978-793-1553 fitz@johnfitz.com
The State of Maine

The State of Maine

I wrote this short story about twenty years ago after hearing an old folk tale retold by Jerry Bell. I took the gist of the story and remade it as a story set in a prison in Maine to retell myself as a story. Eerily similar to The Shawshank Redemption—though Hollywood is not knocking down my door. At any rate, I like it as a good story for Halloween. If you like understated creepiness, this is for you.

Happy Halloween…

“Your Honor:

    It was down mid coast Maine where this all occurred.  A long way still from Boston where I am telling you this story.  I was there in Stonington, in the state prison serving five years for the thieving and scuttling of a pair of dory’s belonging to the Bainbridge brothers—a no good pair who’d been hauling and stealing lobster from my own traps…and many another I suspect.  I’m a decent, honest man.  I owned up to everything I done.  I didn’t want a lawyer so I didn’t even take me a lawyer.  I thought they would see right for right, but it didn’t work out that way.  Hit my family hard to lose me for so long…but that has stories of it’s own and nothing to do with the queer thing I was privy to as the cellmate of a certain Enoch Jones, sentenced to life in that hard place for the alleged murder of his entire family…his wife, his wife’s parents and five young children.  Enoch always denied anything to do with that horrible and sensational crime…and we believed him…not that it is much solace to a lifer.  I’d hear him some nights writhing and a turning in his bunk:  “No,no,no…my babies…my babies.”  Other times he’d sit and stare, tears just streaming down his face.  Not the angry tears a lot of us shed just for being holed up in that hell of a prison.  No, he was touched in a special way that even the meanest john doe in there couldn’t take to him unkindly.  All the injustice in the world was wrapped up in that poor man…so much so that I know I wasn’t the only one who would very gladly trade places with him if it meant he could get out of that prison and lay some flowers on the grave of his family, and maybe, with God’s grace, find a little peace in his tortured world.


True fact is that a lot of people die in prison.  Some that been incarcerated for so long, and out of touch with their kin for so long, that their death goes pretty much unnoticed. Those poor souls get buried in a field just north of the prison, carted out the west gate in Homer’s horse drawn wagon.  Homer runs the carpentry shop. We prisoners all build things and they sell them in the Prison store right there on Route One.  Mostly white pine furniture…some ship models too.  Warden says it buys us turkey dinners on thanksgiving and clove ham on Christmas…cigarettes and stuff.  Mostly it’s a way for us to kill some time, time being the biggest enemy of any prisoner.  They say Homer had been there for fifty years or more, and that he didn’t have no other place to go.  At least the State of Maine give him a roof, meals and a little something to do.  At any rate, when one of them inmates died, they’d toll the prison bell in a slow mournful way for a good ten minutes or so.  About the only tribute most of them ever got in their lives.  That would be the signal for Homer to get a coffin built.  He’d never have one ready beforehand—saying that it gives the dead man a little dignity to have his final resting place be custom made. Them coffins were nothing fancy but they were solid built out of the clearest pine we had in stock.  Homer and Enoch had a real bond.  They were an odd couple: the rich white businessman from Portland town and old Homer, growed up he said somewhere down south, but now so Maine he looked forward to the brutal winters, the smell of woodsmoke mixing in the stench from the processing plant.  Everyone felt for Enoch, even so far as the guards and the warden himself.   No one gave it much thought how much time Enoch spent in Homer’s shop.  Doubt anybody would figure that Homer would be behind the first prison break in Stonington since the last war.


It wasn’t like there was a lot of dying going on in that Stonington prison, but in early November of 1972 Joshua Corkin come down with a truly severe pneumonia.  Enoch spent a lot of time caring for Joshua, reading to him long poems and even longer praying with him from an old hymnal of Homer’s.  One night Enoch sat on my bunk and very forthright told me the plan that he and Homer and Joshua had worked out.  He said he owed me the truth for all the years I stood by him.  And now that Joshua Corkin was so near to dying, it was time to make his escape from that hell in Stonington Maine.  It was only then that I realized how desperate Enoch was to get out of prison.  He said a wrong still had to be made right. That there was a man out there who had brutally slaughtered his family and that justice needed to be served.  He said that Joshua laughed to think that they would be bunkmates for a while. 


