On sleep and nightmares

In a previous blog post here, I recalled the annual nightmares I had throughout my university career at the end of the summer vac, in which I’d return to the campus and find it had changed beyond all recognition. One of the especially lovely aspects of retirement is that normally I don’t have to get up early, so I’ve been accumulating hours of extra sleep which have been very enjoyable, and I’ve mostly been sleeping well. However, last night I had one of those academic nightmares again. I’ve been speculating as to why this happened.

First, the nightmare. I was returning to a university job after some research leave, and this involved all the usual dislocation I associate with the ‘end of summer vac’ nightmares. For example, my office had moved, and was now a small cave (!) shared with one other colleague. We had a door each, into the shared space. The cave contained two very old computers, two brand new green upholstered chairs more suited to a rather dated dining room, and no windows. I didn’t get to spend long in it (just as well) because I had a revision class to lead, on Ancient Greek History.

When I found the lecture room, I didn’t recognize any of the students and I didn’t feel remotely in control of my material. I should add here that revision classes have always  come very low in my list of interesting teaching experiences. It never helped that, in almost all cases, I knew the questions, the students knew that I knew, and time was wasted with them trying to find a way of making me Tell All; for example, ‘So is it worth us revising x?’ or just ‘How many topics do I need to revise for this exam?’ It was a great relief to spend my last six years in higher education at The Open University, where I wasn’t in direct contact with students so none of that silliness was necessary. But back to the dream. After only 40 minutes of not very much, the students announced that they were all leaving because it was Friday and that’s what they did on Friday. I wasn’t very impressed by this, and wanted to let the department’s director of teaching know, but then I couldn’t find anything on the noticeboard about who was currently in that role. That’s all I can remember.

So, is this experience telling me that at some deep level, my mind hasn’t yet adjusted to the reality: that I never have to teach another revision class as long as I live, that I don’t have an office to which to return, that it doesn’t matter who is the director of teaching? I suspect so. And that’s interesting because I have sometimes described how these first few months of retirement feel like being on research leave; with the difference, of course, that I don’t ever return to the Day Job.

In terms of the timing – why I should have this nightmare now – I suppose I’m currently at a transitional point in the process of my retirement. So far, since 1 February, it has been busy, with two public engagement activities, two ‘events’ to attend to mark my retirement, a couple of academic blog posts to write, some short talks to give, a trip to Barcelona to deliver a lecture (which required researching and writing), a seminar outside my usual topics to attend just because it sounded interesting, a day conference, and – most significantly of all – six weeks spent moderating the first run of the MOOC I put together on Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World. I’m going to write about that MOOC experience separately.

But now, things change. I am speaking at an event in Leeds next week and doing a couple of videos for the project which gave rise to that event, and I have more papers to research and write for later this year, but it’s going to be a lot less busy. I won’t need to keep checking the discussion threads on the MOOC, which has been a several-times-a-day activity. I can think about the next stages of constructing the book I’m under contract to write (nearly every invitation I’ve accepted contributes to the book in some way, because large projects only get completed if broken up into smaller ones, and I am by nature a completer-finisher).

So, subconscious mind, get used to it: I’m still an academic, but I’m not going back to the Day Job, ever!


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