Friday, February 27, 2015

"The Argument" by William Shakespeare

            “I talked to Jack today.”
“C’mon Niki, Jack?  You never talk to Jack?  You haven’t liked Jack ever since he smashed that vanilla-frosted cupcake in your face.”
“Well, I did.”
“Really?  I thought you had sworn off ever acknowledging him because of that incident.”
 “I know, but he just came up and started talking.  He was telling me how he just bought himself the newest iPhone.”
“Oh please, Jack never uses his own money.  I bet he’s got his dad’s bank account wired to his debit card.”
“And, of course he has the newest iPhone; he always has to show off with the newest material items.”
“Anyways, he told me about something that happened in the science hallway.”
“Science hallway?  Jack?  In the science hallway?  He finished all his science courses, he would never step foot in the science hallway.”
“He said that…”
“Jack hates school too!  He always skips!”
“He was in school today though.”
“So?  There’s no way he would be in the science hallway with all the smart kids.”
“He said that when he was walking through, Mr. Graney and Ms. Smith were sprinting down towards the front office.”
“Mr. Graney?  Running?  Oh please, he probably hasn’t seen a day of physical education since his last high school gym class.  There’s no way he would be running.”
“But he was...”
“And Ms. Smith too!  Have you seen those ungodly six-inch heels she wears?  If she ran, she’d have two broken ankles by now.”
            “Well, according to Jack, they were running.”
            “Not possible, if anything they were probably walking, taking their sweet time.”
            “Apparently, they were yelling and pushing the students to get out of their way.”
            “Niki, listen to yourself.  Ms. Smith, the sweet, quiet woman yelling at kids to get out of her way.”
            “I know.  I know.  But, Jack told me when he walked further down and looked into Mr. Graney’s room, Kevin Huntsman was standing there looking like he just had a freak science accident.  Jack heard that he messed up on his experiment and it caused it to explode in his face.”
            “Kevin Huntsman won the science fair last year.”
            “...Okay… and?”
            “And... he wouldn’t mess up an experiment.  He’s way too smart to mess up a silly little high school lab test.  Ya know, he was in one of my lab groups last year and everything had to be perfect; he even made me re-do my ponytail!!”
            “Maybe this was just a tiny accident he made?”
            “Yeah, right.  The kid is literally a poster child for OCD.  He’s probably got pocket protectors for his pocket protectors.”
            “Well, according to Jack-”
            “Seriously?  You’re going to believe Jack?  On this whole thing?”
            “Well, no- I mean, I didn’t at first.  But, then when I was walking down the science hallway-”
            “Why were you walking down the science hallway?”
            “To go to my science class..?”
            “You don’t have science today, Niki.”
            “I was turning in late homework.”
            “You do not turn in late homework.  I have never seen you not turn in a homework assignment in on time.  Homework is basically your life.”
            “I had a dentist appointment yesterday.  But, as I was saying, when I was walking down the science hallway I passed by Mr. Graney’s room and, oh my goodness, it smelled awful.”
“Mmm... I don’t think it smelled that bad.”
“No, trust me.  It was like walking through a dumpster park filled with skunks.  Every single student and teacher that walked by was plugging their nose.”
“I was just walking through there and I didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary.”
“Probably because you’re sick with a stuffy nose so you can’t smell anything.”
“Um... no I don’t think so.”

“Ugh, you never listen.”

"Long-Winded" by Lavender Li

Note: This piece is based on Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style. Writers were given a very basic plot and then asked to tell a story in a certain style. Lavender Lee has chosen to write a "long-winded" story.

Today started out the same as most days in that I got up, got dressed, and walked about a half a mile to my school, but on this particular day, I had completely forgotten to do my homework for History, which happens from time to time, but is not that big of a deal because I can just go over to the school library and complete it there, either on the tables or at one of the many computers sitting against up against a wall along the back of the room instead of reading quietly like I normally do everyday during my lunch time.  

