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You know it’s there, the blank pages, the empty file, the word document with the flashing cursor, like lighting waiting to smote the word-smitten, who procrastinate more than they wait, more than they word.

But it’s not a blank page; it’s not an empty file.

It’s the abscess of absence in the presence of the universe, waiting for you to take your seat after you make it. It’s that empty mirror you keep looking at in the dark. It’s more than an expression of self: it is the self. There is no you before you make you; so, you better get busy, you.

Your thinking is getting thin in this heat. So is your hair. Have you had your eight glasses of water? A quarter four – your thoughts?
It doesn’t even matter that your pretzeled logic could use some salt this summer. Do a flip in the pool, take a long walk, short a peer, unleash your thoughts, unmuzzle your oughts. What matters is the doing, the bending of the baker, the light of the candle stick maker, the milk of the cow, and the swiss cheese of the jumped over moon.

What matters is movement. Forward or back. Circles if you must. Like the shark that can never stop swimming, if it wants to breath, if it wants to live. You must write. To breath, to live, to believe. To be.

Always to be.

Technology and the “democratization” of information

So technology. Well, I came of age when technology for me was the typewriter. I got my first typewriter as a graduation present from my father. I desperately wanted an electric one, which was a relatively new technology back then, but of course, he handed me a beautifully designed manual. He argued that the action of the key strokes, the fact that you had to work hard just to push down the keys to create the imprint of each letter, would connect me more deeply to the written word. Well, I don’t know if having a manual typewriter made me a better writer but it did leave me with a strong connection to the keys. I still pound each stroke, each letter, into submission. The actions of my fingers used to lead me directly to the outcome I wanted. Today, this is not the case. I open Facebook to see what’s trending, do I really need to see what everyone had for dinner last night? I begin a search for a story on climate change and a sleeping bag I looked at and didn’t even buy two years ago pops up. During CWE online appointments, MSU students send me links to articles about, let’s say, social justice and it’s covered with pop-up adds about dating sites I can’t even skip. Advertisements are passed off as news and blogs and websites that espouse everything from terrorist hate messages to beauty tips are legitimized by advertising support. Who exactly is in charge here? Don’t get me wrong, getting quick access to information, particularly obscure information, that used to take me weeks, is a powerful tool. With a couple of clicks you can scour the world for news and information. Yet, this open access has created the “democratization” of information, a place where facts are often held hostage and don’t appear as themselves. Often, they are not necessarily themselves “fake,” but they are surrounded by content that is biased and at times false. So as great as technology is and as liberating as having access to all this information is, I find that when I write, I am more skeptical of every story and fact I see and have to work harder to find the real truth.


Interview with Patricia McCormick

In honor of her birthday, May 23, this interview highlights the work of award-winning American author and Journalist, Patricia McCormick. McCormick is known for her young adult novels CUT, Purple Heart, and Never Fall Down. Her work covers a variety of controversial topics in a way that is made accessible to adolescent readers.


Q: Thank you for meeting with me. First, I’d like to say that my eighth grade teacher assigned CUT, and as far as I can remember, that was the book that led me to devouring massive amounts of young adult fiction. What inspires you to write for that particular genre?


A: “I think young adults get a bad rap for being self-absorbed and self-centered. My experience going around the United States and speaking in schools is that teenagers here are very interested in the fate of their peers around the world.”


Q: Fate is definitely important, and considering your books tackle mental health issues, I imagine many of the students you’ve spoken to have been affected by your work. I know that a few of your novels, especially Purple Heart, were influenced by real-life events. Is that your main source for inspiration, the details you get from talking with students?


A: “My son jokes with me that he thinks I Google the word ‘sad’ to come up with book ideas. I don’t want to go slumming in somebody else’s pain just to write a book. I want to go into those darker places to shine a light on that experience and come out with a story that validates the human spirit.”


Q:That’s very admirable. Today’s students definitely need to feel validated, to read books that make them feel like someone out there understands them. If you had to leave a message for today’s students, or for yourself at that age now that you’ve had more life experience, is there anything that you think might be helpful?


