Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

E1 L165 – Better Notes for an Autobiography

                In my English class, I’ve recently been reading a ton of slave narratives.  I noticed in those books that they’re incredibly detailed, even way back into their early childhood.  How they remember that far back is mysterious, but I know that I can help my future self and take notes on my life now.  That way, if I write an autobiography in the future, I will have the materials necessary to do so, way back to age 14.  That isn’t as far back as the slave autobiographies go, but it’s better than starting at age 20 and going forward.  There are some things that I can do while taking notes that would help even more, such as describing the scene, paying much attention to the many details of the more significant events.

                Describing the scene of the event is critical in any autobiography.  For instance, if someone told a tall tale without scenery, it would be impossible to understand.  Little Red Riding Hood with no woods or Grandma’s house would be confusing. And tall Native American tales would be nonsense. Under the same principle, writing an autobiography without a background would be even worse, especially if the writer moved around a lot.  So taking notes on what’s the scene is especially useful. 

                But there are still five questions: Who, What, Why, When, and How. The “Where” is taken care of by the scenery.  “Who” is not very necessary, beyond the intro.  “What” is probably the next most critical thing, past “Where.”  And that’s also the body of an autobiography.  The “What” is all the adventures, the possibilities, the storyline itself.  If there is no “What” then there is no story.  All that’s left is an intro of the character and the scenes.  There is no action.  Think of the “What” as the acting in a play.  Without it, there is just an intro of the characters, an empty stage covered in a bunch of props, maybe some music, occasional curtain drops, and some more props.  Without any “What,” there is nothing! The character intro is useless because the characters never appear beyond that; the accessories are worthless because there are no characters to use the props and stage.  The music is just annoying because there is no suspense, or heartbreak, or joy, or anything else associated with a good play.  That is what should get the most attention: the necessary information.  The plot, in short. 

    Also, if the details are scarce, it’s a problem of believability. Without minute details, the story seems vague, possibly made up.  And the first time the reviewers decide that it’s fake, the book is doomed to fail.  But don’t put too many details in, like Henry David Thoreau.  He filled two single-spaced pages – describing a tree!  If the details are too numerous, the book becomes longer, the blocks of descriptions look menacing, and the reader is effectively scared away.  It’s a balance – not too much detail, and not too little.

                “When” is also a key element.  A time range is necessary if the exact date is unsupplied.  If the year is missing, the reader has no idea when the story happened, and that can, again, raise a believability issue.  No date equals no proof, no proof equals no trustworthiness, and no sincerity means the book is back in the library.

                Everything else is relatively simple—the How and Why are to be figured out by the reader once the book is published.  Those are inferred from the scene and actions of the characters.  In other words, the writer doesn’t have to deal with them because he can’t control them.  Only the readers can do that.

                So each of the Five W’s and the believability is solved by taking meticulous notes, which can turn into a good autobiography.  The fundamentals are:

                ~ Where,

                ~ What,

                ~ When, and

                ~ Details!

And that’s all anybody needs to make a biography or autobiography, even the ex-slave writers of the 19th century.

Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

E1 L160 – Effective Events

The most recent book I’ve read for English is Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, and I noticed that learning to read had a massive effect on the rest of his life. For instance, he learned the meaning of certain words, which changed the way he thought, such as abolition, freedom, Canada, North, friends, and many more. It also taught him the ability to write, which allowed him to spread his story and, thus, another compelling argument against slavery. He surely wasn’t the only one to have such breakthrough changes, but am I in that category? I honestly don’t think so, because nothing in my life has done that for me. At least, not one event all by itself.  

There have certainly been ones that come close, such as my learning to read at age three, the death of Pop on Dad’s side, and the advent of swimming, but no single event did that. However, there was a very long string of events, induced by my want to do whatever I wanted, that did it. If you aren’t acquainted with my Years of Terror yet, here’s the story.  

