This school year is flying by
like a bullet train at lightning speed,
its passengers securely buckled in,
or, even, despite incredible
rates of acceleration, move freely
inside the cabins as if they were
standing stock still, sipping their
drinks, forking their hors d’oeuvres,
oblivious to the fact that they
are moving at 200 miles per hour.
I think, but I am not sure,
that as the engineer of this train,
I have a certain modicum
of control here, but still, I have to ask,
are we really going this fast?
Tag Archives: time
This school year is flying by
It’s always astounding to me, when I set myself the task of writing a poem a day for a month, and then each day becomes marked by a poem, how quickly the month seems to pass. Thirty poems seems like a lot of poems. Thirty days seems like a lot of days. It’s not. You’d think we’d be used to this, that whole time-passing thing. It’s been more than a year since our lock-down began. I went 105 days without alcohol. I was counting those days, not because I couldn’t wait for the abstinence to be over, but because I wanted to see how many days I could go. 105 days went by pretty quickly. A full year of distance learning, of teaching remotely from my home computer, from April 2020 to April 2021–that happened. That, however, did not go by quickly. This, perhaps, has felt like the longest school year in my long career. Maybe it’s that you have to be counting, and in small increments, to experience time as accelerated. My two most favorite unfinished reading projects are both about time. I was not able to finish Proust or Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I don’t know what this means. Perhaps I’m grasping at straws. I liked today’s final suggestion from the Napowrimo website, but it feels slight somehow, not suitable as a concluding poem–as if, for some reason, I feel like the last poem of the month should be somehow a kind of pinnacle, some kind of stirring, epic, grand, final gesture. That’s a set-up for failure. William Stafford’s advice about writing has stuck with me more, I think, than any other piece of advice I have ever heard or read from another writer. When you are stuck, when the going gets tough, “lower your standards.”
Thanks for joining me on this journey. I so much appreciate those of you who have visited a bunch of times, sharing some comments here or there and “liking” the work. It’s sustaining. It’s very gratifying. I wish I could be as generous to you all as you have been to me. Time to visit the work of my Napowrimo brothers and sisters is always limited in my situation during this most critical time of the school year, the home stretch, as it were, and especially in this year of our plague, 2021. Cheers. Congratulations. May we meet again in better circumstances. Here are the directions to my house.
Poem on April 30
Just follow the signs.
You can’t miss it.
It’s just right around the corner.
Well, right around several corners,
the penultimate corner of which
will, after one more corner,
bring you practically to my doorstep.
It’s almost nothing but left turns
with a right turn just in time
so that you’re not traveling
in circles. Yeah, if you think
of it like that, a series of
near circles, or squares really,
with a right turn after
every two lefts–that’s the idea.
Look for the tree, the one
all by itself on the curbside,
standing, as if on guard,
against what appears to be
a whole forest of giant oaks,
which leaved today, by the way.
I swear, I’ve been watching,
like I do every year: one day,
bare trees, the next, leaves.
So look for the green in the canopy.
The dogs will bark but they don’t bite.
We have a roundabout driveway
that moves round about the house.
We hope you will feel welcome here,
but our doorbell is out of commission
so you’ll have to use the knocker.
Synchronicity, as Jung described it, is a meaningful coincidence, an “acausal connecting principal.” Things happen back to back that seem to be meaningfully related; even though the first thing could not be said to have caused the second thing, we still feel the buzz or the chill of revelation, usually in a thrilling and positive way. We’ve all experienced these, but some of us experience them more often than others, some of us perhaps experience them all the time. I tend, when I am feeling inspired or especially creative, on the cusp of the next big idea for writing or teaching, or in the company of inspiring friends, to experience synchronicity in pretty heavy doses. Like now.
Last week, wrapping up my study with 9th graders of e. e. cummings, I shared with them a poem I wrote a couple of years ago about time, or rather, how we live within it, and whether or not, as cummings is constantly asking, we are being or unbeing in our experience of time. Today, at my bi-weekly meditation group meeting, time was the subject and the theme, our relationship to our past and future selves and the way in which we might have dialogue with those selves on our way to a spiritual goal. Then I got in the car to drive home, turned on NPR, and began listening to the TED Radio Hour, and guess what the topic was at noon? Time. I’ve been writing a blog series titled “Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year.” There have been two penultimate years now in a row, hence the “Redux” in the current title. Both the words “penultimate” and “redux” are inextricably time-tied words. I don’t know how many more years will be penultimate ones, but it strikes me now more than ever that I am increasingly aware of keeping track, counting up, remembering, thinking about, appreciating, and playing with TIME. I don’t know that I have anything wise to say about it. Let’s find out.
