Teaching with the Talk Show

Currently teaching Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle to my English 111 students, I needed a method which would not only involve the students, but also place them in the role of teacher.  After my morning class was practically mute while slumped in their chairs and hidden in their hoodies, I knew drastic measures needed to be taken.   Even after I passed out Hershey bars to instigate discussion (or a  sugar rush in the least) of Walls’ mother, Rose Mary, a woman guilty of nibbling on chocolate in secret while her children were starving, silence filled the room.   So, in an attempt to tempt lively discussion, I recalled reading Ellie Kemper’s “The Talk Show Circuit” lesson in Don’t Forget to Write.

Kemper, who plays Erin Hannon on NBC’s The Office and a contributor to The Onion and McSweeney’s, writes how she was once assigned an essay to write about a topic on which she was an expert.  A self-proclaimed “agonizer” over English papers, she came up with the idea of pretending she was a guest on David Letterman.

Adapting this idea for The Glass Castle, I put the students in pairs, with one being the host asking open-ended questions and the other being a character from the memoir.  What ensued far exceeded my expectations listed below:
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  1. The host must introduce his/her guest in a brief, yet accurate depiction. This includes name, profession, family, hobbies, interests, aspirations.
  2. The host must ask intriguing open-ended questions, questions which allow the audience a well-rounded view of the guest in question. Consider the entire memoir.
  3. The guest must answer questions thoroughly and accurately in full character. Consider using dialogue from the memoir.
  4. The host and guest must be able to correctly answer questions from the audience.

Engaged interviewing techniques were employed:  eye contact, listening, and spontaneity.  Case in point, a host accidentally fell from her chair (the chair was seated on a plastic mat).  The guest, an alcoholic Rex Walls proclaimed, “I thought I was the one with the drinking problem!”  In addition, students utilized props without being prompted (i.e. a water bottle disguised as a whiskey bottle and a pen disguised as a cigarette) to do so and created names for their television segments such as, “Dysfunctional Dads.”  Heads were not lowered reading verbatim from lined paper;  instead, a true exemplification of critical reading flourished throughout the room.  Who knew I had two sections of thespians simply waiting to release their Krakens?  My only regret being I wish I had the video camera rolling to capture these teachable moments.  Next semester!

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Stay Positive

P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; direction: ltr; color:Presenting her book The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls told us that she used to have a deep shame of her past life and that she tried to keep it a secret from everyone. In my honest opinion, I did not see the reason why she should have been ashamed of her past life. It was not her fault that her parents could not take better care of their children. When she said that when people would read her story she said, “I thought I’d lose everything once people found out my story.” This part made me sad because if people did not want to be her friend anymore because of the past she had, they were not the type of people she would need in her life.  

One saying I liked what she said was, “The truth is a liquid, not a solid. It takes on many shapes.” This statement is so true. The truth can be whatever you want it to be. You can form the truth, mold it, and make it your own shape. No one has to tell the whole truth, but he or she has the option of telling bits and part of the truth or all of the truth.

I loved how her favorite memory that she had as a child was when her father let her have the planet Venus as a Christmas present. Even though her father did not own Venus, the thought of letting her call it her own was so cute. She said it was a priceless treasure and that, “It is what you make of it.” Instead of being sad because her dad did not physically buy her a Christmas present, she treasured the idea that her dad was at least trying to give her something. It made me be more appreciative and have a different mindset on how I view life. It is what I make of it, and no one can say otherwise. 
 

Another lesson I learned from Jeannette Walls was when she said that when she was little she had a fear that some creature was hiding under her bed. She went and told her dad and instead of checking under the bed, they went to go look for the demon. She said that, “We should not run from our demons. Instead, harness your demon and use it to your advantage.” Her demon was her past and the shame she had from it. To face her demon, she wrote this book. This was inspiring because life should not be about running from your fears. I cannot learn from life’s lessons if I always run in the other direction. Facing my demons will only make me stronger as a person, and who knows, the outcome may be rewarding.

Jeannette Walls also told us that, “Everything in life is both a blessing and a curse. We get to choose which one we want to focus on.” It is true. We have the opportunity to either focus on the good or bad in our lives. If we have the decision to choose, why not choose to focus on the blessings? I loved how instead of her moping around and saying how her life sucked, she thought of her past as a blessing. She thought that she was the lucky one because her parents never made fun of their children’s dreams. Instead of focusing on the negative in her parents, she thought of the good in them and accepted them as who they were. Honestly, I am amazed that someone like her can be so accepting. Personally, I would have hated my parents and would have never wanted anything to do with them. I would have been so upset that they could not take care of me and that I could have had a better childhood. But this made me realize that we cannot change people. We cannot mold them into what we want them to be. Merely we just have to accept them for whom they are and focus on the positives in them. 
 

Lastly, I loved how she said that, “Secrets are like vampires. They suck the life out of you, but once you release them, poof, they are gone.” I loved this analogy because it was so vivid and so true. Secrets drain us. They bring us down. Once you tell your secrets, it is like a heavy weight has been lifted off your chest. Secrets do bring us down, and they are not healthy for us. 
 

All in all, I loved all her analogies, and she made me realize that someone that has had a negative childhood like her can still go far. It gave me this burst of energy to go out and do what I dream of doing. She was most definitely an inspiring speaker and writer.
By Annarose Dale
I am a freshman at McKendree University majoring in Business Administration and possibly Accounting.


Jeannette Walls Visits The Hett

I had the privilege of attending a speaker series at McKendree University last week.  The speaker was Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses and The Silver Star.  

Ms Walls gave a brief summary of her life, for the few (if any) in the audience that had not read The Glass Castle.  It had been a while since I had read the book. and she mentioned facts I had forgotten about – setting herself on fire while cooking a hot dog on the stove at age three, her father whisking her out of the hospital in the middle of the night, and while riding in a taxi in New York City realizing the homeless person digging through the trash was in fact her mother.  

Ms Walls had a difficult childhood to say the least, and her father was a huge part of the dysfunction. He drank to the point of not having food to for his children, yet Ms Walls came away from her childhood with an ability to dream and hope.  This she said came from her father.  Throughout her childhood, her father promised to build his family a glass castle, their dream house, when he finally made his fortune.  He taught his children to dream and the author felt that this shaped her and her siblings to be successful (the three oldest siblings anyway).  

She said that her fantasy when writing The Glass Castle was that a rich girl would read it and understand where the poor kids in class were coming from and then she hoped that a poor child would read it and realize there is hope, and that dreams are important to be successful.  Both fantasies have come true, as teenagers have given testimony Ms Walls changed their lives.

The audience was able to ask questions to Ms Walls.  A few things we learned:  her mother is now living with the author on her ranch, caring for the family’s horses.  She is still as eccentric as ever, and no one expects that to change.  The land in Texas is still in their possession.  There may be natural gas or oil but most likely it is just dry dirt like most of west Texas.  There will be a movie made, most likely by Lion’s Gate.      

Ms Walls is such an inspiring person, with an exceptionally inspiring story to tell.  She is down-to-earth and open about her past, and unashamed of it, although it has taken her years to reach that point.  Her speech and her story make me feel blessed with what I have and more aware and sympathetic to those that come from a different way of life.
 
By Karen MacMillan