High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Semi-Interested in the Semicolon

The semicolon is semi-new to me. Until recently, I rarely thought about or used this punctuation mark. I know this may be surprising, and I question how this even occurred. For years, I must have read (over) many semicolons and took them at face value without giving them very much thought. I definitely did not accept Microsoft Word’s offering them to me when checking spelling, which meant I wrote many academic papers and articles without a single semicolon appearance. I find myself amazed at how long I seemed to have left it alone. However, the semicolon has come to my attention and with this has come uncertainty about why I find it so foreign.

My quasi-discovery of the semicolon began this summer. While reading articles and books, I saw this punctuation mark everywhere. It was as if every writer had decided to use one (or several) in their article or book in 2015. I doubt the semicolon is suddenly trendy this year, but I want to believe more writers are utilizing this punctuation mark now than ever before. I know this cannot be and is simply me looking for an external explanation. The reality is I just became more aware of the semicolon, which might have occurred at the same time there was a slight increase in usage. I will leave the answer on quantity of usage to someone looking for a dissertation topic.

The semicolon uncertainty is centered around whether I ever formally learned how to use one. Maybe there was a lesson on them at some point in my years of education, but I am really not sure. I do recall pondering them once in high school, but it was fleeting and in the context of a peer’s paper. This is quite similar to my questions about my contraction education. In case anyone is wondering, my contacting has improved. I now know how to make all sorts of contractions, but there are some that will always be made purposefully (example: she’d) and not naturally. This is neither here nor there.

The more I see the semicolon, the more I think about it. I have concluded that for me, the semicolon is mysterious. It is a punctation mark that was always there, but I never punctuated with and therefore, it seems like a novelty. I approach it with a bit of uncertainty and marvel. I wonder why is everyone else using semicolons? Does it possess powers I have yet to discover? Is it possible that I missed the semicolon memo? Do some writers use the semicolon because they see other writers using them, or do they see a true need for this punctuation mark in their writing? How many of people are truly using it correctly? Beyond that, I just keep wondering why I never thought about it.

Since I believe I was never taught how to use a semicolon, I decided it was time to learn about this punctuation mark. I have done my semicolon due diligence. I read about how to use one, studied how other writers incorporate it in their work, and then started to experiment with it in my work. I have concluded that semicolons are useful; I might begin to use them in my writing. At the same, I do not want to use it to use it. I want to punctuate with purpose.

Time will tell whether I begin to punctuate with this mark. Perhaps I will always be a period and conjunction kind of writer. For now, I remain semi-interested in the semicolon; the semi-new punctation mark I recently discovered.

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Her Majesty The Queen

I have written extensively on Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. After all, she was my introduction into the world of royal watching. As I have previously discussed, prior to her engagement to William I was not a royal watcher. I did not take up this position until reading a Newsweek article on the eve of their wedding, and then my interest progressively picked up pace after Catherine walked down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.

Over the last few years, I have engaged with the monarchy on a regular basis. If it is Christmas Day and the royals are at Sandringham, I am tuned in. I know all about the horse racing at Ascot, and how the monarchy uses its position to support charities and conservation work around the globe. In spite of my keen interest in the royals, I have yet to write about The Queen. This royal watcher cannot truly call herself a royal watcher until she does so.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch, the time has come to write about Her Majesty. Perhaps the timing could not be better. My understanding of the monarchy and its relationship to the world throughout her reign has grown. I possess a greater appreciation for her now than ever before, and if I had written anything sooner I would not have been ready to discuss the Queen with enough depth.

The Queen is a woman to admire. She is intelligent, well read, composed, and from what they say has quite a sense of humor. She has both watched and participated in world history, and has a unique understanding of society. The Queen is driven by service, and has been truly committed to her people and their needs. Regardless of what is happening the world, Her Majesty maintains her sense of duty, which is testament to her character and the tone she has set for the monarchy. Even for those outside of the UK and the Commonwealth, she has been a constant and influential presence.

