Sunday, January 30, 2011

Car Crash Dreams and Existential Crises

A promise: Although it doesn't start out that way, this blog post has a happy ending.  I swear.

About a month or so ago, I started having particularly vivid dreams of being behind the wheel of my car, realizing too late that I was going far too fast, unintentionally zooming through red lights and making wildly too-wide turns.  In each of these dreams, I would have a moment in which I would think to myself, "Wow.  I've been having all those dreams about losing control of the car, but now it's actually happening."  And each morning, I'd wake up and find myself wondering if the crazy loss of vehicular control had been a dream or a fuzzy memory from the day before.  (But given that I haven't found any new dents on my car or had my license taken away and ripped up, I think I'm safe in assuming that these have just been dreams.)

A few weeks ago, I talked about these dreams to a member of my family who makes a living helping people figure out what's going on inside their heads.  "I've read that 'losing control of the car' dreams can mean the dreamer feels like he or she is out of control in waking life," I said, "but I just don't feel that way.  Is there something else these dreams could be about?"  And like any responsible head shrinker, my family member offered a few explanations, gauging my reaction, until we both caught the one that made things click into place for me: "Sometimes dreams like that can mean that everything's going so well in your life, a part of you is ready for the other shoe to drop and for the world to come crumbling down."

Oh.  Well, yeah.  I mean, as anyone who's been within 10 yards of me in the past four and a half months knows, I've been raving non-stop about how wonderful grad school is, and how much I love being here, and how fabulous the people are, and how good a fit the program is for me, and how beautiful Santa Barbara is, etc., etc., etc.  I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I said, "This is the happiest I've ever been" first quarter.  So yes, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that, given how wonderfully things were going, I might be a bit concerned, even subconsciously, that they were/are about to be very not wonderful.  So I felt accomplished, having identified the source of my frightening automobile dreams.

But it turns out that expecting a downturn isn't always a good idea.  Because in my anticipation that things were about to get nasty, the existential crisis (I know, how cliche can I get?) hit me.  And it went a little like this: Wait a minute.  Why do I feel like I'm the only one in this department who doesn't already have a favorite theorist whom I can quote at will?  Why haven't I done more reading in my field?  Why didn't I go to that huge conference, the biggest conference in my profession?  Why don't I get that joke the professor just made?  Why can't I understand this heavily theoretical reading?  How can I possibly memorize all of the pronouns in Old English?  And then, the big one: Is this really what I should be doing?

And so it went for a few days, along with the requisite sleepless nights, headaches, and, of course, additional dreams of losing control of my trusty old Volvo Alice.  And then I made a comment about a part of a reading that a classmate hadn't understood quite as well as I had.  And then I learned that some of my friends who are the best at theory hadn't read some of my favorite works of literature.  And then I remembered how easily translation comes to me, and how much I appreciated the quirks of literature in my field, and by the end of the week, when I found myself giggling like a middle schooler with one of my classmates over Old English vocabulary (did you know that Old English had at least ten different, very specific verbs for how to kill someone?  and that they all start with "of-"?), I remembered something my mother used to say: Everyone gets something, but no-one gets everything.  No, I don't have a theorist I can pull out of my back pocket yet.  But I'm a first year grad student, and that's okay.  And no, I haven't read all of the literature in my field yet.  Of course, if I had, grad school would seem rather redundant and a waste of time, no?  But I can translate like a ... well, like something that translates really well, and the literature I have read I know really well, and the rest....well, the rest will come later.

So, thanks to a week spent with my amazingly talented and flawed (this is a compliment, I swear!) colleagues, in which I remembered that no-one has everything yet, existential crisis number one is solved: Is this really what I should be doing?  Hells yes it is!

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