The current wisdom, one that I aspire to and espouse, is that one should try to live in the moment, to be fully present, but one of the Ted Talk Time Theorists was saying that this is a mistake, that only the past and future are real, that the present is illusory, that each moment is behind us in the instant we give thought to it. Maybe that is true, but I still think there are huge qualitative differences in the way of being present in the present–as everyone knows who has ever tried to have a meaningful exchange with someone who is looking at a smart phone, or has ever failed at a task in the moment because of anxiety about something in the future or in the past. I meditate, in large part, to mediate distraction, to ground myself in the moment, to have 15 or 20 minutes a day when my only concern is the breath going in and the breath going out. And while I say that, I know how sometimes excruciatingly bad I am at this–even in silent meditation, my mind is alway teetering between the past and the present, remembering and planning, remembering and planning. So, here are a few more takeaways about time that I gleaned from today’s meditation and today’s TED Radio Hour:
- People tend to think of themselves as having “arrived” in the current moment–to see themselves in the present as the best yet version of themselves.
- We feel gratitude toward our past selves, even if he or she was an asshole.
- Our future self is very encouraging to us, mostly telling us to keep doing what we’re doing, that everything’s going to work out for the best.
- There’s something really weird, special, and ubiquitous about 4 in the morning.
- Our memory of our past is not very good–we should make some kind of record of it.
- Time can make us simultaneously happy and sad: Exhibit A–finding yourself in tears when you look at a picture of your kid from four years ago. Exhibit B: being so happy in the presence of a beloved friend that you want to cry and often do.
- Time is experienced differently by young people than it is by older people, creating the illusion that it passes more slowly for children and more quickly for adults. That’s because the older you are the more understanding you have of your own mortality.
- We don’t know if time existed before the Big Bang. The universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. The universe is a big place and it’s not the only one. We are hurling through space.
- Time will tell.
- Time after time.
- It takes time. These things.
- Time is probably not on my side.
- And a joke I saw on Facebook today: What did Dickens have in his spice rack? The best of thyme, the worst of thyme.
In the not so distant future, I will write a poem every day in the month of April for the 7th year in a row. In this way, I will make a record of the time. I’ll close with a blast from the past, my 264th blog poem, the poem I shared with my students last week inspired by e. e. cummings and a prompt from the napowrimo website to compose a thing called a “bop.”
#264: to be anywhereish
(a bop inspired by e.e. cummings)
to be anywhereish and everywhereish
all at once is to be at the mercy of somewhereishness,
and that’s a huge, unmindfulish problem.
someplace else is really no place and you
wander about sheepfully looking for anywhere
but where you are in the nano of the moment.
time is not on your side; no it ain’t.
you may have holdings in the future tense.
you may have findings in the yesteryearly nest.
but the problem is still that there is no now here
and there is not even there anymore, besides.
don’t look at me like that, you goat, not when,
not where. you sit there in your forward engine
and you, clueless, mathless, autocorrect yourself
until the starstuff between your ears spills outwardly.
time is not on your side; no it ain’t.
i think there’s an unsolution. Look deeplyish
at the center of anything and do what no one ever
tells you to do: that’s right, don’t eat that peach.
a friend of mine around sunday kept naming
a tangerine a nectarine. so in the now he forgot
everything, even names. Somewhere in there: that’s it.
time is not on your side; no it ain’t.
Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year, Redux: We Should Be Angry Most of the Time, But for Some Reason. . .
There are things that should infuriate public school teachers about our jobs. Here’s just one:
- It is an impossible gig; to wit, there is not enough time in the work day to do the job we have been asked to do, or rather, the job that we would like to do, the job that we know is best for our students and our schools.
Exhibit A: I have a student intern who has, at this point in the school year, taken over one of my six classes. So that means to me, while I am not inside the classroom observing and my intern flies solo, that every other day I have an extra 87 minutes to plan and grade in addition to my daily 87 minute preparation period. The extra time afforded by having an intern should allow me to get out from the perpetual work load hole. So I sit down first period today with a stack of response journals to grade–just one stack out of four stacks that await my attention. But I realize, even though I know exactly what I’ll be doing with my seniors next period, that before I can begin grading journals, I must figure out what I’m doing today with my freshmen the period after that. This should take a few minutes. Okay, do I have the poem of the day? Yes. Do I have copies? Yes. But before I give them the excerpt from The House on Mango Street, I need to deliver that mini-lesson about symbol. Okay, let’s look at that power point slide. No, I don’t like this. I don’t like the examples here. The examples need to be more clear, closer to something students will recognize. So I take 10 minutes to revise that slide. Okay, what’s next, after the mini-lesson and the warm-up, I wanted to do that exercise where the students look at one of Cisneros’s vignettes and make a claim, provide evidence for the claim, and craft an explanation about why their evidence supports the claim. Okay, do I have a handout for that? Yes. But I don’t have copies and I don’t want to give them three handouts today, so what if I just put the instructions on the next slide in that power point? Good idea, let’s do that. This takes another 15 minutes. Okay, we’re about half way through the plan. What’s next? Oh, students need a prompt for the original vignettes they’ll be drafting today. Do I have that? Yes. Let’s look. I don’t like it. These prompts are boring; I’d like to give students more choices. Oh shit, I have not yet reread the pages I assigned students for today. Well, I can’t write this vignette prompt until I’ve done that reading. That takes 20 minutes. As I’m reading I am writing prompts inspired by Cisneros’s vignettes in Mango Street. This is much better, but I don’t have copies. 15 minutes making copies, three copies of the assignment on one sheet, and then the work with the paper cutter to make a handout for 110 freshmen. Okay. Good. Back to my workspace only to realize I’ve got paperwork to do and emails to send and there’s an incidental but important conversation with a colleague about the site council meeting yesterday and suddenly I have five minutes left before the bell rings to start grading that stack of response journals. That’s not happening.
