The tick-tock dream. I’ve got two variations.
Variation No. 1 involves an audition. Growing up, I went through a lot of auditions, mainly for violin sections of orchestras. (The last one was for a college orchestra; I didn’t make the cut.) In Variation No. 1, the audition is an hour away but I still haven’t practiced for it. The plan is to cram: practice like a maniac for forty-five minutes and that’ll be good enough for, say, first stand in the second violin section. I open my violin case…empty. I look around the room. It could be under the couch or behind the TV. Or not. I go outside — maybe it’s on the porch or in the mailbox or inside a parked car. I remember to check the time. I have five minutes. That’s okay, I decide. I’ll just bail on the audition — easier that way, I can spare myself the grief. But at the scheduled time, I am standing in the windowless audition room, in front of two judges: the conductor and the concertmaster. “Where is your violin?” one of them asks. I struggle to come up with a reply, and somewhere within that struggle is when I wake up.
In Variation No. 2, the deadline is an exam that I haven’t studied for. It’s a few hours away, so the plan is to cram. Seriously, how hard could it be? The exam is for a course called Mixed-Integer Nonlinear Optimization. I don’t know what that means, but I know I can swing it in a couple hours. But first I have a few errands to run. I finish one errand and look at my watch and the exam is going to start in ten minutes. I am now freaking out, flipping through pages of notes, not really sure what I should be reviewing. The freak-out process seems to last much longer than ten minutes. It might last for hours, in fact, but I’m not in a state of mind where I can exploit any of this pseudo-extra time and actually study. I’m too panicked and too annoyed with myself for having squandered the time. The only way out is to become conscious in my sleep — to remind myself that I am no longer in school. It takes me a while to piece together the underlying logic: How could you be panicking for an exam when you already get spam from the alumni development office? Why are you still trying to study? You already passed that class, you dumb-ass. I wake up when I get to the “dumb-ass” part.
A few nights ago, during Variation No. 1, I finally was able to summon the strength to reply to the conductor at the audition. I said to him, “Holy shit, I’ve got an exam in a few hours. Gotta go.”
And so I ran off, out of the windowless audition room, and straight into Variation No. 2.