When I got into the library, the nice librarians asked me to check in, which I, of course, completed because it is protocol whenever someone enters the library before they are able to pick out a book and  I was no exception to this rigid rule. Walking over to the first computer in the row to get started on the review chart, which is due next period, I notice a very particular sight located in the back corner of the library, where the various fiction books are normally are stored on the many rows of shelves. Every single one of the fiction books have been removed and stored elsewhere; in a location I did not know, even though I am practically a librarian myself with the amount of time I spend in the library day after day. The absence of the books worried me because libraries are typically full of books, but today, which is turing out to be a very unusual day indeed, it is not, therefore defeating the very idea behind a library, concerning both me and others around me, I determine as I watch the bustling activity of staff and students around me trying to figure out where the books have mysteriously disappeared off too. This situation worried me because fiction is normally popular, but not popular for all the books to be checked out at the same time, so the only possibility to the disappearance has to be a theft. Behind the checkout desk, the librarian and an administer are conversing about the outrageous situation, trying desperately to figure out who could have done the task and where the books went, as they are no where to be found, not even in boxes or anything, adding to the mystery and leaving everyone in disbelief. After asking one of the staff members, who also has little idea of the book mystery as well, I leave the library with my History homework in hand and a head full of questions left unanswered and the book mystery remained unsolved. 

Later that day, in History class, after I turned in my freshly printed homework, the teacher stood before us and started lecturing, but, much to the teachers dismay, a frantic student bursted through the door exclaiming there is a fire the size of an elephant on the football field and begs for help with the problem in which my teacher quickly springs into action, calling people on her telephone as the rest of her students, including me, dart out of the classroom and straight to the field to see what was happening outside.

Once outside, the student that burst into my History room was right, there is a massive fire in the middle of the field, and a strong smell of smoke filled the air accompanied by a billowing pillar of smoke flying up to the sky from the flames. The students from my History class and I stand on the bleachers, carefully observing the fire, which continues to grow because there are people, who I assume started the fire, standing around the it, throwing something, that looked like blocks or bricks into the flames. It suddenly occurred to me that the fire was being fueled by the missing books from the library and the people throwing the books into the flames have something against the fiction section, maybe something along the lines of they do not like the plots or characters, though that is not a reason to destroy the books, especially when other people would like to be enjoying the literature. As I stare into the flames, my mind starts to wander on how the fire might be put out, the first of which is a firefighter coming to the rescue, but at the rate the fire is growing, it will engulf the entire school before they are able to get to the there, or another end to the fire could be by if it started to suddenly rain, or even the students could run on to the field with fire extinguishers, also stopping the fire. I hope the fire stops.

Friday, February 13, 2015

"This I Believe: Unhardened Hearts" by Kate Gillen

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" audio essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. Herndon Writing Center Co-Directors Ms. Gillen and Ms. Jewell wrote their own essays as well. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each the audio essay for a more intimate experience.

Ms. Gillen's essay was also featured on on December 19, 2014.

I often joke with my students that the course I teach–English 10–should be re-titled “doom and gloom literature.” We read some pretty heavy texts over the course of the year. When my students reach me, they’re young enough that they still believe that the world is neatly divided into “good” and “bad,” or “right” and “wrong.” They’re teetering at the edge of innocence and experience as they’re starting to realize that sometimes good people make awful choices, and sometimes, seemingly hopeless and hard individuals are capable of kindness. Throughout the year, I try to teach my students to always strive to do the right thing in spite of how ugly our world sometimes seems.

This year, my 10th graders began reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird the day after a grand jury decided not to indict white New York City police officer Daniel Panataleo in the death of Eric Garner, an African American man who was placed in a chokehold and died while resisting arrest in July. One week earlier, another grand jury had decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an un-armed African American teenager who’d committed a small theft in Ferguson, MO, in August.

For those of you who haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ll give you a short synopsis: the novel’s narrator, Scout, looks back on growing up in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Her father Atticus is called to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man who has been accused of a crime he did not commit. Scout learns that doing the right thing isn’t necessarily always the easiest thing–but ultimately, it is our duty as humans to think about things from another person’s point of view and to stand up for what it is right, even if–and especially if–no one else will.

I teach in a majority minority school. Most of my students are African-American and Hispanic. Each year, when we begin To Kill a Mockingbird, we have a class-wide discussion about things like prejudice and stereotypes in our culture, and where we draw the line between harmless and harmful beliefs. These questions always lead to a fascinating discussion, but this year, the discussion took on a markedly different tone.

Historically, it has taken a bit of time to get to a discussion of race in our country. This year, it came up immediately. In one class, two of my African American students brought up Michael Brown and Eric Garner instantly and passionately shared their frustration with both grand jury decisions. As one boy explained to the class what had happened in both cases, my normally squirrely students became quiet and pensive. One of them asked if anyone remembered what had happened to Trayvon Martin in 2012. In another period, a shy girl gave an impassioned, extemporaneous speech about the existence and prevalence of racism in our country that I can only compare to Linus’ speech about the true meaning of Christmas in the Charlie Brown Christmas movie.

