Sunday, May 31, 2009

"This Is Just To Say"

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

- William Carlos Williams

In its economy, Williams' poem, "This Is Just To Say," takes a form typical of his work. It is only eleven lines long, with no line containing more than three words. In addition, the title functions as if it were the first line, furthering the poem's economy. The poem seems to be a simple note, perhaps taped to a refrigerator, notifying someone that the plums that she (no specific gender is referred to, but for the purposes of this essay I am assuming that the note-write is male and the plum-saver is female--mostly because the author is male) has been saving for breakfast have been eaten. The note goes on to ask for forgiveness and uses the sweet, cold deliciousness of the plums as a justification for the transgression. However, on closer examination, what seems to be a simple note begins to take on a deeper, more complex meaning. The poem becomes a metaphor for man's inability to resist temptation, and further, for his lack of remorse for his sins.

As mentioned above, the title of the poem serves as the opening line and gives us the impression that it is the introduction to a brief note. The word "Just" in the title has the effect of making us feel that the content of the rest of the note will probably be something of little importance and is only written as an afterthought or as a courtesy. It is as if the speaker is trying to diffuse what he thinks might become a contentious situation before announcing what has actually happened.

Stanza one explains what has happened. The plums that were in the icebox have been eaten by the speaker. There is little in this stanza that gives us insight to the speaker's motivations or feelings about what he has done. However, it gives us the triggering action that is the impetus for the rest of the poem.

Stanza two, on the other hand, reveals the true conflict. The plums that the speaker has eaten were being saved for breakfast by the person to whom the note is written. Further, the note-writer has a pretty good idea that this person is saving them as is evidenced by the fact that he writes in lines six and seven "you were probably saving. . ." The fact that the speaker knows that he has trespassed against the plum-saver begins to give us some insight to the true complexity of the situation. Also, the mention of breakfast in line seven makes it seem as if the plum-saver may have already retired for the night at the time that the note was written and the note-writer, perhaps coming home late or getting up early, has stumbled on the "forbidden fruit" and impulsively gobbled them up. The question of whether the note-writer cares that the plums were being saved begins to appear since, up to this point, there is no mention of remorse.

Stanza three begins with the words "Forgive me" (line 8), thus indicating that the note-writer does understand the implications of his actions. However, lines nine through eleven in which the note-writer describes the plums as being "Delicious/so sweet/and so cold" seem almost taunting as if the note-writer was trying to rub it in to the plum-saver that she has missed out on what she was saving, and further, tht it was worth saving because of how good it was. The fact that in stanza one "plums" is plural shows us that there was more than one plum. Therefore, the note-writer could have saved at least one whole plum while consuming one for himself. This indicates some degree of gluttony on his part. It begins to seem as if the note-writer was not only unable to resist the temptation of the plums, but he may have actually eaten them all on purpose as an act of aggression against the plum-saver. An additional hint that this might be true is the use of the words "so cold" to describe the plums. This choice of words brings to mind the saying that "revenge is a dish best served cold." Suddenly, as we finish reading this poem, the possibility that the note-writer is doing nothing more than taunting the plum-saver with the details of how good the plums were occurs to us. In hindsight, the entire note begins to take on a taunting tone.

Though there is ambiguity as to whether or not the note-writer had vengeance or aggression in mind when consuming the plums, it seems clear that he was unable to resist the temptation of what he clearly knew was off-limits. The fact that he went to the trouble to describe how delicious the fruit was indicates a lack of true remorse for what he has done and almost a revelry in his misdeed.

The strength of this poem lies in its ability to appeal to the reader on several different levels, both individually and simultaneously. using only twenty-eight words (thirty-three counting the title), Williams is able to conjure up images of things ranging from a simple note on the fridge to archetypal concepts of forbidden fruit and man's inability to resist temptation. In the poem's ambiguities we find questions as to whether the speaker is simply a gluttonous fool or a vengeful character bent on tormenting his adversary. It is not in absolute answers that the power of this poem lies, but in the fact that it has the ability to continually challenge the reader to plumb its depths.

