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Disturbing School Dreams

I keep having variations of the same dream, over and over again. This has never happened to me before – all my other dreams have been stand-alone episodes with neither sequel nor prequel. Yet this one keeps coming back to me.

Freudians, help me out here.

I’m always in school. Sometimes I’m young and it’s high school or college; other times my old, middle-aged self is back at school for some reason. I then reach graduation or the end of the semester or some kind of academic conclusion, and I discover that there’s a class, or a bunch of classes, that I’d registered for and then never attended. Did I forget to go? Did I just stop going? Did I even know I’d been signed up in the first place? Well, it depends. The common thread, however, is that I’ve failed, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I then wake up, and it takes me several minutes to realize that I haven’t had a class at a university since 1999, and that I have no intention of rebooting my academic career. But it’s strange to me that my sense of accomplishment, success and failure, is still rooted in the classroom, where accomplishments are clearly measured, labeled, and rewarded. Nothing in the real world is as clean or simple as getting an “A” on a ScanTron test. By comparison, few things are as emotionally devastating as that big red “F” scribbled across a paper that was cobbled together an hour before it was due, even though you had six weeks to write it.

But this dream isn’t about trying and failing – it’s about failing unknowingly in a system designed to ensure failure. Sometimes, in the dream, I protest that I’ve worked very hard and done very well in the classes I’ve attended, and that ought to count for something, shouldn’t it? Nope. The failure in these dreams is overwhelming and final. There is no recovering from it. My permanent record is scarred forever, and the classes can’t be made up, and the failing marks can never be expunged.

In the waking world, I keep hoping things work differently. Frankly, I’m not sure that they do. Life is a permanent record, and every choice you make precludes a myriad of other choices. I’ve reached the point in my career where the course offerings get scarcer. If I ever wanted to be, say, a professional boxer or an Olympic gymnast, the window of opportunity on those particular classes have closed forever. How many other classes have closed, too, without me knowing about them? Are any of the good courses still open? When’s the registration deadline?

As you can see, I’m still pretty screwed up.

I Hate the Book of Job
Anaujiram Ekoms ot Trats

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  1. If someone can interpret your dream, maybe they can help with some similar recurring ones that I have: can’t find a class; can’t remember locker combination; didn’t get the assignment done on time (not all in the same dream, fortunately).

  2. I’ve had anxiety dreams like this my whole life. I have similar school dreams, but more often I dream that I am in a play that I have never rehearsed, or that I am waiting tables in a restaurant with nobody to cook the food. The common thread is that everyone expects something of me that I feel totally unprepared for. Also, I usually discover at some point that I forgot to wear pants that day. That’s another common thread. I haven’t been in a play or waited tables since 1995.

  3. Jim, I am gobsmacked! Because I have virtually the same recurring dream. And from the replies it looks like we aren’t alone. The other frequent variation I experience is I am holding a completed registration card showing all my classes, and I am wandering the campus aimlessly but can’t find any of the classrooms.The two aspects of this dream-genre that are noteworthy to me are: a. I never do find out why I haven’t attended any of the classes come Finals day and I’m tortured by that and b. I wake up fully believing the dream is real and that I’m in the midst of the predicament. In fact a HUGE wave of relief washes over me when I figure out that I actually haven’t darkened the doorway of a classroom in 20 years. I don’t experience that with my other garden variety nightmares. I think this phenomenon bears further exploration. I also would posit it is the Jungians more than the Freudians who are better equipped to help us sickos.

  4. «I realized that the problem was me: Since I valued rigorous teaching of true and/or useful things, and it was clear that literature and writing departments nationwide were abandoning any such process, I was like a guy trying to buy a gourmet meal at Burger King. Who’s the idiot?

    «So I stopped trying to go to school.

    «Instead, I continued my lifelong habit of reading rigorous books by intelligent writers. Truth to tell, that has always been the real source of education anyway. And when I disagree with the writer or have serious doubts, I can note my objections in the margin and the writer never knows about it, and therefore doesn’t penalize me for being too “harsh” or taking up too much of the class’s time in attempted dialogue.»

  5. I have had the same dream from time to time. My wife calls it a stress dream. I usually get them when a big project is due and I’m concerned about missing a step or something similar. For me it’s the fear of failure due to circumstances outside of my control. It’s normal in my book.

