‘Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood': Overheard 6 May thru 16 May

Some of my sophomore students drew my plant form last week.

Some of my sophomore students drew me as a plant two weeks ago.

Closer up, me as a flower. I'm pleased the students used the black (and not the

Closer up, me as a flower. I’m pleased the students used the black (and not the “rapidly graying”) marker to depict my hair.

We were debating whether you were here or not. And then, as an evidentiary claim, you showed up,” I said to a student who arrived late to my 3rd hour class.

I was such a child back then,” said a senior girl in my creative writing class as she read through her journal. When, I asked. “January 14th,” she said.

I just wanna wear pants,” said a student who continued to wear shorts above her leg brace two weeks after her knee surgery. Another student who had previously had knee surgery said, “I just wanted to wear pants after I had MY surgery.”

On seeing another senior girl’s translucent lunch sack, another senior girl said, “You have a banana and water — that’s it!

A senior boy announced to others as they were going to lunch, apropos of nothing, “I got three compliments yesterday from three girls.

Student M.P. said Student M.M. almost gotten him flunked from 8th grade. M.M. answered, “He plagiarized the whole thing!” M.P. answered: “At least I was trying.”

After Student L. announced that he was done with the reading assignment, his classmate J. said, “No, you’re not. My nose itches.”

Say ‘booty’ when we get in the hallway,” said Student I. to Student J., after I’d told them not to shout “booty” in the classroom, per their prior practice. After class, in the hallway, both boys shouted, “Booty, what?”

After Student R. said she had a job interview but didn’t want to tuck in her t-shirt for the interview, because tucking in the shirt would make her look like a nerd, Student S. answered: “If you want a job, you’re gonna be a nerd.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

I heard a male teacher conversing in the school library with a female teacher say: “Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood.” After I said that was a quote worth writing down, they both said they were talking about fencing at their respective homes.

On Mother’s Day, my mom cooked homemade vegetable patties for me. “Does this look like something you want more than one of?” she asked as she spatula’d one onto my plate. I did.

All I have to do is type the words,” said a student in my writing class explaining how he was going to get caught up on a semester’s worth of missing writing assignments in the last week of class.

I asked a sophomore student how she was doing last Tuesday. “Dees,” she said, presumably for the first syllable in “decent.”

A student and I were counting up the number of days he’d been alive. Maybe he’d been dead for some of those days, he suggested. Being dead a minute, maybe, I said. “Being dead a day, it’s hard to come back from that,” I said. By the way, this student had been alive for his 6,714th day last Thursday.

After I mentioned to a couple students that I'd written many stories for my college French classes about a

During 10th hour on 8 May, I mentioned to a couple students that I’d written many stories for my college French classes about a “marmotte,” because it was so close to its English equivalent “marmot.” After students left, I noticed all three computers where those students sat had had new pictures installed for backgrounds.

The chicks’ll cream” were the words in the “Greased Lightning” song played for teachers to dance to, in the teachers-versus-students dance-off at my school’s end-of-year assembly last Friday.

Also at the assembly, in a separate dancing exhibition, the teacher leading three groups of seniors through some so-called “games” told them to perform a “native dance,” which involved students getting dressed up with what looked like Swiffer duster-sheets as headdresses and cones over their mouths. “Let’s see some indigenous movements,” she actually said.

Announcing a prize of two free pork chops at a fall football game next school year, that same teacher described the prize as “Oh, nice, nice, nice, nice.”

This is not ‘Fun with Lasers.’ This is ‘Measuring with Lasers,’ which is even MORE fun than ‘Fun with Lasers,’” propagandized a math teacher to his 7th hour students as they gathered in the hallway Friday. Minutes later, I heard him call out, “two feet, six and a half inches.”

Link: Marvel movies avoid character growth

This piece by Sady Doyle describes a problem she sees in too many Marvel films: a willingness to nearly forego characters in service of fights and set-pieces.

