Monday, July 09, 2012

Welcome to the Song Alice Didn't Write

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, let me explain the actor's nightmare. 

In it, the sleeping thespian dreams that he or she is just about to walk out on stage and they haven't a clue what the play is or what their lines are to be. 

Generally, they wake up in a cold sweat and hustle back to their serving station or, if they're still in school, whip off a fresh grant application.

My personal actor's nightmare is that a cast party is decided to be held at my house and the whole stinking, marginally talented but loud and unruly lot of them show up.  They eat all your food, drink all your beer and leave the place looking like a herd of pack animals with intestinal issues spent the night. 

Trouble with that nightmare is, I didn't wake up from it.  I pinched myself, threw cold water in my face but every time I opened my eyes, Tony was still in the kitchen trying to defrost a pound of shrimp in a steel bowl in the microwave and Anna still had her Doc Marten's splayed out on the new couch.

The nightmare I really do have and really do wake up from can only be called "The Scholar's Nightmare."

In it, I'm late for class.  Its finals, I don't know where class is, when it is but I know its math and I suck at it and haven't studied a page all semester.  I'm sailing the SS Senior Year right into the finals ice pack and the math or science 'berg is going to rip a hole in my side known as "funding cutoff."

Now that's not the way my academic career went.  I was the obsessive preparer; studious and diligent, assignments in on time and relatively good grades to boot. 

'Cause I realized I wasn't packing the motherlode of cranial matter and the difference between late nights at the library and third shift packing boxes was a couple of missed quadratic equations.

I got through high school because I transferred schools in senior year from a place with average standards to a joint where biology exams relied on ColorForms.

I got through college by taking all the hard, crummy math and science courses first and talking my way out of being arrested for illegal alcohol possession on the eve of freshman finals.

I got through grad school by realizing that 9/10's of your required credits no more equal an "effective master's" than 9/10's of a woman's phone number equal an "effective date."

Then I bought a business and ran it as a capstone, just to make sure I hadn't been sold a load of useless academic theory.

But I have, in the last ten to fifteen years, had the scholar's nightmare many times over.  Fresh out of college, the dream was being back in high school.  Lately, its being back in college.  Last night, I was back in high school English, facing down a final exam given by my favorite teacher of that era.

I should have been ecstatic.  Because he was my favorite teacher, I always did well in his classes.  Work was always done with thought and done on time.  But because this was the nightmare, it wasn't done at all last night.  And I knew what I was in for.  Favorite teacher was such because he always twisted the lessons at the last moment to kick you off the track of rote recital.  He was an academic O. Henry who would lead you to a point and then throw you off a cliff of presumption.  Not having studied, I was screwed.

Here was the essence of the exam:

Observe three characters at a golf driving range.  They'll talk, hit balls, go for snacks.  At your desk you'll find three pieces of paper; a statement of the problem and two questions.

I'm fucked.

So I watch the characters and then in classical nightmare fashion, I go back to my desk except I can't find my desk so I sit down at any desk.  The problem there is that each student has a DIFFERENT two questions.

The statement of the problem is the same:  Is John a threat or not?  The questions range for "compare and contrast" to "expand versus silo" and let's fill in the blank, nobody knows which one of the three characters is John.

But I can make this up as I go along.  The power of extemporaneous prose is always the weapon of last resort I've wielded to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Just ask the cop who got a free case of beer one night many years ago.

So I grab a pen and begin to write.  That's when the nightmare takes over as the pen is out of ink, or won't write on soapy linoleum, or glass, or ice, or whatever else shows up.

I'm panicked.  I'll never get out of this class and I still don't know who John is so I pick a single character and start to "compare and contrast" which is an old professor's trick of "get your students to simulate schitzophrenia by arguing with themselves."

And then I get it.  Favorite teacher has left a way out:  John isn't the same person.  So I can eloqently argue that John is both a threat and not because John is the name of two of the three players.

I'm done and out of here.

And then, naturally, the alarm goes off.  And I stare at the ceiling for a half hour, playing this over and over.

Normally, I don't tell anyone my dreams.  They're mine.  And they're boring.  As a comedian says;  "If dreams were interesting and meant to be shared, they'd project out your eyes onto the wall."

However, this one is not so much the dream as it is the lesson Mr. Hooper laid down over thirty years ago.  Look at things in a slightly different light, or from a new angle and see what you can figure out from there.  In other words, consider the possible, the impossible, and the otherly possible.  You might be surprised.

Bunny on.

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