I left my house this morning at 6:11 AM -- and that meant I was running late.
The leather bag I hoisted over my shoulder as I carefully climbed down my front steps felt heavier than usual. I could feel the weight pressing the straps against my skin and I knew deep grooves were forming on my shoulder beneath the non-protection of my chiffon dress. Swirling around in that bag? My laptop, two bottles of water, four Pike Street k-cups from Starbucks, maybe the best banana that has ever fallen off of a tree in whatever nation the banana hails from – seriously, it was bright yellow and fucking delicious – and a few DVDs. I’m usually carting movies around; it makes me laugh that there are days when it makes perfect sense that I bring Boogie Nights, American Psycho, and American Beauty with me to work, and those are the times when I can’t fully believe that I managed to carve out a career for myself where teaching clips of those movies is completely and utterly relevant to my curriculum.
I didn't have much with me today that I'd classify as cinematic contraband. Stuffed into my bag were Jaws and ET, movies I’m lending to one of my students who chose to analyze the work of Spielberg for his paper on the auteur theory. But I also had Kill Bill Volume 2, because no Friday is complete without a little Tarantino bloodshed. The plan was to show the first scene so my kids could identify the director’s stylistic choices and then analyze what impact those choices have on the viewer. It sounded like a ball to me, watching The Bride get blown to almost-bits on her wedding day, but the clip would be shown as part of a pop quiz, and I already hear the words, “A quiz?” and then, after the movie starts, “Wait – this is black and white?” I try to focus on the fact that I’ll get to watch an amazing clip as part of my day, but I can’t keep myself from hearing their impending complaints ringing in my head and the sun is not even close to rising in the dense black sky.
Every single day when I leave for work I see the same man walking the same white dog. I usually leave at exactly 6:09, but I just couldn’t get my eyeliner applied correctly this morning so those two extra minutes were devoted to me, a q-tip, and a motherfucking shitload of profanity as I rubbed the cotton swab under my lower lashes, trying in vain to create a look that didn’t scream beaten-in-the-face-with-a-sledgehammer chic.
Those extra couple of minutes threw me. I have my morning routine down to a science – walk the dog, make some coffee, check my email, take a shower, throw on the outfit I picked out the night before, make more coffee, create a pile of blankets for Wookie to sprawl across while I’m gone, and head out the door. And there’s something comforting about that kind of consistency, even when it
happens while it’s still dark outside – even when I know it won’t be like this forever.
Since I was running a little late, by the time I walked down my steps the man and his dog were a bit farther down the road than usual and I took note of the discrepancy. My mind flashed then to that scene from The Truman Show when Truman begins to note all the constants in his daily routine and how they all seem planned by something far larger than coincidence.
I’ve been wondering about grand plans lately too. And I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what I can fully control, even though days and nights and people are full of variables and life has been striking me as more cyclical than I might have ever allowed myself to realize.
It’s midterm time again. Two of my classes – those that are only one semester long – took an in-class cumulative final exam yesterday; my full-year classes have major papers due late next week and my two-year class made films and wrote production portfolios. Yesterday I sat and watched kids take tests, knowing that some of them would fail the test and also the course and, depending on who their guidance counselor is, I’ll get some of the failures again next semester.
At least I’ll know that kid’s name, I think to myself, and that’s a big deal for me since I don’t remember anybody’s name for – minimum – three weeks.
There are a few teachers I work with – friends of mine – who remember the name of every single student by the end of that first class – and they will remember those names the next day too. I was not born with that talent. Or I was born with that talent, but let’s just say that I probably had a way better time in high school and college than the teachers blessed with name recall.
But all midterms really mean to me is that it’s the end of January, just as Sundance taking place all those states away reminds me that it’s the end of January too. I used to go to the Sundance Film Festival – I went for years – but things are a little different now in a bunch of little ways that have turned out to matter a lot and I can’t leave my job (where I teach movies) to go to a festival (to watch movies). And I miss that former January cycle of mine: the packing up of jeans and boots and sweaters and gloves and making sure I had the charger for my phone and a book to read on a long plane ride while heading across the country to Utah. I miss that feeling of freezing-fresh mountain air hitting the tops of my cheeks and I even miss waiting on yet another line to watch yet another movie. I miss the Park City bars and the sushi place on Main Street with those heavy wooden booths and I miss looking at screens and knowing that I am so lucky to literally get to witness stars being born.
But this January, my sweaters are still on my shelves and the last time I ate sushi was in a take-out situation where a booth couldn’t even be a factor. And I’ve watched some movies and they may not have premiered before my very eyes, but I can say that I loved Boyhood and I thought Birdman was magical and I hadn’t even realized that I’d missed Michael Keaton until I saw him again.
I think missing people might be part of the cycle that maybe powers everything.
Next week, as classes are suspended so that testing can take place, I’ll get to do something that I rarely do: I will go out to lunch on a weekday with my friends. I’ll have a ton of grading to do, sure – and I’ll have to proctor tests for subjects I can’t even slightly comprehend, like Physics and Conversational Latin – but I’ll take that hour that’s given to us and head out of the building and away from the stale school-scented air that always smells like linoleum cleanser mixed with chicken fingers. I’ll walk, shivering and grateful, into the cold weather of late January and I’ll go get Greek salad at the diner and one of those bowl things from the Mexican place and an Olive Garden just opened down the street from my school, and since neither my friend Shannon nor I have once eaten at an Olive Garden, we’re gonna venture in there one day during Testing Week in our own version of experimental dining.
