My House is Burning

Burning House of Academe

I dreamed last night that my house was burning and, as I rushed to escape the flames, the only item I grabbed was a set of kitchen knives. Out of everything in my house, the only thing my subconscious mind decided to save was a collection of Henkels.

It’s true I love a good set of knives. No secret among my close friends and family. Ask any of them. I’ve been known to joke that the only reason I want to get married is to add a great knife set to the gift registry.

But this dream was more than just an homage to cutlery. As I grabbed the knives and headed for the inflamed exit, I knew the precious cargo under my arm meant something important—like taking those knives was crucial to my ability to rebuild post-fire.

When I woke up the flames were gone. The knives were holstered, as usual, in the block between the coffee maker and the refrigerator. It wasn’t until hours later that the dream began to take on a special significance.

I was talking to a friend on Facebook who also works in academia. She’s finishing her second year in a PhD program in Kentucky, and she’s also contemplating the long walk.

She half-jokingly suggested that my dream was a metaphor for the major life decision I’ve been struggling with lately. At first, I laughed. But then it hit me that she might actually be right.

The burning house in my dream is the academy. It’s a profession in flames, and I’m inclined to believe it can’t be saved as long as we stay on our current path of destructive labor practices, increased tuition, and defunded state coffers.

Or maybe I should just say that the burning house is my own personal status in the academy. I’m likely not going to advance any further than the adjunct role I currently hold. Same job, same pay for the rest of my life. My career is a burning building and I need to get out of it. So that’s what the house symbolizes.

Now for the knives. A little bit harder to explain. Here’s the way I see it. The kitchen knives represent a set of concrete, utilitarian tools that would help me reinvent myself in a new career. As long as I identify specific skills and specific actions I can take to employ those skills, I can recover from this transition and successfully reinvent myself. I’ve been in this position many times before. I know it can be done.

That’s why my subconscious mind grabbed the knives on the way out the flaming door. “Take something with you that can immediately be put to use,” my mind was saying. “Cover your ass and hit the ground running.”

I watch a lot of Top Chef, but I don’t think the next phase of my life will involve the culinary arts. The knives were just a symbol of a skill proficiency, something I could utilize when I escape my burning house.

Glad to see my subconscious thinking ahead. Now, as this house is subsumed around me, I just need to grab my tools and run.

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