One of the benefits of having a dad who’s an English major is you have someone to help you with writing assignments during the school year.
One of the unfortunate side effects of having a dad who’s an English major is he comes up with whacked-out summer writing projects for you.
Like good parents everywhere, my wife and I usually ask our kids — OK, force our kids — to keep summer journals. Jotting down thoughts about vacations, church camp, books, the garden, family reunions and all, is a way to memorialize the June, July and August days that seem to fly by. And it helps shake the rust off the language skills they’ve honed during the school year.
The difficulty is that on some days, writing a paragraph or even a few sentences on a wide-open page can be an intimidating task. Writing is hard work, even for those who do it for a living. Nothing in life is more accurately named than the computer cursor — especially when it’s blinking at you expectantly and unamused from the top of a blank screen.
I take heart from Thomas Jefferson who once noted he spent part of every day “drudging at the writing table.” If writing was sometimes a chore for the author of the Declaration of Independence, the rest of us shouldn’t feel so bad.
So what would be better than slogging through a summer journal entry? How about writing a poem?
Right now, you’re probably experiencing the same gagging reflex my kids did.
This summer, we have been writing daily haikus. A haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, which our kids learned about in school, that follows a very simple pattern. A haiku is just three lines and 17 syllables long. The first line contains five syllables, the second has seven, and the last line has five.
The beauty of a haiku is its brevity. A haiku seems doable — even fun, like a word puzzle — compared to writing a paragraph or filling a journal page on the day’s events.
Our children’s poems range from literal narratives of what they did that day to expressions of feelings. We’ve taken the journals along with us on vacation, on camping trips, or on a simple jaunt to the park or grocery. They often draw illustrations to accompany their haikus.
Here’s one our daughter wrote after a little mishap on a family camping trip:
State park at Kelley’s,
Hair got caught in tent zipper.
Now we are camping.
Our son wrote about his favorite thing to do at summer camp:
Swimming and swimming
And swimming and swimming and
Swimming and swimming.
To make their haiku journals feel truly their own, we made them from scrap materials found in the shed. Our girl made her notebook covers from two pieces of plywood. Our son made his from the metal of an old cookie sheet — appropriate for a boy who always has food on the brain.
We cut paper to fit, drilled holes for a pair of ring binders from Mom’s scrapbooking supplies, and we were in business.
Our daughter loves to while away summer days on her rope swing. It’s where she goes to think, like Winnie-the-Pooh’s Thoughtful Place. Seeing her from a distance always makes me happy and wistful at the same time.
If I were keeping a summer haiku journal, I might write:
The little girl swings
Not unlike a pendulum.
Time goes by so fast.
Our son has reached the pre-teenage point of boyhood, where we have instructed him simply to inform us when he is NOT hungry. This never seems to happen:
His head in the fridge,
The 12-year-old boy calls out:
Who ate all the cheese?
On life at our house last week:
4-H projects due!
Why do we procrastinate?
Dibs on Mom’s glue gun.
What seems to happen to me on a regular basis:
Dad gets up at night,
Plastic stabs his tender foot.
Curse you, Lego man.
Or, a commentary on life in Medina County:
Beautiful farm field,
Where the crops that feed us grow.
Let’s put a mall there.
You get the idea.
So here’s your writing assignment from an English-major dad: Write a haiku or two describing your life this summer. Make them funny or poignant. Make them as specific to Medina County as you can.
If there’s a good response, I’ll print a few in a future column. As first prize for the best local haiku — as determined by a judge and jury of me and my kids — I’ll award a copy of my book of columns, “How to Elevate a Cow.” Be sure to include your name, age and contact information.
E-mail your haikus to email@example.com or support your local letter carrier by sending them to Summer Haiku, c/o John Gladden, The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, OH 44256.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.