Sense and Sensibility: 19th Century Sarcasm

Sense and Sensibility

by Luke Bunday, junior writing coach

If I were asked to give the sensory equivalent to the experience of reading Sense and Sensibility, I would say that it’s like sitting down at the beach to play cards, sip tea, and watch an oil tanker explode in the distance.

(The oil tanker in that analogy is actually filled with sarcasm — there is a lot of it.)

As Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility is pretty darn important in the history of literature: its commercial success paved the way for the publication of Pride and Prejudice and the rest of Austen’s brilliant works. But seeing it as just a stepping stone to other novels would be an injustice.

Sense and Sensibility tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. They respectively represent sense (i.e., reason and caution) and sensibility (i.e., emotion and spontaneity), and throughout the novel they both struggle with separation from their love interests. In fact, by the second act, these love interests are basically never present physically. Don’t get me wrong, though; Austen includes enough romantic yearning to tug out your defenseless heartstrings and play them like a violin, especially in the last thirty pages. But the thing that propels the novel forward in the meantime is her hilarious, whip-smart dialogue.

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One of the primary conflicts of the story is Elinor’s fight to maintain a collected exterior even in the face of increasingly distressing circumstances and belligerent people. And this restrained facade turns out to be the perfect vessel for delivering jabs of verbal swordplay. The understatement in Elinor’s polite retorts only adds to their sharpness; you can practically feel the heat of the burns rising off of the pages.

Marianne, too, is brilliantly characterized in ways that adds to the humor of the story. By the middle of the novel, it would be easy to write her off as melodramatic and careless, but her strong emotions end up lending to her likability. On multiple occasions, her fierce temper and earnest affection for her sister lead her to disregard social norms and say things that are both totally out of line and completely justified.

The wonderful way the two sisters provide foil for one another, with complementary but opposite approaches to dealing with frustration, is just one of the reasons why this book, which started as a simple character study, is more than the sum of its parts. The great thing about Jane Austen’s work is that it contains multitudes. Social commentary, critiques of superficiality, and thoughts on love and loyalty intermingle in Sense and Sensibility, and you come away from reading it with a feeling of fulfillment and a lot to think about.

It’s Not Easy Being Green…

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by Saahil Chadha, junior writing coach

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and although many of us don’t have any Irish ancestry (including myself), there is still plenty we can do celebrate the holiday! Here is a list of some of the things you can do tomorrow:

  • Wear green. This is probably the most common thing to do on St. Patrick’s day. Although the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, was originally associated with the color blue, this color has been more recently changed to green to reflect the lush vegetation of Ireland, and we love it! Tomorrow wear your favorite green t-shirt and green jewelry!
  • Pinch someone for not wearing green. This tradition actually doesn’t come from Ireland. In fact, it is an American addition to the holiday! The pinch is actually supposed to represent invisible leprechauns pinching those that don’t honor the beautiful nation across the Atlantic.
  • Drink a Shamrock Shake. This is by far my favorite thing to do on St. Patrick’s day. The Shamrock Shake, a McDonald’s delicacy whose arrival each year is eagerly anticipated by millions of admirers, is a minty, calorie-filled milkshake. This year, McDonald’s even ran a promotional campaign for the refreshing drink, in which they gave out special “aerodynamic” STRAWs (Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal) to the first people to get Chocolate Shamrock Shakes. If you’re going to cheat on your diet, I hope you do it with this amazing American tradition!  Here’s a link to the McDonald’s promotion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc7hmqrGyPE
  • Hang out with friends. This holiday has really become a celebration of community and joy. In the spirit of the holiday, be sure to hang out with friends and make the most of this Irish celebration.

I hope you have an amazing St. Patrick’s day, and if you have any cool plans, tell me about it in the comments section below!

The Bear Story

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by Ms. Van Pilsum, 12th grade English teacher

The bear paused over the sleeping hiker, sniffed the air, and lowered its snout…

It was the night my husband, Tom, saw his friend get kissed by a bear.

