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Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s “Writing Your Way to Happiness” & “Creating a New Mission Statement”
Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s
Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times articles, “Writing Your Way to Happiness” and “Creating a New Mission Statement,” are a pair of terrific explorations into the power of personal/expressive writing to help you do everything from gain a more positive outlook to boosting your memory to exercising more to getting better grades. Even Parker-Pope acknowledges that this might sound a bit like pie in the sky self-help nonsense, but it’s grounded in some pretty impressive research.
Let’s start things off with, “Writing Your Way to Happiness”—a fascinating piece with deeply encouraging conclusions. Here’s the long and the short of it: If you’re willing to take the time—say, maybe 15 minutes a day—to keep a journal or diary where you actively focus on and (re)edit your own personal narrative, you will not only (hopefully) find that your positivity and personal responsibility improves on the page, but also throughout the rest of your life.
I know this is certainly true for myself. Whenever I’m stuck on a problem or a negative streak or begin feeling overwhelmed, I almost always find that spending time writing (venting) in my diary is just what I need to pull me out of my funk.
According to Parker-Pope,
Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
The results of these studies—hailing from institutions like Duke and Stanford—show both short-term and long-term benefits to expressive writing. Parker-Pope illustrates several examples of these positive results throughout her article, but I’ll just offer one of them here as illustration:
…researchers focused on African-American students who were struggling to adjust to college. Some of the students were asked to create an essay or video talking about college life to be seen by future students. The study found that the students who took part in the writing or video received better grades in the ensuing months than those in a control group.
The important part here, as this example suggests, is not necessarily the artistic medium—it could be writing, video, or perhaps even other art forms—but the focus on self-reflection and the crafting (and editing) of an honest personal narrative.
And this leads nicely into Parker-Pope’s other recent (slightly older) article, “Creating a New Mission Statement.” “By creating a mission statement,” Parker-Pope explains—by engaging in thoughtful sessions of expressive writing—“people can begin to identify the underlying causes of [their] behaviors, as well as what truly motivates them to make changes.”
So, where to begin? If free-form brainstorming and diary-writing intimidates you or simply isn’t your “thing”—never fear! Parker-Pope is ready and comin’ to your rescue, offering the following questions as a solid starting place:
- How do you want to be remembered?
- How do you want people to describe you?
- Who do you want to be?
- Who or what matters most to you?
- What are your deepest values?
- How would you define success in your life?
- What makes your life really worth living?
Then, she explains, once you’ve got a few of these questions answered (or at least well-brainstormed and doodled out), take what you’ve got and try to mold it into a more cohesive mission statement or personal narrative. This isn’t something you’ll ever need to share with anyone else, but still, it should be something honest, full, and thoughtful. Rather than write about how you want to lose weight, Parker-Pope suggests, trying focusing instead “on a set of guiding principles that capture how you want to live your life.”
To get started making substantive changes in life, sometimes all it takes is dedicating the time to substantive self-reflection.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. “Dr. Seuss”) is an author whose works continue to inspire and capture the imaginations of millions of children today. Dr. Seuss was truly a fellow who knew how to reach people of all ages and how to communicate deeply complex issues in a way that basically anyone can understand.
And, while it might seem that Dr. Seuss’ books are really only tools for younger readers, elements of his style and works can be used for the benefit of students of all ages—including high school and even college students.
Here are just a few examples of how:
- Have students (middle school) reread one of Dr. Seuss’ books (maybe have each student focus on a different book), such as The Lorax. Then have them discuss/write a paper on what social issue(s) Seuss has distilled into said story and how he stylistically did so—what components of the issue did he focus on, leave out, oversimplify, explain most artfully, etc.? Then have your students take their Seuss book and their analysis thereof, and use these to write their own such story regarding the topic at hand (whether it be the same topic from their Seuss book or another topic from class). Through these activities, students are not only engaging with a funny/goofy text, but they’re actively engaging with/analyzing the techniques of different writing styles as well as learning how to distill complex problems/issues into simple terms and, perhaps most importantly, learning how to then communicate/teach/discuss these problems with others.
- For students learning about other religions or cultures, you could have them read texts like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Following this reading, have them analyze what cultural clashes appear to be taking place as well as what cultural/religious festivities/ideas are being celebrated, brought into question, critiqued, and so forth. Then have your students select another cultural or religious event/holiday/celebration/ritual (such as one they might be learning about in class), and have them attempt to discuss/analyze the chosen event/ritual by writing their own such Seussical work regarding the event/ritual. This will help them begin thinking more critically about what they’re learning, how to communicate it with others, and help them to better realize all the rich nuances of different cultural/religious events/rituals.
