How to improve your writing through speaking and listening

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Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

We’ve all heard about public speaking’s status as most people’s number-one fear. As an English and creative writing educator for over 10 years, I’ve learned just how many students would rather take a failing grade instead of presenting a project to a class of their peers. But any teacher knows there are workarounds available for alternative settings or presenting to a small group instead of an entire class. In extreme cases, submitting a recording of the reading is just as valid an option. …

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Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash

Q. Anon
Freshman English
January 6, 2021

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Deep State

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet around the year 1600, influenced in part by the death of his son, Hamnet. Misspellings matter! The play focuses on prince Hamlet of Denmark fighting corruption and terrorist forces, guided by the ghost of his murdered Patriot father, JFK. Hamlet is assisted at times by his loyal friend Horatio and even the soldier Marcellus, who notes that, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Shakespeare 1.4.95). DEEP STATE of Denmark? January 4, 1995: Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House. Coincidence?

Prince Hamlet is forced to defend against attacks from all sides by a cabal of Danish elites. Polonius collecting bulk data? A puppet of the Establishment? Was Ophelia involved? Define ‘nunnery.’ Laertes’s ‘education’ secretly funded by the French?). Meanwhile, Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, leads an assault against Denmark (False flag operation? Distraction from the real threat within? Possible ANTIFA connections? Ever-cautious, Hamlet waits for the right time to strike. …

What we mean when we say “fair.”

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Ask an average person on the street if they believe that justice is good or bad and you’ll get an overwhelming response that it’s a good idea. Justice is a value of such universal appeal that we regularly incorporate it into children’s narratives and pop culture brands. The most widespread example in recent years is the superhero genre in film and television, in which characters like Batman, Superman, and Captain America incorporate the value of justice directly into their identity.

If justice is so foundational to our values, then it should be pretty easy to agree on what it looks like, right? …

How repetition and structure can enhance your poetry’s content.

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Forms and styles of poetry change over time, just like any other art. Such hallmarks from the genre’s history like metrical feet and rhyme schemes now tend to feel a bit antiquated. And our modern consumption of brief, accessible instapoetry certainly breaks with the longform, narrative origins of historical poetry.

But just like any other fashion, certain trends have a way of coming back in style when the right combination of circumstances arise. And it’s with this consideration in mind that the poetic form of the pantoum comes to mind.

The pantoum was adapted from the Malayan pantun and later Westernized to eliminate the original form’s focus on rhyme. This new form of poem focuses heavily on a repetition pattern of four-line stanzas. For each stanza of the poem, lines 2 and 4 repeat as lines 1 and 3 in the next stanza. This pattern creates a series of interlinked loops, like taking two steps forward and one step back with each new stanza. …

How the film obscures the thrill of exploration.

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“The Midnight Sky” — Netflix

Netflix’s The Midnight Sky presents itself as a spin on Interstellar’s premise of cosmic and environmental disasters grounded in family bonds, only with a returning space crew rather than a departing one. And while the film doesn’t skimp on disaster or on family, it ends up looking a lot more like The Day After Tomorrow in its final shape.

Where Interstellar focused on the story of one man’s journey and the perils along the way, The Midnight Sky hedges by trying to tell a mix of a diverse ensemble story while also following the hero’s personal quest.

And despite the compelling premise of the film, in trying to have things both ways, it ends up telling neither type of story very well. …

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Photo by Chewy on Unsplash

With Christmas just around the corner, plenty of busy pet owners are pulling their hair out over concerns about finding the perfect gift for their animal companions. Even on a tight schedule with a tight budget, there are still some great gift options available that won’t ruin your pet’s holiday.

6. Food

Most animals really enjoy eating. In fact, before domestication, many species that we now own as pets would spend the majority of their free time seeking out food in the same way that we seek out the next series to binge on Netflix. …

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Photo by CÔPAL on Unsplash

The store manager startled as Sam Gibson entered the 7-Eleven. Maybe it was the door chime in an empty store in the middle of the night in the small West Texas town. Maybe it was the clamor of the raging summer storm. Maybe it was that Sam, a regular, had his Vietnam Veteran ballcap pulled down beneath the brim of his large black umbrella, obscuring his features.

Sam closed the umbrella and pulled off the ballcap. “Nothin’ to be nervous about, Francisco. Just me.” The umbrella, with its long metal tip and sturdy wooden hook-handle, doubled as a walking cane when not keeping the rain off. …

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Warner Bros. Entertainment

When The Matrix released in March 1999, it warped pop culture and the blockbuster film industry around its presence. Its blend of science fiction, technology, and philosophy would go on to have lasting impacts, despite the disappointing attempts of writer/director siblings The Wachowskis to recapture lighting in the subsequent bottles of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

The gravity of the sequels pulls conversations about the series in a very particular direction, which I hope to ignore(as much as possible) to focus on the self-contained narrative of The Matrix, with its dominating themes of reality, self, and technology.

What stands out most after first returning to the world of The Matrix is the amount of attention devoted to its aesthetic. The film clearly wants to convey sleek and cool, even to a fault — characters and relationships take a backseat to special effects and world-building. The mirroring effect on spoons and sunglasses still impresses, but does nothing to enhance the interactions or conflicts. The wire work and fight sequences fundamentally shifted audiences’ expectations for action. Much of the dialogue still feels quotable through its delivery, if a bit anemic in its content. With its intertwined use of meta-settings (the artificial world and the real), The Matrix rightly directs more-than-average attention to its world-building, though often in a way that, itself, feels artificial. …

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Photo by Joanna Nix-Walkup on Unsplash

It’s a well-established claim that humans are narrative animals. Artists, neuroscientists, ad designers, psychologists, and even political scientists are aware of the uniquely powerful relationship that we have with storytelling. As an English educator for over ten years, exploring the tools and influence of narrative has always been a central feature of my work. And as much as educators encourage children to read for pleasure and language fluency, understanding narrative also helps to navigate the world by understanding relationships, traits, meaning, and values.

But narrative can also be put to darker purposes, especially in political and economic situations employing narrative instead of evidence-driven messaging. We’re used to interacting with storytelling in specific arenas like theaters and libraries, but less accustomed to spotting it in the wild. Since narrative can easily frame our expectations and tap into our emotions, it has the ability to circumvent our higher reasoning if we aren’t aware of the ways it functions. …

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“Hillbilly Elegy” — Netflix

On its surface, Hillbilly Elegy appears to be a story that America needs to see acknowledged, addressing the plight of the working class families left behind by the economics of the 21st century. The film’s themes of strained family relationships, addiction, and institutional bureaucracy feel more relevant than ever against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with Ron Howard at the helm of a cast that includes Amy Adams and Glenn Close, it seems to be a perfect awards contender alongside other middle-America tales like 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

But that is not the movie we were given. …


Aaron Meacham

My name anagrams to “a man becomes.” I love movies and Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t understand how anagrams work.

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