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The Time & Place of a Writer

The Wagging Finger

Your Own Garden

(and the extended classroom)

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“You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.”

Jodi Picoult


     Where does the classroom end? If it ends in school, it dies. All we learn and practice and work to do in school fades into some blurry memory of possibilities lost in the irretrievable cloud of unknowing, We have abnegated hope and make little of our lives. We need to live out a new paradigm of learning—to extend the classroom and make our lives universes of learning, to actually, deeply and truly expand above and beyond murky and distant horizons, and to grow when and where we grow best, and that, I can say with confidence, is rarely accomplished in the confines of the classroom.

I have the luxury of having lived many lives. I do not wake in the morning and think I am a teacher. I wake and remember that I am also a poet, a dishwasher, a builder of stone walls, a woodcutter, a sailor, a wrestler and football player, a fisherman, a junk man, a train-hopping hobo, a folksinger, a dad with seven wild and untamed children, a husband and an average kid growing up in Concord. Everything I have been I still am. Aside from teaching comma rules, I do not know what boredom is; I do not remember a day that didn’t dawn without some sense of the possibilities of the day, and I am certainly not going to be satisfied that a few hours each week of my blathering to you is enough to change you,

Only you can change you.

Yes, for the zillionth time—do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. I am the wagging finger, a sorry substitute for John The Baptist howling prophecies in the desert. I know, I know, I know that I am just your English teacher, and I should know the limits of my reach. I should know that your lives are already saddled and burdened with loads of consuming weight; I know that I am not your only teacher, and I know (really I do) that you are busting your ass to do what needs to be done.

But I can still try.

I can try to show that I will never give up on you, that I will provide some scaffolding for you to cling to as you build the tower of your dreams with whatever planks and beams and cornerstones you can scrounge from the field of your lives.

I was also a gardener for many years. I would show up when someone had a dream. I would plow and till the clumpy soil of suburban lawns, churn in piles of compost and manure, lay out beds, and show them how to plant and prune grapes, and apples, blueberries and peaches. I would lay out lines for corn and beans, hills for squash and pumpkins, and trellises for tomatoes, cucumbers and peas.

But that was it. I never tended the gardens I prepared. “That, “ I would tell the new gardener in a curmudgeons drawl, “is up to you.” I was happy enough to leave it at that. Their gardens became, for better or worse, their own gardens, free from my meddling hands and any expectations.

So it is with your blogs and with your writing and every endeavor in our class. I will do what I can to help you prepare your garden, but the fruit is up to you. The seeds you sow and the care you put in will be the harvest you reap. When I post a blog urging you to do this or.that or try this or that, I am still just a hired hand to help you get going, not a servant to do the work you can and should do on your own.

I do not have illusions that I will move you, but only, perhaps, to move you in the right direction, to find that distant moon on your own and cultivate your own garden in your own unique and wise way—my way of extending beyond the classroom and that last power punch of the day.

Are you ready?