They all conspired to seal their fates on the evening that Joshua died.  It worked like this: When Joshua died old Homer would retire to the shop and build for Joshua that custom coffin he so deserved but, maybe, given the circumstances, slightly larger. Enoch had the run of the place more than any man before or since, so it wouldn’t seem too peculiar for Enoch to give his friend Homer a hand in building the coffin.  Before Joshua’s body was to be hauled away  Enoch would sneak into the shop, climb into that coffin and find a space sidled up next to poor dead Joshua.  Homer had rigged up a latch so that Enoch could lock the lid from the inside also. Homer would then haul the coffin up to the graveyard to be buried.  After a few terse comments from the local parish priest Homer would fill in the grave and return to the prison like he done so many times before. The warden would never bat an eye when Homer asked to go out a few hours later and set a stone on the grave: Homer would carve it out of a foot square of granite: just a name and number—and the day that Joshua was born and died.  It was then that Homer would dig Enoch free and set him on his way, with not a soul (aside from Homer and myself) knowing how he made his escape.


Well, that very next evening, just before dinner the mournful bells began their tolling and all of us in that prison in Stonington Maine bowed our heads in personal prayer for the soul of Joshua Corkin. Only a man in prison, deserted by family, and never at peace with God, knows the true horror of  lonely, senseless death.  I felt bad for Joshua but I also felt that he was dying a hero of some sort.  I saw Enoch talking to the chief guard… then he winked at me.  Last time I saw Enoch he was heading across the yard towards Homer’s carpentry shop.  Best I can figure, and it haunts me some to think about it, is that everything happened this way:  Must have been when Enoch got to the shop the coffin was already set to go.  He must have heard the priest, the warden and Homer coming across the yard towards the shop.  Enoch must have climbed into that coffin pretty quickly.  It wasn’t as big, I imagine, as he hoped it would be.  Air would be scarce during the next few hours and a little extra space would buy a little extra time. It wasn’t long before the horses snuffed and stammered and pulled out of the prison gate and made  their way to the graveyard.  The priest would never say much before the shoveling in would begin.  I reckon Enoch was happy that the service was as short as it was.


It must have been a God awful quiet down there. I’m sure the dead don’t make for pleasant company.  Time just crawling by and the stench of a corpse beginning to decay.  I suppose at some point Enoch risked losing a little air for a look at his pocket watch.  I try not to think of Enoch in that dark chamber, in the last flickering and dying light of his matchstick, gasping uncertainly for what little air was left, staring with a certain horror into the face of his old friend and would be savior, Homer.


I didn’t discover anything until mid the following day when I saw Louis, the stone mason, wrestling a block of granite into the Wagon.  Simply said: “Homer, a friend to many.”  I put it all together from there.


The State of Maine spent a long time trying to find Enoch.  The warden said he felt betrayed and took it out a bit on us.  Joshua died the very next day.  I went and said a prayer with him just before he passed. I told him to hold on, that Enoch and Homer were on their way over.
Memories are long and truth, I guess, should always be told.  I’m a good and decent man and so got my parole at my first hearing. On the first dark and moonless night I dug up Enoch and took him and buried him alongside his wife and children; I cut the turf so neat clean and replaced it so tight that no one ever knew. Then I scattered the prettiest flowers the world has ever seen.  I also took care of Enoch’s business for him. I was his cellmate for over three years.  I knew where to find the bastard. It is strange how you can take a life and not feel a thing. Enoch’s nightmares were always a torture to me. 

But no more.”

9th: Classwork and Weekend Homework

Continue working on your persuasive essay paragraphs–and really pay attention to keeping paragraphs as clear and concise as possible, which means you should probably put your paragraph on a diet and make it lose thirty pounds or so. In our first drafts of everything, we tend to ramble and wander down different alleys of thought because we are literally “trying to find our way” through a maze of thoughts towards a clear goal. A good writer wanders through that maze, but once he or she has it figured out, they will “guide” their readers through the maze in the most direct way–without the wandering.