Tom and Brian were two months into their trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Somewhere in the High Sierra they bedded down for the night without bothering to set up their tent. Sick of each other’s company and smell, they were yards apart, zipped up tight in their mummy bags, with only their faces exposed to the freezing night air. That’s when Tom woke to the sound of a bear moving through camp. He watched it lumbering about and thought, “No worries. Our food’s hanging in the tree. He’ll pass on by.” Still, he kept a half-opened eye. When the bear stopped and hovered over Brian who was sound asleep, Tom thought, “What the…?” Brian woke to the sensation of a bear frantically licking his lips, lips now slimy with bear-saliva, lips that he’d coated earlier that day with cherry-flavored Chapstick. Arms pinned inside his sleeping bag, all Brian could do was scream a stream of panic-filled obscenities, scaring the bear back into the night.

When Tom tells this story at dinner parties, it’s always because I bring it up. I never tire of it. He tells it too slowly, setting the scene, building suspense, and I fight the urge to jump in, to hurry it along to its awesome end: It was the cherry Chapstick! But I’m happy to hear him tell it. I like to watch the listeners. I’m surprised all over again when they’re surprised. Roar with laughter when they roar.

What is it about a story?

I’ve come to this realization: The best times in my life involve stories—telling them, listening to them. Other exchanges seem weak or worse, in comparison. The complaints and explanations, the gossip and rants, the persuasions and, oh, dear God, the posts, especially the posts, feel like a waste of words, in comparison. What little satisfaction is had where those words are spent! But a story! When a story happens, it’s as close as we can be without touching. When we’re suspended in time together, moving through a landscape together, maybe that’s when the most important things get said in the most enjoyable way.

Even if the story is so sad it breaks your heart.

Brian dropped out of the hike a month after his close encounter. Tom finished the trail in the snow at the Canadian border. The hikers, so much older now and miles apart, must sometimes wake in their comfortable beds and remember. Grunting with the effort, they turn over to other dreams, like bears in the night.

What to do over spring break

by Sarah Hamilton, sophomore writing coach

As spring break grows nearer, the students at Minnetonka increasingly talk about their exciting vacations to tropical locations like Florida or Mexico. Unfortunately, this leaves the students who are staying home feeling a bit left out. If you are one of these students, here are a few ideas for things to do over spring break:

1. Go to Adele’s

On March 1, Adele’s Frozen Custard reopened for the spring and summer seasons. Adele’s was founded in 1988 and is located in Excelsior. It is known for their delicious desserts made with custard rather than ice cream, but they also serve meals and beverages. I personally recommend Adele’s delicious sundaes.

2. Go hammocking

The best part about hammocking is you can do it anywhere; all you need is a hammock and two trees. Hammocking is a good way to hang out with friends or relax by yourself over spring break. If you already like to hammock , try sleeping in one overnight (in a safe location). I haven’t tried it myself, but my friend has and she loved it!

3. Go mini golfing

One of my favorite places to go mini golfing is Big Stone Mini-Golf and Sculpture Garden. The course takes you through fun, creative sculptures and the difficulty level is very family friendly. I have been there multiple times and it has always been an enjoyable experience. It’s in Minnetrista, so it may be a longer ride but it is definitely worth it.

4. Try a new type of exercise

If you have the motivation, trying a new type of exercise is a great way to get in a workout over spring break. I would suggest yoga if you haven’t tried it already. CorePower Yoga lets you try one week free to see if you like it, so spring break would be a great time to experiment. If you want to get really crazy, try a trapeze lesson at the Twin Cities Trapeze Center. Even getting out your bike again and taking advantage of the nice weather would be good way to exercise over spring break.

5. Read a book

As a this is a writing blog, I, of course, also recommend reading a good book. Reading is a great pastime that allows you to escape everyday life, and I know I’m going to make the most of spring break by reading as much as possible. If you don’t know what to read, check out our blog’s past book reviews for some suggestions, such as: A Perfect Holiday Read: Louise Erdrich’s LaRoseTired of the same old same old? Read Heap House by Edward Carey, and Save Me the Waltz book review: Become immersed in the Jazz Age

These are just a few ideas, but there are many fun things you could do over spring break. Overall, make the most of your spring break, whether you’ll be relaxing in a tropical location or here in Minnesota.

