Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My OLLI Anxiety Dream

Dear George,
I probably had my first academic nightmares in grade school, though I remember them most clearly from college and graduate school.  They even persisted for decades after I’d finished school altogether.  One of my most common dreams was that I’d registered for a difficult course, but then completely forgotten it and never attended class.  Suddenly it was time to take the final exam, and I didn’t know a single thing.  When I became a college teacher  myself in adulthood, this scary dream morphed into an alternate version.  I started dreaming that it was the first day of the semester and that I’d forgotten I’d been assigned to teach a course in a field that I knew absolutely nothing about, e.g., geology.  I had to go and face a classroom full of skeptical students and publicly reveal my incompetence.

Katja and I have become students at the university again, but now it’s in what’s billed as an anxiety-free atmosphere.  We’re enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a program which offers 80 plus courses per quarter for people age 50 and over.  This term we’ve been going to “Behind the Scenes in the Arts,” “Hebrew Union College: The Pride of Clifton Avenue,” and “Writing Down Your Life Stories,” a class in which members take turns reading a personal story that they’ve written that week.  OLLI involves no tests, no grades or quizzes, and usually no homework.  Thus, you get all the perks of interesting content and new information, but with few of the pressures of a regular college education.

I thought that OLLI was anxiety-free until I had a brand new academic dream last week. I dreamt I was in an OLLI singing class.  I was sitting in the second row, and the teacher asked the woman across the aisle from me to sing the song she’d prepared for this week’s class.  The woman proceeded to sing an aria from a famous opera.  She had a beautiful voice.  I realized that she was enrolled in the class because she was an accomplished singer who loved to sing.  In fact, everybody in the class appeared to be a great singer except me.  I was taking it because I’m a terrible singer and hoped that I might get just a little bit better.

When the woman finished, everyone clapped, and the teacher asked if I would like to go next.  I paused for a moment, then said that I’d like to tell a story first.  The teacher looked surprised but said o.k.  I said, “When I was in fourth grade my teacher, Miss Hunnefeld, started a glee club at our school.  Every week we met after school to practice so we could perform for the Lion’s Club at the end of the year.  One day Miss Hunnefeld walked up and down the front row, listening carefully to everyone in the group.  She stopped right in front of me and said that I was out of tune.  She asked me to sing a line by myself but, even with three or four tries, my voice sounded flat and off key.  Miss Hunnefeld said I seemed to be tone deaf.  She said I could stay in the Glee Club and be in the Lions’ Club performance, but I had to promise never to sing out loud again.  So I went to practice after school for the rest of the spring and mouthed the words as my classmates sang.  Every now and then I would sneak in a note out loud, but my singing career had essentially come to an abrupt end.”

That, of course, is a true story.  My singing class teacher smiled sympathetically.  Then she asked what I was going to sing today.  My mind started racing.  I couldn’t think of a single song I knew.  The teacher handed me her songbook.  I scanned the titles, but I’d never heard of any of them.  Finally I remembered my favorite song from grade school, so I sang that.

Centa, Sweet Centa
Refuses her polenta
Don’t scold her
Don’t hold her
She’ll eat never a bite today

Gather buds, yellow and red and blue
Twist a knot yellow and blue and red
Patience, lad, cheerily bide your time
Girlish moods are quickly fled

When I got to the end of the song, the teacher gave me a funny look and started to say something.   I never found out what she was going to say because that was the moment I woke up.  I realized immediately it was all just a dream.  What a relief!  I wasn’t in a singing class at all – there is no singing class in OLLI.   Then I realized that the singing class in my dream was pretty similar to my writing class, since students in that class take turns presenting stories they’ve written to the whole group.  I wondered if my dream were really about my writing class.  How could that be?  It’s true that I’ve suffered some writer’s block recently and have been apprehensive about reading material in class.  But it can’t be as bad as having to sing in front of a group.  I am objectively horrible at singing, and everyone would agree about that.  But I’m certain I can do better as a writer.   I guess my unconscious mind doesn’t see any difference though.  It’s interesting how our inner insecurities gnaw away at us, whether or not they have any firm grounding in reality.  I also decided that my OLLI class must be important to my emotional life since it’s now taken a central place in my rich collection of anxiety dreams.

G-Mail Comments:

-Judy J-K (Feb. 22): Hi David,  I enjoy your stories about our 4th grade teacher.  I'm not sure I've spelled her last name correctly, but she certainly made an impression on me.  I was a few years (49-50) behind you in school, so it is not surprising that some things in her class were different from  your experience--though it is possible that I've forgotten a lot.  As I recall in her classroom management technique, we all were lined up around the room and responded 'perfect' or 'not perfect' with respect to a relatively short list of rules written on a small bit of blackboard on the southeast side of the room.  I don't recall any other way a person got ahead and advanced in rank.  As an over-scrupulous, 'good Catholic' girl I never achieved any rank.  My memory is that only Don ( Deetce? I've never spelled it before) Hofer and I ended up the year at the bottom of the class.  I even played Jacob's Ladder on the piano for the class as well. If going to church would have earned me points I should have achieved some rank!  I'm convinced that my fear of lightening was heightened by her stories of God punishing sinners with a bolt of lightening.  Have other former Washington  students sent you stories?  I'd love to hear them.  Judy Johnson Kropf
-Ann B (2-20):  Thanks for posting such a nice  picture of my mother.  Just wanted to let you know that you had a horrible music teacher, I would have never treated you that way and of course I would have taught you to sing in tune. John has 6 more days to work!  He is going to do some contingent work in March, then officially done.  Love, Ann
-Phyllis S-S (2-19):  Dear Dave,  So will you read your life story out loud?  Ah the nightmares the night before......    Phyllis

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