  6. I’m so sorry that you are still dealing with this black cloud, SC. You are a fantastic person with a fantastic family and incredible talent. But it’s undeniable that you’ve not only been through some tough times in recent years but also hit a difficult crossroads. Don’t forget that you have many fans, starting with your most important fans – your wife, kids, and all of your other amazing family. But while I say that, I know that it’s hard.

    I wonder a bit at those dreams. Is it connected to the feeling we often have when our current path has led to disappointment or feelings of failure, and we need to reinvent ourselves? Is it the Coulda Woulda Shoulda syndrome? I wonder, because I’ve had a million dreams like yours and like Caleb’s. I visit friends at a theatre, and suddenly I’m cast in a show, but I’m not prepared in the slightest. The most disturbing recurring was when I auditioned at a fictitious Salt Lake theatre, a little like SLAC or Pioneer, and I got a great part, but then I never showed up for rehearsals, and I’m only realizing it when I show up to audition for the next show. Ouch! Then there’s the school dream pretty much the same as yours.

    I just got into a play, and it’s a great play. But at auditions, I was a nervous wreck. I’ve been a nervous wreck before, you guys know that. But it has been a long time since I’ve been so at an audition or backstage during a play. I grew more confident in myself as a performer, and I’ve usually been thrilled to come in and blow someone away. Performing, even for just a cold reading or 16 bars of a song, became such a refuge all backstage baggage just stayed backstage. But this was different – I’ve been out of practice auditioning for musicals, the production staff was completely new to me, it was a new theater, and I think I was still nursing the feeling rejection I had at my last audition at a sister theater. During the callbacks, where I was being called back for an absolute dream role, I read and sang fine, but I kept second guessing how I did after the fact. My anxiety was through the roof, and because I was foolish enough to make certain comments and ask certain questions, I think it was pretty obvious to the production staff that I wasn’t feeling terribly confident.

    Well I was cast (yay!) in an awesome cast (there are two casts), but in a much smaller role. So this dream role that I could’ve sincerely knocked completely out of the park went to two other actresses – one who is bit prettier than me and completely fantastic, and another who is cute and pretty but not terribly impressive. And so, in the midst of this show which I’ll love being in – I’ll be working plenty hard and having a blast in my role – I’ll have to ignore the disappointment that causes me to look back and question every choice I made. Not because I wish I’d never had a family, and not because this theatre is going to make or break me. But because I’m now having to face that the course I’ve taken comes with all of the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. (Really, I’m trying to keep my perspective that it could be much uglier.) And I’m trying not to resent my children and husband for costing me what might have been a promising career in acting. (Shallow and stupid, yes, but there you have it.)

    And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing (except, maybe I’d have had dinner before that callback and chewed gum when I wasn’t reading or singing to fight off that nervousness and keep my damn mouth shut). The kids, the husband, the successes and failures, they have been the best course so far. Right?

    A door will open for you. Or you will find another door and kick the damn thing open. Because Stallion Cornell can reinvent himself if he needs to or find someone who wholeheartedly wants the unique, brilliant, sometimes a little weird product that is Stallion Cornell. And we will survive our midlife crises together (though separate). Love to Mrs. Cornell!

    (Thanks for the therapy. Does anyone want to borrow this soapbox I found?)

  7. Yep, I have that same one too — the class I forgot to go to. Been out of school for fifteen years, so I think that particular anxiety could fade away now, thanks. (At least I’m usually wearing pants.)

  8. Most of my weird dreams involve me trying to navigate a crowded church hallway (like right after sacrament meeting) in my underwear without being seen.

  9. Sounds to me like you are feeling powerless in your life. That is my 2-cents, anyway. How to deal with that? Well, personally I clean and reorganize a room in my house, so I feel like I have SOME power over SOMETHING. But, that is admittedly probably a more feminine response to powerlessness.

  10. I chuckled as I read your post. To me it seems to be just another version of your previous post about the Book of Job.

    Both posts reveal the concerns you (and most others) have about “Why does bad s- -t happen to good people?”

    Since it is June, all the graduation-type ceremonies in the media (and perhaps the lives your family/friends) provided the repeated settings for the dreams….. not that it matters.

    Wish I could help answer the question about “why bad stuff happens” (even to ethical and kind people) but . . .

  11. It’s because you didn’t get that damn job. I had similar dreams after I didn’t get my damn job. You SHOULD have gotten it, you did what you needed to do to get it, but for some reason, things that shouldn’t have been connected to it prevented you from getting it.
    Oh, that’s just me?