Fitz Essays

Entering the Stream

The Courageous Writer

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Time is but the stream I go fishing in...

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden
 

     Writing well requires a writer to write with courage, confidence and honesty. Your journal is your place to live fully within yourself as a real and committed writer who practices these ideals. Journal writing is simply a way to give form and substance to your inner thoughts. It is simply a way for you to be completely you—not an expectation driven by academic expectations directed and choreographed by me.

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The Time & Place of a Writer

   How to be a Writer

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“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

—Enid Bagnold

    This is the time—the dog days of summer—when writing can become more of a chore than a pleasure. The hot days and humid nights don't always lend themselves to creative and articulate thought; plus, the day is always full of enticing and entrancing possibilities. Because writing is part and parcel of my daily life, I need to create a time and a place to write that works for me no matter where I am or what I am otherwise doing.

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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.

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Remember the Time

The Power of Memory


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Write what you know.

~Mark Twain

 

    I don’t always practice what I preach, especially when it comes to the simple, unaffected, and ordinary “journal entry.” Much of my reticence towards the casual journal entry is the public nature of posting our journal writing as blogs that are more or less “open” to the public. It is hard for me as a teacher of writing to post an entry that I know is trivial, mundane, and perhaps of no interest to my readers—but that is precisely what I need to do if I am to model the full spectrum of the writing process. Keeping a journal is more than a search for lofty thoughts amidst the detritus of the day; it is a practice that keeps our wits and writing skills honed for a coming feast by rambling through the meat of the day and drifting and sailing to whatever port is nearest to my pen. Writing is always an odyssey, and so I have to let my mind go and journey (journal) where it will.

 

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Don't Do It

What Writing Does...

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Do one thing every day that scares you.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 

    I was eighteen and designing a production line for making stepladders at Fitchburgh State College—the only college I could afford, and probably the only place that would have me. I remember thinking, ‘Man, this ain’t no life for me.’ I barely had a working idea of what life meant, but I was pretty sure it meant I didn’t have to do something without any meaning or purpose—and I certainly didn't want to spend my life designing a better stepladder.’

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The Original "Give a Damn"

A Teacher's Plea

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 11.32.53 PMOnly those who go where few have gone can see what few have seen.
Buddha Gautama

 

I wrote this piece many years ago, and it is my first writing piece that I wrote "for" my students at the time. For ten years I was the shop teacher, but the school needed an English teacher for one section of 8th grade. I had to beg for the job. Mr. Ward somewhat reluctantly gave me a try. Then they were stuck with me. This was before we even had blogs, and I was struggling to get my students to actually give a damn about what they were writing. I wanted them to know that I cared more about who they were then what they were. They seemed shocked, but they reacted with enthusiasm, and when I see them now, many years later, we laugh and remember it as if it were yesterday.

    This is my first year of teaching English, and already a horizon of discontent is looming. In another place I would probably need a bodyguard. Today, I not only assigned my eighth grade class the first five chapters—37 pages—in some book called A Guide To Writing Essays, but I also told these students the same thing I told their parents: that nothing is more important than the ability to write a good essay; that essay writing is a skill that will save them time and again in this great adventure called life. I then went on about how educational, fun, and rewarding it would be. I teased them with tales of how they would discover huge deposits of original thought and creative speculations—rough stones that they would craft into a wonderful creation called The Essay. They were writers, each and every one of them, and I would prove it to them. I think some of them believed me—even I believed me! I’m sure some of them saw through my pontifications and secretly wished to be placed in another section. Their parents were, I’m sure, aghast at my naivete, but they simply looked at me with stoic resignation, accepting the fate of their son to be the proving ground for an old shop teacher run amok in a classroom. 

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Danny, Jimmy & Me

Telling a Narrative Story

    Mrs. Roeber never seemed to let Jimmy go outside, which, to my thinking as an 11-year-old, was why he was so smart.  Most days after school, I’d rush two houses down the street and get Danny Gannon to come out and play. Then the two of us would go to Jimmy’s house next door.  If Mrs Roeber answered, she would always be polite and say something like, “Jimmy needs to catch up on some science work. Perhaps he can play later.”  If Jimmy answered, he’d usually be out of breath from running upstairs from his basement “office” and plead with us not to give up on him—or at the very least go out back and talk to him through the basement window.

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George Writes an Essay

Another take on how to write about reading...

    Why am I the poor smuck saddled with a teacher who insists on finding meaning and metaphor in everything we read? Like The Odyssey: I mean, the book is full of random everythings; Like just when Odysseus starts to figure something out (and I have a half a clue what is going on) he breaks of into some wild story with a hundred new characters. "Oh," says my teacher, "that is a literary technique to build the scope and sweep of the poem. It is the hallmark of an "epic" literary work." If that is the case, then I have a crazy old uncle—a guy who never knows when to stop talking—who is probably a direct descendant of Homer. Yeah, from now on I'll call him "Uncle Epic." The only reason I half like the book is because I actually believe that I'm supposed to like it—or at least appreciate it. I can't imagine that every English teacher for the last 1500 years or so is wrong. Maybe they've all been hypnotized by the Siren's song of conformity. I liked that part of the book: Odysseus getting his crew to lash him to the mast so he could hear the Siren's song, but still not do something stupid like get lured away by Siren herself. "Stairway to Heaven" probably had that effect in the 70's when it first came out. Jees, I'm as bad as Homer; Listen to me getting off track. And I shouldn't get off track because this foolish essay is only one of six assignments over the weekend.

SIX!

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Balance...

A Reflection on Reading & Writing

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When people see things as beautiful,

ugliness is created.

When people see things as good,

evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low oppose each other.

Fore and aft follow each other.

 

~Laozu, The Dao de Qing

 

    I went to school in China almost forty years ago. I was not a particularly good student, but I loved living in China--when China was a much more rural country than it is now. Back then there were few cars on the streets of Beijing and only one high rise building, the Beijing Hotel--almost ten stories high--where the few foreigners, business seekers and reporters in the city lived and stayed and drank and dissipated their days and nights away--or so it seemed to me.  The Chinese people, aside from the communist party elite, were poor, but incessantly gracious, and few seemed unhappy. One night while visiting a Zhang Hong Nian a poet, artist and friend of mine, I asked how, in the face of such daily hardship, the average Chinese person maintained their dignity and sense of humor.

 

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Our Finest Hour

Why words matter…

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But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth[e] last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

~ Winston Churchill 

    No less than the soldiers tasked with storming the beachheads of France in World War II, we are all living through an epochal event in human history. Nothing in my sixty-two years of life comes remotely close. The pandemic is not a storm on some other shore; it is not a drought in some arid county or backwater village; it is not a political upheaval in some far-off nation—and it is not a time to put our heads in the sand and our asses to the sky. It is a challenge—a massive challenge—a challenge that is effecting and transforming the entire world, and it is upending and re- tasking the daily, normal lives of billions of people. You are, by dint of fate, simply one of the many, but no less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and you have an obligation for your voice to be heard and recorded in the incessant book of time.

 

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