The Queen is also human. Perfection cannot be expected of anyone, even with the title of Her Majesty. She has made mistakes and learned from these instances, evolving as a person and a monarch. Her evolution has been one where consistency has played a major factor, but novelty has found its way in as well. The future is bright because of the choices she has made during her reign.

While she is not my Queen, I appreciate her service to the world. I wish her a hip hip hooray on this  milestone.

From Broadway to Mount Vernon: The Founders in Their Element

George Washington's home Mount Vernon

George Washington’s home Mount Vernon

Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of spending a bit of time with Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. I must say, it had been quite some time since I last engaged with them. I was glad that July provided the opportunity to be reintroduced to these intelligent, talented, courageous Founding Fathers.

The reintroduction began on Broadway at “Hamilton” and continued the next week at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home and farm in Virginia. Although different, these two experiences complemented each other perfectly. “Hamilton” is simultaneously a chance to step back in time and yet experience something from our time, of the moment so to speak. Mount Vernon offers an immersion experience. The home and property were restored and reflect how they looked at the end of Washington’s life. Together, the show and home allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation of who these men are and how they lived their lives.

While I certainly knew a great deal about Hamilton from my days as a History major, the show provided a whole new means to understand him. It allowed me to see Hamilton’s humanity coupled with his drive for making his mark and leaving a legacy. There was no way Hamilton was ever going to be ordinary. He was aware the destiny of this nation was mixed in with his personal goals. Hamilton was a man who struggled like the rest of us do with questions of honor, morality, and ego. He was brilliant and complex, and the same can be said of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show.

Mount Vernon was my first visit to a president’s home. It offered the chance to see Washington as a homeowner, farmer, and slave owner.  I must mention that I traveled there Founding Father style (aka by boat). Taking a boat from D.C. down the Potomac really added an extra layer to my trip. As the boat approached the property, I caught site of the mansion. Like its owner, the home has a very commanding presence.

The highlight of the day was the tour of the mansion. It was very powerful to walk through the rooms he once lived in. I truly enjoyed seeing how meticulously Washington planned and designed his home. How he used the artwork in his home to reinforce his “brand.” Nothing was on the wall by chance, it was part of a larger statement about Washington. He had amazing taste, and I can understand why his guests stayed as long as they did. They also stayed that long because in the 18th century, it was rude to ask guests to leave. The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center truly rounded out the visit. One highlight was Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Washington, which is renowned for its accuracy. It is considered to be the closest portrayal of what Washington actually looked like.

On Broadway and in Virginia, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington were humanized. They were people with problems and living rooms. I believe interacting with History in this manner changes you. I definitely left both of these experiences not only thinking differently about Hamilton and Washington, but about American History as a whole. For that, I am deeply appreciative to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for preserving and maintaining Washington’s home, and to those who believed in Miranda’s vision of telling American History through rap and hip hop.

Nothing Like a Little Summer Reading: Edition 1

Since my experiences with high school English played an important role in naming this self-publishing site, it only seems fitting that there is a bit of literature covered. Given the season, nothing like discussing a little summer reading. In the tradition of teenagers and required summer reading, the books discussed here are from American high school syllabi. The first book on the agenda is The Catcher in the Ryephoto-2

I first met Holden Caulfield sophomore year of high school. Upon introduction, I found the main character in The Catcher in the Rye to be moody, juvenile, and a bit of a whiner. I did not love or hate him, but definitely failed to fully connect with his situation. It is fair to say I was indifferent to him.

We certainly tried to connect. He continually shared his feelings, and I kept listening. In the end, it was a typical English classroom experience. I did the best I could with his lousy attitude, and learned and wrote about The Catcher in the Rye‘s core themes for my overly competitive English class. Afterwards, we barely communicated. For over a decade, my impressions of Holden were those of a high school sophomore. While I did attempt to reread the book two or three summers ago, I ended up starting and stopping. However, everything changed two week ago, when Holden and I met again.

Whereas my first experience with The Catcher in the Rye in high school put me on on a peer level with Holden, the second provided the opportunity to step back and see him differently. This time, I was no longer an adolescent, but an adult with perspective on teenage trials and tribulations. I had enough distance from adolescence to realize I might have judged him, and lacked an understanding of what he is going through. A teenager cannot fully understand another teenager. Now, a bit wiser, I set out to give Holden a second chance.

