Entering the Stream

The Courageous Writer


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 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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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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Fenn Speaks: Fitz

I am You, and You are me...

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Give a damn & figure it out


     I feel like one of my students: it’s the night before my big presentation at All-school-meeting, and I still don’t know what I am going to talk about. I just know I am supposed to talk about me...

That’s pretty scary for me because, well, I’m me. At any given time I know myself too well, and at other times I’m like, who is this guy? 

I’m the guy whose socks probably don’t match, and one of my socks is on onside out.

I’m the guy whose engine warning light in my van was probably on the whole way to school--and I never noticed.

I’m the guy who forgot to post an assignment on and his students are plotting a revolution and mass protest.

I’m the guy who tries to be a teacher--and so he is...

So, how does one start something like this?

I am John Fitzsimmons, and let me tell you about me...

(No--way to vain and presumptuous)

Hi, I’m Fitz, and I may be old, but I’m slow...
(No--you are not here to hear the truth)

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Back to the Primitive

I thought this essay of mine might be a good way to approach "Tech-Free Day." Though it is somewhat ironic that it is a blog post:)


Yes, your parents are petrified…


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“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson


     They are petrified by the reality that your iPad and phone screens have become the constant and continual portal through which you live your lives. They are petrified that the tether between parent and child is frayed and fraying even more. It is not like the "old days" days that came (with challenges of their own) when parents could look out on the backyard and see with clear eyes exactly what you were doing. When you were in the house, they saw what you watched. When you answered the phone—a clunky box screwed to a wall—they knew who you were talking with; they knew their names and their parent's name and where they lived. They knew what plans were being hatched and where you were going. They knew what book you were reading or what card game or board game you were playing.

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Essays are Everywhere

Say what you mean--

and mean what you say...

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“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the great ironies of education is the HUGE emphasis that is put on the writing of essays--as if life without essays is unthinkable. And it actually is unthinkable as long as we live in a world of thinkers.

Yet we (us teachers) rarely assign “essay reading” to our students; instead, we have them read great poetry, and great short stories and great books--“the good stuff “that will help nurture the love for great literature... but essays? No way. Too boring. Too opinionated. Too whatever. Show me a good one that some disenchanted teenager will read and enjoy, and I’ll show you a...

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Embrace the Beast

The Rules of Punctuation

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If you don’t use it, you lose it...

What do you really need to learn? What teaching and what practice will help you learn what you “really need to learn” in a way that will somehow stay with you and be useful and necessary to your life.

Most all of you are pretty lucky I did not “grade” your most recent essay harshly for missing and misused punctuation, though I probably should have graded those few students who were in my class more harshly. It’s only fair. I practically beat them over the head last year with comma rules, hyphens, long dashes and semi-colons, brackets and the weird three-dot thingy. If they have forgotten, I blame myself. What kind of English teacher can’t teach what is basic and critical to good writing?


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