Exhibit B: My intern is teaching while I’m in the staff lounge alone with Exhibit A. There’s a seven minute passing period in which restrooms are used and a.v. equipment is made ready for my second period senior class. The bell rings. My second period students in an astounding display of commitment to unpacking the reading for today from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, discuss the novel, with me directing traffic and trying to ask good questions, for an entire period. It is exhilarating and exhausting. Before I know it, it is time for lunch, a duty free 30 minutes to eat and chat it up with colleagues. And yet, because I want to know, and because I enjoy the interaction, I ask my intern how first period went. He’s on his way out the door to get to a class at Lewis and Clark College, but my question and his highlights from his morning turn into a 10 minute conversation. Then there’s the logistical preparation for my freshmen coming in after lunch. Consequently, I have 15 minutes to eat. Oh, I have to go the restroom again. I have 12 minutes to eat. Off to spend an 87 minute period with my freshmen and my new slides and my new vignette prompts and a plan that’s far better than it was the last time I taught it.
Exhibit C: When my prep finally arrives fourth and last period (the worst), I am toast. It takes me about 20 minutes to muster up the energy to face that original stack of response journals. I face them. I sit down with them. I proceed to grade. In an hour, give or take, I finish grading half of one class set of response journals out of the four sets that await my attention. The day is done. Tomorrow I will be just a little bit less behind than I was today, despite my extra and luxurious and bountiful 87 minutes to plan and grade.
These first three exhibits are only about one day in one teacher’s classroom. If the teacher above were to get out of this perpetual grading and planning hole and stay there, he would have to do one of three things: 1. work hour upon hour outside the work day and on the weekend, at home during his own time, 2. call in sick often enough in order to get caught up, or 3. make compromises to the quality of the work he does. The alternative to these three options seems to be a perpetual grading and planning hole that comes to a close only twice a year: at the end of the first semester and again at the end of the school year.
And then there’s the work that somehow the staff, as a collective, must do together.
Exhibit D: As a staff, we are trying to be an IB School, to be an AVID school, to have effective Professional Learning Communities, to have effective and cohesive departments, to implement brand new science and social studies curriculum, to attend district wide staff development, to have meetings regularly in which a large group of teachers, counselors, administrators, and support staff talk about single kids who are struggling, to get through the accreditation process, to do the ever important work of reflecting about why we do what we do, what we do, and how we do it. We have 40 minutes or so in a 40 hour work week, and perhaps 8 to 16 hours spread out over the entire school year to do all these things well. And that doesn’t happen. As individual teachers in an academic classroom, we don’t have enough time in the work day to do our jobs, and as a staff, while the possibilities of what we could accomplish given the time to really dive deep are mind-bogglingly profound, we find ourselves constantly scratching the surface of a half a dozen things, all equally important and relevant to the work, but always infuriatingly out of our reach.
I said this to a colleague today almost as if it were the first time it had ever occurred to me: Given these parameters, it seems like we should just be walking around angry all the time! I have an impossible job! But lo, I have been at this for 30 years. Am I angry? Yes. All the time? Sure. Do I have high blood pressure? Yes, I do. Does it physically hurt me inside to realize that I will likely work an entire career without ever having the experience of the work AS IT COULD BE IN A PERFECT WORLD, or even in a slightly less imperfect world? Yes it does.
And yet, do I love this work? Do I think there are very few things in the world that I would rather do for a living than teach? For some reason, the answer to both of these questions, for me and for many of my colleagues who have been at this game for a long time, seems to be a definitive YES. Go figure.
This is just to say
I came home from work today
and had nowhere else to go.
No rehearsal, no show.
I moved straight into relaxation,
writing a poem my only obligation
and even that, I put off until now;
just goes to show you how:
having time now for almost anything I’d like to do,
I choose instead next to nothing, and wouldn’t you?