True confession: In the days between Christmas and New Year’s, I often found myself counting down the hours before I had to return to my classroom on campus. Not that I wanted to be a buzzkill during the holidays, throw a wet blanket on family activities, rain on anybody’s parade—especially since we live a couple of blocks from Colorado Boulevard, route of the Tournament of Roses Parade, where we can drink in the glorious floats on bright crisp New Year’s mornings.
So I always went along with the holiday plans. “Let’s go see the lights on Christmas Tree Lane… at the Balian House…” Go up the coast. Big dinners in town, trips with the kids to museums. Once we went sailing.
But always in the back of my mind was a nagging, often pressing thought. Time to start shifting gears, get the decorations down. Lights in the front windows. Cards on display. Candles. Garlands. Trains. Village houses. Christmas tree. Put everything away.
I had to get going on the materials needed for the new courses I would be launching a couple of days after New Year’s. A syllabus for each of the courses had to be prepared and printed out, hand-outs, any other materials all readied. Clear my head, get my thoughts organized, go over the points that had to be made in the opening lectures. Dig down, deep breath, game face on. Get back in the saddle ready to gallop through the next ten weeks. No break in the Winter quarter.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching. It was always exciting to start fresh, think of the possibilities even if some students seemed nervous, not sure what to expect. I knew how to ease their anxieties, go over everything on the syllabus, make it all clear, set the expectations and requirements, take their questions. During those opening lectures, I also took time to fire up the students, get them psyched about the material, cheer them on, convince them they could “bring art to life” in the local museums, “turn expensive, heavily insured objects into interactive story-tellers and meaning-makers.”
So it would go. Teach a daytime undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in the evening on January 3rd, and another undergrad class on the 4th. Set up office hours. Reserve the digital projector for upcoming classes, meet with grad students working on their theses. Lots of sugar-high energy and surging adrenaline to make the launch a good one.
By 8:30 p.m., I was always ready to crash, glad that Gene would be there to pick me up, take me home where I would collapse in front of a mindless TV show with a bowl of steaming hot soup.
One year was especially memorable. After that first day of classes, there he was, our car warm, cozy on a chilly night. I leaned back in my seat, beginning to unwind, trusting Gene, the car to be steady, get us home in a half hour or so.
We left campus, made it through several big intersections with long lights. A couple of turns from home and Whoaa. What is that? In the middle of the road? Coming straight at us? I shoot up, eyes wide open. Gene, too. It appears to be a huge horse. Bright yellow in the black night. Whimsical. Not galloping but rocking. It is a rocking horse coming down the street slowly.
Then we both remember. We had seen this horse before, one of the floats from the Rose Parade. But not head on. We laugh, realize that it is being towed back to its warehouse in Burbank. It will be stripped of its flowers, taken apart and brought back to life as a new float next year. But this year’s whimsy was wonderful, rocking our world on that dark street, reminding us of the possibilities ahead.