“It’s How You Manage Your Dreams”
So, it’s September 1967, and I’m in New Haven, Connecticut, thrilled to be there and having no clue as to what the future might bring. It’s a heady time: in June the Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper’s, the protests against the Vietnam War were heating up, Civil Rights were on the front burner and 1.3 million people were enrolled in college! Yale College cost $3,000 for room, board, & tuition (and I needed a scholarship & loan to afford it!) It took a year and a half to hit my stride academically --- I was pretty intimidated by all those Andover & Exeter guys (there were 40 in our class of 1,000 --- 4% from two schools!), in awe of many of my brilliant classmates, and overwhelmed by the possibilities the institution presented. My saving grace was sports, as usual, with football and lacrosse providing a great outlet for my energy and a natural platform for camaraderie. By the spring of 1968 the world was shifting, however, and so was I. LBJ dropped out of the Presidential race & Bobby Kennedy (my hero) jumped in. Within a week of the President’s withdrawal, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and by early June so was RFK. 1967’s “Summer of Love” had turned into a world of despair by 1968’s summer and, by the time I returned to Yale in the fall of 1968 my new dreams were beginning to coalesce.
Approaching age 20 my worldview was becoming decidedly leftist. Looking back I can see it as a natural outgrowth of several factors: my Roman Catholic youth, JFK’s inaugural address, the friends and professors around me, and the reading I was doing. That combination of ingredients created an activist, atheist, socialist young man who, once again, was in the right place at the right time. I had left the church years before college but the basic Christian teachings (of being your brother’s keeper, of turning the other cheek, of the meek inheriting the earth, etc.) had made an abiding impression on my morals and values. JFK’s “ask what you can do for your country” seared into my 11-year-old mind and seemed inextricable from those morals and values about giving something back. Never having been particularly materialistic (we had always done fine, as a family, on not much $$$) socialism was a natural landing spot, particularly when I surveyed the landscape of what one had to do to make lots of money (sell people things they didn’t need, wheel and deal finances, be a corporate lawyer, etc.--- it appeared terribly unseemly to me). I did (and do) believe that there’s something wrong with a system that allows some people to own multiple homes when others are homeless.
In studying politics I saw no choice but to move left for a simple reason. “Liberals” believe those who are underserved or underprivileged should be able to get help (and, yes, quite possibly from the government) while “conservatives” seem to believe it is all up to the individual to “make it” or not and, if you don’t, it’s your own fault. Mick Mulvaney’s recent presentation of the Trump budget was a perfect expression of this Paul Ryan/”conservative” reasoning --- “those who pay taxes should reap the benefits, not people who need things like food stamps.” To ignore the boatload of factors that create a society of such disproportion (yes --- race, class, gender, sexual orientation) would be to deny the reality of the U.S. of A. So, as I worked my way through college, I found my dreams moving in the direction of some kind of public service and, when it all shook out, only one profession seemed appropriate, given my skill set and orientation: teaching.
One of the reasons teaching drew me was because it was a clear way to give back while allowing a certain autonomy. Your classroom is your domain and you had a chance to connect with young people at a crucial point in their development (I only considered teaching high school). It also provided opportunities to remain involved in sports (coaching) and the arts (directing plays, running cartoon clubs, teaching guitar) while providing time to nurture my dreams of writing. As I approached the end of college I wanted to write the next great American novel (I know, I’m sure I was the only one with that dream). Throughout my years as a teacher that dream never died, although it did morph.
Being able to take writing courses and workshops while teaching --- and having time to write --- short stories, poems, songs, and, yes, a novel (426 pages!) --- was a dream come true. Throughout the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, ‘90’s and right up through this new 21st century I was “living the dream(s)” that had begun at Yale in the late ‘60’s. I was coaching, directing plays, and writing --- finally producing some books (not the novel, but a two-volume book on performance assessment and a short book for Social Studies/History teachers---photos above) while getting some op-ed and book reviews published, too. And, most important of all, I had been able to “make a living” doing something I loved: teaching. (Not to mention starting two great charter schools: please see www.theparkerschool.org and www.blackstoneacademy.org) The joy of being in the classroom and working with students over the years was an incalculable treasure for me and my contact with many of my former students now, in retirement, is one of the most satisfying achievements in my life.
So now the challenge is: what are the new dreams to manage? What does one dream about as you head for the horizon? There’s still the writing, of course, (as the Blast attests) and there’s enjoying the time to catch up on reading, with friends, to go to ball games, to play (and write) music, attending theater and music and stand-up shows. As time flies by the dreams don’t necessarily diminish, they simply shape-shift, always giving us the opportunity pursue them with energy and passion.
Enjoy managing your dreams!