Teaching Dreams

I’m not sure I ever dreamed about teaching college courses. Intermittently, the dreams of my gradjunct years featured classrooms, but they were never about teaching. That is part of the reason I find the string of teaching dreams I’ve experienced since July strange. Few of them have been the typical ‘unprepared’ scenario (e.g., I just started teaching at this school and nobody can tell me where my classroom is or give me the attendance list). Mostly, they have been very concrete, quasi-realistic dreams about the work of being a teacher.

Last night, for example, I dreamed that I was teaching an intervention/remedial English class. I dreamed that I was angry at the police for the way they treated my students. I dreamed that I screwed up my introduction to the class by saying some dream-honest things about how messed up the system is when I should have started the speech with the encouraging parts that I delivered next. Those encouraging parts, incidentally, were precisely they ones that I have sketched out in the eventuality that I have a class of my own. The only odd thing about the dream was that in the subsequent teacher’s lounge episode, I could not stop eating cake even though I was full. Make of that what you will.

I’m not sure what I am supposed to make of these dreams. They’re not prophetic (I hope—the thing with the cake was uncomfortable). I don’t really feel like I’ve been thinking about teaching all that much. Indeed, I’m trying to take advantage of this time between finishing my certification and going back to work by finishing the draft of my novel. (Getting close!) I did not dream of technical writing jobs when I was applying for them, nor, further back, of tenure track jobs when I was applying for those. In part because I’ve been bereft of optimism lately, I want to read these teaching dreams as confirmation, whether cosmic or subconscious.

I want that confirmation because teaching feels right to me. It’s the part of my old plans that I’ve hung on to. I love writing. Writing feels right, but I’m not in a place to make it my full-time job. Teaching is different, because teaching is service. When I teach, I’m not doing it for myself. The job is bigger than the paycheck. I understand the idea of a life of service differently now than I did when I embraced it as a 17-year-old at a United World College. Not everybody gets the chance to make their work a meaningful part of their community. I have that chance now, which is pretty awesome.

The part of my introductory speech that made it into my dream? “You are all writers. You are all readers.” That’s a dream, not of kids all becoming novelists or or poets or literary critics, but of young people becoming adults who can express their ideas clearly, who can pull the ideas from a text and understand what the author is and isn’t saying. The kids have great ideas and insights. I get to help them understand how to make the most of them. That’s cool enough that I don’t mind my would-be work invading my dreams, even if I’m turned off by chocolate cake for a while.


The Future is Smaller Than You Think

Eleven years and a season ago, I was in the middle of the best summer I’ve ever had. I had graduated from college, received enough graduation gifts to coast for a few months, and was dating the woman I’d eventually marry. I spent my days studying the early music history that had never made it into my music major and my evenings playing ultimate frisbee. My commitments were minimal. I had the rare luxury of choosing how I spent my time.

Most importantly, though, I knew what was coming next. In August I would move to Ohio and begin a master of music degree in composition. I had an apartment lined up (despite not meeting any roommates), an assistantship lined up, and hey, how hard could more school be? (It turned out to be hard, but that is a different post.) I was a 22-year old with a plan. The future spread before me like an ocean.

That was the moment I should have checked my boat for leaks…or perhaps invested in a set of maps to give me some idea of what the other side of the ocean looked like. But c’mon. I had love, ultimate, and leisure to spend reading about parallel developments in madrigals and motets.

The future is smaller than you think. It probably isn’t big enough to hold everything you would like to pile into it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not tiny. It’s just more along the lines of Heward’s Handy Haversack than a high-end bag of holding or portable hole. (Apologies to the non-geeks.) You cannot just keep dumping stuff there, hoping you will get to it later.

Still…seize-the-day posts and their cousin chase-your-dream wear me out. Days are slippery. Dreams move fast. Of course you have to sow before you reap. Sowing doesn’t guarantee a harvest. To sow is to sign up for endless days of weeding and shoveling fertilizer, of hoping for rain or digging your own ditches. And when you reap? As good as it might feel to heft your scythe, to cut the stalks and winnow the grain, even that doesn’t guarantee that somebody will be waiting at market to buy your harvest. Or that the miller won’t be an ass.

No step in the process can be dumped willy-nilly into the future. It is too small for that. This is what bothers me about “seizing the day.” If I spend the day writing, my kids will destroy the apartment (or one another). If I spend the day writing, I’m going to have a hard time staying in said apartment when rent comes due. I can throw myself wholeheartedly into chasing my dreams, but I’m setting myself up to trip over things in the now.

I am not against pep talks. We all need them. Sometimes we need the ones we give ourselves most of all. I just prefer to remember that we have only a short amount of time, and that, unlike the Doctor, we’re stuck experiencing it linearly. The future is smaller than I once thought it was.

It’s too small too hold all of the hopes I dumped there. The thing is, the now isn’t much bigger. I can worry about seizing the day, or I can get a fence around it to keep it from escaping. If my dreams are running too fast to catch, I can try to let them show me the best path forward. Most of all, I remind myself that a small future does not have to be a dark future. My future is still mine to fill. Yours is still yours. Think hard about what you stash there.