Character arcs aren’t negotiable. They’re not highbrow or pretentious or complicated. Character arcs are essential to the success of any story in any genre. To understand why all this matters, look at the Hulk’s arc in the first Avengers, which many people consider to be the most successful part of that movie. I would argue that it’s actually the most successful element of any Marvel movie to date. In the first Avengers, the Hulk (1) hates being the Hulk, (2) encounters a situation that can only be resolved by becoming the Hulk, and (3) embraces being the Hulk. Simple, right? Stupid simple. Yet it landed like a ton of bricks in the theater, because that’s what stories are. Stories use cause and effect to dramatize a process whereby a person is forced to change.

Hulk’s arc, simple as it might be, was a cause-and-effect process that dramatized a universal human problem: You might not always like yourself, so you can identify with someone who doesn’t like himself, and therefore,you will experience catharsis when a story gives the both of you permission to love yourselves. When he goes on that final rampage and slams Loki into the floor, that’s not just a cartoon causing some corporate-mandated violence: That’s you, loving your body despite being the “wrong” size, or making feminist points in a conversation without worrying that someone will call you a buzzkill, or being proud of your art despite the fact that it’s been rejected, or deciding that you can leave your abusive relationship because you are worthy of respect. Hulk smash inner self-loathing, and thereby becomes the most powerful force in the universe.

So finally, our hero, a suicidal man who has spent the whole movie telling himself he’s worthless and intrinsically inferior to other people, encounters Loki, an arrogant, sneering, hyper-critical, hyper-verbal character — a character who mysteriously chooses that very moment to begin a monologue about how worthless the Avengers are, and how inferior they are to him — and suddenly, Loki hits the floor. Hard. And every time Loki hits that floor, all over the world, the theater erupts with screams of joy. There is a release that goes beyond the rational or the personal, here: The noise of hundreds of strangers united for just one second in the realization that deep down, despite all the pain, despite all the shit they put themselves through, despite the endless cruelty that inner critical voice subjects them to, they don’t have to let it keep talking. Deep down, they are not ugly or stupid or unlovable or bad or worthless. Deep down, they are strong. They are heroes.

Speaking of heroes, here’s Joseph Campbell: “Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster — the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).” When the superego’s judgment is no longer powerful enough to annihilate us (puny God) and the id is accepted by the ego without fear (I’m always angry), our wholeness is restored, our place in the cosmos is found, and we are free. It hits us so hard, all we can do is scream.

Don’t let anyone tell you that silly popcorn movies don’t matter, or that they can’t be smart or beautiful or profound. A silly popcorn movie can change your life. All it has to do is create characters with identifiable, human problems, and let them work out those problems over the course of the story. Stories are about change, and about people, because ultimately, they are about you, the person sitting in a dark theater, working out your baggage by projecting it onto CGI cartoons of overly handsome actors.

Here’s another way to put it: The extent to which a movie invests in character-based, character-driven storytelling is the extent to which it recognizes, appreciates, and honors the humanity of its audience.

So when Age of Ultron doesn’t invest — when it goes by the assumption that the formula, and the formula alone, is enough to appease the popcorn-eaters — it says something pretty bad.

And Doyle describes how short-cutting a story means the story relies on cliches and stereotypes:

But when the character-based screenwriting breaks down, so does the feminism. Black Widow is just as ill-served as every other character in that story, but because she’s a woman, it’s politically offensive as well as aesthetically offensive.

Let’s take a moment to recognize that, given the paucity of time for character work in Age of Ultron, nearly all of the character development is done with shortcuts. I’m talking real hack stuff, like “each character has a hallucination establishing his inner conflicts and backstory,” or “we know this character is old-fashioned because he doesn’t like swearing” (brought up so many times that I get the sense it was meant to pay off, in the same way the constant questions about Banner’s “secret” paid off last time — was there a climactic F-bomb from Steve that got cut for the rating?) or even “the circle of life is established by naming a baby after the dead guy.” (This, aside from giving me flashbacks to the infamously terrible ending of Harry Potter, is especially egregious because the baby’s mother never met the dead guy — and, if she ever knew that the dead guy existed, which is highly debatable, she knew him as “that guy who’s trying to murder my husband.” She names her baby after someone she never met, on the premise that her husband once slightly got along with him for about two hours. Stirring!) Jokes get underlined by characters explaining them and noting that they were humorous. Some characters just walk into a room, announce their backstory, and leave. (“How are you, Sam?” “I AM HAPPY PURSUING OUR MISSING PERSONS CASE IN DC.”) Nothing ever really gets written, or earned, just vaguely outlined. It’s a whole script made of placeholders.