A: “Read as much and as widely as you can. And make it a habit to unplug for an hour or so every day. No phone, no iPod, no texting, no TV, no Facebook. It will be very uncomfortable at first. But in that quiet, it will be amazing what your imagination comes up with. My hope is that people who are coping with any of the difficult issues facing teenagers will see the struggles of the characters — Callie, the girls at Sea Pines, Toby, Jake, their parents — with compassion. Then I hope they’ll see their own lives in a new light, with more understanding and hope for themselves.”


Q: That’s such a powerful message. Thank you for sharing with us today.


A: My pleasure.



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McCormick, Patricia. Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from:

Interview with Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy

AM: Your Regeneration Trilogy consists of three novels about World War I. Were you always interested in the topic and, if so, what was the first book that you read on the subject?

PB: Yes, I have always been passionate about World War I; oddly, it was the poetry that first moved me—Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon—not the great fiction, such as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms or Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades.

AM: Were you initially familiar with the Great War because of a relative’s involvement?

PB: Yes. My grandfather led a company that fought at the Argonne and suffered thereafter from shellshock—what we would today call PTSD.

AM: As your interest increased, did you travel around the Somme battlefields?

PB: Yes, I visited all the sites and museums in the Amiens area and even drove up to Belgium to visit Passchendaele.

AM: Did the graveyards overwhelm you?

PB: Completely. I could hardly grasp the number of gravestones.

AM: When I am visiting the graves, I always think of Rudyard Kipling, his role as the head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the appalling irony that his son lost his life in France.

PB: I wept often on those trips.

AM: What made you think of the theme of shell shock, or, as Elizabeth Samet calls it in her book about teaching literature at West Point, the “soldier’s heart”?

PB: Of course, it was partially my grandfather’s troubles, but my interest was larger than that: I was absorbed in medicine and read some of the case studies of Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, the psychiatrist at Craig Lockhart War Hospital.

AM: Your including historical characters like Rivers, Sassoon, and Owen in your novels strikes me as a brilliant move.

P.B. I became obsessed with the topic of shell shock and the fact that some doctors treated with disdain the soldiers returning from the front with nervous disorders and called the men “cowards” to their faces.

AM: Appalling. And the wives! Think of Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier and the horrid way his wife treated him, as unmanly and a loser . . .

PB:  . . . and the extraordinary bravery of the men, the officers particularly, who were the first to be killed going over the top.

AM: Your using that last phrase reminds me of the many poignant poems, fiction, and memoirs about that culminating moment.

PB: Yes. I think Edmund Blunden’s memoir, Undertones of War, is the best at describing what it was like to lead one’s men over the top.

AM: What was the most challenging aspect of recreating the characters, so to speak, and giving them dialogue?

PB: I was sensitive to not distorting the characters in personal as well as untruthful ways.

AM: Are you referring to the homosexual allusions in several of the books?

PB: Yes, that issue, of course, and also reimagining the inner life of the great Rivers.

AM: He was stunningly intellectual, honest, and caring, which characteristics must have been daunting.

PB: Very—and also trying to portray the real Sassoon on the throwing-away-his-medal gesture and actually invoking his belief and determination that the war had to stop.

AM: Thank you so much for talking to me. I am so disappointed that we are out of time. Many questions linger . . .

PB:  . . . another time will present itself. War will always be with us . . .

On Community, Resolve, Distraction, and the Internet

I was born in 1993 to a loveable Luddite of a father; I was born at a time in which technology was rapidly growing and developing, and to a father who struggled to record the stock ticker on VHS tapes and who believed that the Internet was a phase that would pass. However, even before my mother successfully petitioned for the boxy Windows 95 desktop I still remember, I felt I was a writer, and I began exploring and pursuing my writing process long before I had regular access to the technology that is now such an integral part of my techniques, for better or worse.

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, one of my earliest ventures into writing was keeping diaries during my elementary and middle school years. These diaries provided comfort and a free, safe space for me to notate what I felt and experienced without fear of discovery or judgment. I also loved (and still, even now, love) the feeling of a smooth pen running along a clean page. However, diaries are, by their nature, solitary, and as time went on, I felt the need to connect with others through my writing and its content; I wanted to receive responses, positive or negative, to my work and thoughts, and I wanted to consider those responses as I continued to write my way along the path I was traveling.

