Although I’ve been a grad student and/or teacher for the last five years, this is the first winter in all that time that I’ve had a proper winter break. I realize most people don’t get these breaks. It’s a great aspect of being a teacher, though I suspect most teachers
I’m in the middle of winter break—my first real winter break in several years—and I’ve been doing a lot of puzzles while listening to classic rock. I’ve been doing other things too—cooking, catching up with friends, working on writing projects,
OK, wait. I feel like I have to apologize for having a winter break or make it known that I know what a privilege it is to have a winter break or explain defensively how I learned not to work through my winter breaks—why they’re so necessary for teachers—or show how I’m actually being kind of productive this winter break or
So, I want to talk about how I feel like I have to apologize for or defend taking a break and how problematic I think that is (and, by the way, I’ve lazily (barely) achieved that, all the while saying I don’t want to). But more than that, I just want to talk about puzzles and classic rock. So can I do that, and you can hold off on concluding I’m unaware of what a privilege a winter break is? (Not to assume you’re all judgy or anything, but I’m supposed to at least not alienate you if I want you to keep reading.) Maybe you could even let me off the hook of addressing this whole—I mean, I just don’t know that I want to address this. I mean, it’s an important idea, the difficulty of taking a break, but I’m so so enjoying . . . I’m so so into just . . . I just . . . I just can’t even . . . I mean, it’s winter break.
So, I’ve done six puzzles so far and listened to Amazon’s classic rock dinner party playlist more times than that. It’s a cozy groove I’m in. Puzzles absorb me in a way that only visual projects do. And I love the fact that I’m creating something that already has a complete outcome. It’s like creating without any burdened sense of responsibility. I suppose cooking is a bit like that for me too. I trust the recipe the way I trust the puzzle makers. I trust the process, have no real worries about the end product, and just lose myself in the making. And there’s the satisfaction of creating something so tangible and whole.
Actually, I didn’t know I was going to write about this idea of creating with an unburdened sense of responsibility. That idea came up as I wrote the last paragraph, which is something so cool about writing—how it lets ideas emerge. But I digress.
I have long known that I get sucked into puzzles because of how the colors, patterns, and shapes catch my eye speak to me. It’s almost like they’re telling me what to do: “try this,” “over here,” “me next.” And it’s hard to keep up. I scan the table hunting for a piece with a big whale-head shape or gather up pieces with purple next to white, I hear the satisfying click of one piece after another fitting into place, and before I know it, an hour has passed, two hours. If only there was some way I could make money at this.
So, sitting at the table, zoning out, listening to Neil Young, Elton John, Chicago, Pink Floyd, Stephen Stills, the Stones, with a thin and heady winter light at the window like the carbonation in a glass of 7 UP, well it takes me back to my senior year of high school, 9th period—Mr. Duno’s sculpture class. This class!! Everyone, no matter who The tables One time in the hall Every afternoon Mr. Duno, or Duno, as everyone 9th period was the last period of the day, which felt only natural—inevitable—in this class where we would just totally relax, where we felt so free. Sitting on our metal stools at big wooden tables, we’d work in clay or lost wax, talking and joking with each other while the classic rock station played in the background. The sculpture studio was a corner room with two walls of tall lead paned windows suspending us like the peaceful preciousness within a snow globe, first in that fine and heady light of winter and then in that fruitier yet still effervescent light of spring.
I swear every kid in that room was equal in the sight of sculpture. In a big and cliqueish high school, this was a label-free zone. I remember one day Duno called us all out into the hallway. He had a huge iron hoop—something that would have been around a big barrel—and he just spun the thing and we all stood around it and watched it lope around and around making a zwombing noise, its arcs swooping lower and slower until it clanged on the cold floor and Duno said something like “That’s just so damn cool.” I don’t actually remember if Duno swore, but if he didn’t he said something else that showed that he was just so himself around us, so real. So that was it, and then we went back into the studio and picked up our pieces where we’d left off.
Ah. I’ve been wondering how I was going to incorporate this photo into this blog post and had decided that, in the spirit of “I’m on winter break” I didn’t need any connection, transition, or whatever—that randomness was the order of the day. But now I see that the connection is that I just think this picture is just so damn cool.
I was walking home from a café on Tuesday and something
caught my eye called out to me. It was freezing. But I pulled over, scuttled down a bank of grass, and bared my hands to take this photo because it’s just so damn cool. It is Tree Stump with Pine Needles, Rocks, and Fried Rice. Watch it spin.
So, yeah, I’m not going to talk about the difficulty of taking a break. I’m on break.