To My Fencing Coach

No one should accuse you of awkwardness,
In personality, perhaps, but not in body.
Although lanky at first, the pronounced contours of muscle,
Give you away.

I watch you move into stance, bouncing with barely contained energy,
Thrumming with joyful anticipation,
As muscles ripple under a natural tan,
Full dark lips turn upward in a confident, self-assured smile.
Warm brown eyes framed by long lashes find my own,
I am captivated.

Then, your rushing forward, energy released like a snapped rubber band,
Time slows, your body flows effortlessly through that old routine,
Fully extended, back straight, you make a perfect line,
I have the impression as you hang suspended in the air,
I am looking at a snapshot of an Olympian winning the final bout

With a sharp thwack, your heel hits the gym
You straighten, my eyes are drawn down
Your olive jacket, its folds, like illuminating arrows,
Pointing to your paper-thin waist
Then upward to the cookiemonster keychain
That you believe makes you look ‘cool’
Its all part of the athletic image,
Like your gel spiked hair that remains unmoved
Again that confident quirk of your lips,
Screams “This is what I do. I got this!”

I nearly laugh,
You extrude such arrogance, but then
You are the best—you play it up,
The Dj party-boy athlete
Traveling the world from pre-teen hood
Surrounded with wealth and fame

From the sidelines I watch you
Patiently teach us ducks the ways of swans.
I pity you. You know
Much of money and of success
But so little of love.

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Winter

Snow, the color of an arctic hare, laden the cracked, dry branches of a many-ringed oak tree
That twisted and entwined about one another like a pit of snakes,
As the cold crept in much like a panther stalking its prey,
And the wind whipped by like a piercing needle, producing a high scream.

Photo is by me as well this time. :)

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Strength

You know you have it
when you loose out on love,
yet over and over,
continue to pick yourself back up,
when you know your failing,
but keep trying to make it right,
when the world is against you,
but you still continue to fight,
when others don’t like you,
and they call you ugly names,
but it doesn’t bother you,
you continue all the same,
when nobody wants you,
and your supposed friends lie to your face,
but you pretend not to notice,
because they are the ones in disgrace,
when you keep on trying,
even when everyone says to give in,
when you ignore those whom think they know better,
because you know in your heart you can win,
when you go your own way because its what YOU want,
and they tell you it will never come true,
but you keep dreaming just the same,
because you know you can make it through,
when they all are against you,
but you just smile and refuse to feel shame,
when your tired and worn down,
but refuse to play their game,
when you just can’t seem to stop,
and you keep on walking,
even when there is nowhere left to walk,
walking is better than talking,
when you try and you fail so you just try yet again,
when everything seems impossible,
but you refuse to give in,
when your risk it all and loose,
and start over just to loose it all once more,
that’s when you know,
you’re strong, life’s got more in store.

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Building Sand Castles

from Microsoft Clipart

In the winter of my twenty-third year,
I saw the fall of man
savage creatures with hellish fire
desiccated the cities in a raging storm of gleeful hate
under the banner of revolution.

Long before, in my sixth summer,
on a virgin shore of white sand,
I, with tiny hands,
learned the art of building sand castles.

Each time one built,
a bully wave came rushing forward to kick it down;
yet, my brother only smiled and urged me
rebuild my Sisyphean world.

Now, I, an old woman nearing eighty,
am the one smiling
as young men once more lift up their voices
in a rallying cry of revolt

—we do love our sand castles.

 

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Forget Me Not

“As a gift, these flowers are almost invariably traded between lovers and married couples.”

There’s that famous line, “do I dare to eat a peach?” and now I’m wondering, “Do I dare to eat a smarty?” I look at that little packet of confectionary sweetness and the memories all come rushing back. I see you and I see the bag. I see them sitting on my desk beneath a periwinkle flower, sparkling in the sunlight that reflects off the clear glass of water. I remember the feelings of happiness I felt as I gazed longingly at that flower. I remember working, long hours of the day, only to look over at that flower, and remember the day we spent together. That flower became a symbol of that day in my heart. And then it all comes rushing back, the feel of laying in your arms as we watched Karate Kid, just dozing before you had to leave for work, the warmth of your smile as you see me wearing your old t-shirt, the feeling of greeting you with a kiss when you came home to me after a long day.

But now I’m here, on the cold steps, watching the fountain beneath a dead tree and a greying sky. The wind blows so cold and I look down at that wrapper in my hand. I don’t know whether to smile or cry. My heart clenches in my chest as I decide upon a smile. They are happy memories after all, even if now they are forever tinged in sadness.

Later I come home and see my green scarf lying on the floor. I stoop down to pick it up. As I straighten myself, I run my fingers over the soft fabric and my heart seems to stop. I can see it so clearly, me, wearing this scarf and a green dress, and you, in a matching green shirt.  It was our last day together. If I had known then, that it was to be my last, what would I have said? What would I have done? And still the memory play’s out in my head, I can’t stop it, I’m not even sure I want to. I see you, smiling at me, your hand in mine as we walk. I see the Starbucks that we sit at alone in the dark beneath the trees. I see you, so enthusiastic, as you tell me all about your old house. I remember thinking; it was one of the first times you talked about yourself. I remember the hope I felt that maybe this was real.

I start to study for my exams but all I can think about is you telling me how I’ll do fine. I remember thinking of how determined I was to get all A’s to impress you. Now all I can do is wonder if she impresses you as I used to do.

