Subject Tiles: Experiemental Activity to Introduce Sentence Focus

The subject of the sentence is what it is all about. Or at least it should be. Should be? How could it be otherwise? Well, “subject” can mean two things: the topic of the sentence and the grammatical subject placed before the verb. The topic, what the sentence is really about, might be buried deep in a sentence beginning with an expletive, an empty subject, as in, “There are three principal reasons that college freshmen can‘t write effective essays.”  If we put the topic, “college freshmen,” at the beginning of the sentence to function as the grammatical subject–“College freshmen can’t write effective essays for three principal reasons”–we get a shorter, clearer, more dynamic sentence. Also, sentence built on a storng foundation tend to be more logical, more grammatical correct, and less redundant. Ideally then, the topic and the grammatical subject should be one and the same, as suggested by the double meaning of the word “subject.” With this goal in mind, Michelle Okafo and I created an activity which demonstrates to students the importance and power of sentence focus.

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In the Name of the Book, In the Name of Cervantes, Amen

(From my book Narrative Madness, which can be acquired at or on Amazon.)

The Name of the Book

“What is it called?” and “Who wrote it?” are the first questions we as readers ask when deciding to read a book. Easy. The answers are printed on the fat novel to my right: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Just a title and a name. We can almost pass by without a thought. How much significance could there be in so few words?

Actually, the title is fraught with meaning. The name invokes an image: a gaunt knight on a skinny white horse charging windmills. Most readers are familiar with the idiom “tilting at windmills,” which means fighting an imaginary enemy or engaging in a hopeless battle. Many will also know the adjective “quixotic,” defined by The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “naively idealistic; unrealistic, impracticable.” So when I say I am engaged in the quixotic quest for reality, I admit I am tilting at windmills, battling an imaginary enemy: namely, reality.

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A Seven-Course Meta-Dinner

In honor of Michelle Okafo (the more or less grown-up version of the wacky poem writer), who is moving to L.A., meta-class participants and I threw a seven-course meta-dinner last week. However, I wasn’t sure whether or not the dinner could honestly be called meta. Ian Latta, I think, has been more careful in the use of “meta-” than I am. I fear I have been too liberal with the term, so I was wondering whether Ian would consider food that repeats itself meta or not. Because of my doubts, I was more inclined to call the event a self-reflective dinner. So, we had silver balloons and I wore my silver shirt and I served the appetizer on a mirror. (I wanted to cover the tables in Mylar, so we could see ourselves eating, but couldn’t find any.)

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