Wait a sec – I’m not wearing pants! … by Deb Alicia

temp headshot 2Every September, I dream (usually several nights in a row) that I must repeat high school. I get lost in a labyrinthine building and arrive late for class. Teacher castigates me; classmates snicker. Then, I realize I’m not wearing pants.

You don’t have to be a Jungian analyst to surmise that I’m still working through some residual dread inspired by high school—math, chemistry, and gym classes, in particular.

College was different. No math, chemistry, or gym, and all the film, French, and philosophy courses I could handle. I loved college so much, in fact, that after I graduated, I worked for six years at another college Every August, under the thrum of cicadas, students moved in, hauling textbooks and lamps, bedding and rolled-up posters. The students’ excitement was contagious. As I passed them on the sidewalk, coffee-to-go in hand, I silently wished for them inspiring professors, and many moments of satisfying self-discovery.

So the phrase “back to school” signals a weird mix of emotions for me: wacky, I’m-not-wearing-pants dreams, plus a small yearning for a college campus with magically colossal sycamores and stone buildings straight out of Hogwarts.

Extra tidbit: When I worked as a reporter at a small-town newspaper in Massachusetts, I interviewed some volunteers who traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild, one year after the hurricane. The interviews inspired All Come Home. One volunteer told me about a New Orleans man who stood at attention as a yellow school bus rounded the corner in his neighborhood. Since the floods, schools had been closed; the bus was a sign that life was returning to normal.

~ Alicia Bessette

16 Replies to “Wait a sec – I’m not wearing pants! … by Deb Alicia”

  1. I have school-anxiety dreams YEAR ROUND. elementary and high school turned the month of August into a perpetual Sunday — that night before let-down ringing in my ears all month. i usually have dreams where I’m not wearing shoes and I’ve forgotten my books at home and high school is an even more unforgiving place. my pants are usually on, though.

  2. I tried to stay on as long as I could in that college atmosphere. I loved college and everything about it – the whole atmosphere, the hope and possibility of it. I still do. I live in a college town now – actually a region really, with five colleges within spitting distance. I love how the whole valley functions on the school schedule.

    Thanks for that New Orleans tidbit. That image of that man standing at attention when the school bus went by. That’s so touching.

  3. Haven’t taught since 2004. During my seven-year teaching career I never once had trouble maintaining control over my classrooms. And yet, I still have this recurring dream where I cannot get my students to listen to me. I try every tactic, I even scream, but nothing works. I once read that we only get anxious when we really care about something, and that we should think of the anxiety as hidden energy. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t get nervous.

  4. What a wonderful image, of the man and the school bus. And I have the very unoriginal dream of showing up for a psychology exam completely unprepared. I mean, a psychology exam! The irony….

  5. Hi Alicia! Congrats on getting published! I’m digging the blog so far…

    I miss college for the same reasons–crunchy leaves, coffee-to-go, Hogwartz libraries, new notebooks and Shakespeare classes. Best of all, your only real responsibilitly in those four years is to learn as much as possible. Those were the days…

    It’s kind of funny that fall is a time when things start to fade, crumble up and hibernate, but it *feels* like life is beginning again. I always approach fall with a bit of anxiety myself, probably because it’s a time when we’re expected to buckle up and put our best foot forward in whatever it is that we do.

  6. I just dropped my oldest off, yesterday, for his first day of first grade. And we moms were all standing around talking about our recurring school anxiety dream. I’m usually in my pajamas in mine.

    Q: I love what you said about anxiety as hidden energy!

    LOL Sarah about your psych exam.

    Oh, another variation for me are the “unprepared performance” dreams, like being on stage for an orchestra concert and not being able to find my sheet music. I know there are some musicians in the crowd who will relate to THAT one. Or (based on my flirtation with community theater) being on stage without even knowing what play I’m in.

  7. High school had a lot of social trauma for me- but I loved college. I have this fantasy of working at a college teaching an occasional writing course (but mostly biking around in my jacket with the elbow covers with the basket on the bike full of books)

  8. Hi Alicia,
    this story is really interesting to read and a bit strange, too. School must have been very impressive to you. Was there a special event that might have caused this “trauma”?
    I’m very nervous and I can’t sleep well, too before the start into a new school year although I have been teaching for 30 years now. But I really love this atmosphere of learning and teaching at our school and so couldn’t imagine to work anywhere else. Especially early in the morning before the students arrive it is a special atmosphere in the building.And then the moment when they all arrive… first one by one, then smaller groups and finally crowds of youngster in the corridors arriving just in time before the bell rings.
    Your sign of the school bus and its message is great. If you don’t mind I’ll use it as an example for my students when we talk about stylistic devices next time.

  9. Thanks, all, for joining the discussion today. Interesting to know that teachers, too, experience back-to-school anxiety dreams. Brigid, I like your observance that fall marks endings *and* beginnings. Joelle, maybe I *will* mine my h.s. angst for a YA book someday! (It’s probably why I so loved the TV show ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’) Sigrid, I bet your students love you!

  10. My recurring nightmare involves teaching rather than attending. I’m back in the elementary school classroom during report card week. They’re due the next day. I’ve written nothing; and, the worst part is I don’t know any of the students. I haven’t kept any of their work, and I’m facing parents who want a full reporting!! Waking up is such a relief.

  11. School gym was totally the worst. The teachers didn’t actually “teach” much–rules, skills–they just threw us together and told us to play whatever the game of the week was. I was terrible at everything and no teacher ever tried to change that. I will never forget the first week of high school gym: My class was full of kids funneled in from the other Middle School, so I didn’t know most of them. We were divided into teams but given no colors or anything, so I had no idea, once we were on the field, who was on MY team. I knew which end was our goal, but I didn’t know if that meant we should protect it or try to get the ball into it. **shudder** No, that wasn’t a stress dream. That was real high school gym.

    Our academics and arts, however, were fantastic.

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