I browse old Netflix movies, and my eyes catch a romantic comedy. I want to watch it, so I could forget how much love sucks for just one moment, just like I used to do. But now, even in this,  the memory of you haunts me. I think back to going to see Crazy Stupid Love with you and I think back on seeing the movie Date Night on our first date.  Even my old refuge is haunted by you.

I go to the mall to shop and get my mind off things but my eyes keep wandering over to the men’s section to look at the polo’s your so fond of. I keep having to catch myself when I find myself mentioning abstractly to a friend, “That’s Stuarts favorite…” or “That reminds me of one time when Stuart…” I have to keep telling myself that I can’t keep refering to you.

I open my closet and my mind instantly organizes my shirts into ‘Shirts Stuart Likes’ and ‘Shirts Stuart Doesn’t Like.’ I turn on the radio and I catch myself thinking, ‘Stuart would like this song.’ My grandmother sent me a bag of Salt Water Taffy from Kilwin’s and I can’t stop thinking about the time we went to get turtle ice cream.  A nice car goes by and I can’t stop myself from noticing because, while before I never looked twice at cars, I started making myself look because I know they interest you.  I still wake up smiling some mornings when I first wake up after dreaming about you.  When something exciting happens my hands are already on the button’s ready to text you before I remember I have deleted your number. When I think of the word love, you’re still the first thing that comes to my mind. I still have the Christmas card I was going to send you, sitting out on my desk. The mistletoe on it, stares mockingly at me. I can picture you so clearly in my mind it’s scary, and somehow it still makes me smile to think you.  I thought of how my cell phone used to say “Not Empty” and suddenly remembered that you had written that one day to replace “Emptyness” and how it had made me smile and given me comfort when I got sad.

You may be gone but the memory of you lingers. You invaded my life and now I don’t know how to live without thinking of you. So much of my life revolved around you these last two and a half years. And now there is an empty space, a dark void needing to be filled.

I won’t lie. It hurts to think of you still. Yet, my memories of you are all so happy. Somehow, even though my heart aches, thinking of you still makes me smile, still makes me happy….because I love you. It doesn’t matter that it shall never be again, that our time together has passed. When I think of you now, I mostly just wonder if you’re happy. I laugh to think of what response you would give me if I asked. I shall never understand the decision that you made or why you made the choices you did…but that’s ok.

I don’t need to understand in order to forgive you. And I have forgiven you.  My thoughts of you no longer involve any anger, only happiness. I can remember you and smile, sometimes it hardly even hurts.  I wonder if there shall come a day I stop thinking of you, a day that shall go by without a single reminder of you. Can a person be erased so simply? Can it be as if your existence in my life never happened? I’m not sure I want that. I’m not sure I want to go through life not occasionally reminded of you, as if these past two and a half years never happened. But then, I suppose one day there will be another who will occupy my thoughts. How often then will I think of you? Once a week? A month? A Year?

I wonder if years from now you will still think she was a better choice or if you will come to regret your decision? Time is so precious. One of my greatest fears is wasting the time we have. Was my two years with you a waste? Will you waste more of your years before trying to take me back only to find I have long moved on?

I wonder what you think of now. Do you still think of me? Is your life punctuated with little reminders of me as mine is with you? Do you still have the painting of your favorite car that I gave you for your birthday, displayed proudly on the wall? And is that little drawer still filled with the books I gave you for Christmas, and the “HeartSeaker” Magic the Gathering card? Does it still have your old cell phone which holds nothing but our old text messages in it? Or have you thrown all those memories away, discarded them like trash, just as you discarded me? Do you ever catch yourself wanting to look at my facebook page? Do you wake up some mornings after dreaming of me and for just a moment, believe it was all a dream and that you still have me? Do you catch yourself smiling when you think of hot tea because you know that its my favorite drink? Does the memory of me make you smile? Do you watch romantic comedies with her as you used to with me? And if so, does the memory of me ever cross your mind? Or is it easy for you to switch from loving me to loving her, if you ever even loved me at all?

Do you throw away our memories? Or do you hold on to them and cherish them, like me? If I loved you less I might be angry. I might try to cling and hold on to you. But the truth is I have loved you with everything I have for the past two and a half years. So yes it hurts to go on without you. But go on I will. And one day I will find someone else to love. And until then, I am content with the memory of you and the love I thought we shared.

I shall never stop loving you. The memory of you will forever make me smile, even dimmed and dulled by time. There will always be a portion of the garden of my heart, reserved for you alone, though neglected and in need of some weeding. So even if I’m no longer even a thought in your mind, I want you to know. It’s all okay. I’ll be fine.  And years from now I shall not “greet thee with silence and tears” but with a smile.

Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;

In my own way, and with my full consent.

Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely

Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.

Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping

I will confess; but that’s permitted me;

Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping

Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.

If I had loved you less or played you slyly

I might have held you for a summer more,

But at the cost of words I value highly,

And no such summer as the one before.

Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—

I shall have only good to say of you.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

With Love,

Your Baby Girl

 

1st Photograph  by KingsbraeGarden on Flickr

2nd Photograph by wine me on Flickr

3rd Photograph is Ian Britton

4th Photograph is a picture I took of my own artwork

Quote from flowerinfo.org

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Chapter 3

Lucian?!” Liliana called out. “Lucian!” Her hands moved in front of her to gently push past the evergreen pine needles of the trees, lifting them away from her face. Water droplets from the morning’s shower rained down upon her like tears as they slipped from the waxy needles to spot her dress with little dark circles. Finally, she caught sight of him and ran breathlessly over, her bright pink dress swinging back and forth around her.

