Friday, July 9, 2010

A Brand New Dream

Dear George,

Like most of us, I’ve always had recurrent nightmares. As an adolescent I’d dream that I was driving across the Hattie Street Bridge from Menominee to Marinette, but the midsection of the bridge had collapsed, and I’d plunge to my death in the whitewater below. I always interpreted this as a not too subtle expression of apprehension about my current life transition. In college I’d wake up in a cold sweat after learning on the last day of the semester that I was enrolled in an advanced math class and had to take the final exam, though I’d never even attended the class. As a college professor, this same basic dream morphed itself into my being assigned without notice to teach a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about, e.g., Chinese or geology, and there I was in the classroom on the first day, confronted with a huge bunch of students and having no idea what to say. An even worse incompetence dream involved my getting a letter from the University of Michigan saying that I’d never actually completed my dissertation and didn’t really have a Ph.D. after all. Now, decades later, I would have to return to graduate school, begin studying all over again for my doctoral exams, and finish the dissertation which I’d been unable to complete in the first place.

Happily, all these painful dreams vanished when I retired a year and a half ago. The other night, though, I had a brand new dream. I’d gone into my office space at the university. But it wasn’t a private office. Instead, it was just a desk space in the midst of a very large room with many other desks occupied by faculty and grad students in the Chemistry Department. I hadn’t been there for a while, and I was upset to find that my desk had been emptied out, as had my file drawers and the bookcase standing next to my desk. I sought out the person in charge. She was an attractive, professionally dressed woman, but it was clear she was a “by the books” sort of person. She informed me in a business-like fashion that the University had removed my belongings. She had no idea where they had gone. I went into a panic. I told her that that was all my lecture material, my research projects, manuscripts I’d published. Then I realized that my entire collection of books had disappeared as well. I asked the woman who I could contact, but she had no idea. She also didn’t know whether my things had been put in storage boxes or had been destroyed. It occurred to me that I could call Cheryl, the former head secretary in the Sociology Department -- she would be able to help me. Then I woke up.

Like my earlier anxiety dreams, my new dream seems pretty transparent. I’ll simply call it a retirement dream. Before I knew what was happening, the impersonal University eliminated all the trappings of my career, and, in doing so, my entire professional identity had been stripped away. And there wasn’t any recourse. I’d lost my place forevermore. While this recognition was pretty upsetting, I’d have to say that it wasn’t as painful as facing a room full of students and having no idea what you are doing. I guess loss is easier to assimilate than terror. It is interesting to note that the contents of one’s dreams change in direct correspondence with changes in one’s actual life stage. I’m reminded once again of Sigmund Freud’s respect for the rich creativity of the unconscious mind in translating one’s deep anxieties into symbolic constructions.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (7-10): Your dreams are great. I also often had a dream about not taking a class and I was no longer a lawyer. Now that I think of it , I have not had that dream since I retired. But I have lot of dreams that art is still alive. So that is a dream I hate waking from. So glad you stopped and stayed a short time us Linda. Ps. Love that picture

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