This desire for a connection and an exchange of ideas through writing brings me to one of the greatest benefits I believe technology has brought to the discipline and its processes: easy and consistent access to people, places, works, experiences, and ideas all around the world. In middle school, I shifted my personal writings from pen-and-paper Dollar Store diaries to Xanga (a likely-now-defunct blog service), and I started to receive comments not only on my feelings and experiences, but on the words and forms of expression I was using to communicate those thoughts. Then, early in high school, I shifted from Xanga to Tumblr (a then-brand-new microblogging site), and from personal writings to poetry. The responses to my writing on Xanga had encouraged me to try poetry, and Tumblr boasted a feature that allowed users to tag their posts and to peruse other posts that shared such tags. Was my (rather angsty, not terribly structured, overconfident, high school) poetry good? Absolutely not, and I won’t torment you with a sample of it now. But did I benefit from reading the poetry of other Tumblr users, and from considering their thoughtful responses to my little e-scribblings? Very much so. Even now, as time has passed and as I have developed my skills as a writer beyond those of juvenile poetry, one of my best peer-readers and providers of both feedback and support is a wonderful woman pursuing a degree in literary translation in Argentina. I believe that, with respect to the writing process, technology affords us an amazing chance in letting us create and develop communities of writers online.

All the wonders and benefits of technology allowed, I also know that technology (or my use of it) can hinder my writing and the processes surrounding it. The unending and constant access to countless distractions, from Twitter to YouTube to online shopping sites, garners far more of my attention than I would like to admit, and I am fully aware that this has had and continues to have a powerful impact on my writing process. For instance, if I am “stuck” in the middle of a paper, I will tell myself that I am “letting that idea sit” while I am really puttering around on the Internet, and when, grudgingly, I return to that paper, I am, always and without fail, as stuck as I was before. Personally, I believe that, at a certain point, the writing process and its products simply demand to be pursued; when that charming little spark of inspiration seems to have flickered out, I believe that writers must turn to the engine of willpower in its stead, for as Stephen King smirks in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” The point to all of this lofty preaching is this: I stand by the resolve and sheer focus that the writing process sometimes demands, but I also know that my affection(?) for the Internet snares my attention time and again, and pulls that resolve and sheer focus along with it.

Ultimately, I do believe that technology (and, in this post particularly, the Internet) is an asset to the writing process. I think the links the Internet offers to communication with others around the world and access to veritable scores of information and experience outweigh the distractions it may cause (or, in my case, definitely does cause). If I’m going to pontificate about the drive and dedication that must be parts of the writing process, then the Internet is just another place for me to test my own mastery of those qualities, and, in the end, that, too, must be a good thing.

Tech Talk: The New Age of Writing

Writing is all about communication. The desire to form a connection between the topic and the writer, or the writer and the audience is always prevalent, even if the writer is not aware of it. Over the years, writing has evolved into a complex and fascinating art form that has benefited from advancements in fields such as education and technology. By focusing on these advancements, it becomes clear that writing is indeed a vehicle for establishing important connections.
     Technology has changed my writing, specifically my creative writing, in numerous ways. I no longer write short stories by hand in five-subject notebooks the way I used to as a teenager, which comes with many problems such as hand cramps, smudging, and the inability to make mistakes if I write in pen. I hate disarray, especially when writing, so looking at scribbled out words or white-out stains is very upsetting. Therefore, the advantage of technology and having my own laptop has changed my writing habits because I find typing faster, easier, and relaxing. I am also able to erase mistakes with a simple, clean click of the delete button, which I find very satisfying.
       The existence of blogging and other internet modes of writing are an advantage as well because I am able to experiment with different tones and audiences; knowing that someone can potentially click on a link and read what I have written is exciting, a big change from the handwritten stories lying ignored in my bookcase. Writing for the CWE blog and completing assignments gives me the opportunity to comment and communicate with my colleagues, to experience their writing styles, and to learn more about them as writers and people. I see this as a technological advantage because it has helped us become more connected and establish stronger friendships with each other.
    While I am on the subject of technology and how it establishes connections between people, the existence of Google-docs, university modules like Canvas, and the online appointments we schedule with writers at the CWE are three amazing advantages that have changed my writing habits. Through these modes, I am able to access writing from any location, which helps me conduct research, brainstorming, and assignments in a more efficient manner. These modes are also beneficial for consultants and educators because they can provide feedback or assistance to students without having to schedule an in-person meeting, which may not always be convenient due to people’s busy schedules. Technology helps bridge these gaps between time and space.
     Of course, while technology is often considered an advancement, there have been times when it has hindered my writing habits as well. Wifi is a fickle creature and is often illusive in my house. I am not the type of person who can take my laptop to a coffee-shop or bookstore and write amongst others; I am too easily distracted by noise and people-watching. Therefore, when the connection fails, I am often forced to revert to my old-school style and reconnect with my handwritten roots. Technology also comes with added stress regarding battery-life, having a charge cord, remembering to save every few minutes to avoid losing everything, and the potential for malfunctions or crashes, among other fears.
    While it is important for people to experience the art of writing with pen and paper, and to be aware of the many circumstances that come with relying on technology, I truly believe that technological advancements such as laptops, blogging, Google-docs and Canvas, and making online appointments in writing centers are worth more than living in a society without them.