Lucian, for his own part, was kneeling down in a small clearing and appeared to be staring quite intensely at a small patch of the soft grassy ground. Upon hearing Liliana’s call, he looked up and smiled warmly at the sight that greeted him. Coming to a stop before Lucian Liliana’s cheeks were flushed red and she was smiling a wide breathless smile.

He stood, dusting off a bit of mud from his black trousers and chuckled at the sight of the child, so innocent and full of life, before him. “Bonjour Liliana, ma chère. I see you are in a fine mood this morning.”

Her smile widened. “Yes, very much so!”

His eyes alight with a humor that only he could ever understand over the simple meeting, Lucian strode to where Liliana stood a mere five steps before him, near the edge of the clearing. As he walked the long moorish grass parted and swayed in a slightly chilled breeze, whispering. Slipping his hand easily around the young girls shoulders Lucian lead her back into the center where he earlier knelt. “It is early yet for you to be in so joyful a mood…” He paused and glanced towards the graying sky before continuing, “And in such dreadful weather.”

She laughed, “But you like the weather…and it is never too early for joy if I am in your company.”

His lips quirked upwards ever so slightly, “That I do. I find the weather suits me. Mais…” his hand strayed to brush a stray curl away from her cheek, “Such a young product of life as you should be morning such depressing weather as this.”

“But clouds bring rain and rain is the water of life.”

“That it is ma amore, that it is.” He replied, thoughtful. “You truly are an amazing creature to be so young and innocent yet so old and wise. You are…unique, Liliana.”

The seriousness of the moment was lost upon her however as she swung her dress happily about her beaming, “Thank you!”

“Merci,” he corrected automatically with an amused smile.

Liliana frowned slightly in confusion before hesitantly attempting the foreign word, “Merci?”

Lucian nodded his head, “Oui, bien fait ma chère.”

Having long sense stopped within the middle of the clearing, Lucian turned and placed a gentle hand upon Liliana’s waist while staring intently into her eyes. For her own part, Liliana’s heart sped up and she found her flesh warm. Slowly, as if asking permission with his eyes but at the same time knowing she had no choice in the matter either way, he drew her body against his. Liliana felt her cheeks burn as, almost dreamlike, his lips drew closer to brush chastely against her own. At the last second, Liliana’s eyes drew closed, allowing feeling to take over.

The chilled wind had returned slightly stronger and was tossing her dark curls far out behind her while playing with the pink ruffles at the edge of her dress, causing it to flutter. Yet, with the death of the wind, it lay still once more. The rustle of the pine trees and meadow grass faded away. To Liliana there was nothing but his soft lips as they caressed her own and the heat of his body pressed against her chest. Then, as quick as it came, it was over and he was pulling away. Liliana found her eyes springing open at the sudden lost contact but the protest that was already on her lips died at noticing his hands remained firmly upon her waist and, for once, he was warm.

“Come,” he whispered, “I have something to show you.”

“What?” Breaking through the fog from before Liliana tilted her head to the side and widened her eyes slightly in what she hoped was a cute and endearing manner. She was rewarded with a chuckle. ‘Lucian appears to be in a good mood today as well’ she observed.

“You will see, but first…” he trailed off and lifted his hand to waive it lazily in a half crescent before her face, “…you must sleep.”

And her eyes drifted closed as she fell back. Lucian caught her easily and hoisted her into his arms, her head cradled upon his chest. With one thoughtful piercing look around the clearing, he turned back into the woods carrying his prize and vanished.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When next Liliana awoke she came to herself groggily. The first thing she noticed was that she lay upon something soft and warm. There was a light blanket on top of her; it was a type of rich fur lined with silk. Opening her eyes as her mind tried to think back and remember how she came to be in this strange place she found herself to be looking up at a beautiful ornate ceiling. Her eyes followed the contours of clouds, angels, and beautiful beasts from the far East, all expertly painted in rich colors and gold. She sat up to lean back against the dark mahogany headboard, carved in the same motif. Liliana took the opportunity to look around. To the left there was a wall of bookshelves that wrapped around the corner of the room to rest at a grand fireplace encrusted with precious jewels. To the right lay an ancient grandfather clock that appeared to work but peculiarly made no sound. The only other piece of furniture beside for the massive bed she lay in was a small leather couch. It was long, with no backing, more a large tall footstool than a couch.

Finally, her eyes came to rest upon the figure dressed in opulent white, his hair pulled back into an ivory clasp. He was kneeling with his back to her, poking at the fire and apparently unaware that she had awoke. Quietly Liliana set her bare feet onto the cold black stone floor, Lucian having apparently removed her stockings and shoes, and padded over to him. Just as she was nearing his side he turned and fixed her with such a piercing stare that it made Liliana freeze. But then his eyes grew warm and his smile comforting as he reached out his hand towards her. “Je suis désolé ma petite. It was a long journey and you fell asleep.”

“I don’t remember.” Liliana replied confused. Her head felt muddled.

‘Shhh…” he pressed two cold fingers to her lips.

Liliana paused and decided to try a new approach, “Where am I?”

“We are currently at my home. I wish to show it to you.”

Liliana frowned, “before…when we were in the woods…you said I needed to sleep. What did you mean?”

“It is only a simple parlor trick, nothing to trouble yourself over.” He grinned, amused by her question.

“Oh.”

“Come,” he turned and beckoned her to follow.