- For education students or students interested in teaching, perhaps have them take one of Seuss’ books such as Horton Hears a Who!, and analyze why Dr. Seuss made each of the choices he did throughout the text given the particular lesson/moral he had in mind. Why did he choose an elephant as the protagonist? Why a bird as the flighty (pun intended), unfeeling mother? Why does the bird’s egg hatch out a half-elephant? What problems/ideas are these choices meant to demystify for children/people and what problems/ideas do these choices themselves create? After completing said analysis, have your students take whatever problem/lesson they have at hand, and have them turn it into a Seuss-styled book aimed at illuminating certain issues for readers while also encouraging/raising new questions for them. This can help students not only bolster their reading/critical analysis skills, but also help them to see that sometimes creating space for more questions can be just as useful (if not more so) for encouraging meaningful conversation/learning than can stating facts or theories outright.
- For history students or literature students, you could have them analyze various of Dr. Seuss’ books in relation to the author and his biography/background. This has the potential to open meaningful discussion regarding the importance of discussing or not discussing texts in relation to their authors as well as discussion regarding the importance of being culturally and historically literate before approaching texts.
- For students of marketing, activism, or media, it could be fun and fascinating to have them analyze how various of Dr. Seuss’ works have been used in recent years to market different products and ideas outside the books themselves (such as using the title character from The Lorax to pitch and promote various supposedly “green” products). This will not only enable students to meaningfully engage with vital contemporary issues, but will also give them an opportunity to discuss how advertising and media can warp, muddy, or clarify issues, messages, and causes for either better or worse.
- For film and literature students, it could be beneficial to open discussions of book and film adaptations by looking at those of Dr. Seuss’ works that have been adapted to film and how successful or unsuccessful those adaptations were (in all the possible meanings of the word “successful”).
So, as you can see, Dr. Seuss’ works continue to offer a cornucopia of learning possibilities for students of all ages, interests, and backgrounds.
- At Seussville.com you can find all manner of books, lesson plans, and classroom activities based on Dr. Seuss’ works.
- Mother Jones: The Lorax: Blowing Smogulous Smoke
- BrainPop: Dr. Seuss Activities for Kids
- Seventh Generation: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax on our Diapers? What’s Going On?
- Random House Kids
- PBS Kids
- IHOP Invites America to Plant Three Million Trees in Celebration of the Release of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s 3D-CG Feature, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
- The Guardian: Why don’t Dr Seuss’s books make good movies?
So, you’re looking at yourself and your kids/siblings/friends and you begin to wonder: Why don’t I/we/they read more? Why don’t I enjoy it? Why do I get tired when I start reading/try to get them to read?
The truth is, reading is changing but not many people are talking about it. With the advents of the Internet, speed reading, and standardized exams, classical methods and forms of reading changed dramatically without ever transforming the way we talk about reading (which is, if you weren’t aware, almost entirely novel-based).
This cultural focus on the Novel as the be-all and end-all of reading can be one of the first and largest obstacles to actually getting yourself and other kids/students/friends interested in reading and writing. This isn’t to say that novel reading is without merit or importance – reading novels is terrific and vital to cultural literacy! And there are many novels that are taught in schools precisely because of what an immense cultural impact they’ve had and continue to have upon us today. But this doesn’t mean that the novel should ever be thought of as The Best form of reading and writing – it’s just one form among many, and it’s not the best for everyone.
The truth is, reading a novel isn’t somehow magically better or more challenging than reading a short story, flash fiction, news story, novelette, novella, or long-form magazine article (such as those found in Orion Magazine, The New Yorker, and/or Harper’s Magazine). In fact, novels can often be fluffier and more poorly written than many of these other, shorter forms since longer forms of writing allow for greater authorial indulgence and digression. Moreover, novels are the form that most major publishers are most interested in, and so many writers often feel pressured to write in the novel format regardless of whether or not it’s their preference or forte.
So, when you’re trying to get yourself or others more interested in reading, here are a few introductory Don’ts:
- Don’t punish yourself. Reading is a skill, that’s why it’s taught in schools. So, if you aren’t used to reading regularly, it’s normal for the skill of reading to be rustier and to feel more like work. Just make sure you don’t let that fact become an excuse to not read at all.
