Yesterday, I popped onto my Instagram feed to take a peek at what was going on when I came across this:
The Instagram post was written by a former student who was also one of the co-presidents of our public relations club that I advise and someone I mentored during her college years. During that time and afterwards, we became friends.
I am always so touched when someone takes the time to write something heartwarming like this. It’s the best reward one can get from being a teacher.
I am full of gratitude, and it brought a tear to my eye. It means the world to me.
Thank you so much, Rachel, for your very kind words, and for allowing me to share this on my blog. And I’m so proud of the journey you’ve taken into the world of higher education where you are now making a big difference in the lives of students, too.
I’m crossing my fingers that my feature writing students will heed my advice and read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We talked about the book’s timeless appeal: a ghost story wrapped up in the idea of redemption at the holidays. When you study writing, it’s important to study all writers. Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, strongly urges writers to read other writers. It’s the only way we learn technique, garner ideas, and think about things in new and exciting ways. ‘Tis the season, I say. Plus, we could all use a little reminder of the importance of giving and caring and loving those around us.
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” (From the opening paragraph of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).
Dickens had the keen ability to write intriguing characters, those that will live on in the hearts and minds of people for generations to come; and Scrooge is simply marvelous. And yet, the brilliance of the novel comes bit by bit, with the Ghost of Christmases Past, Present, and Future all paying our main character timely visits throughout the night. The question for Scrooge is this: Can he change his ways, turn himself around, and become a better person all in one night and will this change last for the rest of his life?
As Scrooge says, “It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like Of course, they can. Of course they can.”
Therein lies the appeal. Show me a person who hasn’t done something in his or her life that he or she regrets, and I’ll show you a ten-legged alien from the planet Outinspace. We fail. We do dumb things. We make bad choices that turn into big mistakes.
Scrooge’s mistakes were just on a grand scale. Yet he repents, changes, and comes to terms with them. He rights his wrongs.
One may question the novel’s incredible, yet simple, theme and whether or not Scrooge’s specters were imagined or real. Did the ghosts actually appear for his salvation? Or, did Scrooge imagine them or dream them in order to save himself?
It really doesn’t matter either way, because what Dickens does so artfully well is he makes us think. He makes us ask ourselves questions such as the following: What would happen if we revisited our own pasts with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and could clearly see the things we’ve said or done that may have been hurtful or have to examine and scrutinize again and again the choices that we’ve made in life?
Dickens’s brainchild allows us to live vicariously through Scrooge. He had to endure a harsh wake-up call for the sake of us all.
The truth is, when we read the novel, or when we see the film, we are reminded of our own capacity to make small and big mistakes in our lives. We cannot help but glide across the cold, night air with Scrooge as he watches the shadows of his life pass before him, and we are reminded that he represents us.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter how many times I read the book or watch the film (and most especially, at the end of the musical version with Albert Finney), I cry. His change is our change; we have become a part of him, and he has become a part of us. We have been redeemed.
Do yourself a favor and read the book—or watch one of the films. Its timelessness and perfection make it a ghost story that will remain a classic for years and years to come.
On a side note, writing A Christmas Carolwas good for Dickens’s career and for the Christmas holiday in general. The notion of Christmas as a special, commercial, and magical time of year can be attributed to his artful imagination. You can thank Dickens for promoting Christmas as “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” as was stated by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in the text.
Christmas, as it is now, can be attributed directly to Dickens. And it all started with an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
One other note: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area and you have not seen A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, you are missing one of the best treats of the season. My husband and I went years ago, and last year, we went with our children. We all thought the stage production was absolutely fabulous.
If you don’t live in the area, I highly recommend the musical version of Scrooge with Albert Finney and Sir Alec Guiness. For classic, non-musical versions, try A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Scrooge, or the older version with Alastair Sim.
So it’s here: “Titanic” in 3D. It’s been 15 years since we’ve seen the film on the big screen, and now it’s back as that mogul James Cameron tries to lure film buffs to return to theatres to see it in a new way. The James Cameron 3D way.
I’ve discussed “Titanic” with many of my friends and students. It typically goes like this.
