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.

summer vacation...
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.

Originally Published: December 27th, 2009

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...

  1. December 28, 2009
     Ernie Wise

    I work in the realm of comedy and have for some time now have been wondering about the gags drying up. Only an amatuer mind; I mean, Jim Carey, who is perhaps my favourite, or at least one of my very favourite funny people (who happens to be a man) working in the professional sphere of paid (entirely physical) humour, which I think..I dunno, but, you know, Jim Carey's a great guy, really, really drop-dead funny: as opposed to being like, well, you know - people who aren't as in-yer-face, split your guts open titterish. Comediennes like Dawn French, who I have always thought of as being really really fabulously funny, in the fat tradition: subverting the sterotype and doing a bit of good in the world, making us guffaw.

  2. December 28, 2009
     Ernie Wise

    Please forgive the sloppy semantic in the above splurge. I got carried away, not controlling the thought-process enough to nail it on the page. There were two 'have's which disrupted everything and because I was racing ahead, a certain ommission of a clause that made the above read a bit wonky and disjointed.\r

    I mean, Jim Carey..has nothing to worry about, is the general thrust of what I meant, but didn't write, because..well, because it's only an experiment you see, launching forth the content of a mind, and this being a crazee place full of crazee guys (it is mostly guys), I just thought, heck man, you know, what have I got to lose sharing here with the chaps?\r

    My own festive period has been fairly hmm, you know, the usual round of waiting to get back into work at the mall, where I work in retail: a long procession of endless faces endlessly asking for stuff, which gives the creative side a chance to stoke up and gain inspiration from the material of everyday existence which filters into the stuff I out when not serving others and making this world the great round blob of green and blue it is, when viewed from space.\r

    Space, the final..nea, the only frontier, where Buzz and the guys conquered because we're worth it. Worth going there and coming back and asking once the dream of extra-terrestial space exploration became a reality: what is it about outer space that makes us inner? \r

    A big, huge question I am still waiting to know the answer to.

  3. December 30, 2009

    How timely that you should mention this. I am just coming off a stint of unemployment, myself. While I'm glad to be able to once again pay the bills, I notice how much less difficult it was to write during that period, as opposed to now, when I have to squeeze my writing in between work, errands, and family life. \r
    An earlier entry in this blog spoke about how writing was an act of the leisure of the mind. I sometimes think about how much less leisurely our lives seem to be getting, and I wonder, is poetry's fall from grace linked to this utter lack of relaxation in our lives? It's also interesting when you think about writing, and how it's evolving. Blog-writing is so popular, but it's not 'evergreen' material, as they say on the web. It's worth is often depleted in 2 days or so. So how can we, as writers, compete with the time squeeze going on in society? I'll be interested to see the answer. I really hope it's not, 'well, we can't.'