The Effects of Technology on Reading and Writing

My credentials are progressive—in 1952, I stood in line all night to meet presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson in an auditorium in Cambridge, Massachusetts—so I am surprised to find myself a Luddite, one of those nineteenth century people who opposed industrialization and, by extension, any new technology. Of course, I am exaggerating: I embrace the research potential of the Internet and the convenience of email. What I am suggesting is that I miss human, personal, one-on-one communication—the sort, for example, that brings a love letter via the post office.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that interacted enthusiastically, especially over supper, about ideas, books, music, politics, sports, movies, and games. Our parents encouraged the three of us sisters to join in these exchanges, to learn to converse, to communicate clearly, and, above all, to look one’s interlocutor in the eye. Our President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did not twitter; he regularly spoke to us over the radio (our single contact with the outside world), confidingly and comfortingly, from 1933, in the Depression, to 1944, toward the end of World War II.

Today, I am worried about the way communication has changed and the way those changes affect writing skills. I am illiterate in terms of Digital-speak (my newly coined term is meant to remind my reader of Orwell’s Newspeak). I never engage in social media, nor do I ever find anyone in a waiting room reading a book. People seem absorbed with their IPhones. On our campus, students, ear phones in, do not see me pass. It is all very well for Thoreau to counsel, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away;” he only stuck it out in Walden for two years before moving back to the livelier society of Concord.

Gratifyingly, I discover that I am not alone. A day does not pass that I do not see signs that others are fearful of Digital-speak, too, and seek human interaction. In a few weeks, I collected the following evidence:

  • In Michiko Kakutani’s NYT review [12/6/16] of David Sax’s book, The Revenge of Analog, she quotes him as saying, “The more time we spend in the digital world of clicks and taps and swipes, the more people have begun to recognize the value of face-to-face interactions.”
  • In his NYT column [12/30/16], David Brooks calls attention to an essay by Andrew Sullivan, who writes, “Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction, I was not involved in a human encounter.”
  • John Williams reviews Eva Hoffman’s new self-help book [1/9/17], which “explores the challenges posed by excess options and digital stimuli.”
  • In her health column in the NYT [1/10/17], Jane Brody urges her readers to curb their “digital dependence.”
  • The sidebar in a Thomas L. Friedman’s NYT op-ed [1/11/17] warns: “Our lives have gone digital. Be careful.”

From these fragments, I extrapolate the argument that Digital-speak, in addition to lessening face-to-face encounters, has prompted a decrease in reading books and a lack of dependence on literature. I believe these phenomena may have affected some writers and separated them as readers from close, emotional relationships with literary characters. They have deprived some writers of living vicariously through classic literary experiences: for example, learning that Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch has decided to marry Mr. Casaubon (“Dorothea!” I say silently to her: “Don’t do it!”) or that Isabel Archer plans to marry Gilbert Osmond in Portrait of a Lady (“Isabel!” I plead, “Stop and think!”) or that Elizabeth Bennett has shut Darcy out of her life in Pride and Prejudice (“Lizzy, give him a break, please!”) These experiences from reading novels contribute significantly to a writer’s understanding of human nature and provide a valuable frame of reference.

