Posts tagged ‘women’

April 30, 2015

Poetry is a Deserved and Necessary Extravagance

by lisa st john

PoetryIsTheShadowCastByOurStreetlightImaginationsByLawrenceFerlinghettiInJackKerouacAlley

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (
Audre Lorde)

The workshop guru said we must fight. Poetry is dying because we over-test the students. “Where is the short story? Where are the poems in your curriculum?” she demands.

I teach high school students. I try and also integrate the language arts. I cannot do a poetry unit for the same reason that I can’t really buy into Black History Month. Poetry is embedded in all my units. Black history is American history, isn’t it? Do I wait to teach the syncopation of Langston Hughes until February? Do I hold off on Zora Neale Hurston or Toni Morrison until “their month” arrives? How do you read Frankenstein without reading Percy Bysshe Shelley or looking at the paintings of William Blake? How do you read Tim O’Brien without writing collage and found poetry? I guess I m not good at separating the arts into little egg cartons. Eggs are too easily broken.

So I go to writing workshops like Nina Shengold’s Word Cafe, and rejoice in the publication and popularity of Chronogram (in print no less). And I nod in understanding when Gretchen Primack describes poetic form as a “lattice for your roses.”

I smile at the incredulity of teachers when they find out my oh-so-optional Poetry Elective (pass/fail—no credit) is full.

I laugh a full belly-laugh when a students says, “Look at that kid—he looks like a purple crayon!” And then I tell the student that he has the start of a poem.

I take them on field trips to hear poets like Tina Chang at SUNY Ulster. I am thrilled when they buy her book or want a picture. Who says poets cannot be celebrities?

When I Google the phrase “21st century poetry” I get 11,200,000 hits. That’s not so bad. Google used to be a number spelled googol and then it was a noun and now it’s a verb. Poetry used to be oral, sung; it changed to include the written, recited, slammed, recorded (audio and visual), animated, mashed, digitized. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek, meaning “to create.”

It’s not going away any time soon. I need poetry like I need cooked food. If I only ate grass, I’d be a sheep.

My first chapbook, Ponderings, is being published by Finishing Line Press. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

The number of copies sold before May 8th determines the size of the pressrun, which explains this gentle reminder.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

I wrote the following poem at a Word Cafe Workshop with a collaboration of teaching and writing and not separating in mind.

“Sonnet for Adam: Denied Donation”

I would leave off a line for you,
not a whole couplet, obviously, but—
a line. Oh Adam, you are not the first.
So many bled—ahead—to pave this way.

At least you had the guts to tell the truth.
You say, “Heighten your attention. See Me.”
“Come back next year,” they told you yet again.
You say, “Listen to truth with wider eyes.”

To savor your story will take longer
than one Stonewall and a few thousand lives.
For you, Adam, for you—oh! Not the first.
For you, the blood will come around again.

See me. See me. Anapest just this once.

March 30, 2015

“Words, words, words” (Hamlet IIii)

by lisa st john

It was born
in blood, the word
grew in the dark body, beating
and flew through the lips and the mouth. (Pablo Neruda “The Word”)

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. (Edgar Allan Poe)

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I love words, yet I hate the way they can be used. I love their power even when destructive. I have loved watching and hearing them change over time. It’s exciting when new ones pop up or nouns get verbed. “I will Google this.”

But when did feminism become a negative thing? When did the belief of, and actions for, equal rights between the sexes get a bad rap? I was raised by older sisters—hippies who burned their bras and broke the rules and believed that we had to work twice as hard as men to get the same results. How did this change? I had to look, and I found this:

“The Waves of Feminism” by Martha Rampton, professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University.

1st Wave late 19th early 20th centuries: The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (d.1902) drafted the Seneca Falls Declaration outlining the new movement’s ideology and political strategies.

In its early stages, feminism was interrelated with the temperance and abolitionist movements and gave voice to now-famous activists like the African-American Sojourner Truth (d.1883), who demanded, “Ain’t I a woman?” Victorian America saw women acting in very “un-ladylike” ways (public speaking, demonstrating, stints in jail), which challenged the “cult of domesticity.”

2nd Wave 1960s-1990s : “The second wave was increasingly theoretical, based on a fusion of neo-Marxism and psycho-analytic theory and began to associate the subjugation of women with broader critiques of patriarchy, capitalism, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother. Sex and gender were differentiated — the former being biological, and the later a social construct that varies culture-to-culture and over time.”