I wrote this in November of 1993. In the last few weeks I've been teaching my high school American Literature class about the "moderns," including Williams. It made me think of this essay, so I dug it out and posted it here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Einstein Was A Funny Guy

He once said, "Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy."

I think there are a lot of old ladies in Taiwan who would agree.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

EFL Games Redux

Matching games:
There are so many different matching games I play with my children: Letter Matching Game: (Match the capitol letter to the minuscule letter.) Letter and Word Matching: (Match the first letter of a word to the picture.) Animal and Baby Matching Game: (Match the mother animal to its baby.) Animal Tops and Bottoms Matching Game: (Match the tops and bottoms of animals.) Footprints Matching Game: (Match the footprint of an animal to its owner.) Animal Home Matching Game: (Match where the animal lives, barn, forest, jungle etc…) Employment Matching Game: (Match the job or gear to its employee.) Numbers Matching Game: (Match the written number to the roman number.) The list of possible matching games goes on and on. Whenever the children make a match, I like to clap my hands and we all yell, “It’s a match!!” The younger ones especially get really excited.

Memory game:
I use this game all the time, when it comes to reviewing. Have large flash cards with a grid of 9 or more boxes on them. In each box have a picture of something you are reviewing. Ask the children if they are ready, ask them a few times to get them excited, and then quickly sweep the card across the front of the class. I do it very fast to begin with, but then I slow it down after a few. Ask the children what they saw, ask them what color it was, ask them how many there were.

Mother may I?
Tape rows of lines on the floor. Have the children line up, side by side behind the first line. Ask one student at a time a question (e.g. what does a cow say?) or show them a flashcard and ask them what it is. If the child answers correctly, then he/she can advance to the next line. The first child to reach the finish line wins. For the younger children, I make it so as they all win at the same time, and for the older children, I have 3 or 4 winners. This game is a great fun way to do review.

Musical Animals:
Cut out and laminate numerous animal shapes, larger enough to stand on. Play some music, and randomly stop. When the music stops have the children find an animal to step on. Go around the class and ask the children what animal they are stepping on and what sound that animal makes. You can play this game in the same way as you do musical chairs and remove one animal each round, eliminating one child per round. I have also played this game where instead of a picture of an animal, I use only the silhouette of the animal; it makes it a bit more challenging for the older kids.

Everybody knows Pictionary, and even though it is an old game, it is also an old favorite. This game is great especially for doing reviews. Pick a student and show him/her a flashcard. The student then must draw the picture on the board and the other children then try and guess what it is he/she is drawing. This game is also great in teams.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What do sugarless gum and brown pants have in common?

I was reading something about sugarless gum recently that amused me.

I know, I live a boring life.

Anyway, it seems that some of the artificial sweeteners that are in sugarless gum are actually natural and come from plants. Xylitol is one example. It is a sugar alcohol that can be extracted from corn fibre, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn.

All very interesting, I know, but what is my point exactly?

Well, before I get to my point, let me back up to the sugarless gum thing. Why do people chew gum? I guess kids chew it because it is fun to gnaw on stuff, but a lot of adults chew sugarless gum (or any gum, for that matter) because they want to have minty fresh breath. If you are out on a date, or even just chatting with co-workers, you might pop an Airwave or a stick of Extra into your mouth just in case the last thing you ate left some lingering odors wafting out of your gob. Right now in Taiwan (where I live) there are three or four main brand names of sugarless gum on the market, all of which are promoted as having breath freshening properties, and it seems like everyone is hooked on chewing them.

Here's the part I find interesting. People chew this sugarless gum because they don't want to have bad breath, but what they probably don't realize is that the sweetener in the gum is sugar alcohol which doesn't break down in the small intestine, and so it can cause bloating, diarrhea and flatulence.

So, imagine you take a date to dinner and a movie. Right after dinner, you pop a few Airwaves into your mouth so she/he won't be turned off by your garlic breath. Then, as you chew away, about half way through the movie your stomach starts feeling all bloated. You realize that you really need to let one rip, but you can't because your date is sitting right there. So you hold it in and your stomach continues to cramp up and you chew harder because now you're really uncomfortable. Finally you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and you can't wait to get out into the open where you can relieve the pressure but when you do.... well, let's just hope you wore your brown pants that night.