My second encounter was more about enjoying J.D. Salinger’s use of language. I gained a deeper appreciation of how Salinger successfully creates his main character. How he integrates the vocabulary throughout the book, constantly returning to the same words to create Holden’s perspective and to reinforce his thoughts. Beyond the words, Salinger utilizes repetition in pairs to magnify Holden’s growing issues. He has sentences back to back that are structured similarly and convey the same meaning. Often, they are basically the same with the second sentence being an expanded version of the first.

As far as connecting with Holden, the jury is still out and it may always be out. I was definitely more willing to take the journey this time. I had greater patience for his ramblings and choices. Perhaps my willingness had a lot to do with not remembering portions of the book. There was definitely a motivation factor to keep reading. I wanted to know what (mis)adventures he would go on next. I accepted Holden’s attitude and opinions to see where he would end up. When he reached the carousel at the end of the book, I felt what Holden is feeling. We connected for those few pages.

While Holden may never be a favorite, I have come to understand him better. I sympathize a bit more with his situation. If that is what I walk away with from this second encounter, then it was by no means a lousy experience. Whether Holden thinks this short piece is phony, well that is a whole different story.

My Tess McGill Moment

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Earlier this month, I took the Staten Island Ferry for the first time. Before I boarded the ferry, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary boat ride with a brief turn around in Staten Island. Instead, this trip was my Tess McGill moment. It was my chance to connect with Tess, the main character in the 1988 film Working Girl.

After years of watching and quoting the film, I was on Tess’s turf, where she came up with the idea of putting together Trask and radio. My Tess McGill moment requires no explanation if you have seen Working Girl. However, this moment certainly requires an explanation if you have not seen the film.

For over a decade, Working Girl has served as my empowerment film. Each time I watch it, I gain a belief in myself that matches Tess McGill’s determination to better herself. My feelings are a result of Working Girl’s core message about finding one’s way professionally and personally when one is required to skirt the rules, but not because the rules are right or wrong. Tess, superbly played by Melanie Griffith for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, must go around the rules because avenues are blocked to her. She has no choice but to mix a bit of truth with a bit of stretching the truth to achieve a larger goal.

Tess is a secretary from Staten Island who is ambitious. However, in the world of late 1980s Wall Street, there is little room for growth. Tess shares her idea of Trask entering the radio industry with her boss Katharine Parker, played by Sigourney Weaver, only to have Katharine tell her the idea is good, but cannot go anywhere. She soon finds out Katharine is trying to steal it. When Katharine ends up holed up in Austria after a ski incident, Tess gets to work with Jack Trainer, a handsome Harrison Ford, to put together a deal for Oren Trask of Trask Industries. As the film unfolds, Tess finally has the chance to be who she has longed to be.

Throughout Working Girl, Tess does everything possible to advance herself. She capitalizes on what is available to her. She has an unwavering belief in herself. Most importantly, as Mr. Trask describes her in the film, she has “gumption.” I identify with Tess and her journey. I see her professional obstacles in my own life. Every time I watch the film, I want to take a bit of her inner strength and draw on it as I make professional decisions.

While Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” which served as Working Girl’s theme song, might not have been playing on this particular ferry, there was no doubt that I had my Tess McGill moment. What that moment means could be nothing more than taking the Staten Island Ferry, which happens to be in one of my favorite films. What it also could mean is the beginning of something far greater. I am going with the latter. Now, I must harness those feelings and make a professional move. Perhaps if I do, Mr. Trask will be calling me next. “Gumption, Ms. McGill,” Mr. Trask says. Gumption, Susan Cohen.

Continuing Television Education Continued

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan's television.

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan’s television.

I have previously written about Continuing Television Education (CTE). Similar to Continuing Education courses that professionals take, television provides the same educational benefits for me. It is a chance to take a break during the work day all the while staying abreast of the latest happenings on NBC, ABC, CBS, E!, and beyond.

