I’ve had the dream many times in various forms. Usually it’s the night before the first day of classes, but it lurks in the psyche and emerges from time to time, not necessarily dependent upon any current event. I suppose that’s not unusual.
The basic form is this: I’m suddenly thrust into the role of lead actor in a Shakespeare play, the coach of a football team, the bass player of a rock band. And, inevitably, everyone else thinks I know what I’m doing, when in reality I’m just playing along with the scene.
In the specific scenario on Friday night, I was taking a camera’s perspective of a college football game, hovering above a dark skinned man with dreadlocks as he pulled on his helmet and ran onto the field. The premise, as described by the announcers in my dream, was that he’d been out of play due to an injury for some number of weeks, and as the crowd cheered we all knew that his return was a moment of some value. Tides would turn.
What the other observers within my dream didn’t realize was that somehow I was shifting from observer to participant. I, the skinny white kid from the suburbs, was suddenly taking on the perspective of the star running back of African American descent. And that’s where the dream took on that familiar theme. Suddenly, plays were being called — a “Swift 6 right,” as I recall — and I was supposed to know what that meant and what steps I was responsible for.
There wasn’t any particular ending other than finding myself in the untenable situation of not knowing what to do, so I simply ran around towards the end zone, hoping it was right and that I wasn’t ruining some destiny. That’s about the time that I woke up and realized that it was light outside. It was Saturday morning and my clock was, supposedly, set to fire off an alarm at 5:30 AM. But it was light. And my psyche knew something was wrong.
If it’s light, my astronomically tuned mind concluded, it’s probably not 5:30 AM. I rolled over, now the almost-40 white guy who was supposed to teach astronomy to sixth grade teachers that morning, and found that the clock was pushing its minute hand towards 7:00 AM. And that kind of fucking sucks, as they say. Ironically, it was my limited understanding of astronomy, the notion that the earth turns towards the sun, that told me I was ridiculously late in departing for the astronomy workshop that I was supposed to be teaching.
It’s funny that when I’m in these situations (and I suspect I’m not alone) that I have a very real hope and even expectation that I can turn back time. It seemed so impossible that I could have slept through an alarm; there should have been some other explanation; I should have still been in the midst of a dream. My mind raced, and I’m sure I was asking myself how to make the clock go back, how to start over. If only I weren’t called onto the field to play football in my dream … But that wasn’t really my problem. As much as I stared at the clock, I couldn’t find a way to change it, my disbelief notwithstanding.
To make a long story short, I made it to my workshop, late but still within some reasonable window to be there for the general orientation and find the correct room. The extra hour I’d planned to prepare was erased, and the notion of a breakfast was completely vanquished. I gulped coffee, grabbed a banana, and hoped that I was dressed as I got in the car.
Once there with the company of sixth grade teachers, I explained a bit about my state of mind. If I was at all disconnected or not quite with it, it was because only a few hours ago I was playing running back. Now, I found myself playing astronomer. And that’s when it happened. At some point, probably less than two hours into the daylong session, someone asked, “How do you know all this?” There were so many answers to the question, but the most accurate and appropriate was the one I gave. “I learned astronomy when I had to teach it.” That’s when it struck me. Maybe I have these dreams about playing football or acting Shakespeare or teaching literature not because these are my deepest fears, but because, actually, really, this is actually how I live my life. There isn’t preparation; there is just doing. I learned about the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt because at some point in my career someone said “You’re teaching the 7:00 AM astronomy course in the planetarium” and I just had to do it. It wasn’t so different from running the “Swift 6 right,” except, perhaps, in real life I don’t wake up to something different. I may as well have dreams that I’m thrown in front of a classroom … that’s the dream I get to live, and my preparations aren’t that much different.