Bradley Cooper and I have one thing in common: we both threw A Farewell to Arms across the room when we finished it. OK, it was Cooper’s character from Silver Linings Playbook, but still.
I’ve tried to like Hemingway. I tried hard enough to finish A Farewell to Arms, even though with every turn of the page, I felt no connection to his simplistic writing style, his flat females, his bland trudging through the mud. I’ve attempted Hemingway since then, and I still don’t care for him.
Although I’m not a Hemingway fan, as an English teacher, I cannot avoid him. And even though I don’t want to sit through another one of his novels, I still bring him up in my classroom. I like Hemingway in abstraction. I like Hemingway the idea. Here are the only forms of Hemingway I can tolerate:
#1 The guy from Midnight in Paris
I love that he speaks in that monotone, trudging tone. Because that’s what it’s like reading Hemingway. And if that cutie sat in front of me and read out an entire Hemingway novel, I might be tempted to finish the whole thing.
#2 The six word story
Teachers love this story. It’s a great way to encourage kids to be choosy about their words, and to see the power in each little word. English teachers have been using it as a warm-up for years: Tell the story of Hemingway’s bet, then ask students to write their own six-word story. I recently heard of technology teachers using it to structure an autobiographical short movie assignment.
#3 The Hemingway App
Hemingway’s writing style is not my favorite. I prefer long, poetic sentences that flow into one another. However, his writing style is what my students need. Adolescent writers tend to ramble and try too hard to sound academic. I have had to tell so many of my bright students that it’s better to use simpler language than to sound like you used a thesaurus for every word of your essay. They don’t believe me. They tend to think I’m another stupid teacher who doesn’t understand Art. So I refer them to the Hemingway app as evidence that I’m right, and as a tool for them to clean up their writing. But I also want to empower them as writers, so I remind them that the final call for the style of their writing is theirs.
I would close with my favorite Hemingway quote: “Write drunk, edit sober.” But I just found out that there’s no real source attributing him to this quote. It’s one of those apocryphal quotes circulated by unknowing nerds and Google search engines. Go figure. Of course my favorite Hemingway quote wouldn’t actually be by Hemingway. So I guess I really don’t like him at all.
One of those embarrassing pictures of my youth held hostage by the Internet featured The Awakening. My senior year of high school, I posted a series of selfies (before selfies were cool, of course) of my reaction to Kate Chopin’s classic to that early social network, Friendster. Mildly pleased at first, then bored, then scandalized and confused, and finally, empowered and satisfied.
Years later, when I went through my internet photo purge preceding my first year of teaching, I contacted Friendster and asked them to take down the pictures. I had long forgotten my email and password, and I needed their help. They asked for pictures of my driver’s license and other personal information to confirm my identity. Too much work, I thought, mostly because I didn’t have access to a scanner. I crossed my fingers and hoped my students wouldn’t find those pictures and turn me into a meme.
They didn’t. And now Friendster is dead, and I assume, so are my pictures. Alas. I did actually like those goofy selfies.
The Awakening has slipped into my life at infrequent intervals: first during my senior year, then during a college class on feminist literature, then as the literary analysis piece for my ELAR teacher certification test. Now that I am a wife, a mother, and a teacher, I think of it constantly. Particularly, I think of this passage, the one that stuck with me the longest after high school, and consequentially, the one that showed up on my teacher certification test:
“It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement.
If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”
When I was a child, my mother would mourn for my future husband, saying I was too strong-willed to be a good Indian wife. When I decided to become a teacher, my friends and family questioned me, wondering aloud whether I was nurturing and gentle enough for the field. When I became pregnant, I worried for 9 months that I couldn’t be like my Facebook friends who had transformed into Chopin’s “mother-woman.”
But it is because of Kate Chopin and Edna Pontellier that I learned that I did not have to lose myself to be a good wife, mother, or teacher. I love and find joy in my husband, daughter, and students, but I do not worship them or see them as infallible. (Although I must admit, my daughter is a toddler and I am fully enjoying these adorable years before she becomes an awkward, intolerable adolescent.) I have a life outside of them, and that is OK. In fact, I find that my ability to set boundaries allows me to be more fulfilled in my roles as wife, mother, and teacher.
This is why fiction is important. It shows us possibilities, allows us to see what we can be, especially when the people around us do not. Through fiction, we can imagine solutions and make them a reality. Were it not for Kate Chopin, my struggle to maintain my individuality and identity through marriage, motherhood, and employment would have been much greater than it has been. Edna Pontellier’s story may not have ended perfectly, but through her I was able to create a better story for myself. Stories have that power.