As I explained in that piece, CTE does not exist. I made it up to justify my habit of watching television during the day. Even though I created it, it is not without benefits. CTE allows me to be completely up to date on all of my shows, and I am always quite productive following it. While I will never be able to completely justify television in the middle of the day, recent experiences provide insights into its benefits.

Over the last few months, I have cut back on watching television. I soon discovered that watching less television led to greater productivity, but it also led to less creativity and frustration in my work. However, once I reintroduced larger quantities of television, I felt prepared to create again. I must admit that a majority of my television watching now happens at night, but its benefits remain.

As this unintentional experiment in CTE reduction proves, CTE may actually be real. Further research is needed. Stay tuned.

 

Royal Watching on the Island of Manhattan

Once again, I have been delinquent with visiting the Duchess of Cambridge. However, we have both been quite busy over the last three months. In many respects, my delayed visit has led to a perfectly timed one.

In a matter of days, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will arrive on the island of Manhattan. This will be their first trip to New York, and it is sure to be special. While there will be a brief sojourn to Brooklyn, the majority of William and Catherine’s time will be spent engaging with New York and New Yorkers. As always, they will be highlighting important work around the world, and reminding each of us that we can make a difference. I will be interested to see their (especially Catherine’s) reactions to the city and of course, how Catherine dresses. Perhaps this royal watcher will even catch a glimpse of her. After all, New York is a small town.

 

Best wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a successful trip to New York.

The Upper West Side, Fairway, and Me

The following piece was written before I moved. I am self-publishing it after moving. I did make several change to the piece. However, I do not believe it changes the piece’s integrity. The goal is to share my Upper West Side. If you are wondering about the move, it went well. 

For five years, Fairway has fed me, Columbus Avenue has clothed me, and Lincoln Center and Central Park were right in my backyard. I have been surrounded by culture, beauty, and great groceries. The neighborhood has spoiled me. Who would ever want to leave it? Well, I am leaving the Upper West Side.

The Upper West Side and I had great times together. The neighborhood was an important part of my 20s. In a way, it helped shaped me. The last five years were certainly full of change, but here was the Upper West Side, my constant, always happy to greet me.

The way I feel about the Upper West Side similar to how I feel about Morningside Heights, where I attended Barnard College and lived for four years. If you see a pattern in these two neighborhoods, I have lived on or near Broadway for almost ten years, and spent a lot of time on the 1, 2, and 3 subways.

I wanted to share what I have discovered over the last five years. The best place to start is at the beginning.

Right before I moved to the Upper West Side, I remember being on Columbus. Unlike Broadway, an avenue I knew very well, Columbus was foreign. It took time, but we got to know each other and started spending a lot of time together.

What I quickly discovered is that the blocks on Columbus are shorter, or seem shorter, from the mid 60s until 77th street. By 77th, you are at the Museum of Natural History and you can walk by the back of the building and marvel at it. The first tower on the corner of 77th and Columbus feels a little Harry Potter like.

Now, Columbus had nice stores when I moved in, but it has been become a bit of a trendy avenue. Between the 60s and 70s, there is a Rag and Bone, Theory, Reiss, Intermix, Kate Spade, Olive and Bettes, Vince, and Burberry Brit to name a few. Why go east when you can go to Columbus.

Beyond stores, the Upper West Side has a large post office on the corner of Columbus and 68th street. It is a privilege to say I actually mailed my letters at a post office. It feels good to connect with the postal service on a regular basis. I actually love going to post offices. Maybe it is because I majored in History, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I find the movement of items fascinating. Anyway, my love of the post office is for another day.

Since I just focused on Columbus, I want to quickly mention that I spent plenty of time on Broadway, Amsterdam, and Central Park West. I made the Upper West Side rounds. There were plenty of days I moved numerically across a street going east to west or west to east. 86th street was a popular one for me. I will admit I slacked when it came to West End and Riverside. I can’t do it all.

Over the last five years, the Upper West Side has taken care of a majority of my cultural needs. I went to the New York Philharmonic the way others go to Yankees and Knicks games. The best part is walking home after a wonderful concert with the program still in hand.

