Friday, March 27, 2015

On a Happy Note - Some Thoughts on Spring Break and an Oddly Pleasant Dream

I’ve been a little worked up this winter. When I went to the dentist last week, the hygienist thought I'd probably been clenching my jaw lately. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to me. But on Friday our family drove to the coast and with each passing mile, I felt another muscle relax into its proper place.

It was the first day of spring, and the air felt as mild and sweet as a sleeping baby’s sigh. When we got to the Ecola Creek Lodge, we heated up a pasta dish (made with roasted red peppers, cashews and a dash of lemon juice) and ate it with a great mound of dark greens spritzed with vinaigrette. Then we all cozied up in the living room and read for a long time before watching a DVD of Laggies, a movie starring Keira Knightley. Since it had only played for about a week in Portland last fall, I thought the movie might not be the best thing ever made, but it turned out to be a gem – a romantic tale with just enough quirkiness to keep it interesting, like a dash of cayenne in a cup of cocoa. The film’s colors were a pleasure too. In one scene, the glowing green of a mossy wall made me feel like I’d stepped into the surreal beauty of a pre-Raphaelite painting.

The next morning the sun was out and we walked on the beach. Our son and I talked about Ms. Knightley and agreed she’s a gifted comedienne. We loved the way she flopped on couches and put on an American accent with just the right touch of “valley girl,” without turning her performance into a cartoon. While we talked, I pointed a toe in the sand and tried out a few chaîné turns (a ballet move) just to see if I could still do them. I did pretty well, considering my heavy leather shoulder bag was swinging around too, threatening to throw me off balance.

Later, back in our living room at the motel, we all read some more. I also checked my email and found a message from a friend/former writing student. In the year since we’d last corresponded, she’s moved to the country, where she works on her writing and her art. She now lives within walking distance to a store and to the library. It all sounded so peaceful, I felt happier, more relaxed just thinking about her enjoying this new life she’s created.

Before heading outside again, we watched another movie. This time it was The Notebook, in which a baby-faced Ryan Gosling falls in love with a baby-faced Rachel McAdams. Our daughter, who’s seen the movie before, turned it off just before a gray-haired James Garner and a well-coifed Gena Rowlands die in each other’s arms. It seemed like a good idea to end on a happy note.

After dinner, it was even warmer than before, so we took another long walk on the beach and then sat down on a bench in the sun and ate dessert before returning to the motel and watching our third DVD. Pride is based on a true story about a group of gay activists who banded together to raise money to aid striking Welsh miners in 1984. We were expecting a cheesy, feel-good crowd pleaser, but the movie was subtler than it had looked in its trailer. Even the triumphant gay pride parade at the end was bittersweet, as a caption appeared, letting us know that the real-life co-founder of the group died at the age of 26 of an illness related to AIDS.

The next morning it was too rainy to walk on the beach, so we packed our bags and got home in time for me to attend a publishing party for The Way a Woman Knows, a book of poetry authored by Carolyn Martin.* Outside the old stone church where the event was held, I ran into a former writing teacher of mine, who looked radiant in an electric blue sweater and matching earrings. Inside, I felt a little awkward in a room full of people I didn’t know. But when Carolyn took the stage, the mutual love everyone in the audience had for her was palpable. She’s one of those people whose face lights up and whose arms open wide for everyone. And I do mean everyone. I hardly know her, but when I congratulated her, she graced me with that same glowing, unconditional love I’ve seen her offer to her dear friends.

When I left the party, the rain was coming down harder than ever. I clutched my copy of Carolyn’s book inside my faux-leather jacket and made a dash across the street for the parking lot, feeling like I probably should have stayed longer. But I’d had enough mingling for one day. I was anxious to take off my cowboy boots and put on a pair of sweats. I wanted to kiss my husband and children, to write something new, to take a dance class, to make a collage, to publish another short story or maybe a book of poems.

That night I dreamt that it was the first evening of my spring writing classes. In the dream, I’d come to class without my binder full of lesson plans and I had to think of a new prompt on the spot, which is a laughable idea for a dedicated over-preparer like myself. Miraculously, though, the assignment I came up with in the dream worked. Everyone was writing so intently I hated to stop them. Among the students were some of the participants from my real-life classes, as well as a couple of characters created by my unconscious, including a man who reminded me of Truman Capote and a woman of about 80 with dyed black hair and a purple coat. On her fingers she wore carefully feathered black and purple paint, and when it was her turn to read what she’d written, we were all transfixed by her odd, high-pitched voice and her intriguing words.

When I woke up, I thought about how much I love teaching and how much I love listening to my students read. As much, at least, as I love playing with words, eating, reading, dancing in the kitchen, watching movies and sitting in the sun at the beach.

*The Way a Woman Knows by Carolyn Martin was published by The Poetry Box® and can be ordered at