Give Me a Break
It happens during every break from school: I am suddenly overcome with rich, vivid, dreams, like something out of a Vision Quest. I wake up with images and lines I scribble down as quickly as I can. At first I thought this might just be a Ny-Quil induced narco-state, but now I see it's something bigger.
I love my job, but during the school year I read over a thousand student papers and re-read around two dozen books for my classes. Psychologists call this managed time (even though I'm the one managing the time) as opposed to self-directed play which is necessary for a thriving imagination. Breaks from school suddenly suspend the rules -- no bells, no immediate deadlines, no homework. Imagination blossoms.
white clouds swanning
through the blues
This break I've literally played -- Batman and an "epic" snowball fight with my son; board games with the family; and long dog walks which have meant nice long talks with my daughter. She, too, seems freer outside of school. When the subject of finals arose she spoke of our Chicago December as "hell frozen over", but well into the break she said while walking in the snow, "It's like the whole world is a snow globe." My daughter and I have also been taking turns (playing parts) reading Great Expectations aloud.
In college the time I did my most intense reading was right after the term ended. Then I was freed up to choose books with only myself in mind. A week into this break and I've read a bunch of stories by George Saunders and Wells Tower; two books of poems Endakment by Jeffrey McDaniel, and Dear Darkness by Kevin Young; and the novel Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. (All are great, so save those gift receipts and exchange the holiday books you were given).
Speaking of gifts -- I think the stress many people feel during the holidays is analogous to the release I've been talking about here. With our noses down and our eyes only on the task at hand, we complete our work dutifully until the vacation days arise. Then, in just a few days before the holidays, we rush to shop for loved ones. What do the people we like like? Think, dammit. But it's not just you -- it's every other schmo, including the one who just took your parking spot, who is trying to think creatively with only 18 shopping hours left.
Max Beerbohm once wittily remarked that the only thing wrong with the life of a poet is figuring out how to spend the other 23 and a half hours of the day. What's wrong with life for the rest of us is perhaps to be found in that missing 30 minutes each day.
John S. O'Connor's poems have appeared in places such as Poetry East and RHINO. He has written two books on teaching: This Time It's Personal: Teaching Academic Writing through Creative Nonfiction (2011) and Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom (2004). He earned his BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and his PhD from...