A few days ago, Nicholas Kristof commended literature and the humanities in his NYT op-ed piece (3/30/17): “The arts humanize us and promote empathy.” The human condition, and its vital elements of communication and compassion, are easily accessible to writers without their needing to go online.


“Sometimes it Snows in April”

Lately, I spend most of my free time in my den, looking up at the trees in my backyard and those just beyond it. I wouldn’t describe myself as a nature lover. Sure, I lived on a mountain for half a decade, away from the maddening crowds of humans, but not far away, and it wasn’t like I was communing with nature or anything – it just happened to be where I was. I used to say I could commune with nature, if it weren’t for the bugs. This last year that has become all too true, when on three separate occasions my encounters with insects and arachnids led to three instances of cellulitis. Communing with nature without communing with bugs is an impossibility: there’s something like 200 million insects for every human on the planet. I’d prefer to be wrapped in plastic, but I settle for my den. It’s inside, but I can look out. That’s where I am now. It’s snowing. It’s a steady snow, but not a big snow storm snow. Not like section 13 of “Thirteen ways of Looking at a Blackbird”:

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

I love the first three lines of that, I could care less about the bird : I like the snow. It reminds me of mittens and hot chocolate, hats with pom poms (why they had pom poms I’ll never understand), a marble fire place and a brick fireplace, watching the fire like a Neanderthal, or an 8 year-old boy, or an 8 year-old boy Neanderthal, mesmerized by light and smoke dancing to the cracker jack crackle of fire fire, flame flame, hot hot heat.

There’s no fireplace in this room. That may be something I need to remedy. Instead, I have one of those Amish fireplaces. It’ll do for now. The snow will not. It is some kind of sad April Fool’s joke. It’s too insistent, too eager to fall to the ground, and so too soon it will stop, and be gone. I still love the snow, even though I usually hurt myself when I shovel it. I love watching it fall like in the poem. Slowly, like gravity’s broken, and the sun shines only half way, like light and time are broken.

When it snows and it’s going to snow, you don’t need to do anything because you don’t need to go anywhere, because no one can get anywhere. That’s a nice feeling.
There’s a beautiful music to a storm like that. The euphony of snowflakes silently unshuffling themselves in a game of 52 pick up, and all the while the low bass of a plough drones on, too, too far to hear distinctly, it won’t make it to you until at least tomorrow.

A storm like that, I picture my old house, the apple tree in front. I imagine it filling with snow with gravity broken, time and light on the fritz. And I wonder if the tree is still there, or if the yellow belly sap sucker killed it.

The Many, Many Layers of Code-Switching

Code-switching is understood as a characteristic of developing multilinguals in any level of language learning. In the broadest sense, it is defined as using linguistic elements of two languages – L1, the native language, and L2, the second – in one utterance. You may have witnessed a bilingual friend use a word or phrase in a different language because they can “think of the word in Spanish, but not in English.” I’m sure many people are familiar with this phenomenon.

However, language is not only about single-word vocabulary. Grammar structures, idioms, tone, and stress patterns are also crucial features of language that multi-language learners must consider. For example, my mom would sometimes switch the object and verb order (“I ate dinner” may turn into, “dinner I ate”) because in her mind, she is translating directly from Korean, in which the object and verb order in sentences are flipped. When they code-switch, multilingual speakers will often generalize the grammar rules of their native language to L2, which can be where a good chunk of their grammar error patterns are originating from.

There is yet another layer to code-switching (Whew!) This layer involves the pragmatics of language, which is governed by cultural norms and expectations.

This layer is also one of the most difficult to explain, because people don’t often consciously think about it. A child will sound different between talking to his friend (loud, boisterous, lingoed) and talking to his teacher (more reserved, respectful, not-so-lingoed.) A receptionist may use Standard American English when receiving guests or taking phone calls in a professional setting (“Hello, this is the Center for Writing Excellence, how can I help you?”) but switch to colloquial language if she sees a close friend walk through the door. My mom speaks in a standard, “city” Korean most of the time, but when she’s on the phone with her sisters or her mom, she switches to the country dialect that she grew up with. All of the above are examples of code-switching.

