carpe diem project summer 2011

When I taught high school, I would give my English Lit seniors the Carpe Diem Project near the end of the year. Right after teaching the 2nd generation Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats), I would introduce a project that provided them with a list of ideas of “Romantic” things to do (write poetry, run down the beach, watch the sunrise, write a note of encouragement, play at a park, gather friends for a picnic, read a book remembered from childhood, dress up and go to a fast food restaurant, dance in the rain, etc., etc. Some activities were spontaneous and quick; some took planning and time. They were categorized and students had to choose from each category). They had to do them, find a way to verify them, and write about them. They had to write about each activity and they had to write a culminating essay about the experience linking it back at least peripherally to the Romantic poets. I did not develop the project–that kind of creativity is not my strength–but my friend did (a year or two after Dead Poets Society premiered), and I refined it and added things like the culminating essay (that’s my kind of strength). (Me being me, I also added many many warnings about not doing anything “illegal, immoral, against school rules, or stupid.” Other teachers gave the project and occasionally there would be problems and the administration would threaten to not allow it, but my students never did. They could also make up activities, but I had to approve them.) I don’t know how many students remember that the project had anything to do with the Romantic poets–though I hope they do–but they have a scrapbook of lasting memories with friends from their senior year of high school. I’m pretty okay with that. I would time the project to end just after prom, so many of them combined a bunch of activities into an extra-memorable prom weekend. I always thought I should do the project along with the students, but somehow I never did.

I’m reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I’m near the end, and I’ll write more about it later (I think), but chapter 30 is titled “Great Stories Have Memorable Scenes” and Miller talks about stopping the car on a road trip with friends and running through the field, about a friend dressing up in a suit and surprising his daughter who was trying on her prom dress, about Bob and his family (chapter 24 “Meeting Bob”) jumping off the dock fully clothed. These are all moments that make life memorable, that make it different than just living through day after day after day in the same old way. The first pages of the chapter totally reminded me of the Carpe Diem Project and I thought, you know, I want to make this summer memorable. I want to do that. I want to be able to look back and remember and enjoy.

So here it is: My Carpe Diem Project complete with Preschooler and Toddler in Tow.

I’m not making any promises, but I want to try to take advantage of a summer without responsibilities. I’d like to include Computerguy when it’s possible, but I’m not going to let his working hold us back, either. Sometimes it will be small things (yesterday we had a picnic in the park between open swimming and swimming lessons–that kind of thing) and maybe it will be bigger things, too (I’ve been promising my brother and sister-in-law we’d come visit forever. Roadtrip time). With lots of friends who are schoolteachers, hopefully we can include other people in the project, too. I’ll try to take lots of pictures and document and reflect, here, on the blog.

So. There it is. I’ve written it down, put it on the interwebz. Now I just have to do it.

Carpe Diem!

I’m not going to go fight in a War of Independence in Greece, get a fever, and die. I’m not that ambitious. These are just small moments. I’m starting a list. I would welcome suggestions. Maybe I’ll make a Carpe Diem List page.

Picnic in the park
Take dinner outside
Go to a drive-in movie
Contact a FB friend for a playdate
Go to the beach. A lot. With various people.
Go to concerts/plays/films in parks
Shakespeare by the Sea
Surprise Computerguy with Evening Plans
Take the metrolink somewhere
Go to the zoo
Have a tea party

It seems like there should be a reaching out component to this, something to make it not just memorable but meaningful, a better story. I’ll have to think about that.

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6 Responses to carpe diem project summer 2011

  1. quackademic says:

    This is SO cool! I love the assignment you gave your students (and am thinking about how to borrow it!), but I really love that you are doing this for yourself, now, where you are in your life. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts about carpe diem as Hubby gets ready to deploy…as for the reaching out part, maybe you could invite someone to do each of these things with you? Sometimes the smallest gestures have the most meaning! Can’t way to follow your adventures in carpe diem-ing! 🙂

  2. Kristin Berkey-Abbott says:

    I, too, LOVE this idea. A carpe diem summer–which hopefully could expand to the other seasons of life.

    And words cannot express how much I admire your assignment for your students. A great way to make the literature come alive. And I love that they have to write about it. Wow.

  3. Kristin Berkey-Abbott says:

    I continued to think about your post, and today, I wrote my own carpe diem post: http://kristinberkey-abbott.blogspot.com/2011/06/carpe-diem-summer-and-beyond.html.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Love this! Came here from Kristin’s list, which I also love!

    If I ever teach again, I will adapt your Carpe Diem Project for the students at hand, to be seized! With enthusiasm!

  5. Kimberly (Kelly) Scott says:

    I remember (and still have) my Carpe Diem project. I loved the unit on poetry and had a blast with the project. My husband and I work with the high school students at our church and I was looking for the list from the Carpe Diem project to give to the seniors this year so they too can have memories with friends before leaving for college.

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