Of course, this is a worst case scenario, but it could happen, and I bet that people generally don't realize that while they are trying to freshen one end, they are polluting the other.

I wonder which turns a date off quicker, bad breath or a fart...

Feel free to let me know what you think. Post your comment on The Shorty Method.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Okay, seriously, enough with the EFL games...

Island Hopping:
Make a series of oversized laminated flashcards. The cards should be large enough to stand on. Give each child a number of cards, depending on the number of students and the size of the classroom. Have the children one by one place a card on the floor and stand on it. The student is only allowed to stand on the card if they know the word for the image they are to stand on. The student to get through their cards first wins. This game can be used to review any words you have been teaching at that period of time.

Letter Puzzle:
Cut out and laminate the letters of the alphabet, to make it easier, I colored all the letters differently. Cut up all the letters into two or more pieces and hand them out to the kids. Call out the letters in alphabetic order and have the kids come up with their pieces and put the letter together. Sometimes having an example of the letter on the board is helpful too.

Letters, What’s Missing?:
This game works well if you have a series of magnetic letters, the kind you see on fridges when you were a kid, but laminated letters will also work. Put the entire alphabet on the board in order and sing the alphabet song, making sure to go slowly over the ‘L, M, N, O, and P…” Have the children hide their eyes or cover the board. Remove a few letters and ask the children to tell you what is missing. Discovering what is missing really takes them a while, singing the song repeatedly, and stopping at the missing letters really help.

Line Up True or False:
Put a line of tape on the floor and designate one side the “true” side and the other to be the “false.” Have all the children stand on the line. Hold up an object or a flashcard and say something about it. The children then have to jump from one side, or the other. You can play this game in teams, count points or have the mistaken students sit out till next game.

This game is good for practicing and learning emotions and sounds. I usually have my students sit in a circle, as long as they are in a row of some sort it will work. Pick one student to start. Give that student an emotion or a sound to act out. The next student then copies that sound or emotion and adds one to it, as does the next. It becomes a chain of sounds or emotions that become really funny and complex. The students usually can’t remember what they have to do, and laugh a lot.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Overly Helpful Web Pages

Okay, I'm going to rant a little here, so you might just want to navigate away from this page.

Here's the issue: web sites that assume that because I am in Taiwan, I want to view the Chinese version of their site. Sure, that is a pretty safe assumption, but when I log into sites that I use all the time (like this one), it is really annoying when it comes up Chinese and I have to figure out which link to click on to get it back to English.

What I can't figure out with sites like Google and YouTube is why they don't put a really REALLY obvious link on every page where you can choose your language. Parts of YouTube have it, but other parts don't. Blogspot doesn't have it at all as far as I can tell.

It just seems to be common sense that if you are going to offer your web site in different languages you would want to make it possible for the viewer to choose between the languages offered.

So there!

Now I spent more time complaining about the problem than it actually takes to deal with the problem in the first place.

That's just great. And now I have to post this because I've invested so much time in writing it, no matter how foolish it makes me appear.

A Man Simply Cannot Conceal Himself

I came across another good quote from Confucius:

"Look at the means which a man employs, consider his motives, observe his pleasures. A man simply cannot conceal himself!"

I wish some of my students would read and try to understand this, especially the ones that I catch cheating, and then get angry with me for "picking on" them.

It surprises me how many people fail to understand that we are who we make ourselves to be through each of our actions. No one else is responsible for what we do, and what we do determines who we are (in my humble opinion).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rain at Hot Springs about.... oh... one year ago.

Last year about this time I went to a hot springs in northern Taiwan with some friends. While we were there, there was a sudden thunderstorm.

