Aug 30 2013

Absent-Minded Professor

Published by at 7:36 pm under Teaching,The Great Outdoors

The muse is eluding me. I keep attempting to kick off a new entry, but I get only a bunch of duddy sentences. Just look at these:

Do you know how hard teaching is?

I’m finally back at work, after nearly nine months’ absence.

You should have seen my nightmare the other night.

Let’s talk about nightmares. First, the nocturnal variety: I was in a first-floor motel room, with no idea how I got there, in what city or even country I was, or how to discover these things. Outside my window the alley was dark and seedy. There were two external doors, making me feel especially vulnerable to the dangers in the strange surroundings. I knew I needed to go outside, but I was utterly lost: where to go, how to get there, how to speak the local language, or how to get back again. How can you return when you don’t know where you started? Finally I ventured out and boarded a bus. I didn’t need to worry about getting on the correct bus, because one unknown destination was as good as another. I was completely unmoored. I had no direction, no friends, no practical knowledge about how to survive. Eventually I ended up at the top of the Empire State Building and watched a parachutist fly through the window.

It may be relevant to mention that this dream followed my first day back at teaching. That morning, I woke up at the hour I was due to leave the house. Not auspicious. I’d planned to go right from work to Sacramento and thence to the Sierra to camp for a couple of nights, so I had lots of logistics to wrestle: pack food and load up all my teaching and camping gear. Before long I was stuck in molasses traffic, my mind going much faster than my car. My nerves were twanging at the prospect of being back at the head of a classroom. It’s hard. As I mentally rehearsed what I’d do and say, I had a sudden flash that perhaps I’d forgotten to pack my teaching stuff, over which I’d labored for the last two weeks: syllabi, lesson plans, handouts, rosters, textbooks. But no: I could visualize myself putting my pack into the trunk. But no: wrong backpack. I pulled off the freeway, popped the trunk and confirmed my suspicion. Everything was at home. It was too late to retrace my steps.

You know, teaching really is scary even under the best of circumstances. It’s a volatile situation. Not only do you have to be confident, knowledgeable and perceptive, but also ready for the wrenches that students revel in tossing.  I was none of these things. I tried to scribble a few notes about what I could possibly say and do, but my plan was thin.

In the end, somehow my classes weren’t complete train wrecks, but they weren’t what I’d call sleek or elegant, or even particularly educational. On the bright side, I always get a real kick out of being called “Professor.” I was grateful that this wasn’t my first day of teaching in my entire life.

In summary, I’d say the meaning of that night’s dream was rather plain.


The mountains were a good antidote to post-traumatic stress. I went on this trip with a former sweetie, now a plain old friend, an expert fly fisherman who impressed me by catching two fish in a lake with an aquatic population of about three. For dinner was a can of chili thrown whole into the fire until it “bleeped,” which is a state just a hair shy of explosion. At bedtime it came to my attention that I had forgotten to pack a sleeping bag. Oops. Luckily he’d brought a second. I had no pillow either.


Since I don’t have his permission to use his photo, I’ll blur him so you can see only the pretty rainbow trout he hooked, and the scenic surroundings.


The Rim Fire, a particularly nasty one that’s burned over 200,000 acres near Yosemite, hazed the air and made eyes sting, but aside from that and a cold autumn wind, nature treated us well.

One response so far

One Response to “Absent-Minded Professor”

  1. Campbell as good izzz says:

    Glad you survived the rigors/horrors of the first day of school….no matter how much you prepare, there’s some sort of universal “law” (I’m sure there’s a learned, Greek lingo based term for it) about the anticipation of the first day of school–my dearly departed mama had nightmares decades after retiring, and she was no professor, but a beloved first grade teacher. The brain must actually love the fodder for new thoughts/ideas/circumstances/students, and plays games with our psyche, cause it can, huh? Also glad you got out and “slept” on some good, Sierran rock. Which can serve as a pillow, yes?

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