Posts tagged ‘time’

March 16, 2015

SummerTime, and the Livin’ is… .

by lisa st john

I have a few “teacher” poems that rarely see the light of day because they either sound pathetic or didactic. They are often just plain bad because they are rants. Just rants. Then and again, on days like this, they can come out and dress up and play poem.

“I Get Summers Off”

for Taylor Mali

Come Monday afternoon when I am driving home and can’t tell the difference between the salt and sweat of my tears–

’cause I heard 11th grade Aliya saying she wants a good job so she can support her (yet to be conceived) children when Jordy (inevitably) lands back in jail…

’cause I saw Sammy kick the office door when he got suspended for a fight he really had

with his father

in the form of a friend’s face…

I remember them saying, “You get summers OFF?!”

And this Thursday I hear Michael Stipe on the radio singing, “Everybody Hurts” and I am BACK in TIME at 12th grader Damon’s funeral (the principal forcing me toward the casket of my [ex?] student who blew his brains out in his mother’s bedroom between 9:00 and 10:00 AM on a desert spring day).

I mark the time because the coroner told me. I mark the time because that means he was already dead when I called him at 10:15 to ask why he wasn’t in school. I mark the time because BOOM!

I get summers off.

And bettyandisabel come dancing from hop-scotch and jump-rope and it’s spring and…oh no. This isn’t that poem.

And the dreams escaping through broken-windowed houses that should be homes call to me in sonorous serenades in the form of children’s writing. And the cries for help—for at least attention—TIME attention TIME attention


call to me in serendipitous notes “accidentally” left on my desk and bruises “hidden” without sleeves but

It’s okay. It’s all okay. ’cause it’s a job and I

get summers off.

But wait. Sometimes a Wednesday comes sneakin’ inside a hushed, timid space between a “fill in the blank here” meeting and a “fill in a bigger blank here” paperwork mound and I hear the gentle rustle of a postcard from Kayla who wants me to know I made her first year at college easier because of “all that damned writing.” I sniff the email of Marianne who typed me up “just” to say that if it weren’t for my class she never would have graduated, and she is thinking of me now. I dance inside the hug of Jose who has come back to tell me that he got his GED after all and that he remembers the “fill in the blank” (attention TIME attention TIME attention, TIME?) when he was homeless trying out high school helped him make it. And (not so) little Larry from my ninth grade “remedial” class comes knockin’ on my office door to say he is enrolled in AP English next year ’cause I helped him to dispel his fear and I think…

I get summers off?


I told you they were bad. This one was written a few years ago and meant to be a performance poem so here  is the audio before I decide to make it go back on the shelf marked, “Rants–not poems.”

Disclaimer: All of this didn’t always happen and none of this isn’t sometimes all the way true-ish. And yes, the names have been changed to protect the writer (obviously).

January 26, 2015

Will This Be On The Test?

by lisa st john


This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me. —Maya Angelou

Could someone give me a number please? My humanity is questioned daily by captchas (should I be worried that it takes me at least two tries each time?) The robot on the other end of the phone wants my routing number, not my name. And guess how my clients (public school children and parents) are supposed to tell if I am “highly effective?”

A number.

I don’t have a number.

I work for kids and their parents (sorry administration, but you can change far more often than seasons so even though you sign the checks…the parents taxfully write them.)

So I am asking the blogosphere for help.

I need a number.

Please send the appropriate algorithm, formula, or matrix–via the comments section below—so non-educators can assign me the correct scores. You know, from the tests.

Please assign a numerical score to the following scenarios.

Sam lost her scholarship and Renee lost her virginity. Both are equally upset. Do I (A) make the time to talk to Sam, (B) make the time to talk to Renee, (C) make the time to talk to them both, or (D) send them to the counselor and go make copies of a multiple choice packet that will certainly be on the test?

Lily just got out of rehab for heroin addiction so I bet she doesn’t much feel like writing an essay about whether or not the United States should hold another Olympic game. Probably not too high on her priority list, but hell. It’s part of the test. (Do I get a high score for getting her to write it anyway, luring her with some one on one time after school?)

Erik, who prefers Erika thank you very much, needs to talk about the fact that s/he thinks Gerri has an eating disorder. Do I skip lunch, sit with them, and listen, or do I send them to the social worker with a signed pass? Then I would have time to yell at them with my big red pen because they incorrectly used the oxford comma.


Did I mention that I teach in a public high school? I teach English (according to all the paperwork). I teach English. Damn. Here I thought that I taught kids. You know, YOUNG … HUMAN … PEOPLE?!

Sorry. Back to the numbers. It’s difficult because I don’t know numbers. I know words. I do remember the numbers 10:32 (when I called David to see why he wasn’t in school for the third day in a row). I remember that the coroner said he was already dead—that he had shot himself at around 9:00. I know that number.

I wrote J up for ditching my class and when he asked why I told him that I cared about where he was.

I called home about S and the long sleeves in the summer and when she asked why (since she was a straight A student) I told her that I cared about her, not her grades.

But… I still need a number, a score. Did I mention that my effectiveness as an educator must be linked to the students’ test scores? None of this will be on any standardized test.

I want to give Ann an “A” for showing up and graduating on time even though her dad is in jail and she has to get her younger siblings to school every day because her mom works the graveyard shift.

I want to give Bill a “B” because he is smart but lazy.

I want to give Carrie a “C” because she is an “A” student on paper but it’s causing so much stress that Ativan has been prescribed and no “A” should cost that much.

And I really, really want to give Daniel a “D” even though he is technically failing because taking English III a second time is not going to benefit him in any way, shape, or form.

So. Have you learned enough? Can you please give me a number?

Then I can add it to the kids’ scores to figure out if I am effective or not. Okay? Easy, no?

