Mondays with Martin

Monday with Martin: Nurturing the Writer’s Garden

Monday with Martin: Nurturing the Writer’s Garden

This post from David Martin goes back to the very beginning — 1994.  In it, David describes how he came to see how important personal writing could be as an educational method.  Check it all out below. * * * This year I tried to make something special happen in my classroom. I decided to teach what I knew was right for me and my students. I sacrificed the tired, traditional composition format of grammar, mechanics, and the five-paragraph theme. I instituted a new divine trinity: the first person pronoun, writing from direct experience, and the journal. So far, I am not sorry with my decision. In fact, I see tremendous improvement in my students. In previous years, I taught the following levels of English composition: pre-remedial, remedial, hospital English, terminal English, pre-civilized sophomores, academic juniors, twelfth grade night school, creative writing, and college undergraduates (freshman and advanced upperclassmen). Many students from each level told me quietly, in secret, so none of their friends would hear that they felt writing to be fun again. They told me they learned self-discovery through their writing. I was most inspired, however, to find proper punctuation magically appearing where necessary, when the students believed what they were writing was important and someone was going to read and believe what was written, inside and outside the classroom. Passion, al kinds, entered into their papers, to stay, to grow, like seeds well nurtured in a garden. My high school is an above average, college prep school. The faculty and administrators are very happy with the schools image and success. It provides good teachers and good education for the average, above average, and the gifted teenagers. I saw a way I could add to this quality by increasing the warmth and humanness in English class. I offered a place of caring for the individual student with personal journal. In my high school classes, one day a week is devoted to journal activities. By far, the most successful writing-teaching technique I have used to incorporate the personal journal into all my lessons. I feel strongly that my students’ writing improved with the journal that 20% of my class time is concentrated in this yearly project. I prepared a list of over 300 topics for students to write about if they could not find interesting ones of their own, but I always gave them a choice of topics on which to write. The first day of class, students had to design the own coat of arms by cutting pictures from old magazines to pictorially represent the following characteristics of themselves: 1) one important item of their past, 2) one important item of the present, 3) one important item...

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Mondays with Martin: Work Blissfully

Mondays with Martin: Work Blissfully

This essay from David Martin dates back to 1994.  As always, there is plenty of good advice to be found here.  Enjoy. * * * People spend too much time running away from things they should face. We run away from threatening people, embarrassing predicaments, scolding mothers, belligerent fathers, crying sisters, awkward brothers, boring husbands, silent wives, suffocating jobs, stifling homes, uninteresting schools, and tough homework. However, more people run away from themselves than from anyone or anything else. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “No thing is at last sacred, but the integrity of our own minds.” If this is the case, most of us have little that is sacred, even less integrity, and we don’t know our own minds. Fear of the unknown and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were a great pair. Remember? “There is nothing we have to fear but fear itself.” I think Emerson would agree with FDR. They suggest if we knew our own minds, there would be nothing to fear after all. I give myself notice. I accept the challenge. I will say the truth and live accordingly. This process will sting at times, but I vividly remember what it was like to live behind facades. I was afraid of trying new ideas; I did not enjoy each day. I wasted good friends, and I forgot how to live. I want the real me to be on the surface of life, swimming in the sunshine. I hope to be more like the “Sage of Concord” with my feet on the ground and my head in the air. I must make life’s journey by myself. I may only care for other people, but in the final analysis, I only learn what I teach myself. I do not have to run anymore. I am not competing against anyone in this life, unless it is I trying to achieve the true potential that resides in me. I go at my own pace. I don’t have to be Gandhi or Jesus Christ. I only have to be myself. I know I am a seeker. I know my drummer beats at a progressively different tune than many hear. I find it hard to pay attention to the rhythm that is in my mind alone. It is hard to leave the herd and dance my own dance. I was an average student in school. Infrequently, I would reach for an “A” and achieve it, when I felt motivated by the subject matter. I remember one day in twelfth grade, however, when I wanted to learn for the fun of learning. I wanted to absorb all I could about why the mind works the way it does. I also hoped to see the shocked...