But when you’re doing all your character work with shortcuts, and you have to write a shortcut for your female character, what do you come up with?She’s that one dude’s girlfriend, obviously, is a time-honored shortcut, used or teased by every Marvel writer who’s put Black Widow in a movie — as a woman, she’s an Other, and a sexual object, and therefore must be deployed as a potential or actual sexual reward for a male viewpoint character, rather than being a viewpoint herself. But that’s the same problem you find with every woman in every Marvel movie (Gamora, Agent Carter, Pepper, whatever Natalie Portman’s name is supposed to be) except for Maria Hill, who is clearly saving herself for her one true love, Exposition. If you want to deepen your female character past being a sexual object, in a movie that has no time or patience for anything resembling “depth,” what conflicts do you give her? Well, women have babies, right? Women want babies. Okay. She can’t have babies. She’s sad because she can’t have babies. There you go! Depth established!

I mean, it’s disgusting. Defining your female character’s motivation solely around the Betty Crocker axis of “wants boyfriend” and “wants babies” is 100% disgusting. But if you look around, all of this is disgusting, because all of the characters are exactly this vapid, because [“Avengers: Age of Ultron” writer and director Joss] Whedon can’t get more than five or ten minutes to establish or complicate their motivations, because Marvel is mandating that he not waste screen time on things like the characters’ motivations when he could be shooting ads for their other movies, because Marvel doesn’t care about men, women, or anything except getting you to show up in a few years for the next installment of Avengers.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who believed that a crime against feminism was less important than a crime against storytelling, but in this case, they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to tell the difference. When you can’t write, you can’t write women.

And Doyle is concerned that maybe there’s a more depressing reason for the poor character development:

There’s an alternate interpretation for that Hulk-slams-Loki scene in the first Avengers. I try, very hard, to believe it’s not the correct one. Because it’s an evil message, which cynics will tell you is at the heart of every comic book movie. It is: Punching is better than talking.

It happens in a lot of big, commercial movies, right? There’s a guy who talks a lot, thinks, plans, tries to get somewhere by thinking. In the end, that guy is evil, because thinking is bad. He has to be subdued by the heroic brute: The guy who’s just “normal,” who’s more like you, more pure, because instead of thinking and analyzing, he just feels and does. Loki thinks he can get somewhere with a monologue, but surprise! Giant biceps trump clever monologue, every time.

So there’s your other interpretation, the thing I think is at the core of Marvel’s contempt for people: Punching is better than talking. Doing is better than thinking. Instinct is better than intellect; big is better than smart. We don’t need to understand the Stormtroopers; we don’t need to talk to them. That’s thinking, which is boring. We just need to kill: They don’t have names or histories or families or feelings, and by slaughtering them, thousands of them, we prove that we can do.

The audience doesn’t need dialogue or character or psychological growth. The audience needs explosions, because they’re animals, and all they want is blood on the floor. The audience doesn’t need to be surprised or challenged with a new story. The audience wants the old story, because they’ve bought it ten times already, and at the end of the day, we just convinced these f*cking yahoos to wait three years and pay us twenty dollars so we could tell them to come back in four years and pay us $40. Now you think they want personal growth? Give me a break. They’re barely even people.

I mean: You pump this message out into the atmosphere, and then you’resurprised when the biggest fans are ready to send death threats to a director to save the Almighty Brand? Punching is better than talking, rage is better than understanding, conflicts are resolved by annihilating the other person without feeling bad about it: You just told them that. Over and over, and made them pay for the privilege of hearing it. You can’t possibly be surprised that they believe it’s true.