When non-educators stop telling educators how to teach—oh what a world that would be.

Dear Politicians:

I feel like a square in a Sudoku puzzle. Just line me up, fill me in and by the time you are done I will still be in the trenches laughing when L finally “gets” the deeper meanings about human kindness from reading (insert redundant novel title here since it’s not on the test).

I will still be hugging T when he gets into (insert far too expensive ivy-league school title here).

I will still share their joys and their sorrows. I promise to teach ninth graders how to use a tissue instead of their sleeve. I hereby solemnly swear I will still be teaching children and not tests. I’ll see you on the other side of this pendulum.



Disclaimer: At no time were any students’ real names used in this blog. No FERPA or HIPPA or confidentiality agreements have been broken, bent, or twisted. This is all fucking hypothetical, fictional, and hair-tearing-ly ethical.

August 8, 2014

Silly Answers to Important Questions and Important Questions to Silly Answers: Part One

by lisa st john

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.” Einstein


Where does the time go?” A simple idiom, but the answer is never simple.

It goes into the past.”

Isn’t the past part of time?”

Yes, but… .”

If we want to understand the ontology of time (if such a thing exists) philosophers fall short and science fiction wins. How many online discussions of the movie Lucy are happening right now?

Language is not immune to time either. Prose falls short and poetry wins. Apparently, both the words “space” and “moment” are synonyms for time. A moment of space, please, while I gather my thoughts.

Knowing is easier than being.

I know, for example, that it has been 625 days (also known as 900,000 minutes) since Kent died. Apparently, time passes. That does not make it any easier to BE in the so-called present. Sorry. Wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. It just gets…just gets on being.

I know, getting back to Lucy, that the human brain uses far more than 10% of its capacity, despite the premise of the film. But science-fiction raises great questions. It is the perfect medium for critical thinking. In addition to suppositional thinking, (“Wow. IF we only use 10%…”) people should leave the movie also wondering, “Wow. What does the REAL science say about brain theory?” The art asks the question. How we answer it is another thing altogether.

“In the movie Lucy, the entire assumption that humans only use 10 percent of the brain is misleading. The correction is this fact: it’s not that we use only 10 percent of our brains, rather it’s that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.” Olympia LePoint (She really is a rocket scientist. How cool is THAT?)

There is a huge distinction between “using” and “understanding.”

“Another mystery hidden within our crinkled cortices is that out of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function remains largely unknown.” Boyd, Scientific American

There is also a huge distinction between “mystery” and “unknown.” The first connotes secrecy, the second implies an inevitable answer. It’s “unknown” for now.

But the character of Lucy knows. She says something along the lines of, “Time is the only true unit of measure, it gives proof to the existence of matter, without time, we don’t exist.”

Without time we don’t exist.” I need to wrap my brain around that idea. Is it because at the atomic level there is only frequency and no “time”? But we put a bunch of atoms together and we get time because we can measure decay? So…”we” don’t exist at the sub-atomic level, but the stuff that makes us (also known as matter) does. Okay. Back to time.

The time it takes for weeds to grow in the flower bed is directly proportionate to the time it takes to weed the other flower bed.

The real Lucy is over three million years old.

I want to believe that the anecdote of how the scientific Lucy got her name is true.

The time I spend reading on the beach is much shorter than the time I spend in meetings, regardless of the fact that they are both measured by, let’s say, 60 minutes.

We can measure by how many treatments are left or by days of sobriety. We can measure by the arrival of hummingbirds or the departure of the sun over the horizon.

We measure by moments. The poets know this.


You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.” Pablo Neruda “Enigmas

July 1, 2014

No Time for Advertisements

by lisa st john



Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?”

Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot


Dear Reader (Wait. Weird how Jane Austen that sounded.):

I promise to never put floating hypertext ads on my blog. If you click on one of my links it’s because, like me, you are interested in tangents and are willing to play in the world of hypertext reading theory.

Delany and Landow define hypertext as, “the use of the computer to transcend the linear, bounded and fixed qualities of the traditional written text.” Wow. I like the hyperbole of “transcending” anything linear. Anyway…


Time. How to act for the next few weeks when my world is not measured by the clock? I look at the LED and 8:30 seems a reasonable time to get up. I switch the coffee maker from Auto-On to Brew. She’ll stay that way for awhile. I’ll check the weather. Humid. Yeah, well, it is June in upstate New York. Sun and clouds. Really? They are both going to be up there today. Okay. In Arizona, I rarely checked the weather. How many synonyms are there for hot, really hot, and treacherously hot?


So. I will check my email. Yawn. I could pay some bills. Yuck. The computer tells me it is 8:56, but the numbers have lost their meaning.


I gave the kids a ten minute warning.”


It’s okay. They have no idea how long ten minutes is. It could be five minutes or half an hour.”


Ten minutes waiting for a bus in the rain is a long ten minutes. Ten minutes before the betting windows close is a just-enough ten minutes. Ten minutes of lounging in the sand watching the waves is far too short.


But if Einstein is right, why can’t I play with time dilation; why can’t I choose to see the future rather than the past?


Kindergarteners learn to “tell” time (much too early in my humble opinion). The only way to explain time to my son when he was five was to tell him that time wasn’t real. Then he got it. “Philosophers like McTaggart who claim that time is unreal are aware of the seemingly paradoxical nature of their claim. They generally take the line that all appearances suggesting that there is a temporal order to things are somehow illusory.” What’s wrong with a little paradox?


Composer Jonathan Berger claims that music can, “hijack our perception of time.” Schubert knew, before science did, that time is based on perception. The logical conclusion here is that artists like Schubert can manipulate time. So what time is it?


Wait. There’s a cat, a hammock, and a book. That’s three. The time is three today.


Always in motion is the future.”

Yoda, Star Wars Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back





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