On Saturday night, I dreamt that I was enrolled in an art class and that James Franco was one of my classmates. But the story doesn’t end there. Somehow, he and I became friends, and, naturally, this turned into a romantic relationship. As often happens in dreams, time and logic were askew. One minute, he was hugging me while I kept repeating,
“How could you like me? I’m just a girl from New Jersey, and you’re James Franco.”
After he assured me that I was terrific and that we’d be perfect together, we were all at once in a committed relationship, I was pregnant and we were engaged to be married. Our school friends threw us a party on the last day of class where everyone wore matching t-shirts with James and Gina puffy painted across the front.
And I was a smitten kitten.
Even though it seems so unbelievable and ridiculous, it felt so realistic that I was disoriented when I woke up Sunday morning. I was still pregnant, but I was back in my bed while my husband milled around downstairs, waiting for me to get up so we could have breakfast together.
For those of you keeping track, that would be my husband Mike, not my fiance James Franco.
Now, I’ve always enjoyed James Franco as an actor. He’s engaging and he makes bold and unpredictable choices. I admire a person who likes a challenge and who doesn’t mind mixing it up now and again. But, I never figured him for a celebrity crush. He is attractive, but for no reason at all, I never swooned over him. Maybe I’m just that not much of a celebrity swooner at this point in my life.
When I told some of my co-workers about the dream, my friend Sandy said:
“I know why this happened.”
Then she asked me if I saw his recent interview on The Daily Show.
“Yes, I did.”
She pointed out that during that episode, he talked about pursuing a PhD in English at Yale, something that impressed her a great deal.
“You’re right!” I said. I hadn’t processed it, but I suppose that once I heard he was a super smarty in my particular field of interest, it must have stuck in my subconscious, only to be played out in a dream sequence high above the clouds.
We often discuss Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” in my Composition II class. Each semester, I get a new crop of students, and this means I am always working with a different group dynamic. Sometimes, I get a chatty and opinionated bunch of people who are very open with their feelings. Other times, I get a quiet class of students who are more difficult to draw out of the corners of the room.
In a more reserved class, there are always a few who are willing to share, it’s hard to get a read on the silent majority. So, I try to be as, er, creative as possible when coming up with ideas for class discussion as a way to get them interested in being part of the group. It doesn’t always work the way I hope, but that doesn’t stop me from trying and trying and trying.
In Chopin’s story, a nineteenth century housewife with a weak heart receives news that her husband has died in a train accident. At first, Louise Mallard seems distraught, but the reader soon realizes that she is overcome with a sense of relief. She now feels free, something she hadn’t experienced in her restrictive marriage. But the report of her husband’s death is a mistake, and he soon walks through the door. Louise’s disappointment is so great and the blow to her heart is so crushing that she drops dead on the spot soon after he enters the house.
At first, students struggle with the main character’s reaction. Why is she so happy when she learns that her husband has died? And why does she perish at the end of the story when she discovers the news of his death was delivered in error? So, I separate the class into groups of all men or all women and explain that we were going to be a little heterosexist because of the nature of the story. Then, I ask them to come up with at least three expectations that are put on men in modern relationships followed by three expectations put on women.
In one such class, the flurry of conversation I expected was replaced with muted whispers and intermittent grunts. In my most annoying teacher voice, I said:
“It’s too quiet in here!” But, this did little to heighten the discussion.
But more than their reluctance to share, I was shocked by the answers they gave when we got back into a large group. Though a few of them said that men were supposed to be protectors and women were often thought of as nurturers, most of the students admitted that they had just picked stereotypes but had real trouble coming up with expectations or roles for either gender. Most of the women in class admitted to expecting little or nothing from the men in their lives, and they weren’t quite sure what part they played when part of a couple. In general, they saw modern relationships as intangible, colorless blobs, trudging along the horizon without an ounce of panache.
After several minutes of futility, I tried another approach. I asked them what they thought life must have been like for a woman in the nineteenth century after describing some of the expectations of the times. Imagine my surprise when a couple of the women in class said that life would be easier if all they had to do was stay home, have children and take care of household duties. They saw Chopin’s point, but they didn’t know what all the fuss and vapors were all about. Wasn’t Louise Mallard’s life a cinch?
I tried to restrain myself from rambling on and on with my own rebuttal. Even though I know that modern relationships have progressed, I maintain that there are clear expectations for both members of a couple. In heterosexual relationships, most women still want men to take the initiative by calling–or texting–for a date. In my neighborhood, it’s the men I see out shoveling driveways after a storm or taking out the trash and recycle bins on a Sunday night. Mike is the financial planner while I’m the executive chef of the house. He lifts heavy stuff, and I do the laundry. And though I think we’re pretty modern–we split our responsibilities equitably and help one another whenever we can–we do fall into roles. A lot of them are even stereotypical. I have to imagine that many couples, regardless of sexual orientation, find themselves doing the same. It seems like things just function better if everyone knows where they fit within the parameters they’ve defined for themselves.
But this is not to say that Lousie Mallard doesn’t have a place in today’s world.
Unlike the character in the Chopin story, I do not see marriage as a prison. In fact, I rather like it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have concerns about losing myself or my independence before I got hitched. If it’s done right, marriage isn’t a life sentence, but it can be a frustrating exercise in compromise, even if you’re not stubborn and are relatively good at sharing.
In my James Franco Dream Sequence, I played the part of the stereotypical female. Like a contestant on The Bachelor, I was needy and emotional, and I just couldn’t believe a superstar, Oscar nominated actor, would be ever be interested in an ordinary someone like me.
After we became engaged, I worried about putting too much pressure on him. I tried to be breezy while I internalized my self-doubt and convinced myself he’d leave me for Brooklyn Decker as soon as the baby was born.
Even in my sleep, I’m neurotic.
When I told Mike about the whole James Franco affair, he said:
“I don’t know if I like that dream.”
But then he went back to buttering his waffles as I cut the strawberries for mine. We poured some orange juice, then sat together at the breakfast table and talked about his plans to paint a room in the house while I met my mom for some shopping.
In my single days, I couldn’t could have imagined that my real love story, the most exciting and important arc in the plot, would happen after I was already married. I may not always respond well to the nuances (and nuisances) of compromise, but being able to tell my husband about my love child with James Franco only to have him shrug, smile and pass the syrup is pretty darn great.
I fall into my role and he falls into his. We sigh in unison, out of utter delight, not boredom. Then, we ride into the sunset, arm in arm as the scene fades to black.