Daily Themes!

“Oh, you really should take it. Really. I’d recommend taking it as a sophomore or a junior.”

I had never had the singular importance of something impressed upon me by so many people unexpectedly. The recent Yale graduate sitting next to me on the plane. My friends. Acquaintances. Classmates. Guest speakers. Professors. Nebulously, in the air, whispered in my ears by the lingering ghosts of Yale alumni. Constantly, in both distinct memories and vague recollections, I recalled Yalies telling me to take one class: Daily Themes. As an aspiring English major and someone who (only sometimes!) buckles under peer pressure to do something really cool, I decided to take the (literally) storied class this spring.

First taught in 1907, Daily Themes is thought to be Yale’s oldest, continuously taught, longest running class. I realized, when I sat down for the first lecture, that generations of Yalies had taken it before me —  and the impact had obviously been indelible.

Daily Themes is exactly what it sounds like: every weekday, you write around 300 words in response to a prompt, taking form in Mini-Choose Your Own Adventure stories to family narratives from World War II to vivid and poetic dreamscapes. If you can describe it in under a few hundred words and fit it on one page, you can write about it. Truly. You’d think that you couldn’t write about the climate death of the planet and Rihanna’s next album in the same story — but you can! And for class credit!

The first prompt of each week is always about a “happening,” or a wild, intriguingly strange event that anyone taking the class can suggest our professor does (or allows to happen). Did he suddenly begin smoking from a pipe (think the old-timey Professor kind, or sailor’s, like Popeye)? Did he get egged mid-lecture? Place a piece of raw cauliflower, broccoli, or carrot on our seats before class (we had the option to eat our gifted veggie, but most of us chose to compost them)? Host a short frisbee tournament during class? Anything can (and will) happen at some unannounced and frightening point in class. 

Highly scientific visual representations of just how wild Daily Themes is!

LC 102, where class is held every Monday, and Book Trader Café, where I meet my writing tutor! (Picture Credits to the Yale Alumni Magazine and The Shops at Yale, respectively, and credits to the Alumni Magazine for the cover photo as well)

My friends and I always show up to class with a sort of terrified fascination — unsure of what will happen mid-lecture, but excited to write about it. You might think that there’s a small and finite number of ways to write about cauliflower, for example (you’re wrong). But, part of the excitement and challenge of the class is reinventing regular things in irregular ways — and a vegetable can become a substitute for a wedding bouquet or a witch’s potion ingredient.

As much as there’s an emphasis on “growing” as a writer, there’s an equal emphasis on fun. Even the tutors we’re paired with to discuss our themes are kind, undaunting, and relaxed. In the best ways possible, Daily Themes is almost cult-like — in how it’s celebrated, in the nervous, collectively entertained, yet happy camaraderie, in the peculiar yet perhaps wonderful things we write about. The potential to write something monumental and weird and epic is there — but so is the potential to craft something simpler and ordinary and equally as creative. Each day is what we make of it. Each week is a new arc. And we have so, so many to create and recreate to our odd, brilliant, bizzare hearts’ content.