Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Final Exam

I had a dream, and it felt significant:

I was a student of some kind, and I was going through the library near the end of the term. I think I was returning textbooks that I would no longer need. I run into my German instructor, who happens to be Ms. Amelie, the kindergarten teacher at Emerson Waldorf school. She says "hello" in a bustling, business-like sort of way, and informs me that I need to take two exams right now, in the library. The first exam is very hard, she said, and she said it in such a way that implied she thought it was unfairly difficult. The second one was longer, she said, but not so bad.

So I have to take these tests . . . but I realize that my three-year-old son Malcolm is here with me. How am I going to manage this? Mal is sitting at a table, totally absorbed in some books, so I think that maybe I have a chance. I start into the first test, and it's the sort of test where they give you entirely new material to learn and then test you on it. And it's all local dialect stuff -- weird alternative vowels for things you knew before. The new material keeps going on, and I never seem to get to the actual questions.

Then I realize that it's nearly noon, and for some reason I need to make an appearance at chapel for some kind of brief service. (I guess it's that kind of school.) And so I'm racing down the halls to the chapel, realizing that Malcolm is still in the library, and who's looking after him? I realize at that moment that I haven't eaten, either, and I'm facing the prospect of a long set of exams on an empty stomach. The entrance to the chapel seems to go through the buffet line of a cafeteria. A woman minister of some kind is near the front of the line, and she suddenly turns around, grabs a male student by both hands, and launches into some kind of prayer for his soul. The student, spooked, pulls away and dashes into the chapel. The minister says, "Nuts. Lost another one." As I push passed her into the chapel myself, I say something like, "Yeah, you can't just grab 'em."

Somehow I'm back at the library, ready to begin the big exam. Rupert Giles, the Watcher from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is handing me the big heavy leather-bound "Vampyr" tomb. Evidently this is supposed to be my test. The way he talks and looks at me, I can tell that if I'm the Chosen One, I'm supposed to be able to read this, and if not, I won't. I open to the title page and I can read it, though it seems more like a personal scrapbook, with pictures and ticket stubs, than any kind of mystic lore.


Richard Rose always said that the meaning of dream was in the mood of the dream. In this case my attitude during the dream was half panic, half resignation. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to get through all these challenges without failure, so I just braced myself for whatever was going to happen. I think that's becoming more typical of my stance toward life right now: I'm overwhelmed, but I'm just going to muddle through. I even thought of the Kobayashi Maru, the test which you are doomed to fail, which is all about testing your ability to perform in the midst of failure.

The dream touched on the conflicts and tensions between my work (the German exam), my family (Malcolm) and my spiritual duties (the chapel). My work feels like an endless series of learning exercises, localized and perhaps trivial in scope, which never seems to reach a resolution. Clearly I thought I might be able to swing work and family together, as long as family didn't act up. But spiritual duty called me away from both. In retrospect I feel a little guilty that I left Mal to go to chapel, even though I knew it was a prefunctory appearance on my part. That, too, seems typical of my current attitude towards the Work: I can't even remember, sometimes, why I do it, and yet I keep doing it.

The minister grabbing at the student . . . well, I guess my own group work with the Self Knowledge Symposium feels about as awkward and ineffective. Or maybe I think that I ought to make a lunge, take a risk to put pressure on the students, and risk them just walking away. I was sympathetic to the minister, I understood her absolute desperation to try to make some kind of meaningful contact with people, but I also understood why the student was freaked out.

And Rupert Giles . . . I think this was supposed to be an affirmation of my spiritual life. In the TV show, when Giles heaves out the tome and slams it before Buffy, it was symbolic of the heavy role that Buffy did not want, and yet was destined to undertake. And that's kind of how spiritual life feels to me right now. I didn't ask for this calling, didn't seek it out, and yet it found me. On the one hand, it's a pain in the butt. On the other hand, it is the fulfillment of a destiny. This is what I'm supposed to be doing. And (surprise!) it is so much more personal than I anticipated.

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