Together they walked through Lucian’s home. It reminded her of a large extravagant Victorian manor although at times it seemed more castle-like. The display of wealth was spectacular. There were gems and precious metals, elaborately painted murals, silk tapestries, and large statues. And yet…every hallway, every room, was cold and empty. The emptiness made the high arched ceilings seem even higher. But the most unnerving part was the silence. It was unearthly quiet except for their footsteps and their occasional talking. Looking out the windows, Liliana noticed another peculiar thing. It was snowing. Yet, it was only the beginnings of Autumn, far too early for the dead onset of winter she saw before her.

“Where are we?” Liliana asked while staring out at the snowy court yard.

Lucian came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “We are…,” he said at length,
“far far away from anywhere you have ever known.”

Liliana blinked, “How long was I asleep?” She leaned back against Lucian’s warmth. ‘Usually he is very cold but lately he has been warm. How peculiar’ She reflected.

“Not long” Lucian replied while stroking her hair, “Not long at all.”

Photograh from Microsoft Clipart

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Prologue to my Novel

While sitting on Lucian’s lap Lilliana watched though the reflection in the mirror as Lucian patiently, almost absentmindedly, stroked…no, pet her hair. She was transfixed by the image they made as his white gloved hands wound their way in-between silk. Through the dead, slightly blunt, stupor of acceptance Lilliana let her mind drift. ‘I look more like a cold hard lifeless doll than a human being with these tightly wound dark chocolate curls and vibrantly painted red as the rose lips.’ She mused absent and uncaring. ‘My skin looks more like painted porcelain than living flesh.’ Staring blankly, Lilliana vaguely noticed the way her slight tan looked painted on, almost fake before her gaze shifted to her gentle pink cheeks. ‘They look painted too.’ She remarked silently and blinked. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were too delicately sculpted and perfect to be real. Even her eyes, in their wide unseeing stare looked like a dolls eyes. Their brilliant green seemed dull in the pore light. Her dress was like an old doll’s dress with black ruffles falling in waves and lace adorning the corset.

Leaning forward and breaking the still quietness of the almost painting Lucian whispered smoothly, “You look very beautiful in black.” He grinned. Luminescent, perfectly straight, and slightly pointed teeth flashed before her view. A wolfs grin. A predators grin. Lilliana raised her head slightly so that her eyes met his reflected dark blue ones. ‘His eyes,’ she thought, ‘they are like looking into oblivion, so cold and dark, devoid of life. They never change….some say eyes are the window into the soul. If that’s true Lucian mustn’t have one. He’s dead, inside and out.’

Coming back to herself Lilliana realized Lucian was speaking, “What a couple we make ma petite ange…tu ne penses pas? Your dark curly hair against my own straight white, your slight tan and blushing cheeks, so full of life, against my own pale dead skin. Your vibrant green eyes, alight and alive, whereas my own are dark and shadowed. Only in dress do we match my sweet, both all in black…how pretty.” The last statement seemed to be addressing her specifically and, as if to prove this true, Lucian leaned forward, his dark eyes never leaving hers until the last possible second when he was forced to look down, as his soft dry lips pressed a chaste kiss into the flesh of her neck.

“Yes…” Lilliana replied faintly and lowered her gaze. “It is, isn’t it?” It was then that she noticed yet another difference. ‘My voice is soft, faint and light, submissive. But Lucian’s voice is deep, dark, and silky.’

Leaning around her, Lucian pressed a kiss to Lilliana’s  forehead, his eyes fluttering shut as he did so. His lips, though soft were cold against her burning flesh. “Ne tu inquiétes pas mon amour…we will be together soon.” He assured.

“Will we?” Lilliana questioned like a lost child, which, perhaps, she was.

“Oui, soon we will be together for all éternité ma petite.”

“éternité,” she whispered quietly, her voice flat and dead.

The image is a screenshot from the opening song of the Japanese Anime Yami no Matsuei (Descendants of Darkness).

Also…I think it is important to mention that this has absolutely nothing to do with Vampires.

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AP Language Part II

I remember after we read The Thirteen American Arguments we learned what it really means to argue. Argument is not about winning or losing, it is about presenting a side, an interpretation, to try to hash out the best solution to a problem. The problem is that we often put our own personal feelings into our arguments, we make it about us, and thus we take it as a personal loss if we lose the argument.

Mr. Davis taught us that everything is an argument, even his class room. We were asked to analyze the argument of the room for homework one day. It was a fascinating room. Bookshelves on language, grammar, and literature, lined one wall. The other walls were filled with framed artwork and portraits. There was a map of the world, our class terms, and quotes from famous authors all over the walls. The portraits were of Don Quixote, Mark Twain, Emerson and Thoreau, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Theodor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Plato, Aristotle, and others. One day during an intruder drill I fondly remember sitting, huddled in a group, in one corner of the room, smiling, and playing a guessing game with Mr. Davis to see who in the class could guess who was who in the portraits and who said what quote or did what notable thing.

I remember the wonder that was analyzing poetry and literature and famous speeches and seeing them in entirely new ways with Mr. Davis’s guidance. We studied “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which opened my eyes to the beauty of writing along with a famous speech by Queen Elizabeth. I remember Mr. Davis giving us the poem “To Autumn” without a title and making us guess what season it was about to see who paid close attention to the text and who did not. I remember disusing “I wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and “Nature’s first Green is Gold” and “When I came to hear the Learn’d Astronomer.” I remember reading about a man who stopped at a red light when there were no other cars because he was a good citizen and a street where all of the residents heard a woman murdered but did nothing. I remember writing an essay on why I am not stupid, referring not to intelligence but the original definition which is uninvolved in society/not a citizen and another essay explain why the phrase “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me” is incorrect.

