High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Category: Uncategorized

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


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.


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.






Passport in a Drawer

I have been having a hard time describing my first trip abroad. The following essay is an attempt to convey what it meant to me. I know this piece is far from perfect, but it captures how I felt and continue to feel about my experience. A little bit of background is needed. Prior to the seven years this essay focuses on, I did not have a passport. This short work will be followed up by a longer piece describing where my passport took me. 

For seven years, my passport sat waiting for me. First, in a drawer on Long Island and then in the City. The drawer kept it safe. It had nowhere to go because I had nowhere to go.

The few times I looked at it, it seemed powerful. It possessed potential. I found myself feeling sophisticated just holding it. This blue booklet gave me access to the world. A world I was not yet ready to see.

For years, I lacked interest in travel. More than that, I was timid about travel, but also intimidated by it. I was afraid of leaving my comfort zone.

It took me a long time to feel ready to leave the boundaries of not just my country, but more importantly my own. My passport had waited patiently for this moment.

First, the passport was called upon when booking flights. Out of the drawer it came for its number. A personal passport preview. Then, as soon as I arrived at the airport, my passport made its debut with the TSA agent. The blue booklet from the drawer had been used at last.

My passport went from having a hypothetical power to a real one. Holding it in the airport, and later in train stations, represented waiting to get to this moment – to both leave and arrive. The arrival brought with it several stamps, but most importantly, the first one in Heathrow.

I was probably the only person that day appreciating the stamp given to me in a passport that unbeknownst to anyone around me, had sat in a drawer waiting to be used for seven years. The wait was certainly worth it.

Stamp away.

The Sun Rises and Sets on Instagram


The Statue of Liberty Amidst The Sunset
      Photo taken by Kirby Wetzel

The sun rises and sets on Instagram. There is even a hashtag for the sun on the app  – sunstagram. Instagram is sort of – a big emphasis on sort of – like Louis XIV. I am trying to make the connection, but it may not be there.

Now, taking photos of sunrises and sunsets is nothing new. Instagram certainly did not start a sun photographic trend. What is new is that posting pictures of the sun – especially sunsets – has become a daily habit for many Instagram users. This is a byproduct of the app’s design.

Instagram encourages users to go out and share the visual experience. Each photo inspires the next one. The design of the app has certainly encouraged its users to see the world differently and capture it.  Instagrammers have chosen the sunset as an important visual experience that needs to be shared. Yesterday is a prime example of this point.

I missed the sunset yesterday. Prior to Instagram, I probably would not have thought much about missing a sunset on a Tuesday in November. I would have just accepted it as reality of the time of the year. I am less likely to be outside when the sun sets earlier in the day. However, yesterday was different. Several photos on Instagram made it clear that I missed an absolutely beautiful show in the sky.

Even though I missed the sunset, I had the chance to experience it from different vantage points in New York because of what Instagram encourages its users to do. Looking through the photos, I realized that I want to seek out beauty in the world each day.  I want to experience that beauty, especially the sunset.  I want to thank Instragram and Instagrammers for reminding me to interact with nature as much as possible.

In case you missed the sunset too, here are several spectacular photos taken by my friend Kirby. I hope they inspire you too!




sunset 5

sunset 6

sunset 8

Continuing Television Education

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan's television.

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan’s television.

Lawyers must go to Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses. I have chosen to do Continuing Television Education (CTE). I consider CTE to be a very important part of my profession. What that profession is I’m not totally sure, but it involves – or I hope it involves – a lot of television and different kinds of it.

Anyway, CTE requires a certain state of mind. It’s half an hour to an hour of complete focus in the name of television. CTE can occur during lunch or later in the afternoon. It must be completed between 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. otherwise it’s just regular television, and CTE is far from your average television viewing experience.

There are three types of CTE. The first is the most important type of CTE or at least important for me. It’s catching up on one of my favorite shows. Often that means watching the previous evening’s episode. The second type of CTE is trying out a new show without giving up my evening. It’s akin to saving time. Finally, there is always the option of watching Sex and the City reruns on E!, which I do at least once a week. Sex and the City CTE is thirty minutes of trying to figure out why my teenage self loved the show so much. I think a lot had to do with not knowing what it was like to be a grown up. At the same time, I have a greater appreciation for the final seasons now that I am an adult or a semi-adult.

My favorite CTE of the week takes place on Monday, as in today. Monday’s CTE is almost always The Good Wife. Now, I have previously written about this show (click here for those thoughts) and find it to be very invigorating. I’m inspired by Alicia Florrick  and how she solves problems and conducts – well most of the time – herself. After watching the show, I want to be more like Alicia. If say I’m writing an email or running an errand after watching the show, I’m going to do both with dedication and a higher level of intensity. It’s all thanks to my hour of CTE.

In all seriousness, CTE does not exist. Up until an hour ago, there was no such thing as Continuing Television Education. However, there was lunch time television named after the fact that I frequently watch television while eating lunch. Even though I made up CTE, one could argue I just gave lunch time television a more formal name.