It kills me that I am so bothered by this. I understand that these movies are power fantasies for nine-year-olds: At the end of the day, accepting that they’re stupid is probably smarter than wishing for them to be smart. But this is the epicenter of pop culture. Everyone is expected to share power fantasies with nine-year-olds now, and worse than that, to take them seriously; to make them into a lifestyle. The Marvel virus has already overtaken movies; now, it’s infiltrated a new host, TV, and is hollowing it out from within.

The aim is not one or two bad movies a year, it’s a total lifestyle regimen of bad pop culture: In order to keep up with the Avengers, you need to keep up with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, and in order to keep up with those, you should probably be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which will really help you keep up with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, andGuardians of the Galaxy, and in order to make sure you’re on top of these nine essential movie franchises and able to make sense of their plots, you’ll need to keep a constant stream of Marvel product in your life, so make sure to tune in for Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and, of course, the forthcoming Hulu triumphs, Ant-Man’s One Weird Friend Gary and Guy Running Away From Explosion In Panel 17.

The problems with Marvel’s storytelling will be the problems of narrative storytelling for the foreseeable future. Once this is over, we’ll be dealing with a generation raised on this stuff, who believes it’s how storytelling ought to work: Harry Potter came out when I was in high school. I’m in my thirties, and I still haven’t seen the end of the “serialized YA fantasy” onslaught. Something this big sticks around.

I love stupid popcorn movies. I do. I believe they can be emotionally resonant, mythic, that they can do the same thing all stories are meant to do — speak to the soul; challenge us to be more and better than we were — and can use big, fantastic elements to tell big, human truths. I also believe that Marvel has no investment in doing so; that, even if they manage to grab a director who is capable of doing those things, the prioritization of the brand and the formula over individual creators will ultimately sabotage the attempt.

Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t just bad. It was, to me, proof that Marvel movies, even at their best, can only be bad. And that they are going to get worse. The human mission has been lost: these are faceless Stormtrooper movies, unleashed in waves upon the presumed-to-be-faceless Stormtrooper audience. Stories are an affirmation of our human value; they teach us what life means, make and keep us human. Marvel, by removing the human from its storytelling, may be bringing about the end of story altogether. F*ck Ultron: Marvel Comics has built the army of machines that might really end the world.

Links: Nell Zink, A Wedding Bust, Kathy Acker

1. A profile of intriguing writer Nell Zink by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker. Some extracts:

For the next four years, Zink worked as a bricklayer in the Tidewater region of Virginia. “That job was more valuable for my intellectual life than my entire college career,” she says. “In college, they allow you to be entertained and let your mind wander, which is not good training to do anything difficult.” Bricklaying, by contrast, cultivated discipline. When she started, she was teaching herself French by reading Sartre’s memoirs, “Les Mots,” with a dictionary in hand. The longer she worked in construction, she found, the longer she could stick with Sartre.

And

In 1997, not long after Zink moved to Israel, Eitan took her to Haifa to introduce her to a friend of his, a writer named Avner Shats. By the end of the evening, Shats and Zink had launched an extraordinary friendship. The two lived some sixty miles apart and did not see each other often, but they began corresponding nearly every day. Zink also set about trying to read his first book, “Sailing Toward the Sunset,” but Shats regarded that as “an impossible task”: it was a difficult postmodern novel written in Hebrew, a language that Zink had barely begun learning. Either in defiance or in accord, Zink gave up trying to read it and started rewriting it in English instead.

Zink wrote “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats” in three weeks. The novel has, Shats clarifies, “absolutely no similarities to my story”—or, for that matter, to any other story ever written. In addition to the seal-woman (a figure from Celtic mythology called a silkie) and the Mossad agent with the preposterous mission, the book features Zink herself, Eitan, and a mysterious submarine powered by a slip of paper on which is written the name of Moshe Dayan. Toward the end of the novel, that paper is transferred to and animates, with arresting results, the agent’s childhood Teddy bear.

