Posts tagged ‘metaphor’

June 29, 2014

Applause, Applause!

by lisa st john

Image

ap·plaud: verb \ə-ˈplȯd\

: to strike the hands together over and over to show approval or praise

: to express approval of or support for (something or someone)

 

Othello, this year’s headliner for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel, was, as always, beautifully tragic. The evil Iago (in love with his general) remains a master of deception. After “honest” Iago gets Cassio drunk, Cassio laments his lost reputation and states, “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleas-ance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!” Yes, Cassio, people drink and lose their minds and “party until we’re like animals.” It’s just the way we are. But “applause?” What an odd concept if you think about it. Why does clapping our hands together signify praise?

 

Not knowing the history of applause does not stop us from using it, however. At our high school’s graduation ceremony this past Friday, an interesting student asked this very question. Why do we do it? As the graduates walked past, we (the faculty) applauded them. As the graduates came up one by one we applauded. “When we applaud a performer,” argues the sociobiologist Desmond Morris, “we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance.” This makes sense. I do pat every single kid on the back who manages to graduate high school. It’s not the difficulty of the grades or classes that makes me say this. It’s the difficulty of surviving teenager-ness in tact (at least partially). From what I have seen in only 18 years of teaching, teens are experts at survival. I applaud the 80% of American teenagers who make it. That’s right. 20% do not. The numbers sound vague, at least to me. I am not a number person, so what does 18 years mean? What IS 20%?

 

  • According to an article in Smithsonian magazine, an estimated 20 percent of people are “especially delicious” to mosquitoes.
  • 20% of people in the Midwest have bed bugs.
  • Pareto’s Theory involves an important 20%. “The 80/20 Rule means that in anything a few (20 percent) are vital and many(80 percent) are trivial. In Pareto’s case it meant 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the wealth. … Project Managers know that 20 percent of the work (the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) consume 80 percent of your time and resources. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world. Google does a great job with 80/20. Their engineers “are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. This means that if you have a great idea, you always have time to run with it.”
  • One in five is the same as 20% so,
    • 1 in 5 people would have sex with a robot.
    • 1 in 5 road accidents in Sweden involve an elk.
    • 1 in 5 American children have a mental health problem.
    • 1 in 5 children in 37 states live in a “food insecure” household.
    • A woman’s chance of being raped in the United States is 1 in 5.

 

Numbers and emotions are oddly intertwined. “…tens of thousands of children die every day around the world from common causes such as malnutrition or disease” Not feeling much, right? We need comparisons.“That’s roughly the same as a hundred exploding jumbo jets full of children every single day.” Now that is heart-wrenching. But make it even smaller and it’s real in a way that large numbers are not real. “At the age which most children begin to communicate, Franciso Santoyo’s parents discovered he was deaf and losing his eyesight quickly.”

 

We cannot feel bad about not caring as much about the ‘tens of thousands of children’” as we do for Francisco. As K.C.Cole states in her revelatory book, The Universe and the Teacup, “It’s just the way our minds work.”

 

But rather than condemn ourselves for not empathizing with large numbers, I applaud us for caring at all. Bravo to the teenagers who graduated. Bravo to Chive Charities. Bravo to all the artists who create and share. And I applaud Whitman for knowing all of this so many years ago.

 

The Learn’d Astronomer”

 

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

         5

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people.” Judy Garland

 

 

 

January 20, 2014

Mysteries

by lisa st john

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all

true art and science. –Albert Einstein

The massage therapist has little hands coming out of the wall on which to hang clothes. There is a ceramic hand—palm up—on her desk where she keeps her business cards. There is a smoldering hand holding incense and a pair of hands holding up books. I am so grateful that urologists and gynecologists do not decorate their offices this way. I don’t know if I want to hang my bra on a penis or take a business card out of a vagina. Odd the things that make up functional art.

Mystery machine cartoon version

And are artful functions the same thing? How long did it take us to put wheels on coolers or cup holders on strollers? A mystery.

Art and science, fact and fiction, truth and belief. These dichotomies keep me up at night1.

Other functional mysteries raise the following questions: Why don’t all winter cars come with retractable plows? We use liquid helium (at a temperature of NEGATIVE 452.4 Fahrenheit) to cool the superconductivity of a magnetic field in order to see inside the brain, but we haven’t figured out how to see if I have cervical cancer other than a (frighteningly medieval) speculum?

Sad mysteries include the fact (yes, a mystery can also be a fact—hence my confused brain activity) that over 60% of African elephants were slaughtered from poaching between 2002 and 2011 and China accounts for nearly half of that population killed each year. Apparently, however, we need to strengthen our economic relations with them.

