Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day Dreams



The approach of summer always makes me feel unsettled and disturbed. I know the rhythm of my days is about to change, and I am a person who likes an established rhythm.

This is also the time of year to think about signing another contract for another year of teaching. Always I wonder, is there something else out there? I feel poised on the precipice, tottering on the edge of something. Most likely, it is the beginning of another year, nothing more. Still, I wonder. Is this my life? Is this my destiny?

More and more, as I approach middle age, I realize that life is made up of doing the job, finding the rhythm, keeping on keeping on. It is not like when I was a kid, looking forward to Christmas, or summer vacation. Life is a journey and we are in it for the long haul, until we are not in it anymore.

Today, I am thinking, distractedly thinking about two things, even as I argue with my eleventh graders over the nature of poetry. It is most difficult for me to stay focused, and then I face class after class of unfocused students. I try to keep them in line as I feel myself falling away. Where am I falling to? These two day dreams are haunting me.

One involves the child I once was, pedaling furiously through the streets of my neighborhood to the public library. It is summer, and I am free to read whatever I want. My parents do not care, as long as my chores are done. I tend, during the summer months, to stay up through the night in manic bouts of reading, book after book. My reading betrays the solidly second rate student I try to be in the Catholic school classroom during the year. If my teachers saw me consuming books like a boy on fire, they would suspect demonic possession.

I miss those days. I miss losing myself in a book, not as a defense mechanism such as that employed by misfits and poseurs. No, my immersion in literature is like breathing. I crave the story, the sweet stories of my youth. Reading helps me with my loneliness, surely, but it also brings me life, because I cannot yet journey out to seize it. I am only in sixth, seventh, eighth grade. Reading is my only escape, my only salvation. Even on my parents’ long, dismal camping trips, reading saves me. It is my journey within the journey.

So as summer approaches now in my forty-fourth year, I dream of those days of endless reading, when everything was the book. Endless heat—and the only relief came late at night with a box fan and a Tarzan novel, or a western by Louis L’Amour.

My second day dream is not a vision of the past. It is an alternate present, or maybe a future. I am walking the steaming streets of New York, dressed in black despite the heat. I wander the southern edge of Central Park, go down Fifth Avenue, wind up near Rockefeller Center. I walk publishers’ row, maybe visiting my own publisher? Like Romeo in Juliet’s garden, I am too bold. South down the island to Wall Street, the Sacred Place, Battery Park looking out to the Statue of Liberty.

In this life, I have a 650 square foot apartment that costs way too much in the Village. Or, a multi-million dollar apartment on the Upper East Side near the Met. I find myself back at the start, Columbus Circle, again moving across the southern edge of the Park, where Holden Caufield once roamed in another parallel universe.

New York life is a hard life, and I would need a lot of money, more than I could make as a poor teacher. But I can dream, and dreams cost so little.

So it is the edge of summer, and I am dreaming again. It has been a habit since I was small. I used to go out into the back yard of my parents’ first rental, an entire acre of land in a suburb of Los Angeles that the city had not corrupted yet. I would play away the summer, day by day, in serial stories, breaking only for lunch and dinner. Then I would watch Gunsmoke with my father on television and be in bed before the theme music finished for The Lucy Show. Once in bed, I would twist and turn in the hot sheets and listen to the rain bird sputter across the front lawn. Eventually, dreams would come. Tomorrow, I would pick up my make believe story out in the back yard exactly where I left off.

I am thinking about all of this today, while trying to pull my students through the last books of the school year. They have their own dreams to tend. We make for a distracted group. Like everything else, this too shall pass. Some day, these days will be memories. We will dream them alive again, when we are older, closer to that other more permanent edge, the darkness that brings sleep to all our days, and hopefully, peace to our dreams. Until then, onward.