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Mondays with Martin: I Write; therefore, I Am

Mondays with Martin: I Write; therefore, I Am

This David Martin essay dates back to 1993.  The advice is as sound as ever. * * * A person with a good education is able to use the past to prepare visions of beauty for the future. When Picasso sat in front of a blank canvas, he did what all writers must do when they face the blank page. They must make something from nothing. Writers must see the world with the eyes of a child, the newness, the freshness, the miraculous, to improve the way we see life and ourselves, to make a poem out of each day, carpe diem. “Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old” (Franz Kafka). “Cogito, Ergo Sum” (Descartes). “I feel; therefore, I exist” (Thomas Jefferson). “I rebel; therefore, I am” (Albert Camus). “I ought; therefore, I can” (Kant). “I want; therefore, I am” (Tolstoy). “Sometimes I think, and sometimes I am” (Valery). “I doubt; therefore, I believe” (Fishwick). “I labor; therefore, I am a man” (Stimer). “It was woman who taught me to say I am; therefore, I think” (Shaw). “I party; therefore, I am” (Greg Gruber). With my apologies to Descartes and others, we probably identify our personal search for beauty in life more closely with one of the above thoughts, but we come together as fellow Dragon Slayers to affirm the validity of the interpretation of these attempts to find the meaning of our earthly existence. We, as a group, acknowledge in one another our own struggles with questions about what it means to be alive. A profound teacher of mine liked to say we all seek one person in life who we trust and one who will say, “I see you as you are. I hear you clearly, and I want to help you.” When we find that mentor, confidant, or lover, only then we will learn who we really are. Only when we change our life perspective from “I” to “We” will we put into action what it means to be who we really are. Sometimes, one must travel far to discover what is near. This lesson is taught in the wonderful children’s book The Treasure by Uri Schulevitz. In this old folktale, the main character, Isaac, has three dreams (prayers) where he goes from his little village to the capital city to see the King in search of his personal fortune. Finally, he begins his journey on foot because he is so poor. When he gets to the palace, the King is on vacation and won’t return for many days. The Captain of the...

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Mondays with Martin: Dragon Slayers

Mondays with Martin: Dragon Slayers

Editor’s note: This David Martin essay dates back to 1993.  The points made here are still as important ever.  Take a look and think about your own writing.  And there are dragons out there waiting to be slayed. * * * It is now 3 a.m. Lightning and thunder pound my head. I am tired and can not sleep. An awful dragon chased me for 5 ½ hours tonight. Our battle sounded like the thunder and looked like the lightning of my dreams. I heard my sword crash against the fire breathing monster’s neck, and I awoke to hear real monsters clash with Zeus’ bolts of fire in the sky. The monster of my dreams aroused the emotional “donder and blitzen” that took place yesterday at our monthly Dragon Slayer’s meeting. Those flashes of insight and the sound of truth now stir in me to write once again. Outside, Mother Nature’s rain falls softly. The natural thunder and lightning keep calling my attention to life’s rebirth, baptismal cleansing, and regeneration. It’s never too late to start over. Our discussion went from patience to parking lots, nuclear holocaust to Nikki Giovanni, a search for passion to paternalism, native desires to Nietzsche, individual courage to Camus, a creative swim to Schopenhauer, and a quest for real education to erudition. My mind became tired and excited as a result of our four-hour sharing. I feel there is much electricity in this group of writers. It is no wonder that Donder and Blitzen are now more to me than just two of Santa’s reindeer. If Giovanni said there are no conversations, just intersecting monologues, what would she say about Sunday afternoon? Our sharing and discussion prove that good exposition and feedback occur when writers commit to their tasks. No one really knows the mind and soul of another. Friend, husband, wife, child, do we really know who other people are? Probably not, but yesterday’s attempt was a huge beginning. Let the flow of written words never stop, as we follow our quest to write ourselves into our destiny. “I can feel again . . . there but for the grace . . . it is the moments I like . . . memories last longer than experiences . . . suffer in order to create . . . passion and pride. . . courage to be . . . over the edge . . . eye of the tiger . . . it is a question of vision . . . a search for truth . . . be the rebel . . . personal battlegrounds . . . celebrate our 26 letters . . . a struggle to be authentic . ....

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