At the time I lived in dread of AP Language. I was constantly worried I had forgotten to do my homework or did not have my notebook with me. I worried I would say something stupid and be called out on it. I worried I had failed the insanely hard tests or had forgotten about some assignment from the syllabus that Mr. Davis never reminded us about. I wrote more than I ever had inside or outside of a class. I stayed up late into the night writing  essays and woke up at 5 A.M. to correct what I had written.  I spent two straight weeks in three different libraries researching. I memorized pages of my MLA guidebook. I spent hours arguing with another student, Edger, about syntax or the origin of a word or even the proper way to analyze a passage we had been assigned. I spent hours pondering questions asked in class and considering our reading books. I proclaimed loudly to anyone who asked that I hated that class with a passion….and yet…now I think back rather fondly of AP Language and wish very dearly to return.

I miss Mr. Davis’s straightforward nature of telling us like it is and dismissing us if we say something stupid. I miss the way he would just tell a student he or she is wrong rather than giving a sort of non-committal answer such as “I’ve never thought of that before” and moving on. I miss the way Mr. Davis would force us to explain what we mean and really get to the meat of the argument. I miss learning about the origin of words or fascinating little tid-bits of knowledge. I even miss Mr. Davis’s rants about our generation being the selfish generation of “I” that has no shame because it made us all wake up and strive to be better people.

I remember early on in the class we took a personality test and were given a letter that corresponded to our results. Possible letters were A, B, C, D, or E. We were given name tags to go with our letter which were a specific shape or size or color. Most people were either A’s or C’s. Mr. Davis was rather upset to find there were no D’s or E’s. I was a B/C split which led to Mr. Davis giving me a pink name tag and instructing me in a rather upset voice to write on it, “I am a Freako Weirdo B/C split.” I wore that pink nametag as a badge of honor the entire day and then saved it in my binder all year. Edger, my dear friend whom is a rather eccentric literature lover like me, was an A/B/C split which confused Mr. Davis greatly. Mr. Davis had him take the test again and had another girl count up his results before finally admitting, ”You’re a weird one Edger. This is what I want you to write. ‘Watch out! Lock all your doors! I am a freaky A/B/C split!’” It was only later that we learned that the letter’s stood for literary periods. A was classical, B was Romantic, C was Realism, D was modernism, and E was post-Modernism.

I remember having a discussion on what it means to be a teacher and to educate students as well as what it means to be a student. We read several different quotes and produced long arguments for our various different positions.

Here is a classic example of Mr. Davis. When our school’s annual blood drive began Mr. Davis told us all to participate in such a way that we all believed we would be graded on whether or not we participated. Everyone was talking about how they had to give blood so that they wouldn’t get marked down and how they needed the grade. As it got closer to time one brave soul finally spoke up and asked Mr. Davis what she was supposed to do since she couldn’t give blood. Mr. Davis, of course, played dumb before  finally giving her an incredulous look and asking, “are you trying to tell me you think I’m grading you on whether or not you give blood?” We all looked at him dumbfounded…wasn’t me? He burst out laughing and proclaimed loudly that he couldn’t believe we thought we were being graded on that. After all, how could he get away with making us give blood? The minute we all thought about it we realized how impossible it sounded…Mr. Davis had taught us to think for ourselves and do so rationally rather than except things blindly at face value. The moral was, with Mr. Davis, there was a lesson in everything.  Even assignments were lessons within lessons because they were given on the syllabus and never spoken about in class. We had no idea how to complete them  and rightly so. Mr. Davis wanted us to  find the courage to come to him and ask…as well as to teach us how foolish we were for signing a contract saying we understood everything on the syllabus and would turn everything in on time without prompting when we didn’t understand the assignments at all and had not asked nearly enough questions or even the right questions about the assignments on our one opportunity to do so.

Picture from Microsoft Clipart

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AP Language Part I

My first impression of AP Language was derived from listening to older students and teachers talk about the class. My Honors 10th grade English teacher would constantly refer to AP Language and how we should not use semi-colon’s in that class because the teacher, Mr. Davis, would always mark them wrong. She would talk about how we, “couldn’t get away with ….in Mr. Davis’s class” or how, “Mr. Davis would…” I won’t lie. It terrified me. Everyone said he was the hardest teacher in the entire school and every year he was voted the hardest/meanest in the yearbook. He looked mean too, late 40’s, bald, Caucasian, constantly scowling, somewhat over weight, unapproachable looking, and constantly wearing dress pants/black shoes/tie/button up shirt/belt.

I remember my first meeting with Mr. Davis was to turn in my contact information so he could send us emails over the summer. He had a specific and complicated formula he wanted it in with strike throughs on the zeros and commas and dashes. We had all been warned to get it right and I trembled at the thought of him catching some mistake on my form.

My next impression of Mr. Davis was the emails he sent to us over the summer. He would ask us to think of specific current topics or give us questions to think about as we read our assigned reading for the summer, What Would the Founder’s Do? He also assigned us a group of about 20 words to look over a few weeks before class.

I came into class the first day not really knowing what to expect. As it turned out we had a substitute teacher, I believe this was done purposely to add to our unease, and a test. Yes, you heard right, a test. Now most teachers assign reading assignments and tell you their will be a test the first day but I had never had a teacher who followed through with it. Most teachers had us take the test a few days later or just forgot about it. Not Mr. Davis. When he said test on the first day of school he meant it and it was a tough test too.

