It's about balance. It's about imagination. It's about space.
I spent some time recently with a good friend—something I used to take for granted but not any more. I was out of town on a short working vacation and when I snapped the above photo, we were hiking up a hill outside Salida, Colorado. I'd done a reading the previous night before a small but enthusiastic local audience and I told them how much I love their mountain home. "Your river has a beautiful town," I said.
Working vacation may seem like a conundrum. For this one, I spent most of four days in meetings and readings and deep discussions with some very smart, very creative people. By the end of it, I was both physically drained and mentally chock-full of new insights and ideas. These friends and colleagues were gathered at my request to help build what we hope will be the definitive anthology of Colorado literature, past and present.
It turns out I'd scheduled this meeting to take place immediately after the end of a very long academic year. I had just completed teaching over 200 students in 11 separate courses over the previous 9 months. For those who know, that is a staggering load of work. For those who don't I can only say that every course was a writing course and every student produced significant work, all of which required my detailed, close evaluation and grading.
It took about all I had and by the time I turned in the last of my grades and closed my office door for the summer, I was running on fumes. So stepping from that into the round of meetings and events that followed was an act of faith—faith that I could manage just a bit more.
Usually, at the end of a school year, I spend a week or so pursuing what I call "hammock time." That is, I park my butt in a hammock in my back yard and rest, nap, read for pleasure, sip cool drinks, etc. This provides me the chance to decompress. It's a metaphor, but an apt one. Intensive teaching compresses the mind/spirit/body. It can absolutely squish a person. It can kill your creativity. So it becomes necessary to decompress at the end if one is to regain balance and energy, and open up the imagination.
This time, hammock time didn't occur as it usually does. I had no one to blame but myself since . . . I had called the meeting for this time. I was feeling flatter than a penny on the rails but when I saw that tree, brilliantly painted against the backdrop of the scrub and mountains, I decompressed in an instant. I found my bearings.
Maybe it was actually happening during the intellectual conversations, which took me in new directions because I was not the teacher but the student. Maybe it was the long, far ranging conversations with my friend Pete, greased as they were with red wine and conducted to the soundtrack of belly laughter, the kind that drives the air from the lungs and tears from the eyes.
It could even have been the morning sunrise after just a few hours sleep. There had been rain, sleet, and snow in previous days, but the weather finally broke and that particular morning I sat on the front porch of my buddy's home and let the warmth of the sun chase the ache of too little sleep right off the top of my head.
Whatever it was—maybe all these things together—I came home feeling free of some burdens, my carcass renewed enough to begin again. There are poems to write, a garden to nurture, some love to exchange, and fresh possibilities waiting in the summer months.
It's good to be free and open to what comes next, purring loud and as curious as a fat cat checking out the stranger suddenly perched on his favorite porch chair.