Native-born speakers are naturals at code-switching depending on the situation. We’ve internalized it enough so that we can code-switch unconsciously. This is a language skill that most children acquire during normal linguistic development. However, multilingual learners, especially older ones, may have more difficulty with juggling all the features of their new language.

I am a native-born Korean; my L1 was Korean. However, since I grew up in America, I’ve always had trouble using Korean in accordance with Korean cultural norms.

Korean culture is highly hierarchical. The way you address an individual depends on age or the number of years worked at a particular job. You must use formal language when addressing any individual older than you, whether it be by a year, five years, or multiple decades. Your “friends” (or the people you can address as your friends) are only those born in the same year you were born in. Anyone older needs to be addressed with a politeness form. Anyone younger, you can address informally.

And the above rules may not pertain in a professional work environment, in which everyone has to address everyone else formally.

And yet again, the above rules can be fudged when people begin to get more familiar with each other.

People can get touchy if not addressed with the proper politeness forms, so sometimes I stumble over my words because I’m too worried about addressing an older person incorrectly. In contrast, there are no politeness forms in English, and we can initiate conversations with ease, regardless of age. They are very disparate languages, not only in vocabulary and sentence structures and stress patterns and tone, but in cultural usage as well. As a result, at times I feel as though I’m an outsider, despite my being raised in the Korean community.

Older learners may be afraid to make mistakes, because, unlike children who won’t be judged for their language errors, we will be. What I feel most helpful speaking Korean is having a language partner who is not judgmental, and who will correct my errors without making me feel put on the spot. I’m sure other multilingual learners face the same challenges and would appreciate an environment in which they can be comfortable, in everyday communication as well as in writing.

On Code-Switching and Teaching Hamlet

Traditionally, I think we tend to associate code-switching with the phenomenon of people from certain smaller cultures or niches in our larger society altering their use of language to communicate more effectively with the people around them, who are speaking the more common version of the language in question or another, “more commonly used” language altogether. However, depending on the scenario, any person speaking in any language can be the minority and find themselves a linguistic outsider, even if that person’s language is usually viewed as “standard” or “regular” English in other, perhaps broader scenarios or from those perspectives. Although I am a native English speaker and, indeed, one almost absurdly enamored with grammar and “proper” usage, there have been many times both inside and outside the Center for Writing Excellence that, as a consultant, educator, peer, or (frankly) person, I have had to function in situations that have made me a linguistic outsider. Indeed, it was as a result of my love of grammar that I once found myself in such a situation.

One of the most memorable and long-term instances in which I found myself a linguistic outsider and needed to code-switch was during my time student-teaching while I was in my final year as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. I was pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in Secondary English Education and was placed in a low-income, high-need high school in Maryland. As I stress above, I am a self-confessed grammar aficionado, and I know that this comes across in both my spoken and written language (one of my professors once noted that he felt I had escaped from a Jane Austen novel). However, at the high school in which I was placed, the students with whom I was working found my use of language to be overly complex, flowery, and even arrogant in an unintentionally holier-than-thou way. Try (and agonize) though I might (and did), I found myself unable to communicate effectively with the very people I so desperately wanted (and needed!) to teach. In retrospect, I realize that I initially misread the situation as an issue of respect, and misguidedly amped up the tone of my language all the more in an effort to gain some handle on the classes I was teaching.

When this first attempt failed, in a refreshed effort to reach my students, I started to listen to and adopt some of their speech patterns to convey my ideas and goals in a version of English that was more comfortable and approachable for them. With a bit of time (and a few laughs directed at me, as was no doubt wont to happen), I found that my students began to respond to me and to the literature I was teaching (Hamlet, if you can believe my luck) with more enthusiasm and confidence. Code-switching in the name of fostering the comfort and skill of the group as a whole can be an incredibly useful and often undervalued tool in the classroom and beyond it. Speaking and relating to one another with mutual respect and understanding in mind can only improve our communications and the foundations of an ever-growing society.