, the last comment) and he closed by saying this:

“…You wrote like you had grown up in Chapman and had the pride of the town that I haven’t seen for a long while. It seems we feel it but it is not expressed as you did. Very good of you to take the time, hope you do more of it.”

THAT is one of the reasons we write, Mom, to make a difference. You taught me that by your example, and supported it with your encouragement and support.

Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

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BY GEORGE

Dear Mom,

Last week was about Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING, and the afternoon you and I tried “dime writing” in the library.

This week is inspired by George Eliot. No, this writer was not a man, but a woman. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) was an important English novelist and journalist of the Victorian era. Two of her best known novels are SILAS MARNER and MIDDLEMARCH. She used a male pen name to be sure that her work would be taken seriously.

In the past decade one of her quotes has become very popular. “It is never too late to be what you might have been” appears on posters, tee-shirts and greeting cards, and is referred to in inspirational books and sermons.

At this stage in my life, I’m in the uniquely wonderful position of simultaneously learning from my mother, my daughter, and my grandchildren. If I ask your great-grandchildren what they want to do and be, the answer will vary from day to day, from school days to weekends, and will depend on the season and which sports they’re playing. When you’re a pair of busy, happy children, one in third grade and the other in second grade, anything is possible. Life if full of dreams and opportunities. The world is your oyster, though you’d scrunch up your face and make gagging noises at the word oyster.

Years ago, when I read you the quote ”It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” you gave a little shrug and smiled. You said that being old wasn’t holding you back; you were being what you wanted to be.

That is a wonderful attitude, Mom. If I thought you’d wear it, I’d have a tee-shirt made for you: “I’m Who I Want To Be.” Or, to sum up who you’ve always been and the loving influence you’ve had on me, I’d have another of George Eliot’s quotes printed for you: “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”

Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

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WRITING ON A DIME

Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin

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