Taking chances

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by Max Musselman, senior writing coach

As I sit down to write this blog post, something crosses my mind: I only have three months left of high school. Believe me, that feels really weird to say. It’s not like this is some striking fact that has snuck up on me, nor is it some scary realization – my time at Minnetonka High School is quickly running out, but I feel okay knowing that. I’m both excited for a new chapter to begin and very content with my past four years. Did my four years play out exactly how I would have imagined as a wide-eyed freshman? No – the last four years actually haven’t been anything close to what I pictured on my first day of school. Yet, in a lot of ways they have been better than I ever could have guessed. And, I owe that all to taking chances.

One of the biggest things that defined me entering high school was being a basketball player. However, one of the best decisions I made in high school was quitting basketball after my sophomore year. I’m not necessarily advocating giving up on things you are involved in, but  do be willing to take a chance and try something new. Since I quit basketball, I have become part of the Writing Center, DECA, the lacrosse team, and taken part in numerous other things throughout the school. Heck, last year I even ran for student government. The biggest thing I came away with after all these experiences is that I got to know more people than I ever would have had I not gotten involved. This high school is full of great people, many of which you likely haven’t met yet.

Time is a valuable commodity as a high schooler, so committing to something new isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. But, don’t let this hold you back from getting involved. As you become even more immersed in high school life, you will find yourself better at balancing commitments and will start to realize what you do and don’t have time for. It can be scary to leave something old behind and try something new, but don’t let this hold you back. Our high school is full of opportunities, and I always tell underclassman that I truly believe there is a place for everyone at MHS. So, take a chance and go find yours. You might be surprised by where you end up.

Merry-go-rounds aren’t just for kids

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by Priscilla Trinh, junior writing coach

In honor of Women of Color Day:

Most of us associate merry-go-rounds with a madly whirling playground fixture, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo, merry-go-rounds are a means of financial aid for the women of Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the DRC. In a recent connection, the Minnetonka Writing Center has been made aware of a program called First Step Initiative. Located in Edina, this organization grants small loans to women’s collectives which mainly consist of budding entrepreneurs, who use the money to expand their business and provide for their community. The grants are so dubbed because each week or so when the women collectives meet, every member contributes a small sum of money (often less than $1), part of which is used to make loans to other members. The rest of the dues are given to one of the members – a different member each time – who can use the lump sum to buy supplies for her farm, pay her children’s school fees or invest in a sewing machine…kind of like kids taking turns jumping onto a merry-go-round. These merry-go-rounds can then apply to First Step Initiative for a larger grant to support their collective. Over the past decade, First Step Initiative has helped lift nearly 1,000 women out of poverty, which has in turn allowed them to have a better life for themselves, their family, and their community.

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While I was listening to Ellen Wolaner – a board member of First Step Initiative – speak about their mission, I thought that her descriptions sounded awfully like the stories I heard growing up. Soon, I discovered that merry-go-rounds and other forms of it were in fact an ancient and universal means of financial support, prevalent especially in Africa and Asia. My Bà Ngoại (Vietnamese for maternal grandmother) participated in this network of financial support too when she was younger, back in Vietnam. But instead of calling it a merry-go-round, it was called chơi hụi. She was a single mom of 13 children, after my grandfather died while she was in her 40s. Bà Ngoại was a hardworking woman: she ran her own convenience store and was a part time tailor. And with her financial stability, she gave back to the hụi, always wanting others to share in success. To this day, her charitable nature persists through her donations to Buddhist temples and others back in Vietnam.

It was pretty cool and enlightening for me to make this connection – from my Bà Ngoại’s past, to First Step Initiative’s mission, and the present plight of many women in the world. Because we are living in tumultuous times, it is imperative to never underestimate the ingenuity of humans and the true grit our bodies possess. As the Writing Center continues to learn more about First Step Initiative, I encourage you to do some research of your own and see how much a little awareness can broaden your global scope. Stay tuned for more about this awesome organization and events!

Check out First Step Initiative’s website: http://firststepinitiative.org