I have about 400 videos posted on YouTube, each of them at least as exciting and/or fascinating as the ones above. You can see them at mikemccool.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Large gosh-darn spider

Three years ago I posted a video on YouTube about a big spider I saw in my laundry room. I still get comments about it, and it has been viewed more than 10,000 times. I thought I'd share it with you here:

You can also click here to see it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another Chapter in the EFL Game Saga

Ha, Ha, ha:
This is a contagious laughing game. Have the children lie in a zigzag formation. Each child lies with its head on the stomach of the next. The first child yells “ha!” and the next child yells “ha, ha!” and so on. Each child adds a “ha!” and soon everyone is laughing. This game can also be used to review the letters of the alphabet, numbers, whatever you chose to replace the ‘ha’ with.

Hot Potato Animal Charades:
Have a series of animal flashcards ready in an envelope. Have the class sit in a circle on the floor. While playing some music pass around a potato (or a ball, anything will work). When the music stops, in secret, show the child left holding the potato a flashcard of an animal. The child must act out the animal while the rest of the class guesses what the animal is. Encourage the children to get on all fours and make animal noises.

I Am You Are:
Sit the students in a circle or in a row. The students each say, “I am…”and then turn to the person next to them and say, “you are…” (E.g. I am Eun Jin, you are Jae Won…”). This game can also be played by saying I am he is, or she is, he is etc… the game can be sped up to make it more difficult. As simple as this game sounds, my children actually really enjoy it.

I Like:
Split the class in to two or more teams. Have 4 piles of flashcards ready on the other side of the room, two for each team. One pile of cards has nouns on them, the other, adjectives (you can have pictures or words, depending on the children’s level, e.g. fat, thin, or colors, yellow, red…) Tell one child from each team to go over on the count of three to run over and get a flashcard from each of their piles (2 cards). The students them must run back to you and tell you what they have in the form of a sentence e.g. if the student picks ‘orange’ and ‘elephant, they would then say: “I like orange elephants.” The first child back should get a point for his/her team, but another point should be given f or the best pronunciation.

I love:
Have everyone sit in a circle. This can be played with a ball, rolling it from one person to the next, or simply just by going around in order of how the children are seated. Start the round by stating something that you love (e.g. “I love ice cream”.) the next child then in turn sates what he/she loves and so on. To make the game more interesting, have the children not only say what they themselves like, but also what the last child said that he/she liked (e.g. “She likes ice cream, I like hot dogs.”)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Personal Philosophy


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Good quotes

I came across a couple of good quotes today.

Einstein said, "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."

Confucius said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

That pretty much covers the bases as to spiritual and earthly goals. At least it's good enough for tonight.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Will the EFL Games Never End?

Draw a square grid on the board. Write a series of numbers or letters in the squares of the grid. Blindfold a child and have him come up and draw a circle around the correct number or letter according to the directions given by the rest of the class. This game is great for learning up, down, left, right.

Drawing Review:
This game is great for reviewing vocabulary skills. Have two squares drawn on the board. Have the students write their names above the squares. The teacher then calls out a word and the students draw it (it could be simple nouns e.g. “dog, ball, train…” or verbs e.g. “running, flying a kite, swimming…” or adjectives e.g. “a big elephant, a small mouse, a pretty girl…”) this game can be played in teams, the correct drawing wins.

Fetch and Say:
Make two teams and have them sit at opposite ends of the classroom. Have two tables, each with a basket. In the basket have flashcards of different objects on them. Choose two children, have them stand at the tables each with their basket and call out an object. The child must find the object and run over to the board and stick it on. When they stick the picture on the board they must yell “It’s a …” I give each team a point for saying the word correctly as well as a point to the first student to stick the picture on the board, this way you can even out the points and there are no sorry losers.

Funny Monster:
Have a pre made face on a piece of paper, one for each child. Have a deck of cards with different body parts on them and a die. Have the children one by one come up and roll the die, as well as pick a card. Each time a card is chosen and a die rolled, the children must draw that on their monster, (e.g. an eye was picked and a 4 was rolled, the students must draw 4 eyes on their monster.)

Grouping game:
Hand out a series of laminated cards to the children. Have the children then group together in pairs according to what card they have each been given. Tell the children all the motorcycles are to come to the front, then all the bused, and cars and so on. Encourage the children to say, “We are motorcycles,” and have them act like a motorcycle does.