Category Archives: literature

Day 31: Squander

verb – allow (an opportunity) to pass or be lost

Thirty-one days of posts. Thirty-one days of word gift related information. And thirty-one chances to tell someone how much we love them in unique ways. Did you take that chance or did you squander it?

Our days are spent in a whirlwind of activity. We constantly look forward to a day when life will slow down, the kids will take care of themselves, our jobs will be less demanding, our commitments less rigorous. In a week, or a month, or maybe next year, life will slow down, and we’ll have time to accomplish those meaningful things we often dream about. Let’s be honest, those days aren’t coming. Life will always be busy and occupied with the next obligation until time is gone.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the play by Thornton Wilder entitled Our Town.  It is at the top of my list for life-changing and powerful literature. The final monologue by the main character Emily is given from her gravesite (she dies in childbirth in the play.) She’s gone back to her home town for one last look. Take a moment and read the following lines from the play. (If you’d like to watch it, check out this clip.)

Excerpt from Thorton’s Our Town

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on.It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?

Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

Emily: I’m ready to go back.

So many profound lines in such a short monologue, but such a perfect ending to understanding why word gifts are so important. Giving a word gift allows us to “really look at one another,” and understand that “it all goes so fast.” The simple act of writing a word gift allows us to realize how wonderful life is (and the people in it) “every, every minute.” Even better, the word gift recipient understands that we really see them and value them.  And as for the writer we find ourselves among the saints and poets if only for a moment.


Day 11: Borrow

verb –take (a word, idea, or method) from another source and use it in one’s own language or work

“When you can’t do it on your own, borrow an idea from someone who could.” – A.C. Hall

Those words were given often during my teaching years, especially in the midst of lessons involving poetry.  I can hear the groans now: “Ugh, poetry, like gag me with a spoon!” (That’s a reference for all of your who were high school students in the 80’s.  I’m sure today’s complaint about poetry would be something much more civilized like “OMG, I h8 poetry!”)

Whether you are a lover or a hater of the poem world, you’ll find today’s word gift to be a helpful way to get creative. “Copy Change Poetry” is a method I’ve used often both in and out of the classroom. Before we dive into explanations let me show you an example:

an Original Poem
by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Now here’s a copy change poem written by a talented (and comedic) former student.

a Copy Change poem inspired by Langston Hughes
by Former Student

Hold fast to snails
For if snails die
They will be cooked
For a young French guy

Hold fast to snails
For when snails go
Life is a nasty place
Serving escargot

Pretty clever isn’t it?  As far as I know this student did not go on to become a world famous poet, but he could write a pretty clever word gift if he needed too. So on with the directions.

  • Find a poem that you enjoy and understand.
  • Underline important words in the poem.
  • Think of a poem topic (obviously, this would be your word gift receiver)
  • Make a list of key words related to your topic
  • Now, take out the underlined words from the original poem and replace them with your well-chosen words (some of them will come from your list)
  • Give it a title and under it write: “Inspired by __________ (fill in the original poet’s name)
  • Type up or write out and present to that special someone

The poem above (“Dreams”) might not work so well to copy change into a poem for a person.  However, I have found three that might.

She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
How Do I love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Time to Talk by Robert Frost

Here’s a quick Copy Change poem I wrote for a friend using Byron’s as a guide. (Note that I only used the first 6 lines of the poem.  There’s no need to use every stanza. Notice that I underlined the words that I was hoping to change.

excerpt from She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
She Dances in Friendship
by Alicia Hall
inspired by Lord Byron’s She Walks in Beauty”
She dances in friendship like the sun
of warming rays and summer fun
And all that’s best of comfort and joy
Meet in her hug and her smile
Thus shined on a new found friend
Whose loneliness she kindly mends.
If you want to keep it sweet and simple, you can always use the Sandburg poem above and focus on a positive character trait of a friend. Remember that whatever poem you “borrow” be sure to give the poet credit under your title. After all, they are the professionals and deserve the honor!
If you had to borrow a phrase to sum up a friend, spouse, child or special someone in one word, what would it be?