Plenty weird, and plenty plenty, but that is not the sixteenth of it. “Sailing Toward the Sunset” also contains, among other things, an inquiry into the nature of translation; a translation proper, by Zink, of Robert Walser’s “The Job Application”; a lovely, controlled short story based on a diary entry by Kafka; a lot of incisive, off-the-cuff literary criticism (of Proust, Richardson, Faulkner, Eliot, Melville, Sterne, Solzhenitsyn); and a short work of science fiction, set in Long Island City, in a future where the global population has shrunk radically and those who remain in the planet’s skeletal, sky-high cities are “doomed, like the great whales: so few were left, in so large a space.” Avner Shats, the first and for many years the only reader of “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats,” was, he says, “overwhelmed by her ability to write such excellent stuff so fast.” He liked it so much that he translated it into Hebrew.

“Sailing Toward the Sunset” is representative: until last year, all of Zink’s work was written for a tiny audience—generally as tiny as one or zero. While working as a bricklayer, she wrote a series of stories about a construction worker, then threw them all away. In Germany, she made friends with a Russian composer, and wrote, for his amusement only, a libretto for an operetta—in rhymed couplets, in German. In 2005, she wrote another novel for Shats, “European Story.” Set at an artists’ retreat in Florence, it is slightly less madcap than “Sunset,” but no less funny and smart. I know that only because Shats held onto his copy; Zink deleted hers. Later, she wrote another novel, “The Baron of Orschel-Hagen,” about a patron of the arts obsessed with commissioning a very particular work. Afterward, Zink decided she didn’t like it, and erased the original and all the backups.

2. A really funny story of a Michigan drug bust in the form of a wedding.

3. A brief introduction to experimental writer Kathy Acker.

4. Why not more poetry audiobooks?

5. An essay suggesting that those who welcome and those who fear the effects of Artificial Intelligence in the near future may both be exaggerating the power of A.I.

6. Advice from Colin Mochrie in an interview with the AVClub:

CM: … my very first Whose Line appearance. I psyched myself out, and I was very tentative, very nervous, and I’d go back now, just not caring and, you know, I‘d just do it. The older you get, you just don’t care anymore.

AVC: Is that the key to success? Not caring?

CM: Oh, absolutely. When you really care, stuff doesn’t come to you. When you don’t care, that’s when you start getting free coffees and people thinking you’re Colin Farrell.

‘Dinging on my thingy': Things I overheard this week

Rockford College University, 2 May 2015

Rockford College University, 2 May 2015

“I found it on the floor,” said sophomore girl J. as she returned from a trip to the bathroom with a cupcake in hand. As others teased her, she said, “it was a chocolate frickin’ cupcake,” to which student D. added, “of sh*t!”

“Nice job last night,” said an old man I didn’t know as he was walking behind me at Wal-Mart on Tuesday April 28th. Then he said, “You didn’t hear me, did you?” and again he said, “Nice job last night.” I said I was at home last night, washing dishes. He apologized, as he’d confused me for someone else. I said, “I don’t mind being complimented on my dishes.”

One sophomore boy to another, after the latter had said “chupacabra” in some comment to the class: “Yay — chupacabra!” and fist-bumped the latter student. I said I needed to write that down on my pocket-page where I collected quotes. A girl said, “it becomes funnier when you say you have to write it down.”

That same girl later said to her friend and classmate, who was confused about an assignment, “See, I told you you were stupid.”

Ant hills

Ant hills

“THAT’S why you don’t ride horses bareback when they’re in heat,” said student T., explaining why she had scrapes and bruises on her face and arms.

“Are you on some good pain meds?” I asked a student who had just come back to school after having open-knee surgery. She laughed and said, “Heheehee, yeah.”

Outside Colman Library, Rockford College University, 3 May 2015

Outside Colman Library, Rockford College University, 3 May 2015

“How long does it take a person to see there’s nothing!?!” I heard myself say of a driver who was durably stopped at a four-way stop sign. I was just complaining about a fellow human’s judgment, but then I realized that line could also be a philosophically significant point about ideas being nothing at all.

“Would that be grammarly correct?” a student asked of a particular phrase on April 29. He did later correct himself with “grammatically.”

“If anyone cares, my heels are bleeding,” announced sophomore girl A. to me and her 10th hour classmates.

That same girl, the next day, said about using public toilets: “You gotta hover! You gotta hover!”