I’m guessing that the Olive Garden is one of those places that prints the calorie count of all of its dishes on the menu, so that means I will either get a salad without dressing and then gnaw on a leg of the table we’re sitting at to deal with my residual pangs of hunger or I’ll say fuck it, order exactly what I want, and drive home feeling guilty and then cope with that shame by hopping on top of the trampoline I bought when I was fuzzy with a fever and bounce my way thin.
I’m not sure I’ve ever loved a human being with the same level of passion with which I love my trampoline. It wasn’t instant love – I needed a serious sports bra first – but now I’m on the thing for an hour every night. I’ve got an entire rebounding routine going on and I’m jogging and I’m running and I’m twisting and I’m learning that Lana Del Rey is not the best music to work out to, but I’m rediscovering music I’d forgotten about for a while and it turns out that songs by The Killers is like injecting a shot of EPO that takes my energy to a level I didn’t even know I had.
But even the trampoline routine has become just that: a routine. And the bouncing up and the bouncing back down is cyclical in its own way and I’m enjoying it and all, but I’m craving something different.
I’m craving a lot.
I’m craving more time to write and I wish that Bravo would send me advance copies of their shows so could get more sleep the night before I post my recaps. I’m craving more patience so I can stop feeling an angry flush creep up my ears in a way that has been scorching me lately. I’m craving the changes that used to frighten me and I want them to happen quickly and all at once because I’m also craving the challenge of seeing if I’m still standing after everything is turned upside down.
I sent a brief email to someone last night. I did not get a response. The resounding silence strikes me as silly, and for a moment it might have also felt sad.
I guess I crave just a whisper sometimes.
And I definitely crave more sleep.
I almost always wake up before my alarm clock goes off in the stillness of the dark. I think I’ve trained myself to open my eyes before I have to, to try to settle into a world where I can still see the twinkling of the stars from my bed. I do some yoga twists while I’m lying down and I review in my head what I need to do after work and who I need to contact, but I won’t allow myself to think about writing until I’m actually on my way to work because I just need quiet in my brain during my first moments awake. I don’t need to experience the construction of possible sentences just then – yes, it’s a practice I crave, but it feels internally noisy sometimes and I can’t have noise until I’m able to look up at the sky and it’s finally light enough so that I’m not able to see the North Star anymore.
But this morning? It was off in so many ways, and I found myself waking up to my alarm while still being psyche-deep in a dream that was so literal and so normal, I was able to remember it and, even hours later, I can still remember everything.
I was a little taller in my dream than I really am, and I was wearing these boots I bought in real-awake life yesterday. They are grey suede and they’re cuffed and there’s some embellishment on the cuffs that make them so fucking cool, and I never expected that they’d be comfortable – my shoes rarely are – but just trying them on made me feel a pinch my pinky toe so I expect that one day when I wear those boots for at least eight hours, that little piggy will to try to make a break for it and run all the way to somebody else’s home. But in my dream the boots were comfortable and they felt like I’d stuck my feet into a cloud more fluffy than those in the opening credits of The Simpsons.
In those boots – in that dream – I was lying across the bottom of a king-size bed and staring up at the man who was leaning against the headboard and I told him about a script and I can remember that he smiled at me with all of his being and that the smile reached his eyes in only an instant. And I told him how I was so happy that we were finally getting together and that I was glad that we’d waited until the timing was right, and Dream Me felt that tingle of excitement – that perfect bite of anticipation where I was ready for maybe anything – and then my alarm went off, and I might never forgive it for doing that.
I wish that we could continue our dreams, that we could simply press an inner pause button and get back to them later and at our own leisure, and I’m wondering if there’s a company out there that can somehow patent that idea and, if they do, I’d like to toss my name into the ring as the person to create the tagline for your website:
Some people dream at night.
Successful people dream anytime they damn well please.
I’ll accept payment for that copy in shoes, bags, or extra memory space for the dreams I have that are just that good.
The thing is, I know that I’ll probably have some version of that dream again. Like the seasons and like pain, my dreams are somewhat cyclical and they will come back to me, though it will be when I least expect to find myself in that world and on that king-size bed. I wish I was satisfied with easierdreams, but walking hand in hand through a meadow doesn’t even do it for me when I’m conscious; it’s the act of being sprawled across a bed, a little distance still separating you from someone you’re incredibly intrigued by that has that luminosity I crave.
Maybe you should just settle already. I hear that suggestion whispered sometimes from that place deep inside of me, the place close to where I keep everything I’ve repressed over the years for my own protection. But before the whisper can morph into a scream, the strength that also lives inside of me destroys the message, knowing it’s been formulated by that simple part of me, the part that craves more typical choices that come with far fewer consequences.
I could go that route, I suppose. But then life would become all about the cycle; I think I’d rather come across forks in the road.
On my way to work, I heard Darkness on the Edge of Town. When it comes to hearing my favorite Bruce songs again and again, I’m never bothered by the consistency of the routine, but today a few of the lines resonated – and hard:
Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop,
I'll be on that hill with everything I got,
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost,
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost,
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town.
Like the guy in the song on that hill, I know what it is that I really crave: I want what’s hidden in the shadows. I think that I always will – and that’s a cycle I’m just not willing to break.