That day, I wept on my drive home, my heart impossibly heavy. Aren’t we supposed to be past these kinds of things as a society? Aren’t we supposed to be a society founded on equality, fairness, and justice? How is this still happening?

In chapter 20 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s friend Dill becomes so upset by the way the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, treats Tom Robinson that Scout and Dill have to leave the courtroom. When they go outside, they encounter Dolphous Raymond, a white man who openly defies social expectations. Dill weeps about the way Tom Robinson is treated, and Dill and Dolphous have the following conversation:

“[Dolphous Raymond] jerked his head at Dill: ‘Things haven’t caught up with that one’s instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry. Maybe things’ll strike him as being–not quite right, say, but he won’t cry, not when he gets a few years on him.’

‘Cry about what, Mr. Raymond?’ Dill’s maleness was beginning to assert itself.

‘Cry about the simple hell people give other people–without even thinking. Cry about the hell white folks give colored folks without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.”

I became a teacher because I believe in the power of young people to create a better world. I believe that young people possess unhardened hearts; I believe that we must do everything we can as adults to prevent our own hearts from hardening. Why is it that as we grow older, we become complacent? Why do we become indifferent to the unfairness and the injustices we witness on a daily basis? I believe that within all of us is a strong sense of right and wrong, yet oftentimes, we adults are hardened by our experiences, and we lose the empathy that we felt so easily as children.

I fully recognize how easy it is to look at our world and to become cynical and to only see the worst in people. But I get to go to work every day, where I work with 15 and 16 year old young people who are so hopeful about the future. Things haven’t quite caught up with them yet, as Dolphous Raymond says. I hope things never will.

"This I Believe: The Spaces in Between" by Janice Jewell

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" audio essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. Herndon Writing Center Co-Directors Ms. Gillen and Ms. Jewell wrote their own essays as well. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each the audio essay for a more intimate experience.

On the long unpaved road down to my mother’s lake house in Maine hangs a hand-painted sign marking a driveway.  It reads “The Spaces In Between” and the back says, “Ian Factor.”  I have since discovered that Ian Factor is an artist and that his mother lives in the house at the end of that driveway.

The sign intrigued me for a long time, because it didn’t seem to be the “name” of the house, per se, nor is it representative of a location.  Its ambiguity was vexing and I pondered it every time I drove by whether on a run from the house into town, or on approach after an absence of many months.

I go long stretches without being at the lake.  At first my trips to Maine were strictly about visiting my mom and my step-father’s extended family.   These were active trips: games, walks, bike rides, early morning swims, jaunts into town for this or that.  It was comfortable, full, loud, fun. And then over.  “See you next year,” kind of over. 

I’m a teacher, so my summers are generally flexible, but one August my timing was off.  The only time I could visit was when no one else was going to be there.  In addition, that year my daughter was beginning the frantic planning to leave for college, and the idea that I could have five or six days to simply be alone was exhilarating. Summer is my time for rejuvenation.  I swam, ate, read, wrote and even worked a little on curriculum for the coming year.  It was quiet, nourishing, blissful.  I found a measure of peace beside the lake, restorative energy pulled from the elemental simplicity of watching water flow one direction and later in the day, back the other way.  At the end of the five days I returned to Northern Virginia and the frenzy of packing my daughter for her launch. 

One small part of my daily walk is along an unpaved road.  It reminds me of the road down to my mother’s house, and when I walk that stretch I imagine that I am walking that dirt road in Maine.  When my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and I began the terrible journey that goes with living and caring for a person with a horrible diagnosis, I found that I began to go to the lake in my daydreams more and more often.  I needed to process an unthinkable future.

My husband and I went to Maine together last winter.  We skied and slept and ate and walked on the frozen lake; Stuart played his guitar, I read books. We did a lot of nothing, just sat together, inside.  It snowed: the temp was -11 every night.   I remember it as dark because the house, mid-renovation, was with electricity, but without many lights, so it was dim but cozy.  Prior to renovation, the house was for summer use only; we celebrated its first New Year’s Eve with dinner for two and champagne.  We lived outside of our own lives, the pressures of daily living, the fear of the future, living in the moment, in many ways in-between.  Walled off, we could store up energy for hard times to come.  It wasn’t so much a vacation as a hibernation.