“They spelled all of my names wrong,” said a girl with three names of a local-newspaper article in which she was wrongly named.

At Kishwaukee College, 28 March 2015

At Kishwaukee College, 28 March 2015

“I don’t care; it’s mine,” said a senior boy after his friend pointed out flaws in the model airplane the boy had just purchased for two dollars from a teacher who’s leaving at the end of the semester.

“One day it’s like, ‘huh-huh, huh-huh'; the other, it’s ‘heh-heh, heh-heh,” said a senior girl describing another girl’s changing laugh.

“But he’s still alive, you know,” said the woman teaching the graduate-level education class I took last weekend, of her husband buying heart medicine in Mexico over her objections.

Rock River beach at Byron, IL, 25 March 2015

Rock River beach at Byron, IL, 25 March 2015

Junior girl S. said if she would start to plan a murder, she’d “just give up because it’s too much work. I’m serious, honestly,” she said.

Sophomore girl M. said of her fellow sophomore girl J, “She’s like a teddy bear.” “I am,” said J. “No, you’re not — you’re a bitch,” said M.

“A word is a thing on the move, a word is a process,” said linguist John McWhorter on NPR’s All Things Considered.

At high school baseball games on April 30th, one woman yelled at a boy who was pitching: “C’mon, Taylor, put it in there,” and after he threw a called strike, she said something like “Right there” or maybe “There it is.” A different woman at a nearby game said of the team she supported, “We’re getting ’em out there; we’re just leavin’ ’em out there.”

Sine function models, sort of.

The sine function incarnate, sort of.

“You live to serve,” a young-ish man at the seminar said to his 50-something female colleague, as he asked her to get him something. “Why can’t YOU live to serve?” she replied. “I’m only 37,” he said.

Later on, that same woman said of cultural sensitivity, that teachers are not supposed to ignore cultural differences but celebrate them. “You’re supposed to go with a guy and do hookah,” she gave as an example. I wrote this down and read it back to her and she at first denied that she had said it, but then, “No, I DID say that, didn’t I?” she admitted.

“I can’t afford an Ess-You-Vee, but THEY’VE got ’em,” said a middle-aged female teacher, comparing her material wealth to those who claim to be poor.

“That was you dinging on my thingy just now,” said a teacher colleague of mine after I had sent her an email that caused an audible alert on her computer.

Ice, Ogle County, 5 March 2015

Ice, Ogle County, 5 March 2015

“Don’t phu*king look at my veins, Megan,” said a sophomore girl who told us she was denied the ability to donate blood because her veins were too small, or something.

“Um-um-um-um-um, can I teach?” asked a sophomore girl in my 10th hour class, a question she’s asked on about 20 prior days. I’ve said “no” every time before saying “yes” today, and she did a decent job leading our class through reading part of Book 13 of The Odyssey and then supervising essay-writing time.

“Too bad you’re gonna go back to her, just like you always do,” said one senior boy to another in the parking lot after school on 4 May.

I was getting slap-happy tired when I took this picture, but something about there being anything "upcoming" about classics struck me as funny.

I was getting slap-happy tired when I took this picture, but something about there being anything “upcoming” about classics struck me as funny.

John Oliver on standardized testing

For anybody who’s not already familiar with how the increased emphasis on standardized testing is hampering education, John Oliver has a pretty terrific synoposis:

Perpetuating Reality: Time is not real

Two students in my Rhet. & Comp. class claimed on Friday that time does not exist. I’m writing this now, describing a memory as an idea, and if you’re reading this now, you’re constructing these words and sentences into your own abstract ideas.

One of my students said she’d like to discuss time’s reality for her assignment to craft a philosophical argument. So we start by defining time as that which flows along, carrying all existing things in its current (the current moment). Clocks don’t measure this time, because clocks just measure events — electric clocks measure AC cycles or quartz crystal movements; atomic clocks measure the behavior of certain atoms — and clocks do not measure time itself.

We talked about how objects degrade over time — metal left outside rusts, wood breaks down. But this “wearing down” of physical objects isn’t caused by time but by the action of other physical things on this objects — chemical reactions cause rusting, mechanical erosion causes scratches, etc.