When it came to the movies, I did not have to travel far. The Upper West Side has four theaters, three of which are in five-block radius in the west 60s. On occasion, I did go east for a movie. I think that happened twice.

For museums, the New York Historical Society always brought out the History major in me. I always left with a fact I did not know about New York. The Museum of Natural History is well, the Museum of Natural History. It speaks for itself.

Speaking of the Museum of Natural History, I love Central Park West and 81st street. With the Museum on one side and apartment buildings on the other, the light always hits the street just right. The best light is right on the corner at the Beresford.

Since Central Park is across the street, I will say that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were geniuses to plan a park as they did. It is exactly what one needs to forget they are in the city: fresh air, grass, water, and turtles. The turtles are the best.

Then there is Fairway on 74th and Broadway. I lived in Fairway. In fact, there were days when I went multiple times. I know where everything is in the store, and which aisles are best to cut through. I understand the nuances of the Fairway elevator. By the time everyone is exiting, it is already closing so the first one in has to hold the bottom. It’s Fairway common courtesy.

The store is not meant for wandering. You can discover a product while there, but anyone looking to browse and take his or her time has come to the wrong place. There is a reason Fairway’s catch phrase is “Like No Other Market.” No other market has that many people looking for the same exact foods as you.

When I walk home with a load of Fairway groceries, I get a specific feeling. It just feels right. Although sometimes, it just feels heavy. I always underestimate how much I can carry, but that’s part of the Fairway experience.

I will never be a native New Yorker. I grew up on Long Island. However, I hope in this time I have became an Upper West Sider. Although, I may have needed to spend more time at Zabar’s for that title. Like all things Upper West Side, I will leave that up for debate.

A Visit with the Duchess

I owe the Duchess of Cambridge a visit. It has been several months since I last wrote about her.  Even then, I was focusing on how we were introduced and not on recent royal happenings.

I will admit I have been slacking. However, my lack of writing is not indicative of a lack of royal watching. Before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George left for the  royal tour of New Zealand and Australia, I read their itinerary. I made sure to read coverage of each engagement, including the outfits. I even follow Clarence House on Instagram.

Catherine is currently preparing for her first solo international engagement next month. As always, it is the right moment for such an engagement. I have previously described how Catherine approaches her role methodically. She follows royal protocol, but does so on her own terms. Catherine knows herself very well, and does not take on a new responsibility until she is ready.  In the last year, Catherine has brought this approach into  motherhood. Prince George’s happiness (in photos) is indicative of how she is raising her son.

Although this is a short visit with the Duchess,  it is about quality over quantity. I look forward to the Duchess of Cambridge’s growing responsibilities, and promise to write more often.

Putting Pen to Postcard

Postcards Purchased at The British Museum

Postcards Purchased at The British Museum

I wrote and sent fifteen postcards while in London. Each one personalized for the recipient(s). The concierge at my hotel was quite impressed. One staff member even mentioned that he had never received a postcard. I have been thinking about sending him one. Everyone deserves the joy that postcards bring.

There is something quite special about this form of communication. Postcards are brief, but they carry meaningful messages. They represent a thinking of you during sightseeing and exploration. The few lines of text postcards possess gain power through their journey. The power comes from words traveling with a purpose. How often do words do that by mail anymore?

Right before I left, I compiled a list of recipients for postcards and asked for addresses. While asking meant the postcard would not be a surprise, I was happy to give my recipients something to look forward to in the mail.

In London, I bought postcards along the way. Three or four at The National Gallery. Ten on Oxford Street. A few at the British Museum.

Twice over a pot of English Breakfast tea in my hotel’s lounge, and once at a coffee table in my hotel room, I carefully selected a postcard for each recipient. I put pen to postcard making sure a tiny piece of my trip went into each message. I even tailored an appropriate British greeting for several of them.

The next morning(s), the postcards were stamped and sent on their way. Each postcard a little different. Each postcard special. Each postcard sent across The Pond from me to you.