Which brings me back to that sign.  Perhaps for Ian Factor, the artist, a little piece of real estate on a lake in Maine is a place that nurtures him, much as it has come to do for me.  While the lake house may geographically serve the function of a space in-between, I can’t get there on a whim.  So I have to find other ways of making that space. Translating it from a “where” to a “when.”  On a walk, in the pool, inside a book.  I believe that the spaces in between are the ones where (or when) we step away from the daily grind and abandon our lives in all their craziness for an hour, a week, a minute and a half.  The spaces in between nourish us.  They foster calm, peace, restoration.  They rebuild our strength.  I believe that allowing these spaces room to be and going there (sometimes even just in our head) when we need time away, serves a necessary function in lives that all too often seem demanding, urgent.  We have time to uncover or recover a piece of our essential selves.  Irish poet William Butler Yeats writes that when he’s standing on “pavements grey,” he can hear “lake water lapping/in the deep heart’s core.”  On that little patch of sacred ground beside the lake, and the spaces in between, I hear it too.

Friday, February 6, 2015

"This I Believe: A Ride to Remember" by Patrick V

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays. Students wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each student's audio essay for a more intimate experience.

It was a hot summer afternoon, and my coach had just told us to start warming up. It was a sweaty day, but it didn’t bother me. I knew what I needed to do. I knew that in my heart I took the necessary steps toward making it as far as we did: the district tournament. It was all simply just another game. The game had never changed, but I did.

My dad told me, “I love you, and I'm so proud of what you have accomplished, now go have fun." My dad came to all of my games and whether we won or lost, he would talk baseball to me the whole car ride home. Baseball was our bond, despite having to live a whole world away from my dad.

Baseball was never something I hated. It was something I knew I could be great at. I would practice baseball with my dad any free time I would get.It’s rough not having a dad around all the time. I will never forget the car ride home from that last district tournament and even though we lost and my hopes for a longer summer baseball season were crushed, that car ride home is something I will cherish forever, and with that, it taught me a life lesson I continue to implement to this day.

In that car ride home, my dad said to me, "Kid, that was a rough game and I'm sure you know that, what I want to tell you is that, you gave it your all, you put best foot forward and came up short. But, you practiced hard and you took care of what you needed to, and you did your part, and there is no shame in that, your character is how you hold yourself at this moment, right here, and right now. All I know, is you sure played one heck of a game kid." I was pretty distraught from that game and I was not necessarily the happiest fellow. From that car ride with my dad, I learned perseverance. Being able to keep moving forward and grinding along, even when things get hard or tough. Even though I live without a dad and only get to see him on the weekends, have learned to persevere and keep moving forward in everything I do. This is what I believe in.

"Bravery" by Matt L

"Greed" by Robbie

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays. Students wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each student's audio essay for a more intimate experience.

Growing up my main concern was always myself, and even to this day it remains that way. Although I am very considerate of others ,I always know that priority rests solely on me. My mother would always tell me that my fate is in my own hands; that I have to worry about myself and not hangout with bad crowds. Selfishness is necessary for survival, greed is a necessary evil. Greed is the one thing that man can rely on; he can only rely on himself.

We as a species have the instinct inside to fend for ourselves and take what we believe to be rightfully ours. In the eyes of Ayn Rand selfishness is a virtue that is granted to man.  In Ayn Rand’s words, “   The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.” The one thing that man is gifted with is life to find true happiness is by finding it in you.  This is the only way for a person to be truly happy. The gift of life is something that you have to enjoy for yourself.
 Greed has always been discouraged and portrayed as something that is to be condemned. That fact of the matter is you only have yourself and your loved ones. You must provide for yourself and immediate for it is necessary for survival. Live is easier when you don’t bare the weight of others, when you carry the weight of others it only hurts you and supports them. It is a win-lose situation, where the one who cares for other is losing something. So what is the point in helping someone, when it can back fire on you?

I believe that there is no such thing as someone who is not greedy.

Even those who find themselves thinking that charity is their prerogative and that it gives them a sense of self importance. If nothing else this is hypocritical, helping someone else while looking like you nothing to gain. When in fact you have everything to gain, this sensual pleasure of self-gratification is what makes it hypocritical. Charity is doing something for others, and then this act defies what it stands for.

The fact of the matter is that greed is in every fragment of our lives it is impossible to escape, selfishness is just human nature. Human nature is thrown around a lot like humans were made the way they are by some will. But in actuality this is the nature of all that exist, self- preservation what it all comes down to. No one can say that they are truly selfless for they would have not care about the one constant in their lives, which is themselves. No one can say that they did not think at one point the world was created for them and that they have some sort of entitlement to it. In nature all animals fend for themselves and will do anything to survive, what makes humans any different.