Physical objects can only be affected by materials and energy — time, being neither of these, does not exist physically.

So perhaps time exists only in our ideas, our minds, our conscious understanding. We can look at an old building and see the rust on the door hinge and the softening brick and think that this house is old. But then, we can think anything.

But objects exist in a perpetual now — there is no past, no future, for an object. (And even this description threatens to fall into thinking of objects as having their own form of consciousness — it’s hard not to think this way.) A homeowner might look at a rusting hinge and think that it should be replaced, because the hinge no longer lives up to the homeowner’s expectation of what should be. But someone, like an artist or scientist, who just wants to see what is might just see the object in the present moment without regard to what it was or could be.

As an artist myself, I can enjoy looking at dilapidated barns, for example, and appreciate their falling-down-ness, whereas if I owned those barns, I’d see trouble and expense and a physical world that wasn’t matching my expectations. (I can recognize that feeling, though, when I have a certain class session that isn’t happening the way I’d like it to be happening.)

It’s such a part of my consciousness, of my way of understanding reality, to think of time as being an ongoing thread (or flowing river) connecting all my experiences throughout my life. I suspect that this is one of the features of the cultural software that was constructed as a framework for thinking as I grew up.

I developed the late 1970s/early 1980s version of this software, in which certain things — TV, microwaves, nuclear arms race — already existed, and in which certain values — divorce is normal, women have careers, and it’s OK for boys to cry — were normal. I suspect that the 1930s-era software my grandparents grew up with (during which time the metaphor would not have been “software,” of course — but player piano rolls? timing gears?) had different technology and different values and so they no doubt have trouble understanding things like the satellite television remote and the value of racial and ethnic diversity. No doubt I myself will find it difficult to understand change as my system-software ages. But this is also why it’s pointless for old people to say “In MY day, we didn’t do that” — as long as one is still alive, one might as well adapt.

So, yeah — there may be no time at all. It’s so easy for me to think of the past as these experiences I remember, and the future as things I will do, that it’s easy to overlook that the only time I’m really alive is right now (see also here). I’ve got 20 years of journals — but “years of” anything is an empty idea. What I should say is that I have notebooks and print-outs (and computer files, even) that are marked with dates from 20 years ago, but these notebooks, etc., still exist now, and when I read them, I’m reading them now. I’ve long tried to figure out how to understand the writer of these past writings, which writer’s handwriting looked like mine, and some of what the writer said sounded like something I’d say, but which I don’t remember saying it. Was it Younger-Me? But Younger-Me is not Now-Me, so then, is it a different person? Well, maybe it might as well be. My old writings are just ink on paper that exists in that form today. My memory of having written a certain page (or my not-having such a memory) doesn’t really matter. Without memory, there is no past, anyway.

And probably there is no “reality,” either, other than whatever “reality”-image we construct in our minds, our mental models of the world. Even terms like “reality” and “the world” are abstractions, and what really seems to exist — matter and energy, physical things — exist without the names of “matter” and “energy” or “atoms” or any science label. We can think about the physical world — that’s what science is, thoughts about the physical world — but we don’t really know what’s there. We perpetuate reality only by perpetuating the idea of reality.

And if there’s no time-river, and no time-thread, then there’s no place for events or experiences to be saved, and so there’s no such thing as “truth” that any statement or story could correspond to. So in a criminal court, the verdict of any trial is the constructed story that the jury finds most realistic.

And if there’s no time-river, no time-thread, then there’s no time in which one could jump (it’s so easy to think of time-as-distance this way), and so there can be no time travel. Time might be how we explain change, or we extrapolate from perceiving change (which perception requires memory), but time itself doesn’t need to exist. (Though, of course, some abstract explanations for how matter-and-energy work invoke the idea of time, such as space-time).