Whether I adopt the name CTE or continue to use it’s given name of lunch time television, it really is just loving the ability to watch up to an hour of television in the middle of the day. It likely stems from longing to watch daytime television when I was a kid. Now that I can watch television during the day, I appreciate it and have given it a purpose.

Lunch time television – or afternoon television since sometimes it’s at 4:00 p.m. –  is about pausing my day. It’s about stepping back from work. It’s about recharging. It’s idea time. I find that I work well when I take the time out of my schedule to sit back and relax. I believe in taking breaks when working.

Although I literally just made up CTE, I do hope you you adopt it and help make it a real thing. Then again, CTE is real for me.

My Summer of Scrubs

A few weeks ago, I typed out the the following:

My evening ended like an episode of Girls. A 20-something confused, unsure, and staring with music playing in the background. All that was missing was a preview of next week’s episode. 

A few weeks later (aka now), the following sentiment still holds true. I can’t preview next week’s episode. As I reemerge from two years in academia, I’m finding myself to be in a similar position as my 22-year-old self. The only difference is I have five more years of wisdom and my routine does not include watching Scrubs every single day. Let me expand on that point a little bit and also state that no, I’m not using Girls as my spiritual guide. I do watch reruns of Sex and the City on E! in the early afternoons. I find I now watch the show with a different perspective, but that is neither here nor there.

Yes, after I graduated from Barnard, I watched Scrubs M-F from 3:00-4:00 p.m. and then again from 7:00-8:00 p.m. I had to be home for the show. If I was out, I came home. It was my one constant during my three month job search during the summer of 2008. I basically relied on it. It gave me structure and security. To this day, I’m grateful that Comedy Central made Scrubs part of its programming that summer.

My main motivation for watching the show was I had started watching it a few years before, but had not continued. I had always wanted to catch up and here was my chance. However, a deeper connection with the show was quickly established. I connected to JD and his feelings and observations about the world. During that summer, JD was like a mentor to me.

I was at the bottom of the totem pole and trying to figure things out, here was JD doing the same. JD and his friends were growing up, making mistakes, learning from them, and maturing before my very eyes and I was doing the same. In a way, I was on a parallel course minus becoming a doctor.

I eventually found a job and my afternoons and early evenings with Scrubs stopped, but the lessons from it remain. Scrubs was there when I needed it. It provided a foundation for adulthood.

I’m hoping that television will help me figure out life post-graduate school or at the very least, give me a meaningful routine. Even better, anyone in television want to hire me?

The Internal Piper Chapman

Netflix’s new hit, “Orange Is The New Black,” is all about actions and consequences. Piper and her fellow prisoners have thoughts and action that exist in the world and for the purposes of the show, have been encapsulated within the characters and magnified by the prison setting. The show forces us, the viewers, to place ourselves in all of the prisoners shoes and consider what we would do. Yes, it definitely portrays prison as humorous, but the humor is designed to draw us in. Through this humor, we get transported into prison, attached to the prisoners and their problems, and then once this connection has been established, we have the opportunity to examine what it means to be human and what truly is important.

Within all of us is a Piper Chapman. Maybe that’s why I related to her and did not judge her throughout the first season. As people, we know what we can do to avoid situations and then like Piper, we just walk into them. We act without thinking, make the wrong choices, and although we do not have to worry about a Red not feeding us, we too face the consequences.

The question the season finale left us with is what happens next. In that final scene, Piper certainly could not charm her way out of the situation and made a choice that was starkly different from her other prison choices. What exactly that means is not yet clear, but it certainly gave all of us something to think about as we wait for the next season.

The Reality Show Apology

I have thought about this often and with Yom Kippur a few hours away, the timing is ideal to discuss apologies. Specifically, how apologies are handled on the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. Before I go any further, I know you are questioning what do a group of women from across the country employed by Bravo have to do with the need to seek forgiveness for Yom Kippur? Just give me a paragraph or two to demonstrate my thinking.

The Housewives series is big on honesty and apologizing. Now, I am well aware that the series has come along way and with time has become a bit more scripted, a bit more aggressive, and a bit (possibly extremely) vindictive. However, even with these changes and the the franchise’s general ridiculousness, it has women being honest, talking it out, owning up to their actions and behaviors, apologizing to each other, and at times – depending on the season – moving past their issues and becoming friends (or friends again). Again, I am aware that the producers often make decisions and apologies can be fake, but the idea here is to apply the notions of honesty, discussion, ownership, apologizing, and moving forward beyond the screen.

The Housewives’ abilities to not just be honest, own up to their actions, apologize and move forward, but do so at times very calmly and maturely, is admirable. Again, I know this is a reality show and they may rehearse, but the principles on the show are something that I know I can benefit from. I have left situations saying if only this is the Real Housewives and we could meet the next day and all can be cleared up. Although not every “let’s get together” on the Real Housewives ends well, it still shows people being honest and trying and that is the goal regardless of the outcome.

Even if the apologies are for ratings, I have learned from watching these women make amends and do better. Real or not, I have learned how I want to proceed going forward. I will not have time to ask everyone for forgiveness before this evening, but I am going to take the Real Housewives toolkit and apply it tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that.

For this Bravo, I thank you.