santa.jpg And WHOOSH! Santa flashed by, like a shooting star, and with him was carried all the food and the music and the wrapping paper that I associate with my second favorite holiday. (Sometime I'll rank the holidays for you...) Here I am, early in the morning on the Tuesday after Christmas and it's so easy for my mind to play through the many delightful events of the last two weeks. But it sure ain't easy to work up the energy to put them down in print. I hate all the recapping. This blog is supposed to be fairly up-to-date most of the time. December is practically a lost cause. I'm overwhelmed, even though I am technically on vacation. Not good.

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and Plan B (my current 'pleasure read' which I am hoping to finish off before my 'vacation' is over and I go back to all my 'mandatory' reading), continuously advises fellow writers to look the overwhelming factors in the eye, sit down in the nearest possible place and just write... even though what is written will inevitably be a 'sh---y first draft'. At least it's a start.

Ugh. Here I go.

Fall Quarter 2005 is officially over. And it ended with a smile. Well, a thoroughly confused smile, the kind you pull out when you're not sure why the stranger is waving at you. I received a very, very backhanded compliment and, it was in the process of attempting to weed out all of the implied harshness in order to find the brave little flower still sprouting in the jungle that I used my worried smile.

You see, in the last three or four weeks I've turned in several essays. I wrote pages and pages on everything from Jane Eyre to The Winter's Tale to The Pomegranate. That's where all my words went. The flat tire syndrome clung to me through finals week and then through our trip to Disneyland and then even through Christmas! One of those essays was returned to me on the last day of my finals: Saturday the 17th. Finals??? On a Saturday??? You're wasting your exasperation... and it didn't help me a bit.

Anyway, my least favorite class of the quarter was my Shakespeare Late Works course. But I truly believed I had nailed the major paper. And when I went in on that Saturday at the crack of dawn, I believed I was basically prepared for the final. Even as I felt less-than-elated about the first couple of sections about the test, I went at the in-class essay portion with gusto! New and interesting ideas came to me out of nowhere! As I labored, other students finished their tests and walked to the front, retrieved their graded essays from organized stacks of papers on the front table, wished the professor a happy holiday and left with a sigh. I prepared to do the same.

As I placed my final in the precarious pile of blue books and reached for the stack of papers where I was sure I'd find my name, I heard my professor whisper, 'Actually, Audrey, I need to have a word with you.' He went on to reach into his bag and pull out my essay, where he had apparently quarantined it. I followed him mutely out into the hallway, wondering all the while what on earth I had done! He did not hand me my paper right away. Rather, he flipped through it as he said, 'Truly, your paper was a bit of a puzzle to me.' Great. A puzzle. I had not, just to clarify, meant to create a puzzle. What I had done was present a thesis on the main character of The Winter's Tale. Where a professor at Miami University had commented that Paulina, the most masculine female character Shakespeare ever wrote, was a 'cross-dressed heroine', I simply turned that idea around and called King Leontes the most feminine male character ever written, in fact a 'cross-dressed hero'. Apparently this ticked my teacher right off.

'You see, Audrey,' he was grasping for words, aimlessly shuffling my pages. I could see notes in the margins, words circled... I could see his interest in my work. 'Your writing is very good. In most places it was very stylish, post-graduate level writing.'

Oh. My. God.

He was praising me?? What happened to the puzzle? My eyes were rolling around in my head. Wait for it.

'But I was confused about your thesis. You called Leontes a cross dresser. But, Miss Camp,' he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose and flipping to the back page of my essay. It was covered, no, flooded with his notes. Tiny scripty penciled noted from top to bottom, left to right. 'clearly, not once did Leontes put on women's clothing!' He reached his crescendo and trilled the 'cl' in clothing for good measure. It was my turn to be confused.

'I know that,' I responded. 'You'll see in my first paragraph that I referenced what Ms. Dolan of Miami U said about Paulina. My paper was a parallel analysis of the Paulina and Leontes as...'

He cut me off. 'I know what you were trying to do, Audrey. In fact, I love the title of your paper: Bending Gender in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. You make an insightful argument, in places very persuasive.'