The second day of class he waited until the bell rang to come storming in, his presence was imposing and his voice powerful and dramatic as he clearly and loudly began to proclaim, “I can’t take it anymore! Can’t you smell it! The room is filled with it! Hurry! You, you, you, and you! Grab this duck tape! Hurry! Run to the door! Seal it! Seal it I say! It’s seeping in! I can’t take it any more! You! Go help them! Seal it all! Wingfield! You are missing some of the door Wingfield! Get that door sealed! Is it sealed?! Yes? Good!” and he sighed and seemed to slump in relief that whatever was getting in had been blocked out. I remember wondering if he really was crazy. But then he turned to us, took a deep breath, and commanded us solumly to, “Look at the door. Burn it into our memory. Stare at it long and hard. Because that door,” and at this moment he grabbed a twisted cane and jabbed at the door, “is to be the metaphor for this class for the rest of the year. Remember it. We will be referring to this metaphor again. For the door is a metaphor for how this class, this room, 1103, is no longer a part of all of THAT out there. That door has stopped all of that, all of that high school stuff, transporting into our room. This is not a high school class room. This is a college class. And whenever we pass through that door way we are in college and we leave all of that high school crap out there. Even though the duck tape will not be there physically it will remain metaphorically.”

He then went on to describe how, unlike the other teachers, we would never see him in jeans or a t-shirt because he was a professional and he would dress the part out of respect to us and our subject. He would never have food in class or allow us food in class with the exception of his coffee…but then, that was his prerogative. We would never have our homework accepted late or have any excuse. The door to the classroom would remain locked and would not be opened if we come late. In fact, if you are late, don’t even bother showing up. He would not open the door for us. He would not remind us of when assignments were due, they were in the syllabus and it was our job to have them. We should have all of our materials every day or we would be asked to leave. We should sit with pen in hand and paper open ready to take notes every day or expect to be asked to leave. This was to be my AP Language class. The most difficult class I will probably ever take…but the one that helped me grow and learn more than any other.

I should mention that the class did not have desks but long tables that were situated into a U facing the white board. This is called a Harkness Table. Mr. Davis did not stand often when he taught, he sat in the circle with us, changing places every day. I always prayed he would not sit beside me. We choose our seats but every six weeks we would have “fruit basket turn over” and be forced too, before class or risk Mr. Davis’s wrath, pick a seat at a different table with two different people on either side of us and never could be have the same people again for the remainder of the year.  Mr. Davis believed this to be enlightened learning because we would all be as equals or colleagues participating in monthly colloquia.

He then introduced us to the topic of our words which were hanging on the wall. He asked us to discuss their definition for they would be the tenets we would live by in his class. Our words were sincerity, decorum, rigor, essay (verb), arête, independence, and citizenship. I should mention that a discussion with Mr. Davis is like no discussion you have ever had before. It is trying and frustrating and the most though provoking thing you can imagine. Mr. Davis neither led the discussion nor sat back as a mere observer. Sometimes he would pose questions and direct the topic of discussion, other times he would leave that to us. Sometimes he would listen, sometimes he would beak in and ask questions or make a comment.  He loved to ask, “Yes but what do you mean? What are you getting at” while leaning forward, eyebrow raised. I should mention that Mr. Davis is a skilled orator, a Masters in English Language, a fanatic for etymology and syntax, a skilled writer, and also an amazing actor and the leader of our Drama Department. He could be loud or powerful or angry or jolly or frustrated in a split second and often I have wondered how much of it was all an act to get us to think and step outside of our comfort zone.

I was often in a state of quandary in his class: to speak or not to speak? To speak was to get participation and perhaps even his praise (which we all disparately wanted and yearned for, we all wanted to be the one to voice the correct answer and be rewarded with him leaving us alone for the rest of the class) but to speak was also to possibly insight his harsh judgment. Mr. Davis had no problem telling a student that their statement was racist, wrong, moronic, or poorly construed mess. The worst was his question of “what do you mean by that” which would stop you dead in your tracks, make you doubt yourself, and rain down silence in the room as you scrabbled to think of a response or some way to convey your thoughts.

Mr. Davis was filled with knowledge of little things which he would periodically stop the lesson to teach us. Things such as the correct way to pronounce a word, the origin of something, a recent article he had read, the history of a work, clearing up a common misconception, politics, philosophy, psychology. I remember one particularly interesting interruption was on the mis-use of the word “nauseous.” Apparently, based on the root/original word (a bunch of things I no longer remember and hardly understood) nauseous actually refers to the property of making one nauseated. Thus to say “I am nauseous” does not mean that “I am sick” but rather that “I make other’s sick” and thus we should never use the phrase “I am nauseous” but instead, “I am nauseated.” We would often begin the day by talking about the news since our topic was citizenship and what it meant to be a citizenship. We were instructed to read newspapers and pay attention to the news daily and we were often given the assignment of watching and analyzing the President’s various addresses for homework.