It’s so hard for a conscious, abstracting mind to escape abstraction. Abstracting is its habit, its process; abstracting is what the mind does. It’s exhausting, sometimes. Yet, I live in a world of abstractions — following rules and curricula, teaching theories and ideas — those are what keep the physical roof over my head and the physical food coming to my body. But no ideas are real in the same way that anything I can touch is real.  That may be why I so desperately enjoy, at certain moments, letting go of thinking and lying down flat on my back and just not-abstracting (which can’t be directed by thinking but can seem to be allowed to happen) — some people might call this mediation, but I often just fall asleep. This not-thinking allows me to just be now and not think about anything else.

‘What I’m doing NOW as opposed to what I’m doing NOW': This week in quotes

Two tulips, 10 May 2014

Two tulips, 10 May 2014. This picture was taken a year ago, but stuff this week looked pretty much like this anyway.

“Would you birds stop flying in front of me!” I heard myself say last Wednesday morning as I drove on a road where I had hit a robin a day or so earlier.
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A senior in my creative writing class advised his classmates that graduation is drawing near: “[These are the] final days — if you wanna get suspended, get suspended now!” His statement reminded me of the final days of my own high school experience, when the school’s dean of students told me that my classmate Wade had decided to skip a day of school and had gotten a day of in-school suspension, just to try it and the dean warned me not to be like Wade.
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But 23 years later, I found myself in in-school suspension anyway, where as a teacher now, I supervise that room one hour a day. This past week, an intelligent student was assigned to the In-School Suspension room, where the punishment includes copying the student handbook by hand. This observant student said, “I’m finding a lot of loopholes here” in the handbook, including this one: “It says ‘under the influence of drug paraphernalia.’ How would THAT work?”
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Teeth-of-the-lion flowers, 10 May 2014

Teeth-of-the-lion flowers, 10 May 2014

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 I heard a teacher this week say, “Yeah, you’re short, sorry. YOU’RE short, too!” as she was arranging students for a photo of the students vs. faculty fund-raiser basketball game.
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In my “Rhetoric & Composition” class, where we’re writing philosophical arguments, a student stayed after class to argue about whether time is real: “Without time, how do we explain what I’m doing NOW as opposed to what I’m doing NOW.”
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During the passing period between classes, I heard an administrator in my school tell a student he wanted to talk to, “That’s alright, you can be late — come ‘ere.”
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On my classroom whiteboard this week, I wrote that the date was “Friday 55th March 2015,” as I’m following T.S. Eliot’s assertion that “April is the cruellest month” and I’m refusing to acknowledge this month. I’m counting dates from March until it’s May. A student who wasn’t hip to my system walked into and then out of my classroom, and I heard her say from the hallway, “55th of March? ‘Cuz there’s 55 days in one month?”
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A senior student whose jeans were torn at the knee said, “I’ve had these pants since freshman year. They’ve never done me wrong,” a statement upon whose iambic rhythm I commented. The student then continued the tear at the knee until he had freed the calf-section from the thigh-section, but for the sewn seam. I refused the use of my scissors until he claimed he’d get in trouble for wearing gang-related clothing if he went into the hallway after class with his pants only mostly turned into shorts. Then he similarly truncated the other pants leg.
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More teeth-of-the-lion flowers, from 10 May 2014, but which could've been taken this week ending 26 April 2015.

More teeth-of-the-lion flowers, from 10 May 2014, but which could’ve been taken this week ending 26 April 2015.

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 A senior girl in my writing class said she wanted to go to our school’s “Ag Day” display of tractors and farm animals. “I wanna hold a chick,” she said. “In a different context, that was my interior monologue” all throughout my own days as a high school student, I responded.
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Ag Day is when some of my rural high-school’s FFA students bring in things most of us drive past everyday. I told a fellow teacher that what we SHOULD have is an “Urban Day,” where we teach our small-town students how to navigate a bus schedule and an elevator. We could even bring well-dressed professionals from Chicago’s Loop for our students to gawk at, and we’d pen up the professionals, the same as we do for the sheep — to keep them from running away.
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On 26 April about 5 p.m., I heard, from my neighbor’s garage, his voice saying to one of his young children, “tell me what you want. You’re NOT having toast. You can have peanut butter and jelly, a hot dog, or ravioli.” 
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