Again, practically out of my mind with confusion. I clung like a drowning person to the bits and pieces of positive criticism floating in the torrent of upset Professor-speak. Really, all this guy could hinge on was the fact that no literal cross-dressing took place in the play, and that he was appalled that I would have the audacity to make such a claim and then not have evidence to back it up. Nothing I could say about figures of speech or metaphors would sway him.

He gave me a B.

Then he wished me a happy holiday and walked back into the classroom. I could only focus on the B. Later, sitting shell-shocked in my car, I read over his notes. So much was positive! How on earth could he give me a B? Because Leontes wasn't strolling through court fanning himself and wearing a dress?! I'd like to see him tell Professor Dolan that she was this far off base! But he wouldn't do that. She's a colleague. I'm just a punk kid, a fifth year, someone who despised the whole class. Great.

christmas_05.jpg Disneyland. It saved me from the horrible Shakespeare Final Morning Fiasco. Jon and I arrived at the airport, tired. But excited to be off to a place where we never worry. Then we found that our flight was not actually destined for Orange County... instead Burbank. As excited as that made me that we would be visiting Bob Hope Airport, it still landed us miles from our actually destination, on the wrong side of Los Angeles! Suffice it to say, we weren't thrilled. But Jon, ever the optimist, rented us a car and let me sleep as we braved the mudflow that is LA traffic.

Just hearing the music from the park made us smile. Signs everywhere said the park was full. Great. Capacity days aren't exactly rare in the Happiest Place on Earth... but they come most often around the holidays. On such days, lines are impossibly long for both rides and food, streets are too crowded to meander, quiet places are extinct. If you're planning to visit Disneyland for the first time in a long time, and you're hoping to recall why it was such a pull when you were a kid, don't go on a capacity day. The trip will kill the experience. Dead. Go on a Tuesday in October or February, steering clear of all national holidays. Disneyland's magic is absolutely there, it just needs a little elbow room in which to amaze.

However, this was, I believe, Trip 11 for us. (Or, as Jon likes to express it: Trip XI.) We know some little tricks to still squeeze maximum magic from a day when the park is bursting at its seams with thousands of screaming, whining, panting children and their exhausted, whining, panting parents. I'd tell you about our tips, but you already think we're geeky for our love of something so childish. So, I won't push it.

Instead, I'll say that this trip mellowed us completely. I forgot about Shakespeare and about Professor Crazy. High points of the trip included:

* Being included in a sneak preview of the new Monster's Inc. ride opening in Disney's California Adventure Park.
* Watching Aladdin performed onstage at the Hyperion Theater. Aladdin waved at me!
* Taking the Holiday Time Tour in Disneyland and, while learning interesting tidbits about the park and the way it is decorated to celebrate Christmas in the different lands, also getting premier seating on the Haunted Mansion and Small World.
* Having front row seats in a special section for the annual Christmas Parade (which included mugs of wonderful hot chocolate, rice crispy treats the size of my cat, and the joy of knowing that Disneyland still celebrates 'Christmas!')
* Having front row seats to see Fantasmic! Jon and I both love the light show on the water. We've seen it a zillion times. But it's best enjoyed with chocolate covered strawberries, comfortable chairs and hot tea. Also, we were seated next to a family with giggling baby girl who leaned over to me at one point and said, 'Don't worry. Mickey is winning.' I love it.
* Shopping for ornaments, like we do every year. And finding ones that captured the memories of the trip.
* Meeting the Youd family several times along the way. Having lunch with them at the Storybook Cafe.
* Seeing Jen beat Dave (and the rest of us) on AstroBlasters!
* Subsequently seeing Jen give Dave a hard time about that victory for the rest of the evening.
* Dancing in the middle of Main Street in the 'snow'.

So much more than that happened, but I simply don't have the time right now. Let's hope this pushes me back into the habit of writing closer to daily. Please pardon any and all 'sh---y first drafts'. In the meantime... I hope everyone is relaxing as we approach the birth of a new year. I know we are.