- Don’t box yourself in prematurely. Don’t assume that you love reading novels or that novels are somehow inherently better than other forms of writing just because they aren’t classically taught in schools. What’s important for school and college is reading comprehension and critical analysis – skills you can certainly develop by reading shorter form works just as surely as you can by reading novels.
- Don’t label other pastimes as somehow bad or useless in comparison to reading. It’s moderation that’s important. Not all videogame playing is bad, not all movie-going or television-watching is bad, so don’t think or talk about these activities as if they somehow translated into anti-reading. In fact, the only thing that’s anti-reading is using these and every other component of life as an excuse to avoid reading.
And here are a few important Dos:
- Do make specific times and schedules for reading if you don’t already read regularly (and, hint-hint, don’t make this time/schedule a right-before-bed activity).
- Do make time to read for at least an hour a day. This will not only help you develop a healthy habit but will also force you to look for new things to read more regularly, helping you discover more quickly just how vast the Wild World of Reading truly is.
- Do read as many different things as possible and always try new types of reading and writers, even if they seem like things that wouldn’t interest you at first. After all, you never know when one talented writer out there is going to be able to line up all the right stars for you to make Economics an interesting read, or Astronomy or Mathematics or Romance or Westerns or World History.
- Do read with your friends and/or children whenever possible. Parents, sometimes all it takes to instill a love of reading in your elementary school kids is to sit down with them every night and read a chapter together from one of many beloved classics like Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
- Do give every novel-length book (fiction or nonfiction) at least 100 pages before you decide to finish it or set it down. For some books, this’ll get you most of the way through to the end. For most others, this will give you at least enough information to know the main characters, ideas, plot, and style — it’ll let you know, in other words, whether or not the book has earned more of your time as well as give you the satisfaction of being able to really choose when a book is right for you. You’re not only a reader then, but a connoisseur! And one who can speak intelligently with others on books, articles, and novels that you like and dislike! After all, being able to say specifically why it is you don’t like a certain book or author can be just as important and useful as being able to say why and what you do like about others. (What’s more, for you high school and college students out there with monster-long reading assignments, reading at least 100 pages of any text will also give you a good sense of the author’s thesis and argument. Of course, for college-level nonfiction, it’s often most useful to read the introduction and conclusion chapters first.)
Another nice perk to exploring new types and styles of reading? There’s a great wide world of literary magazines on the Internet today that provide terrific writing from new and established authors that is 100% free of charge! Try finding a novel for that price 🙂 (of course, if you visit your local library, you’ll find shelf upon shelf of 100% free of charge novels — what a wonderful world we’re living in!)
Just to get you started, here are a few sources you might not have heard of or might not have considered before as sources of interesting, fun, enlightening, and (quite often) FREE reads:
You may have heard of Alice Munro as she just earned the Nobel Prize in Literature for her amazing work with the difficult art of the Short Story. A Canadian author, she’s got a mad talent for creating thoughtful, challenging worlds, characters, and stories in a brief matter of 30-50 pages. Her stories will have you laughing, weeping, and on the edge of your seat all before you ever realize that she’s shown you something truly wild and beautiful about the human experience.
“The Gettysburg Review, published by Gettysburg College, is recognized as one of the country’s premier literary journals. Since its debut in 1988, work by such luminaries as E. L. Doctorow, Rita Dove, James Tate, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Wilbur, and Donald Hall has appeared alongside that of emerging artists such as Christopher Coake, Holly Goddard Jones, Kyle Minor, Ginger Strand, and Charles Yu, whose short-story collection, Third-Class Superhero, was selected recently by Richard Powers as one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘Five Under 35.’”
“Founded by Richard Chizmar in 1988, Cemetery Dance Publications is widely-considered the world’s leading specialty press publisher of horror and dark suspense. … Our flagship magazine, Cemetery Dance, has won every major genre award and is healthier than ever — with a higher newsstand and subscriber circulation than ever before, ever-increasing advertiser support, and a continuing reputation for superb content and design. We’re well-known for publishing the biggest and the brightest stars in the genre, often before they’re discovered by the big New York publishers.”
“Mission: The first issue of the Orion Nature Quarterly was published in June 1982, and in its editorial George Russell, the publication’s first Editor-in-Chief, boldly stated Orion’s values:
‘It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.’