“Professor Verni, don’t you want to see ‘Titanic’ in 3D?”
“Why not?” they ask. “You’re a romantic. It’s one of the great love stories in the movies.”
This is certainly true, but apparently, they don’t know me well enough to understand how I am the epitome of a “hopeless romantic” as opposed to simply a “romantic.” The “hopeless” in the words means that we are hopelessly hopeful there will be a happy ending, that love will conquer all. “Titanic” does not give us a happy ending, not for Rose and Jack, and not for many of the other passengers who died on that tragic evening. It’s a film I was happy to see once, not twice, and not again, in a 3D kind of way. It’s way too much for me to handle. There’s just too much sorrow and agony. There’s enough of that in the real world, and I, for one, am pretty sure it will just depress me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one to rail against a film. “Titanic” was brilliant. It deserved the awards it won. It was an amazing piece of work, it’s just that, as Celine Dion’s “heart can’t go on,” my poor heart can’t take it again.
And yet, the irony is, I can watch and have my heart broken over and over again as I get involved in films like “The Bridges of Madison County,” or “Out of Africa,” or “The Thorn Birds.” Good grief. I’ve cried many tears over those movies…and will continue to do so every time I click through the channels and see one of those films playing. I stop and watch, absolutely mesmerized. I can’t help myself.
But “Titanic” is so desperately sad. Nevertheless, I will endorse it in this manner: If you never had the opportunity to see it back in 1997 on the big screen, you may want to indulge in this wreck of broken hearts and disaster in the theatre. It is a movie worth seeing. I just can’t put myself through it again.
Here’s a typical day in either my magazine writing or feature writing class. It usually goes something like this:
Me: “So, today your assignment is to read a classic and masterful example of profile writing as we prepare to write our own profile pieces. The article is called “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” and was written by Gay Talese in 1966. The article ran in Esquire magazine and is still regarded as one of the finest profile pieces ever written.” http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_
Then, the students usually look at the length of the piece and say things like…
“Wow. This is a L-O-N-G piece.”
“How many pages is this? It’s kinda long, isn’t it?”
“Exactly how long is this article?”
“How long will it take me to read this?”
It’s long. I get it (and I know how long it is, folks). It’s brilliant. So, who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Who’s afraid of a lengthy story?
I thought I was on an island for a little while, scratching my head and then second guessing myself – was this article too involved for them to analyze? I quickly slapped my face and got it together. No. It’s perfect, I thought. Do not deviate from the game plan. Besides, it’s already on the syllabus. I must encourage students to read these longer articles. I must force them to step away from the brevity of texting, Twitter, and Facebook. They must delve into these substantial pieces.
On Saturday, May 28, an article in The Washington Post written by Paul Farhi appeared on my doorstep and helped validate my beliefs. The article is entitled: “Up from the pit of pithiness on the Web: While others tweet, some think the next big thing will be long, thoughtful prose.” Oh joy of joys! The article discusses a wonderful website that I’ve now linked to through Scribe Links on my blog called Longreads.com, a site created by Mark Armstrong (longreads.com). He posts articles that are over 1,500 words and there are a variety of articles and stories to read—all on the lengthy side. And guess what ladies and gentlemen? “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” is among those listed. (For more on this Washington Post article, visit thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx to register and read it). I’m enamored with this idea of a site promoting longer reads. As Armstrong notes, it’s perfect for people who want substance when they are commuting, waiting for a plane, on a car ride, waiting for the bus, etc. And, it’s perfect to read on a Kindle or an iPad (and even suitable for those of us reading on computers who are not in transit).
Not everyone wants information in a quick and easy way. People are still reading long books like The Pillars of the Earth, The Help, “…And Ladies of The Club”, and Bleak House. It’s still being done. Likewise, folks might like to plunk themselves down with a longer journalism story, fiction or creative non-fiction piece, or even an interview or historical article. Longreads.com is there for you when you need that kind of stimulation to entertain you when you’re in-between books or you forgot to pack something to read on that trip on the subway across town.
So, fall feature writing students B-E-W-A-R-E. There may be quite a few long reads on the syllabus, but trust me, they are all worth the (long?) investment of your time.