A true mystery is why even after all the scientific proof says that homeopathy is a scam, the United States alone spends 34 BILLION dollars on alternative medicine. Tim Minchin’s lovely, animated diatribe on this subject is certainly worth watching.

An exciting mystery is that both light and matter can be either (OR BOTH) waves or particles. WTF squared, that’s what I think about that.

Some Hollywood mysteries that never occur in real life (yet I am fond of) are listed below.

I want:
… an envelope delivered to my table at an outdoor cafe that has a ringing cell phone inside of it.
… to get stuck in an elevator for hours at a time alone with some hottie.

to jump through a large glass window and roll out onto the sidewalk.

to beat the shit out of someone trying to attack me (preferably kicking a weapon out of his hands in the process).

And finally, should we not leave the artistic mystery of the creative process alone and just let it (like the poem it produces) “not mean, but be?” More on ars poetica and sifting through the currently trendy quantification of artistic genius another time.

p.s.: Is it any wonder that Scooby-Doo was my favorite cartoon? It was always the guy in a mask–real monsters don’t exist.

1Not literally; I sleep like a rock thanks to the miracle of chemistry. These ideas do, however, keep my mind alive at inopportune times.

March 15, 2011

I’m Not Afraid of Lightning! And I Get Summers Off!

by lisa st john

I’m Not Afraid of Lightning! And I Get Summers Off!

Yeah. I tend to forget about that fallacious perk when a kid comes in with bruises all over her arm because she “ran into a door.” For the eight weeks that we are not in the classroom with kids most teachers I know are working a second job to help pay the mortgage or taking graduate classes to keep their teaching certificates. But the point of this little tirade is this: Why is the field of education so inexplicable to anyone not in it or closely tied to it? What is so hard to understand?

Perhaps because we think in metaphor and analogy, and there really is no comparison to teaching. Plug the business analogy in. Do cubicle workers go home wondering if their clients are hungry? Or contemplating suicide? Do they wonder why J_____ wears the same clothes every day? Do they loan money to their “clients” who “forgot” their lunch AGAIN? Do they take into consideration that their “client’s” parents are either in rehab or jail or both and they are busy taking care of their siblings which is why they did not hand their paperwork (homework) in on time? Oh yeah. That analogy does not work because businesspeople are not also in loco parentis. That’s right.  We are not in a business, per se. I mean, is it reasonable to ask you, as an office worker, to track the progress of each and every client (while teaching them the beauty of mathematics), to find out why they are crying (since it probably does not have to do with differential equations), to hug them when they need it (for good news or bad), to answer their questions about sexuality or love or life in general when your masters degrees are in calculus?

Let’s try another popular analogy—that of the “professional” (like a doctor or lawyer apparently). Let’s pretend that educators have multiple degrees from academic institutions of higher learning like other professionals. OH WAIT! They DO! So. How often have you gone into your doctor’s office and demanded to know why she thinks your daughter has strep throat? How many times have you gone into a lawyer’s office without an appointment demanding to be seen? Have you ever asked for a meeting with your dentist just to question their judgment or demand that they take a pay cut? Why are their certificates more important than ours? Because everyone knows how to teach? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s so easy.

We go to graduations and weddings. But we also go to hospitals and funerals. We wake up early and work late so we can create meaningful lessons, assess the students’ work, and complete all the paperwork that any bureaucracy demands. We also spend evenings calling parents and going to concerts and games and meetings, and OH WAIT! I forgot. No we don’t. We all get out at 3:00. Oops. We don’t study and research and collaborate so we do what is best for kids—OH NO! We do that so we can show off the expensive cars and boats we get from getting paid extra for all of our time outside of 7AM – 3PM. Oh wait. We don’t get paid extra for that. Or for advising clubs or staying late to listen to a student heartbroken over … whatever teenagers are heartbroken over at that particular time because it is important to them. They are important to us. That’s why we do it.

During an interview, if a rookie ever answers the question, “Why do you want to teach?” with any response other than, “Because I love kids” they are out. I have no time for anyone who was not born into this profession—who has not found teaching as their Jungian calling. Teaching is not about giving students some information that you have and they don’t. That’s boring (at best). It’s indoctrination (at worst).  It’s about learning with them and sharing the joy of new perspectives, not showing them what they could learn all by themselves with a valid library card.

Content is just that. English, biology, calculus, algebra, studio art, drama, music, history, second languages, digital editing, consumer science, freaking basket weaving—we teach human beings how to be human beings. We don’t just teach content. We teach people. Make an analogy for that.

Talk to a teacher or someone close to a teacher.

Volunteer in a public school.

Shadow a teacher for a day.

I dare you.

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