Having discussed the theme of carpe diem ("seize the day") in literature with my middle school and high school students, they recognized this concept immediately in this poem I found posted on Facebook, "Dust If You Must," by Rose Milligan. The full poem appears below.
So after reading and discussing the poem--and giggling with morbid enthusiasm over the final stanza, which some didn't fully understand at first--I asked them to use the poem as the basis for a story with the "seize the day" theme. (In case you can't read the last stanza clearly, it reads: "Dust if you must, but bear in mind,/ Old age will come and it's not kind,/ And when you go--and go you must,/ You, yourself, will make more dust.") I created teams to collaborate and suggested that they write about an obsessively clean or orderly person who learns what really matters in life from another person, who quotes this poem to her/him. To my surprise, a couple of them nodded, saying, "Oh, you mean an OCD person, right?" Either these preteens are psychologists-in-training or authors-in-the-making. I vote for the latter, especially after reading this story that evolved from a collaboration by K.E. and S.V., two middle-school girls.
"Wanna go to the movie, Anna?" Roxy asked, though she already knew the answer.
"What? Oh, no. I'm starting on the social studies project," Anna answered, barely looking up from the piles of papers put in neat stacks on her desk.
"Um…you mean the one that's going to be assigned in a week?" Roxy raised her eyebrow.
"I know, I know. I should have started it LAST week," Anna muttered, ashamed.
"We didn't even know it existed until today!" Roxy grumbled. "Cut loose would you? Carpe diem!"
Anna sighed, not wanting to step on Roxy's leather-booted toes. Anna had adjusted to Roxy's obnoxious, oh-god-let's-do-this attitude, but it still interfered with her "snobby, perfectionist life." As Anna contemplated the similarities between Japan and China, Roxy rolled her eyes. "Come on, Anna! You don't have to start right now!"
"Yes I do! Do you know how embarrassing it would be if I got a 100%?" Anna shuddered, just thinking about it. Roxy sighed. She had heard enough about Anna's "above hundred percentage."
"Fine, Anna. Call me when you decide to stop throwing away your life. I have one word for you. YOLO!" Roxy muttered. As she was walking away, Anna stopped her.
"Stop! You're about to step on the place I'm about to put my backpack on. You don't want me having a dirty backpack?"
"Oh my god, you're so pretentious!" Roxy stormed out. Anna didn't know where she was going, though, since class was just about to start.
Roxy saw the teacher walk in and she stormed back towards Anna and sat down next to her. Roxy slumped down in her seat.
A few moments later while the teacher was giving a lesson about geometric shapes, a note landed on Anna's desk from the direction of Roxy.
"Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it's not kind. --Rose Milligan"
"What's that supposed to mean? I'm not even dusting right now! Dusting's from 2:00 to 3:00. She should know this! And I'm not that old! I'm only 13. Hmph. I'm not wasting my life. Just because I never do extracurricular activities, or have fun, or…"
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