The Unquenchable Magic Of My Dreams Of Failure.
Starting as recently as three years ago, I had an astonishing recurring dream:
I was attending an academy, any academy — sometimes Stanford, which I fetishize due to my previous participation in the Bay Area technical startup culture — sometimes a private girls’ boarding school, something like the one I attended during high school, except so much posher, and sometimes Oxford, which I still long to attend.
These schools were infused with magic.
But the content of these dreams, emotionally speaking, was a lot more significant than the previous name-dropping paragraph above would seem to suggest. In these dreams, it was universally true that I was somehow learning a beloved trade which could be learned nowhere else.
It was like I was engaged in a dream academy, where I could download course content by attending secret campuses which existed in places known only to the initiated few.
And I was always failing.
It was at the end of each dream, or sometimes I would get three-quarters of the way through a dream and with the strange near-lucidity that I can practice at times of heightened emotional impact, my sheer disappointment would cease the dream in its tracks.
I would come up to test, and fail.
I would get up to give a speech to my classmates, except it would be the commencement speech and I would be both the valedictorian and some kind of impossible business leader headed for total glory, and then in the middle of the speech, as it was going swimmingly, an official would come running up to the stage and reveal, unbeknownst to me, that I had not completed my final course work and therefore was, de jure, no longer eligible to give the speech.
Was not eligible for the glory.
The meaning of the dreams of constant school failure.
Each time I had this dream or variants of it, I woke up knowing both that I was being communicated with, or perhaps communicating with myself, in that language of symbols that is sometimes the only permitted congress between the subconscious and our waking self.
And I knew that I was not ready yet.
That’s what the dreams meant. I was not ready. I would keep failing.
But failing at what?
When the dreams started, I really thought that since I was to begin a period of long-term disability, the messy final coda of my bitter awakening as a practicing… well, you’ll see what I am… it was this period the dream addressed.
I deeply longed to go back to school and receive yet more formal education, because formal education had always been a haven for me in which I was successful, while in the outer world — during non-adjudicated run-ins with people whose interests were completely non-regulated and whose smarts were not academic — bad, bad things tend to happen to me.
So, I thought, I wanted to go back to school.
And I thought these dreams were telling me, “You can’t. You’re not ready. Your concentration levels are not high enough. You have low stamina.”
“You will literally fail if you try to go back to school.”
I thought that’s what the dreams were telling me.
But that’s not what they were telling me, now that I have had a period of some three years to really reflect upon them.
They were telling me that try as I might I was actually in school.
Real learning is nothing more than picking oneself up following genuine failure.
How do I know this?
Because unlike the experience of people who are natural academic superstars, as I not so humbly admit that I was, school for most people, and schooling as an oneiromantic or dream magic symbol, is exactly about trying and failing.
Because life, schooling, and the symbol of schooling is not about achievement, but about learning something that we previously refused to admit into our tightly managed conscious worlds.
And as I learned working in that bootstrapped and in the end, utterly insane, Southern California startup, learning always comes at the expense of failure.
I could go on forever, now, about the impact of capitalistic interests on work performance; that usually we are compensated only for completing previously set out and extremely rigid goals, which in effect penalizes those of us who would speak to or dance to more esoteric goals, and in taking the time to shape these new goals also, inevitably, sometimes fail.
And I cannot help but admit the way that this false reliance on rewarding performance and rigid thinking is, I can clearly see, completely tanking the companies who aren’t currently completing what in startup-speak could be termed a radical pivot to come in line with, somehow, the benefits that outside-the-box thinking can give their bottom line.
But back to the dreams.
They were extremely frustrating. The main thing was that the dream told me I wasn’t ready. They told me I could not go and get the schooling that I was convinced was so essential for my next date with success.
The dreams told me I was a fraud, that I was incomplete.
And yet, I always had the sensation of profound satisfaction within the dream, like something deep within me was saying to me, “Yes, this is the truth of you. Revel in it.”
So I did.
As time went on, and I did what to my workaholic soul was completely anathema, and refrained both from schooling and from working, the dreams gradually went away.
In fact, I was reminded of the dreams only because today my fiancé told me about a school dream he had last night, in which she had to give a presentation on a movie and ended up forgetting all his lines and giving a presentation on the symbology of the planet Mars in the collective unconscious.
The unquenchable magic of my dreams of failure.
These dreams went away as I allowed myself not to do the thing that I secretly didn’t want to do.
You see — and here is how this applies directly to you the reader — I really did not want to go back to school.
I had aced academic settings, and I had left academic settings because despite being a more than able writer and teacher, I became completely convinced that nothing that was happening in the ivory tower would have the kind of meaningful impact on society that I craved.
I decided that I could publish even very good articles in excellent academic journals, only to know in the end that I would reach a fraction of 1% of the society I found so compelling, so heartbreaking, and so raw and vivid in its humanity.
If you want to test this theory, just look for yourself. It is not that people do not read academic articles due to some kind of perverse determination to remain uneducated, as is so commonly and unspoken believed throughout academia.
Rather, schools are kind of a racket. Perhaps my fascination with the Ivies is down to the fact that as I matured and worked outside the academy, I realized that the attraction of Ivy League networking is that one likely gets, there, the most holla for one’s dollar in terms of tuition.
Since I’ve left, I myself no longer have access to the journals which come free with university tuition, and which are exorbitantly expensive to any outsider looking to get at the information they enclosed within.
And while this makes me sad, what heartens me is the fact that thousands and thousands of brilliant students, writers, political activists, and dreamers are leaving academia precisely because the 2008 market crash drove so many people to take exactly the action that I had been longing to do; it drove them into graduate school.
Eight years later, the market is glutted with advanced degree graduates trying to get jobs in entry-level or slightly above business roles, let alone in academia where the infighting is as fierce as a pack of piranhas.
It seems that economic reality has pierced the ivory tower, and I am very sad for this. Once upon a time, I believe, there was vivid work to be done there, and a kind of incredible access to funding that my generation blanches in awe of.
Now I feel that the ubiquity of Internet publishing outlets and more than that, community creation venues online, has made it possible to form the societies, publish the works, and do the thinking that used previously to be the sole realm of the academics.
We can do this here at Rebelle Society. In our pyjamas (who has to know what I am wearing as I write?), at our kitchen tables. We can do it living someplace far from the need to hold down a tepid white-collar job simply for the sake of doing so.
Women and femmes can, in greater and greater numbers, do this writing and thinking and be paid for the entertainment value… and essential discourse… it provides.
And women and femmes can opt out of the culture of uniform sexual discrimination and harassment that conventional workplaces enshrine.
I say this not as one jealous for sexual handouts, but as a former very pretty and very straitlaced young woman whose coerced participation in tropes of harassment was essential to any job success I received.
I now know that my dreams had nothing to do with actually completing schooling.
My dream was about my inner spirit conducting radical, confrontational work. My previous academic accolades and sheer ability to conform were no longer the magic beans that were going to allow me to succeed in writing, and in forming community online.
You need different beans.
I thought I was dreaming about flunking out of school, but my dreams were telling me that I was in school.
That difficult period in my life, that impossible and crushing period of total inability to be, to write, to think, was my being in school and, in a way that academia had never been able to give me, being immersed in learning.
Because I had failed. I had fallen. The perfectionist in me had been crushed.
And in that real learning, I finally began to have something valuable to say.
Uriel Gray is the leader of the Wyrd Fae movement, and a coach with a very shamanic backstory. Transgender, he loves Sphynx cats, the gods, and fate.