3rd Wave mid 1990s – now: “The ‘grrls’ of the third wave have stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy. They have developed a rhetoric of mimicry, which reappropriates derogatory terms like ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ in order to subvert sexist culture and deprive it of verbal weapons. Reality is conceived not so much in terms of fixed structures and power relations, but in terms of performance within contingencies. Third wave feminism breaks boundaries.

Where feminism will go from here is unclear, but the point is that feminism, by whatever name, is alive and well both in academia and outside of it. Some older feminists feel discouraged by the younger generation’s seeming ignorance of or disregard for the struggles and achievements of the early movement. They see little progress (the pay gap has not significantly narrowed in 60 years), and are fearful that the new high-heeled, red-lipped college grrls are letting us backslide.”

What saddens me are comments by young women today such as, “I am not a feminist because I don’t hate men.” I want to educate them. I want them to learn the history of the movement. I am going to take students on a field trip to see She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry in Rosendale next month. But that seems like such a limp effort. I am in the process of wrapping my head around how to raise awareness (even the phrase “raise awareness” sounds lame).

Did we raise awareness when “Healing the Hurt” conference changed its name to PrideWorks? Do young activists even know that the now famous NYC Pride Parade was first called “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day” after the Stonewall Riots ?

I had to fight bureaucrats and bible-thumpers to get a Gay-Straight Alliance Club formed in a high school once upon a time. It was passed as long as we called it The “Rainbow” Club. It was a start.

Does knowing the history matter to the language?

“There is no more sexism,” a student told me once. “My mom is a lawyer, my dad is a doctor, and I am going to __________ for pre-med in September.”

“Excellent,” I replied. “When you are done with your undergraduate degree (or maybe it will take until grad school) I want you to come back and tell me how wrong I was; how you were treated just like your male colleagues.” She snorted and rolled her eyes, but she hasn’t come back. I wish she had. I wish I was wrong.

You can buy my first chapbook of poetry HERE at Finishing Line Press. It’s called Ponderings.

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

ATTENTION! “Time?”

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).

March 11, 2015

Buy My Book. Please.

by lisa st john

logo

 

I did it.

I finished a book of poetry, and Finishing Line Press is publishing it. BUY MY FIRST BOOK! This is real. This is me asking you. Ponderings is my first chapbook, and I need you to buy it NOW while it is in the advance sale stage. The orders that come in now will determine how many copies they publish.

PREORDER PURCHASE SHIPS July 3, 2015

Order online by clicking this link. It’s easy! They accept Paypal and credit/debit cards. Or go directly to http//www.finsihinglinepress.com/ and then to “preorder forthcoming titles” on the right side of the page.

Ponderings by Lisa St. John $14.49, paper

You can also order by post. Send shipping address along with check or money order made payable to:

Finishing Line Press Post Office Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

Help a poet out, and RESERVE YOUR COPY TODAY!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Here is a favorite poem from Ponderings.

ON WRITING

(With apologies to Stephen King and Francis Bacon)

Push it into a villanelle, or stretch it into a sonnet,

no. Chop it into a Tanka. A Haiku.

5 This poem is now here

7 with out struc-ture it floats like

5 a poll-u-ted fog.

“I have to be careful editing,” Alvin said, “Or I cut until my poems disappear altogether.”
Wordsworth said, “Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Colette said,” Destroy most of it.”

Julie said, “Why do we bother with it? Why?”

Summarily dismiss all critics.
Copy the masters.
Write what you know.
Imagine the moment.
Aphorize me no more!

Stereotype: Torture! Pain! Drama.
Drinking, smoking, crying writer wails, “If I don’t write I’ll die!”

Little Marquis de Sades running round writing with blood and excrement using their
fingernails. I need an emoticon here for rolling eyes.

There is no ghost in this machine.

February 22, 2015

The Satire Paradox: Part One

by lisa st john

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Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!
How oft would vice and virtue places change!