Remember: you are trying to persuade your reader of something, and a bunch of small reasons is never as compelling as one really good reason.

Remember: Every paragraph has to have “unity,” meaning every sentence in the paragraph is a direct descendant of your narrow theme.

Remember: Have fun, put it in the time, and relax. Few writers can write anything well when nervous, tired, stressed or angry (unless you are writing a rant:). I honestly do expect this to take around eight hours to complete. If you get to six hours and nothing much is happening, then we need to talk; otherwise, this is just a normal essay assignment. You’ll finish it.

My hope is that all final drafts can be turned in by Wednesday morning at the latest. Post it to your blog, too!

Have a fun weekend!

8Th: Friday in Class & Weekend Homework

I am at a conference today–ironically, one of the session I am attending is how “metacognition” should be a regular practice by students in any class.  You should be happy to be ahead of the curve:)

Use today to finish up your Team Analysis #2 Paragraphs and blog and comment. You may email your Team Analysis to me if you have not airdropped it. If you have trouble with that, post it to iTunes U and let me now it is there.

You have two required journal entries this week. One of them can be a Team Analysis Paragraph “IF” you post it as a Fitz-style entry made into four paragraphs.

  1. Broad theme, narrow theme, one/two punch
  2. Setup and Smoking Gun
  3. Head and Heart
  4. Get Out

Weekend Homework:

DO NOT READ BOOK IV THIS WEEKEND.

BUT I DO WANT YOU TO…

Complete your required blog entries and comment on all of your classmates blog posts (at least the two most recent).

By this point in the year, your blog and Weebly site should be looking good, set-up with links that work, and full of interesting content.

I will be assessing and grading blogging and commenting over the weekend.

Have a fun day.

 

9th: Making the Flow Happen

A persuasive essay can be bear to write because it has to do two things really well: make sense and sound like you. If your argument is lacking, you lose your reader; if you sound like anyone other than yourself, the argument feels false and contrived–and so you lose your reader. The remedy for this potential failure is to be informed, genuine, and passionate and to write as you wish you could speak.

This is the beauty of writing. At any given time, we can take who we are and craft a response to life that might seem above and beyond who we are perceived to be. I often wonder if Thoreau was as eloquent in person as he is in his writings.

He probably had a whiny voice.

But that does not matter because he is remembered for the words he crafted, not the words he said.

So be you, but be a better you. Writing lets you do that.

Assignments & Projects 10/26-11/2

This week we will continue our study and analysis of The Odyssey by reading Book III and writing another team analysis: Team Analysis #2
Class One:
Complete and turn in Team Analysis #1: you will do this in class. Save your document as Team Analysis Last Names. The document just needs to be a paragraph. It does not need to be submitted in the rubric.
Homework:
Complete Team Analysis #1 Metacognition
Read and Annotate Book III
Class Two: Collaboration
Start Team Analysis #2 on a theme from Book III
Homework:
Independent blog entry
Class Three: Collaboration
Complete Team Analysis #2 and submit. Complete Metacognition.
Homework:
Blogging
Complete Team Analysis #2 Metacognition

 

Class Four: Creation
Blogging & Commenting or Sentence Building
Homework:
Sentence Building: Using Simile and Metaphor
Listen to, read and annotate Book IV (This may change if we fall behind)

9th Assignments and Projects: 10/26-11/3

Persuasive Essay Brainstorm
Brainstorming is just what it sounds like: open up your brain and let the thoughts flow out in a steady stream, in a sense, just to see what is in there. It is a way of testing an idea to se if there is enough “meat” to make a meal—or in our case—a good paragraph for your essay.
Mondays homework is to use the Brainstorming Worksheet in iTunes U to flesh out some ideas of the three body paragraphs that will compose the “meat” of your persuasive essay.
The Worksheet looks like this:
Writing Prompt: You have an entire year to spend living in your Tiny House as simply and profoundly as possible. What you feel are three principles and/or practices that will guide you through the year—and which can also serve as lessons for how all of us can live more wise and rewarding lives.
Write about your three ideas down below. These are NOT your body paragraphs. They are simply journal type reflections that “brainstorm” how you might write about each principle or practice. Each section should be at least 100 words.