If one of my students digs through Google Images and stumbles across my selfies from years ago, I won’t be ashamed. That was the moment that a book sowed seeds of strength within me, and of that I am proud. I may look like a doofus, though. Alas, even the most empowered women can’t change those awkward adolescent years.
Author: Kate Chopin
Category: Literature; Feminist literature
What it’s about: Edna Pontellier struggles to maintain her individuality in a society that insists that a woman’s identity should be limited to her duties as wife and mother.
The C for Chopin image is part of my new project, AlphaLit Books. I am currently featuring women writers for each letter of the alphabet. I will be posting these on Instagram using the hashtag #alphalitbooks. Let me know if you have ideas for writers that I can feature!
If you follow me on OneFifty, you know I’ve got a bit of a branding problem. Namely, it’s hard for me to commit to just one idea because I want to do it all! Any rational human being would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Oh, wait. That was Ron Swanson.
But branding can also be difficult when you’re still in the process of discovering yourself as an artist, or “a creative,” which may be a better term for me. I’ve always had a penchant for writing and for words—it was my first passion. Lettering, art, and crafting are things I do to unwind, and things I happen to do pretty well, too. But while I’m an experienced teacher in the world of words, I’m a kindergartener in the world of visual arts. And like a child, I want to do it all, learn it all, and be all of the things.
After nearly a year of being engaged in the Instagram lettering community and studying the crafts of lettering, calligraphy, and typography, I feel like I’m starting to get a focus. I had grand ideas of wedding signage and birthday chalkboards (I’ve actually gotten the chance to do the latter over the past year!), but I think my passion lies somewhere smaller.
I had to remind myself of why I started. I had to remember that I started a public lettering journey not just to reduce stress, but because the source of that stress angered me so much that I wanted to create a voice for myself.
I’m an English teacher in an education system that is shifting to becoming entirely career-centric. I was told that the books I wanted to teach were antiquated and had no more value in our modern world. I was nudged in the direction of more practical reading and writing that would be better suited for the workplace. And maybe that’s where education is now. Practical work-related tasks. But that’s not what drew me to being an English teacher. I believe in the power of reading, the value of beautiful words, the magic of those rare moments of connection that we find in the words of others. I believe that the arts and humanities do have a place in the modern workplace–especially now, when we are suffering from a lack of empathy and connection. It was that belief that brought me to lettering; it was that rage that drove me to find a creative outlet.
As I continue learning and practicing the craft of drawing stylized letters, I want to focus on my true passion: literature. Books are where I started, and books are what I want to highlight. I dropped off on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project around February because school got hectic, but I’ll be moving forward along the same lines: handlettering lines from books and sharing their stories. These books will range from “the classics” to modern capital-L Literature to popular YA series. My goal is to encourage people to see the magic within stories and their ability to show the power of the human spirit. To me, this is far more valuable than any practical, work-related texts or writing that I would be told to teach at school.
My blog will finally have a focus: books and lettering. It will go hand-in-hand with my Instagram (@nerdladydraws), where I post my daily adventures in art and lettering. I already started a new series after refocusing: #alphalitbooks is a passion project in which I highlight different works by the alphabet. Currently, I’m working with the names of women writers. I’m also hoping to continue with #literarywhiteboardlettering once school calms down a bit (after our state test ends in two weeks). I hope that pairing my Instagram and blog–the former for all my artistic exploits, and the latter for my Lettering Literature project–will give me both the versatility and sense of purpose I need.
As always, thank you for following me on this journey. Creativity can light a burning desire in you, and it can be really scary to share it all and announce a purpose. It helps to have a supportive group of people when you’re trying out new things. I’m looking forward to exploring new books and styles as I delve into literary lettering! Leave a comment with any book recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for a new book.
January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!
Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye
What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.
What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.
Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You
What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.
Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!
Day 58: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.
Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.
We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!
Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.
Day 41: The Odyssey
What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.
Day 42: The Hobbit
What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.
Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh
What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.
Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk
What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.
Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata
What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.
Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights
What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!
Day 47: A Christmas Carol
What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.
Day 48: King Lear
What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.
Day 49: Oedipus Rex
What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.
Day 50: Antigone
What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.
Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.
Day 52: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!
Day 53: Romeo and Juliet
What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!