Weekly there were two constants in the class. One was vocabulary and the other was ALEPTs. ALEPTs were an invention of Mr. Davis’s that stood for Allusion, Latin, Etymology, Pronunciation, and Term. Every week a student would present an ALEPT on Friday based on what Mr. Davis assigned to them the first week of class. I was week ten. My allusion was a Sisyphean task from Greek mythology. Sisyphus was the King of Corinth and one day he saw Zeus abducting the river-god’s daughter, Aegina.  Because Sisyphus betrays Zeus’s secret he is imprisoned within Hades and given the punishment of forever rolling a bolder up a hill only for it to fall back down again. Thus, a Sisyphean task is a task that is impossible, futile, pointless, and never ending. My Latin phrase was requiescat in pace meaning  to rest in peace. It is pronounced reh-kwee-EH-skaht ihn PAH-kay and forms the initials R.I.P. which is so often placed upon tombstones. My etymology was the word panacea meaning cure all. Panacea is the daughter of Aesculapius, the Goddess of healing. The word Panacea comes from the Greek word “panakeia” in which pan means all and akos means remedy. Also, in Greek akeisthal means “to heal.” Panacea came to English via Latin and its earliest form was panace in the 1500s. In the 17th century panacea began to take on a figurative meaning of not just a physical cure all but a spiritual one. Finally, Panacea is related to the word “panean.” My pronunciation was the word often which is pronounced AWF-in or AHF-in but never AWET-in. The “t” is silent in often just as in soften, listen, fasten, and moisten. Finally, my term was tour de force which is a French term for an act or feat of strength. It is used to describe the merits of a technical display of force but in literature it means a display of great ingenuity or skill and is often applied to a work that illustrates the authors outstanding mastery or skill.

I know that at the beginning we all feared ALEPTs because last year Mr. Davis was so harsh on a girl that she burst out in tears and left the class. However, gradually we warmed to the idea and after everyone had presented an ALEPT, rather than giving us a second round, Mr. Davis decided to finish them off himself. Friday’s quickly became our favorite day because we learned so much form the fascinating ALEPTs and because we got to watch Mr. Davis dramatically teach them to us which gave us many smiles and  filled the class with laughter. Some of my favorite ALEPT terms were cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am), amor vincit Omnia (love conquers all), Tilt at Windmills, Spartan, pedantic, inter regnum (Inter= between; regnum= reign), Ragamuffin, Polysyndeton, Man Friday, Sadistic, Aesop, Illinois, Gotter dammerung, bedlam, Mrs.,  Worcestershire, sanguine, Crossing the Rubicon, Throw in the Towel, and A Cassandra.

Vocabulary days were also memorable because of the way Mr. Davis would teach us vocabulary. He had a way to remember everything such as singing to us in his loud clear voice, “Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast to teach us the word “provincial” or his making Edger try to “wheedle” me out of my shoes, or having us stand on our chairs and shake to learn “ferment” or saying “sanguine” in a fake French accent to our neighbor. Vocabulary workshops were a time to sit back and relax and enjoy the class for once with no fear of being put on the spot….although that wouldn’t stop him from picking on us. I remember clapping to show “approbation,” pretending to feel a thin material to learn “gossamer,” and pretending to be a patriot dumping tea into the harbor to learn “contraband.”

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Syntax

In AP Language I seemed to have so many “ah-ha!” moments due the brilliance that was our teacher, Mr. Davis. One such moment was towards the end of the year as part of our discussion of style. We were given a packet by Lydia Fakundiny and it was during our discussion of the packet that I realized the beauty and planning of syntax in a whole new way.

First we discussed Nominal and Verbal prose. Nominal prose is noun and adjective centered. Nouns have “impact” a heavy thudding feel to them. In contrast, verbal prose focuses on verbs and adverbs which creates energy and an idea of action or movement. Thus authors use either verbal or nominal prose to create a specific feel for their work.

Next we discussed periodic versus cumulative sentences. For an example of a  periodic sentence we studied the sentence “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights” from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by King. This single sentence is about the wait the African American people have had to endure in their struggle for Civil Rights…and so it makes the audience wait as King lists dependent after dependent clause before finally giving his independent clause and ending the sentence. Periodic sentences produce suspense, the idea of not yet being finished, of sustained waiting for the end which evokes a fast pace. Completely different is the cumulative sentence that begins with an independent clause and then tacks on dependent clauses at the end. Cumulative sentences create the allusion of spontaneity as if the reader is just mindlessly thinking and letting their thoughts spill out in a progression. Thus, cumulative sentences are key to stream of conscious writing.

We also learned that there were only ten different types of sentences in the English language. Ten! Can you believe it? The first is the simple noun phrase, be verb, adverb: the students are lonely. The second is noun phrase be verb adjective or subject complement: the students are scary. Next, noun phrase, be verb noun phrase: the students become teachers. Another is noun verb linking verb adjective: the students can be shy. Similarly, noun phrase, linking verb, noun phrase is another pattern: the students will be teachers. Next is noun phrase intransitive verb: the students cried. Another is noun phrase, transitive verb, direct object:  the students scare me. A more complex sentence form is noun phrase, transitive verb, indirect object, direct object: the students teach us creativity. Similarly, another sentence would be noun phrase, transitive verb, direct object, object complement (adjective): the students consider their parents intelligent. Finally, the last type of sentence is noun phrase, transitive verb, direct object, object complement (noun phrase): the students left the door open. That’s it. That is all the types of sentences in the English language, everything else is just fluff.

Next we studied Parataxis, balance, chiasmus, and balance with antithesis. Parataxis is parallelism with anaphora or parallel structures with initial repetitions of sounds such as, “To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules is the humor of a scholar. Speak as you think, be what you are, pay your debts to all kinds. ” (Emerson—“Illusions”). Balance is two parallel things that are equals or similar in form and meaning. An example of balance is “Their characteristics are respectable; their motives, I am willing to believe, were laudable” (Macaulay—“On the Royal Society of Literature”). Chiasmus has the structure a + b = b + a such as in “In the poetical quarter, I found there were poets who had no monuments and monuments which had no poets” (Addison-Spectator No. 26). Balance with antithesis is when a similar form is used but with a different meaning such as, “the truth of it is, that a man in which much business must either make himself a knave, or else the world will make him a fool…” (Crowley—“The Dangers of an Honest Man in Much Company”).

