I don’t think joy can prance around with wild abandon without hints of despair hiding in the shadows. It’s another school year, and I can list many things to appreciate. Some are trivial, some profound, some odd, and some obvious. And they all live right next to each other like the sentences on this page. This is my segue to talk about JUXTAPOSITION.

I love juxtaposition – placing details side by side. You see it in poetry and clever sentences. You feel it in life. The biggest joys are so often adjacent to so much pain and fear. Life is exhausting and exhilarating in very specific ways. And if you put those specifics next to each other you are probably creating interesting juxtapositions.

I shared this sentence with my students the other day. It’s a gem from E.B. White that I think illustrates juxtaposition quite well (not the joy and despair so much but more of the specific, surprising and memorable):

My first move was to purchase fifteen sheep and a case of dynamite.

How great is that? The first thing that you do is buy sheep and dynamite? What are you doing? What was he getting ready for? A cow is the answer. He was getting ready for a cow. That sentence was from his essay “Getting Ready For A Cow.” The sheep needed to do some work on the pasture, and the dynamite needed to do some work on the rocks in the pasture.

I wish all our first moves were as noteworthy and surprising at first glance. And all our sentences were as interesting. I’ve stocked my classroom with what might be the English teacher equivalent of fifteen sheep and a case of dynamite. In my case that means classics like an abacus, lava lamp, slide rule, polaroid camera, floppy disk, record player, typewriter(s), globe, tape recorder, rocks, elk jawbones. You know, the usual. And of course books, tennis balls, rope, picture frames, boxes. And blank paper. Lots of blank paper.

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