1. Principle/Practice #1:

Put your thoughts here

2. Principle/Practice #2:

Put your thoughts here

3. Principle/Practice #3:

Put your thoughts here
 
Here is the definition of principle:
prin·ci·ple
ˈprinsəpəl/
noun
  1. 1.

    a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

The principles you choose can be philosophical, meaning that it is a deep-rooted belief, aka “ principle” you have about how to live your life while in your tiny house for a year. 
It can also be a “practice” that you feel should be practiced by you (and anyone else) to live a better and more rewarding life.
On the worksheet, work to discover and explain these principles and practices that will cover how you plan to live your life while in your tiny house that are also good practices and principles for any person to incorporate into their own lives.
Assignments & Projects for this week:
Class One: Brainstorm ideas for the three body paragraphs of your persuasive essay. 
Homework: Complete “Brainstorming Exercise.”
Class Two: Begin writing Body Paragraph #1 using the Persuasive Paragraph Rubric
Homework: Complete Body Paragraph #1using The Persuasive Paragraph Rubric
Classes Three and Four
Body Paragraph #2 
Body Paragraph # #3
Weekend Homework
 
Complete Opening Paragraph
Complete Conclusion
Next Week:
Collate, complete and turn in your Persuasive Essay
If you have any questions, please contact me.

9th: Writing a Persuasive Essay

The Art & Craft of Persuasion 

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” —E.M. Forster

There is probably no more organic a writing form than the persuasive essay. The stories are as old as Eve tempting Adam with an apple. The majority of my seven children seem to have mastered the persuasive essay without aid of any sort from their writing-teacher father. In fact, as I am writing this, my sixteen-year-old daughter just asked if we could go to the mall tomorrow morning (and she knows I hate the mall, but it is near Guitar Center)—and without losing a beat she mentioned that she has been so busy with soccer practice; we just got back from The Cape, the school sent a list of things she needs to buy, and neither mom nor I have found the time to help her get ready for her senior year in high school, which starts in two days….and she adds a few more rejoinders and reminders to add urgency and emphasis to her plea. I’ll grant that she made some good points, and her compelling reference to the mediocre parenting she receives created an emotional angst in me that her mini-essay leveraged to good effect.

So, we are going to the mall tomorrow morning.

If it is so simple to say it in real life, then why is it so hard in English or social studies class to write a decent “persuasive essay?”  Maybe it is because your teacher expects you to frame your argument in a certain—and to him or her—effective or accepted way; or maybe you appeal to the reasoning intellect or the vast range of the emotional spectrum—but not both. Maybe your argument has no merit, or maybe you just really don’t give a damn and it shows.

There is no way around your teacher, so deal with it—or, rather, him or her. Figure out what your teacher wants and give it to them.  Ask for help. Compliment them. Actually complete a revision. Teachers, by and large, are human and fallible and vain and understanding and (remarkably) just like you. Your audience too is actual flesh and blood and deserve to be treated humanely. We do not argue with machines to much effect: the ATM seldom apologizes for the overdraft fee;   the bar code scanner will never acknowledge a coupon it does not recognize; Siri will not find you the perfect mate; however, … humans, pulp and blood that we are, are as malleable and precious as gold—Adam did succumb to the entreaties of Eve; the Wizard tried to bring Dorothy home, and I am going to the mall tomorrow; but, to rise out of the trivial, we also listened to Churchill in our darkest hour and fought with uncommon stamina in every way imaginable; we listened to MLK and responded (most of us) like a culture that respected human decency and aspirations for equality; when Kennedy spoke, we asked what we could for our country and not what our country could do for us; we listened to Ghandi; we listened to Christ and Buddha and Mohamed; we listen to mothers and fathers and friends and family because we trust their intent and magnanimity.

But, to spin the bottle in another direction, Hitler rallied his countrymen and women to horrific ends. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Ze Dong, and the KKK, all worked wonders (in their skewed minds) with words, ideas, and remarkably cogent arguments, and if we are not careful—if our eyes become glazed with prejudice and laziness—any of us is capable of being “persuaded” towards extreme bigotry, or worse. On a lesser level, the extreme right and the extreme left of our political parties spin their stories with an unerring eye to what is impressionable and believable, regardless of the obvious inconsistencies. All of these so-called influences lived, breathed and embodied the persuasive essay. For good or for evil, we are all ripe to be persuaded. Our greatest asset and defense is to see into and through the art of persuasion and to discern the window of truth carried within the words. It is good and wise to know the difference between being informed and enlightened versus being tooled and manipulated into a mouthpiece for another man, woman, political party, or organization’s agenda.

The art of persuasion is seldom in the facts: it is in the manipulation and extortion of emotions, bolstered and supported by evidence, but sometimes, in a more sinister way, by an exploitation and selective distillation of facts. Persuasion breathes life into facts, but the facts seldom speak for themselves, contrary to what every rhetorician proclaims; these facts need to be accepted by the reader, and you, as the writer, also have to be accepted. To be a good writer, you need to understand and sympathise with your potential readers. Reading is not a mechanical act. It is a re-creating and imagining of what is going on in a writer’s head. If you want a reader to see what you see, feel what you feel, and think in the way you want them to think, you need to give your readers everything they need to recreate and re-imagine what you, as the author see, feel, and think as you write your essay. It is only in this way that a writing piece can engage a reader and inspire him or her to think and feel and connect with your unique insight and passion. A good persuasive writer is a painter, architect, builder, and seller. This is not always an easy task, but it is what you need to embrace if you want your writing to have any sort of lasting importance.

Trees fall in the directions they lean, and so does your audience. In the end, the success or failure of even a brilliantly written persuasive essay is determined by the people reading your essay. We writers are easily mislead by the cheers of a like-minded group of readers. There is still enough vanity and myopia in me that enjoys when people say, “Oh, Fitz, you write so well….” and then I  think, ‘if they loved that, they will love this;’ and I skate on the thin ice of the preacher preaching to the choir. If nothing of what we write challenges our readers, we are useless. It would be like our personal trainer walking around the gym with us but never putting us on the treadmill. I spent the better part of this morning reading essays about permaculture—the practice of creating sustainable, closed-looped ecosystems. I was informed and enlightened and even inspired, but on the other hand, I was seldom challenged because there were not any dissenting practitioners or critics pointing out the follies and limitations of the permaculture movement (pardon the pun). It was more like a lovely day at the  country club: “I’m ok. You’re ok. No, really….” On the one hand I was edified that I ‘learned’ more about permaculture, but on the other hand, I did not feel like I was getting the whole picture.

And showing the whole picture is where it’s at, or at least where we should be headed. To do less is to skip the yeast in baking or to forget to bring the ball to the soccer pitch. Your final essay has to reflect the totality and dynamic of your understanding of the topic or idea or position you are explicating. If you are a teacher reading this, stop having your students write about things they minimally understand or appreciate, or even give a damn about. If you are a student about to write an essay, make sure you have done everything in your power to understand and appreciate the scope and size and proof of what you are tackling. Make sure you have narrowed down your theme to where it syncs with your expertise and passion. Paint with brush strokes that readers see and feel. Your words need your passion and clarity. Only then will what you write engage, persuade, inspire, inform—and even transform—your sacred audience. If you can’t use the “I” in your voice, then perhaps you are not the expert you should be. It is your essay, so proclaim it as yours!

Nothing else really matters: if you decide to argue a point that has no merit, or if you just don’t give a damn about what you are writing, you are a loser. In that case, just do whatever you want.

No one is going to listen to you anyway.

8th Grade: Thursday Update

For some reason, my iTunes U app is not letting me revise this weeks assignments, so here is a checklist to keep you on track with the changes to the week:
Team Analysis #1: Once class has had an extra class to work on Team Analysis #1. I want you to work on these in class, so the due date is now at the end of class on Monday—or the first class period of the week. I will collect these via airdrop at the end of class. I only need one copy per team.
Turn in on Monday after class.
Odyssey Narrative Paragraph #1: You should be able to turn in it on Friday, but if you can’t. Monday is OK, too.
Due Monday before class. Post to iTunes U and to your blog.
Sentence Building #2: This should take around fifteen minutes to complete.
Due Monday before class
The Odyssey, Book III:
Read and annotate before Tuesday—or the second class period next week.
I hope this clears up any confusion.

8th Grade: Assignment Change

This will be a great test of whether or not you–my students–are doing what needs to be done “every” class day: CHECK THIS BLOG! Each week I faithfully do my best to plot, chart, and plan for the week ahead, but like during any noble journey, stuff comes up, you need to hunker down somewhere, change course–even abandon some part of the trip because it is simply not doable.

And that is what I am doing now, and it should be no great task for me to inform you of a change in our plans for the week.

As I have said in class, I will seldom add more homework to your plate on any given week–but I will often reduce the homework load if we are not able to cover something in class.

So….READ THIS, PLEASE, AND POST A COMMENT letting me know you understand the changes.

  1. Narrative Paragraph is now due next Monday, not Thursday.
  2. The Team Analysis is due on Monday as well. This will give us more class time to finish the work.
  3. Read Book III over the weekend and take active reading notes in iBooks.
  4. Be sure to complete the sentence building exercise in iTunes U.

Just because everything is due on Monday, does not mean it is weekend homework. Really, the only weekend homework should be to read–if you use these next three days productively.

9th Grade: Tiny House Presentation

Thanks to those of you who presented today. Your presentations should be in the form of a digital portfolio posted to your weebly site. Here is a link to my proposal for my room makeover. It includes a video, images and justifications. Check it out here. The password is b216proposal.

The biggest lesson I learned is that if you really want something, make your argument better than anyone else’s argument!

If you need a few days to rework your own presentations, no worries on my part. Just let me know by posting a comment.

The “Riffing off Thoreau” responses you had today were great. Finish your “riffs” tonight for “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity” and we will move on to the next section, “Frivolous Lives,” in-class tomorrow!

9th: Riffing Off Thoreau

9th: Riffing Off Thoreau

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden
A riff is a series of notes or chords played in response to a different riff that comes before it. To do it well, you have to be a pretty good and creative musician; otherwise, the listener will walk out or shut you off pretty darn quick—but there are some ways that even a beginning musician can hang with a great one as long as they stay in key and play patterns of chords or notes in the same family as the initial riff.
We are going to try this when reading Thoreau.
Thoreau remains among the best writers in history simply because he is like the Jerry Garcia of writers. His thinking, while progressive for its day was remarkably similar to other great thinkers in town, like Emerson, Alcott, and Channing to name a few—but the way he crafted those thoughts is nothing short of amazing and remains just as amazing to this day. Thoreau can take almost any thought and give it wings to fly and even soar above and beyond the comparative mediocrity of other writers. I personally think that Thoreau’s good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson is the better thinker, but great as he is, he is no match for Thoreau when it comes to turning a phrase—or creating a riff, so to speak.
To torture the metaphor further, we are going to read Thoreau with our guitars in hand by crafting responses to a series of his paragraphs in Walden as prep-work for writing our own essays about living life deliberately in the tiny house you designed. Practicing greatness is the only way to become great. So that is what we will do.
This Week:
Class One: Present your progress on your tiny house design, detailing its design, describing the “place” you will live and summarising the necessary things you will “need” for your year.
Homework:
Using iBooks, read the section “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity.”
Highlight the best sentence or sentences from each paragraph
Write a brief note for each paragraph that tries to restate what Thoreau is saying in each paragraph. This your “riff.”
Class Two: 
Harkness discussion and sharing of thoughts about “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity.”
Read “Frivolous Lives” together in class and practice riffing.
Homework:
Write a three paragraph journal reflection on the section “Seeking a Better Life.”
Use the rubric attached to the assignment in iTunes U and post to your blog
Classes Three and Four:
Begin Your Own “Seeking a Better Life” essay by creating an essay map and three body paragraphs.
Weekend Homework:
Work on Essay using the Persuasive Essay Rubric
Turn in to iTunes U and post to your blog before the second class period next week. This date may be moved depending on our progress.
I hope it sounds fun. It should be enlightening and rewarding–and it could make a GREAT secondary school essay example!