Month: March 2009

It’s all done with mirrors

I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
‘Cause I see you
I find it hard to believe you don’t know
The beauty that you are
But if you don’t let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won’t be afraid
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
‘Cause I see you
I’ll be your mirror

– by Lou Reed; performed by The Velvet Underground and Nico


A gilded room, a shimmering waterfall of glass, a soft glow of reflected shapes….
Salon, Hotel de Soubise (French National Archives), Paris, 1980

Future tense


UESTC building

It’s semi-official. I will be teaching next year at Sichuan University, in the Intensive Language Training Center. I’ll be saying goodbye to UESTC after 3 years. I will sign my new teaching contract in May, and the increased salary and benefits will be very welcome. Onward and upward.

My moods and my dreams have been affected lately by my allergies. In addition, I started reading The Historian, a novel about searching into the past for details about the historical ruler Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. The book incorporates real-life modern vampires, so it gets a bit spooky at times. In a bizarre dream last night, I was dead, or at least semi-dead. I was laid out atop a medieval stone slab in some sort of crypt, the kind of tomb that is topped by carved effigies of those buried beneath. In the dream, instead of carved figures, I was lying on the stone structure in the midst of a cluster of my own long-dead relatives. Periodically we would get up, walk around, talk among ourselves, or even make comments about the mourners who came to visit us. Even more strange, we were in some kind of “theme park” cemetery along the lines of Forest Lawn in Los Angeles, and the burial chambers were fixed to a kind of elevator device that would carry us upward to be displayed among the living, then rotated back down beneath the earth. I have to admit, it was original. I also need to stop reading scary books before bedtime.



UESTC campus

Let’s do it again … backwards



But if, baby, I’m the bottom
You’re the top!

-Cole Porter, You’re the Top

Don’t go getting any funny ideas about today’s post: it’s about essay writing.

Today I felt like I was almost back among the living. I made it through my two morning classes after getting up at 5:30 AM to catch the school bus. I explained to my students that I was suffering from allergies and that my voice might give out at any time, but as luck would have it, I ended up talking more than I usually do. That’s not always a good thing.

The topic today: the topic sentence. It’s always a tough one to teach, because a truly kick-ass topic sentence is notoriously difficult to write; I should know, because I’ve struggled with enough of them myself. My mistake in the first class was in talking too much about the topic sentence and its virtues, instead of just letting it evolve through student practice. By the time the bell rang for the mid-class break, the students’ eyes were glazed over. If it continued like this, they would be catatonic by the time I got to discussing essay writing.

It isn’t that I lacked a good beginning. After all, I started with my favorite analogy: the sandwich model of essay-writing (good stuff in the middle, introduction and conclusion on the top and bottom).

It’s not original, but it’s better than using the “cheeseburger” simile that I’ve seen in others’ lesson plans. I then explained my reasoning:

My purpose was to illustrate the linear style of English-language academic writing: beginning – middle – end. During Class #2, though, I looked at this diagram again, and it hit me: I had it backwards. If you make a sandwich, you don’t start with the top slice of bread; you start with the bottom. Then you pile on the good stuff, and only last do you apply the top slice. Why, then, not teach the essay backwards, or at least start in the middle? After all, when I was a student, it was always easier for me to write the opening sentence or paragraph after the rest of the essay was complete. English writing may be linear, but it doesn’t have to be taught that way.

I quickly improvised a paragraph that lacked a topic sentence:

…For example, you can recycle plastic, metal, and paper products. You can buy products that are good for the environment. Many people also join groups that help to save endangered animals.

Then I told the students to work in groups, and come up with a good topic sentence. One group came up with this amazingly good opener:

To help reduce pollution, there are several things that you can do in your everyday life.

My problem seemed to be solved. Now my direction and purpose in life are clear, and I’ll let you know how the lesson evolves through the rest of this week. I’ll relax now by opening a good book – in the middle.

A short post for Friday

This is the first time I’ve ever had my name on a poster. I gave a presentation on “American Architecture” – actually, just Los Angeles buildings. The actual title of my presentation was “crazy L.A.”

It’s been an interesting evening. I watched the film Milk, with an amazing performance by Sean Penn. Then, I got locked out of my apartment when the key broke in the lock. I sought refuge in the apartment of two other teachers, who called another teacher, who then called a locksmith, in Chinese. I’m now obviously back in the apartment, or else I wouldn’t be blogging.

I’m also sick. It’s the allergy time of year, and it’s getting worse instead of better. Thank goodness for books, DVDs, and YouTube. And bed. I’ve watched an endless procession of old British TV programs – Fawlty Towers, The Avengers, and such.