Lord Byron‘s Don Juan

It is truly strange—that nano-moment between sleep and awake when illusion and reality look face to face. Like the lovely movie Ladyhawke where the lovers are doomed to never meet in person again. Rutget Hauer is a wolf at night when Michelle Pfeiffer is a human and she turns into a hawk during the day when he turns back to human. Helluva curse. I wish it wasn’t real. My mind teased me this morning in that nano-moment; Kent wasn’t gone, and I wasn’t a widow and then–

But that’s what makes us human, right? Caring? Suffering? Therein lies the paradox (and is the joke ever on us): we live to love and be hurt so we know what love is and what it means to hurt so we know what life is. Humph. Or is it all a big satire created to change us into better humans? Better humans. Not sure what that means. I don’t want to go all singularity right now. Better ponder that another time.

“So…ha ha, just kidding about that scotch making you feel better,” said morning head apologizing to nighttime head. But it did. But it doesn’t. Does it feel good to write a blog because of the guilt, knowing I should be grading papers instead, or in spite of it?

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Otherwise no one would believe either. It’s like Tim O’Brien so eloquently states in The Things They Carried, “That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are… Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.”

It’s why there are no decent shows or movies about teaching high school because no one would believe them. Do you know how many times I have uttered the phrase, “STOP touching each other!” or “Where is the rest of your skirt?!” or “Stop fucking swearing or I’m going to fucking call your mother and fucking see how she fucking likes to hear it.” They don’t like that, the students. Teachers aren’t supposed to swear. It does, however, take the shock factor out of it for them. Hee.

It makes the teacher human, being sarcastically inhumane. Are You Human? is the poignant TED Talk by Ze Frank that is worth every one of the 4 minutes and 34 seconds it will take to watch. Go ahead. I’ll be right here.

His compelling lines echoed for me this morning: Have you ever woken up blissfully and suddenly been flooded by the awful remembrance that someone had left you? Have you ever lost the ability to imagine a future without a person that no longer was in your life? Have you ever looked back on that event with the sad smile of autumn and the realization that futures will happen regardless?”

This morning he wasn’t gone, he just was… almost here.

Bad Religion says it best in their song, Stranger than Fiction. “Life is the crummiest book I’ve ever read.” And yet—that’s exactly what makes it so damn fabulous!

Maybe that is Art’s purpose. To show us the possibility of the extraordinary.

January 26, 2015

Will This Be On The Test?

by lisa st john

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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.

BUT WHEN DO I COPY THE MULTIPLE-CHOICE PACKETS!?

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.

Sincerely,

Teacher

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

dali

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 7, 2014

“To Develop” Sounds Like Too Much Work

by lisa st john

de·vel·op : verb\di-ˈvel-əp, dē-\

: to cause (something) to grow or become bigger or more advanced
: to create (something) over a period of time
: to work out the possibilities of <
develop an idea>

My frustration with the writing process mounts. I need a little brain stretch break.

Me: “How does my character develop? What is her journey? What will happen to her?”

Gertrude Stein: “There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.”

 

I just realized what I want to be when I grow up (I know I am already a teacher, and I know I love my job, but let’s just say I had another life to fill up). Then I want to be Gertrude Stein. I want to be alone all day and write (except for the occasional cafe lunch) and then just have people over almost every night. We will drink and talk and smoke cigars and play Cards Against Humanity. We will ask metaphysical questions and come up with drunken ideas half-formed by moonlight.

 

We will bow to the power of repetition and we will argue until the moonlight is gone. Wait. Does this mean I need an Alice? Will I have to write her autobiography?

 

I prefer Stein’s portraits. I used to try and write them back in the day, but it just wasn’t my style. Her poem, “If I Told Him,” about Picasso tickles my brain nicely. And a tickle develops into a tangent who introduces her to an idiom. Then she starts running around with some nasty verb, and before I know it a damn plot is born.

 

Develop. Sigh. I guess it IS a verb after all.

 

I want to gently submerge the blank page into a tray of Dektol. I will make sure the red light is on. I will rock the page in the tray until the page is covered evenly. I will watch the page and reduce its ephemeral salty thoughts until only the metallic words are left. Just like magic. But magic takes work. Clarke’s Third Law says so. So. I will stop whining and wishing and keep working and see what happens. I just wish Hemingway would stop by.

Here is to having the eggs to “caress and address” our muse.

When I said. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun.”
–Stein, “Poetry and Grammar,” Lectures in America

 

 

 

July 1, 2014

No Time for Advertisements

by lisa st john

daisy

 

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.”

But…”

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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