Additional key stylistic devices to watch out for in writing is the purposeful use of sexism such as the words “man-made” and “chairman” or the phrases, “the best man for the job” and “giving each student his paper as soon as his is finished” and passive voice such as “they were not notified of the incident” or “the missing papers were returned.”

Additionally, one must look at the connotation of words. Some are negative “musclebound” while others are positive such as, “herculean.” They mean the same yet they produce different effects in writing.

Examples of how syntax/word choice effect an essay:

Passage 1:

People talk of sincerity. I confess something. This talk fatigues me. The fellow may have been sincere. Then so was P.T. Barnum. Such uses disgrace the word. They degrade it. In fact, Bryan was a charlatan. He was a mountebank. He was a zany. Bryan had no sense. He had no dignity. His career brought him in to contact with the first men of his time. Bryan preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses.

He had traveled. He had been received in civilized societies. He had been a high officer of state. I watched him at Dayton, and this was hard to believe. There were poor clods around Bryan. Bryan was like them.

A theology deluded Bryan. The theology was childish. He was full of hatred. The hatred was almost pathological. Bryan hated all learning. He hated all human dignity. He hated all beauty. He hated all fine and noble things.

Bryan was a peasant. The peasant had come home to the barnyard.

Analysis:

The predominant syntactical choice for the passage is parataxis, the placement of words without conjunctions. In place of conjunctions the author uses parallelism to create flow and to create the appearance of logic. The author also uses simplistic short sentences with regular subject, verb, and complement structure. The effect is to make the passage clear and straight forward. It makes it seem as if the author is impartially rolling off facts, one leading to the other, to form a logical conclusion. This steady flow is complemented by the passages weak verbal nature. Different forms of parallelism are used to create the steady flow of the passage which gives the appearance of logic. An example is anaphora, such as the repetition of “He had” or “He was” to begin sentences. The author also divided the passage into four paragraphs or movements to separate different ideas. This also breaks the passage into logical sections further adding to the passages appeal to logic. However, because parallelism is usually used for the purpose of deceiving it can be presumed that the author’s intentions are to hide a weakness in his or her argument. This revels that the author was writing under the assumption that his or her audience was not intelligent enough to notice the deception and believes the audience to be like children whom will easily accept the argument as facts of truth. Additionally the author avoids claiming responsibility for the argument by saying the entire thing might have been avoided while the use of passive voice further avoids direct accusation and distances the author from the piece. This is thus the speech of a politician, facetious and evasive, avoiding direct implication. Furthermore, the author repeatedly uses the words “he” and “Bryan” to put the emphasis off of the author himself and onto the subject of the speech, Bryan. The author appears to want to pound the image of Bryan with the relentless repetition of the name in such simplistically structured and clipped sentences into the audiences mind. In conclusion, there is almost an Orwellian form of propaganda to the speech which gives the author the appearance of being similar to a demagogue.

Passage 2:

I confess: this talk of sincerity fatigues me. Was the fellow sincere? Then so was P.T. Barnum. Such uses disgrace and degrade the word “sincere.” In fact, Bryan was a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany. Did he have any sense or dignity? No. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; did he prefer the company of rustic ignoramuses? I watched Bryan at Dayton. It was hard to believe: he had traveled, been received in civilized societies, been a high officer of state. A poor clod, like those around him, was what he seemed. He was deluded by a theology, a childish one. The hatred he was full of was almost pathological. Did he not hate all learning? Did he not hate all human dignity? All beauty? All fine and noble things? A peasant, surely, come home to the barnyard.

Analysis:

The predominant syntactical choice of passage is the use of the interrogative sentence. The author repeatedly asks a question and then goes on to answer it. It gives the author the appearance of being a teacher who wishes to make his or her students think. However because the author answers the questions, that is obviously not his or her intent. Instead the questions serve the purpose of leading the reader down a pathway of thinking without their knowledge. It tricks the reader into thinking that it was they who came to the conclusion thatBryanwas a “peasant come home to the barnyard” not the author. The asking of questions immediately followed by answers does not require reflection or thought, merely the ability to follow the author’s preconceived conclusion. This effect is also reflected in the nominal style of the passage. It is weighty as the author drives home his argument and the words carry a heavy impact. In conclusion, the author uses epiplexis along with passive voice and nominal prose filled with weak linking verbs to deceive the reader into falling prey to a specific line of thinking. This author is certainly more cunning than the previous author and uses a more subtle style of argument.

Conclusion:

Two passages with the same topic, identical word choice, and exactly the same order are given yet the two passages produce totally different effects. The only true difference between the two passages is syntax, the way in which the sentences are constructed. Yet, what a remarkable difference syntax makes in their argument! Such a simple change completely alters tone and meaning! This is why learning syntax and how to properly use it to form coherent arguments is so important! Not only for the formation of your own arguments but also so as not to fall into the traps and deceptions that crafty orators and writers are able to lead unsuspecting readers into.

Information from my notes in AP Language 2009-2010 with Mr. Davis at Lee County High School (Leesburg, GA) [Mr. Davis took his notes from Fakundiny, Lydia. “Talking About Style.” The Art of the Essay. Ed. Lydia Fakundiny. Boston: Houghton Miffin, 1991. 713-740.

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