In the intervening thirty years, Orion has become a focal point in an extraordinarily rich period of nature writing, and it has remained true to that core conviction, though the magazine has evolved into a bimonthly and the range of its interests has broadened to include not only environmental but cultural concerns.
[Today,] Orion’s mission is to inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force for healing nature and community.”
“Astounding/Analog (often all-encompassingly just called ASF) is often considered the magazine where science fiction grew up. When editor John W. Campbell took over in 1938, he brought to Astounding an unprecedented insistence on placing equal emphasis on both words of ‘science fiction.’ No longer satisfied with gadgetry and action per se, Campbell demanded that his writers try to think out how science and technology might really develop in the future-and, most importantly, how those changes would affect the lives of human beings. The new sophistication soon made Astounding the undisputed leader in the field, and Campbell began to think the old title was too ‘sensational’ to reflect what the magazine was actually doing. He chose ‘Analog’ in part because he thought of each story as an ‘analog simulation’ of a possible future, and in part because of the close analogy he saw between the imagined science in the stories he was publishing and the real science being done in laboratories around the world.
Real science and technology have always been important in ASF, not only as the foundation of its fiction, but as the subject of articles about real research with big implications for the future. One story published during World War II described an atomic bomb so accurately-before Hiroshima-that FBI agents visited John Campbell to find out where the leak was. (There was no leak-just attentive, forward-thinking writers!) More recently, many readers first encountered the startling potentials of nanotechnology in these pages, in both fact articles (including one by nanotech pioneer K. Eric Drexler) and fiction.”
“The Ellery Queen tradition of literary excellence and top-notch crime and detective writing continues today. The Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature calls Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine ‘the finest periodical of its kind.’ Thanks to its many gifted contributors, EQMM remains where it has always been, on the cutting edge of crime and mystery fiction, offering readers the very best stories being written in the genre anywhere in the world.”
“Danse Macabre, an Online Literary Magazine, is committed to expanding the creative landscape of the literary web. Our central editorial criterion is the overall imaginative effort you deploy to transcend prevailing (suburban, academic) orthodoxies. The narrative contours of magical realism, [and] world poetry…are especially appreciated.”
“ellipsis… literature and art is a journal published each April by the students of Westminster College in Salt Lake City (since 1965). Contributors are paid for their work and eligible for a prize judged this year by Andrea Hollander. We publish well known writers, up-and-coming writers, and never-before-published writers.”
“Nightmare is an online horror and dark fantasy magazine. In Nightmare’s pages, you will find all kinds of horror fiction, from zombie stories and haunted house tales, to visceral psychological horror.
Edited by bestselling anthologist John Joseph Adams, every month Nightmare brings you a mix of originals and reprints, and featuring a variety of authors—from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven’t heard of yet. When you read Nightmare, it is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going.”
“Every month, Flash Fiction Online is proud to publish what we think is some of the best darn flash fiction (500 to 1000 words) there is. Each issue includes three original stories by both new and seasoned authors. Although many on our staff have a fondness for the speculative, we enjoy and select fiction in any genre. Founded by Jake Freivald in 2007, Flash Fiction Online has been published by Anna Yeats since September 2013.”
“Because we’re journalists, we’re impatient. We want to gather the news as quickly as possible, using any technological resource available. And when we’re as sure of the story as we can be, we want to share it immediately, in whatever way reaches the most people. The Internet didn’t plant these ideas in our heads. We’ve always been this way.”
“Harper’s Magazine, the oldest general-interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation, through long-form narrative journalism and essays, and such celebrated features as the iconic Harper’s Index. With its emphasis on fine writing and original thought Harper’s provides readers with a unique perspective on politics, society, the environment, and culture. The essays, fiction, and reporting in the magazine’s pages come from promising new voices, as well as some of the most distinguished names in American letters, among them Annie Dillard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Gaitskill, David Foster Wallace, and Tom Wolfe.”
“Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, a PEN/Hemingway Citation for Best First Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and performer. He has published 24 books including What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, poetry, from Hanging Loose Press; Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, from Grove Press; and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel from Little Brown Books for Children.
A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Alexie has been an urban Indian since 1994 and lives in Seattle with his family.”
“Mission: The American Poetry Review is dedicated to reaching a worldwide audience with a diverse array of the best contemporary poetry and literary prose. APR also aims to expand the audience interested in poetry and literature, and to provide authors, especially poets, with a far-reaching forum in which to present their work.”
Still hungry for more? Check out this gigantic (though hardly comprehensive list) of literary and poetry magazines: