The Screeching Owl

Hail To The Chief

Posted by David Fisher on 21st February 2011

It’s President’s Day!

As we stop to think about all of the trials and tribulations of our presidents, think about this: Which president do you look up to the most?  Why?

Take a few minutes to think about that and then let me know by leaving your reasons below.

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Write of Way, or is it Weigh, or is it Whey

Posted by David Fisher on 17th November 2010

Ah, the power of the written word.  The craft of the writer.  The search for the perfect word.

These were common phrases used by my writing, English, and humanities teachers in high school.  To each teacher, these phrases, or just one of them, had a specific, almost magical, meaning.  Day in and day out the phrases were pounded into my head and the heads of my classmates for one specific purpose.  That purpose, simply stated, was to make us writers.

Then I met Mr. Duke Schirmer.  If his last name sounds familiar to any of you musicians out there, his family is the Schirmer music family.  You probably used one of several music education and instrument education score books as a child.  This Mr. Schirmer wasn’t from the music side of the family; rather, he was from the writing side of the family.

Let me paint a picture of Duke, as we were allowed to call him in tenth grade.  He wore chinos, as they were called back then, a white t-shirt, and work boots every day.  Thick black-framed glasses hung on his nose and he was either chugging coffee when we came into the classroom or airing it our from his in between class smoke break.  It was not uncommon to have all the windows open during class, even in the middle of winter.  Eclectic, eccentric, and sometimes downright weird was Duke, but we loved him anyway.

Duke taught one class at Mamaroneck High School, Creative Writing.  Every, and I mean every, student had to pass through his hallowed doorway to graduate.  Jocks next to nerds, cheerleaders next to actors, tough guys next to wimps, it didn’t matter the group you were a part of because for one semester you were part of his group.

Duke was really the one who taught me to write.  Yes, many other teachers taught the methodology, grammar, word selection, formatting, and all of that other mundane boring stuff.  But Duke really stretched us to our limits.  Paired up with someone who would be your polar opposite, Duke had us write free-form poetry on chart paper while sprawled all over the hallway outside of his classroom.  Express yourself, he told us.  Use any word you want, he told us.  Don’t be afraid to open up, he told us.

Then, after eight of the 16 weeks, write an essay that will assign yourself your grade and justify it using examples of your work as support, he told us.  Imagine that as a sophomore in high school, being given the opportunity to grade yourself and all I had to do was write an essay justifying why I deserved an ‘A’.  As I wasn’t the first to finish, I was able to take advantage of the first few students’ experiences with Duke and their justification essays, as they were known.  I wish I could write what was said, or at least paraphrase it, but the four-letter word count was so high that this blog would lose its family friendly status.  This was the lesson that Duke had planned all along.  We never knew it until that fateful day when grades had to be done.

The message, as I’m sure you’re wondering, was this: A writer’s job is to talk to his/her audience and make sure that the intended message is complete, clear, and free of, how shall I say this politely, manure.  The writer must, as Duke told us, create an environment in which the words can come alive.  The words are the actors, the writer their director.  The writer doesn’t make the writer, the words make the writer.  Use them the wrong way and the writer will never be forgiven.  A pretty strong message for a high school sophomore to manage.

I still think about Duke when I write.  I’d like to think that he’s still in that same smoke-filled, coffee smelling classroom, handing out sheets of chart paper to students and having them lie all over the hallway.  I know he’s not, though.

He lives on through all of the students he touched over the many years he taught at Mamaroneck.  He lives through me.

The perfect word, it may never come.  The perfect message through the perfect use of words, done.

Thanks, Duke!

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221b Baker Street

Posted by David Fisher on 31st October 2010

A mysterious address to title a mysterious post written on Halloween.

The first time I learned about 221b Baker Street was in my junior or senior year of high school.  Living at this location was a gentleman investigator who drank far too much coffee and smoked enough tobacco to create a heavy cloud of smoke thick enough to be cut by a knife.  Deduction was his passion and he often employed his best friend in the its pursuit.  An adventurous man this man was, travelling to many places within the city in which he lived as well as the countryside during his deductive quests.

Murder, mayhem, theft, disguises, hounds, and many other items of possible deceit were his constant companions outside of his residence.  Whether alone or with his trusted companion, this gentleman investigator used the tools of his trade and any other tool to his advantage.  His mind worked like no other.  He is none other than………the creation of this gentleman:

The sepia tone, the chair, the clothes, and hair give away a bit as to who this gentleman investigator may be.  But I won’t.

I will say that I return to 221b Baker Street yearly with my students as their final read for the school year, and in it’s original text.  I tell you this because the book that will take us there is one of my all-time favorites.  It never loses its punch and I always look forward to its spring reading.

As today is a day of mystery, I will leave you with this one to solve: Tell me who’s in the picture, the name of the gentleman investigator, and the adventure we will share in the spring.  If you figure this out now, you’ll stand a fighting chance when we really venture from 221b Bakere Street.

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Read What You Love, Love What You Read

Posted by David Fisher on 10th October 2010

Over the course of the years that I’ve been teaching, students often ask if I read.  Yes, I tell them.  My answer is usually followed by one of a couple of other questions.  The first one is generally why; the second one has most recently been what.  What, as in, what do you read and not the sarcastic what?  What’s your favorite book, genre, author, story, etc?  Inquiring minds…

Let’s start with the why.  Well, why not?  Reading is a skill, and like any other skill that one has acquired over many years of education and training, it too needs to be continually practiced in order for it to stay sharp and fresh.  In addition to all of the reasons that we, teachers, give our students about the importance of being life-long readers, I choose to read instead of doing other things.  Life isn’t always a planned event, so finding a few extra minutes to read, wherever those minutes come from and wherever the reading location (I’m not going to say anymore about that one…) reading is a stress-relieving event for me.  I do have to admit, though, that I really do like to read on the couch knowing that Zorro, our greyhound, will always climb up next to me, drop his head on my leg, and stay there for as long I am reading.  I also read to show Zoe, my daughter, that even adults find time to enjoy the written word.  Family reading time has now become part of our weekend time together, and will shortly be part of our nightly routine.

Why I read is directly connected to the title of this post.  How so?  I read what I love and I love what I read.  The time that I find to read has to be filled with any text that will keep me engaged for whatever time that is.  I’ll catch up on the news by reading the paper online.  I’ll keep up with the world of business with any one of the several business magazines we get at home.  Mindless reading, that is reading that doesn’t require me to have to piece anything together, always goes to something like People; after all, everyone wants to know about the latest celebrity divorce, reality show cast, and new movie releases.

What I really love to read is political thrillers.  Give me a book by David Baldacci or Brad Thor and I’m a happy camper!  Why (here I go again)?  Simple answer: Because I can.  I can get hooked on the plot, get angry at the characters, get excited or nervous depending what is happening in the plot, and I can forget about the rest of the world for as long I have to turn the pages.  This is what I love to read!

Now it’s your turn.  Do you read what you love?  Do you love what you read?

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