 It all started seven years ago when Aden and I got our very first computers. Two E-machines, running Linux, that were already old at the time we got them. Then one day, we discovered that we could play a simple game called SuperTux, which was incredibly similar to Super Mario, except the main character was a penguin. I found it first and played it whenever Mom wasn’t in the room. Then my brother caught me playing and got it on his computer too. Then, one night, we both got up at around 2 AM, turned on our computers, muted the volume, and played the game on our respective computers. The machines were old, and the keys clacked like chalkboard erasers, but we tried to play silently. About two hours later, Dad woke up and came upstairs to shave his beard in the upstairs sink, and he heard keys clacking from the schoolroom. We had slowly forgotten to play quietly and were hitting the keys as hard as we could with our reflexes on twitch mode. Dad peeked into the schoolroom, and both of us, five and six years old, sitting in our underwear, playing videogames at 4 AM, were there. He then walked in, gave us both a spanking and a lecture, and sent us to bed again. That was the beginning of the Years of Terror.  

 Five years after that incident, and many times caught, I was the only remaining sneak. Aden had decided pretty early on that it wasn’t worth it and stopped playing and sneaking. Pop had given up the ghost, and there was a Vizio TV in the room. The TV was a smart TV with the YouTube app installed, so I got up that night after I was sure Mom and Dad had gone to sleep, grabbed the baby monitor that they had placed pointing at them, and turned on the TV. A few hours later, I missed Mom getting up from the bed. I heard her in the hallway and managed to deactivate the baby monitor and shove it somewhere before she walked in. She took one look at me, her eyes went to the Tv, then to the remote in my hands, then her face turned purple, and I almost got strangled on the wall.  

 Fast forward two more years, and it’s 11 o’clock, and I’m under the covers with the Wii U gamepad playing MarioKart. Twenty-eight minutes later, Dad storms into the room, uttering a curse and rips the blankets off me and the game. I quickly shove the gamePad under the pillow, but not before Dad sees it. He yanks it back out, grabs me by the ankle, and drags me yelling out of the bed. Two seconds later, I’m pinned against the wall with Dad’s forearm on my neck, losing air. By the time I’m tomato red, Mom comes up. Luckily, she doesn’t quite know what’s happening, though she has a general idea. She stops Dad from strangling me, though I’m turning blue by that time. I ended up just getting my rear beat up and down the hallway until my entire rump is black and blue, and a good portion of my thighs and lower back too. I couldn’t sit down for the next two weeks, and my near-death experience made me stop for about two years. I still do it every so often, and they always trust me at about the level of nil. So it had a pretty significant effect upon my life.

However, I don’t think it had as much of an effect as Douglass’s learning to read did. The reasons for this are because I haven’t lived under such extreme conditions as him until the event happened. My case is precisely the opposite of his – I was fine, then the incidents occurred, then I lived in some pretty miserable conditions – at least for me. And it still wasn’t as extreme as his circumstances were. He had to face hunger, torture, whipping, brutality, animal treatment, and death. I only had to face constant trouble, a lot of mistrust, and a ton of envy at my brother, who walked free and got away with a lot of non-allowed things, while I had to do my work by hand because they were so focused on patrolling me that they ignored Aden’s sneaks. Also, my time was significantly shorter. He held up against years of his conditions, while I only had to face three years of almost straight Blackout. (For those of you who don’t know, Blackout is a punishment that involves no electronics, toys, fun, games, or anything good except clothing and food. Basically: all work, no play, and if sneaky, add more time. At one point, I had one straight year, four weeks, and five days of Blackout ahead.) I still mess up occasionally, but I’ve been trying to take it down to the bottom notch and then stop altogether.  

In conclusion, I had it pretty bad; Douglass had it worse. My trigger was not a single event; Douglass was. My case was the opposite of Douglass’s, in that I ended up worse after than before. And my story did not have as much of an impact on my life as Douglass did.

Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

E1 L150 – Ants, Loons (The birds), and Content

I’ve written a good bit about autobiographies recently, and they bring up a lot about formatting and style and all that other good stuff. Still, it doesn’t really dive deep into choosing content. For instance, if I was a writer for an autobiography myself, I might have to choose between writing about an ant war or loons. It’s not very relevant to my time in the woods, and if I had a choice, I probably wouldn’t put either in the first place, but if I had to, I would probably choose the ant war. It shows more of how the forest is alive. Besides, if I put three pages in about loons in my autobiography unless I was a naturalist, I would be considered a loon myself.

The choice of material is critical in writing the book because somebody could be the best author ever. However, if they choose substandard content, nobody will ever read it. So in the above hypothetical situation, I would probably focus on how I survived. I would certainly try not to be hypocritical like Thoreau and his “independence philosophy” where he “doesn’t rely on the village,” then visit the village twice a week. Continuing with Walden as an example, I wouldn’t waste space on long-winded, two-page useless descriptions of a stinking pine tree! If I put in reports of the trees and bugs and pond nearby, I wouldn’t get half as many readers – Especially if the autobiography was my first book.  

But the deciding reason I chose the ant war over the description of loons, was because a page-long explanation of two colonies of ants doing battle sounds a lot more appealing than a page of describing a bunch of birds. It’s merely the nature of the idea. In essence, a description of a bird sounds like a boring documentary, while ants waging war sounds like some kind of action/adventure movie. Personally, I would choose the ants over the loons every time.

The only exception to this would be if I was writing this autobiography as a naturalist. If, say, Charles Darwin did something like this, it probably would’ve been two separate books, but he would do them both, not choose one or the other. It would be quite the opposite for, say, Bill Nye (Yes, I know, he’s a fraud) to do something like that. He would basically get laughed out of existence!

In conclusion, when writing an autobiography, the content is critical. And in a choice between describing loons and describing a war between two ant colonies, the ants would win every time. It isn’t really relevant unless I was a naturalist. Nonetheless, that would be my choice – only because it sounds more enthralling.

Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

E1 L145 – Philosophy of Lies

I have been reading a pretty famous book recently, and it isn’t nearly what it’s cracked up to be.  Walden by Henry David Thoreau is one of those books that’s always assigned in every reading course ever, simply because all the others do it. It’s an awful book, though; it’s mind-numbing and full of logic holes, argument reversals, anti-dependence lies, and false philosophy of life. But here’s the question: Did he have to summarize his philosophy of life? Or did he do it in an attempt to reinforce his lies about independence?  

I think that he legitimately did try to make his life as simple as possible. Still, he couldn’t make it much more straightforward than it already was before Walden Pond. He realized this relatively early on. After that point, he reused it to bolster his pack of lies about dependence and simplicity. And he didn’t make any good points in the book, because he didn’t reverse any of them – oh, wait; no, he did. He flipped all of them. And argued both sides at different points in the book. I don’t even understand how he kept a spot in a debate club in town – he explained both sides himself!

It makes sense, though, if you dive deeper. Thoreau knew he was writing a book. He wanted to have it sell, so he catered to everyone. He argued both sides in the same book so everybody would buy, from both sides of a ton of different arguments. However, the rule applies – try to please everybody, and nobody’s happy. The book is dry as an encyclopedia and as dull as math class. So it’s a bad book, written by a well-known author. It’s another one of these. 

The well-known authors like Thoreau don’t need to make the book a page-turner – everybody’s going to read it anyway because they’re a renowned author. So the author doesn’t try to make the book enjoyable; thus, the book is bland. They don’t need to work, so they don’t. It’s straightforward – that’s why the authors with only a little fame are the ones with the best books – they’re not newbs who don’t know how to make a page-turner. However, they’re not wizened old authors like Thoreau who don’t need to make their books thrilling. They are right in the hot spot – they need to have good books to get publicity, and if their books are dry and disgusting like Thoreau’s, they lose face and get replaced.

So the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau is one of those books that the English courses assign because the author was ridiculously famous. The book is bone-dry and as lackluster as a math textbook, and I don’t recommend reading it. It’s full of lies, logic holes, argument reversals (not!), and a fake life philosophy to cover the bunch.

Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

E1 L140 – Background Info?

Very few books have ever been bestsellers both in the life of the author and afterward for 50+ years. One of those lucky books was Walden by the famous Henry David Thoreau, the (not-)philosopher. His book was about his time living in a shack for two years, what he did, why he did it, and a whole pack of lies about independence. However, there is a question some could ask – would background information on Thoreau’s life be beneficial to the book?
Well, since it’s Henry David Thoreau, first of all, everybody already knows his background since he was, well, famous. Born David Henry Thoreau, son of a pencil maker in Jersey. Two older siblings, one younger sister, went to college at Harvard, didn’t pay to graduate and so “failed,” and became a teacher. After a while, he moved out to Walden Pond, built the shack, and wrote the book.

That’s not a lot of information, and it would only take up a hundred words in a 258-page document, so why didn’t he add it? The reason is that he didn’t need to. He wrote minimally, so he had plenty of time for nothing. He didn’t have to add the background, so he didn’t.
Besides, I don’t think the book would be any much the better for a description of half his life, because it’s Henry Thoreau, so all that’s necessary is to look it up. Besides, if he wanted to write it down, he probably would’ve done so in much less dumbed down sentences than I used, probably twenty pages or more. It wouldn’t add much to the book, however, because the backstory is not very important due to the story. The story is not very connected with his life; anybody could be doing it. The fact that it’s Thoreau is the only reason it’s famous – if I wrote a book like that, nobody would buy, because it’s not a very enthralling book idea.
In conclusion, the only reason Walden is very famous is because of the author, Henry David Thoreau. And though the author was a meticulous man, he neglected to put in some backstory. Despite this, I think that the book was none the worse for it, even though the book was boring, full of holes and lies, and full of bad advice.

Posted in 9th Grade, English 1

B1 L100 – Exams, Incomes, and Averages

No matter what school somebody goes to, there are tests. They may be an essay, a pop quiz, a worksheet, or the ubiquitous multiple-choice test, but it’s always a test. What if that person’s grade went on a list of grades, and that list averaged 75? Would it be fair to give everybody a 75 because they averaged that? Or is it better to give the kid who got an A+ the A+ and the kid who flunked the F and a referral? The second is probably the best option to maximize individual work, but the first option may maximize teamwork to bring up the class grade.
When the kid who got an F turns 16, he is supposed to get a job, maintain it, and earn his food. What if he had to keep the job, and he would always get paid the same amount as everybody else? That sounds pretty good to the poor, and contrary to the very rich, because that would remove all inequality of social standing based on money. However, what may happen in that scenario is that the lifeguard gets paid a few thousand dollars a day to sit there doing nothing. However, the corporate CEO owning the most extensive business in the market gets paid the same amount to do a lot more work. The lifeguard will be happy with his overpaying job, while the corporate CEO will be very dissatisfied because he envies the lifeguard’s easy task for the same pay.
So everybody will go for the minimum effort jobs, salary will significantly drop, everybody will lose jobs, companies, and assets, and everything in the market implodes. Nobody will want to work very hard, so the managing positions will not get filled, so none of the subordinates can do their jobs, so nobody gets paid, and the market becomes stagnant. To paraphrase what P.T. Barnum, the master salesman, said: Without work, something terrible happens: nothing!
That’s why our salaries base on a merit system. It’s similar to grades – If a kid fails a test, they get a terrible degree, their GPA drops, and they might even get a referral. If they ace the test, they get excellent grades, their GPA rises, and they may get a recommendation for advanced classes. Similarly, if a worker does a lousy job, their salary drops, and they risk getting fired. If they do a spectacular job, they might get a raise and a promotion. That way, everybody wants to get a higher position, and the job pyramid fills up.
So is it moral to grade classes by averages and give them all C’s? Not really. It’s better to rank them individually. The same applies to pay for jobs – better to grade individually than to average it out. That’s why grading based on the amount and quality of work done is better than averaging it out and paying all the same.