In Dreamworks on Thursday, we read student poems, and after about an hour of discussion, I sensed it was time for a change of pace and tone. One of the dreams presented the dreamer as quietly and calmly letting someone shoot her dead. Not an optimal ending! The affect in the dream was flat, toneless. And in another dream, the student wrote about her phobia of eating a certain kind of cookie. That cookie had become a monster. It looked smooth on the surface, but below, it was poison. The stuff of fairy tales.
I took a risk, by assigning the students to create short plays based on the dreams. Half the class went with the shooter/victim/poet and the other half went with the cookie-terror-poet. The two poet-dreamers were the directors, and the other students were to act as directed; their main task was to change the outcomes,in each case to rescue the dreamer.
This was a risk because it was only our second class, and I usually wait until the students know and trust each other before diving into playelts. But the dreams in question seemed to cry out for immediate rescue.
In the first playlet, one student took the role of the shooter and pointed a fake gun; the other students blocked him; I chopped the gun out of his hands, and all the other students circled around the dreamer to protect her and offer support.
The second dream-play was more amazing. The dreamer asked a half dozen students to be cookies, to lie down on the floor in straight rows. She was going to shut them in the oven and turn it on broil. The students cheerfully lined up on their backs on the floor, and when the "heat" came on, the began to squirm and to shake their "paws" in the air like little kittens. They made funny noises. They were in fact so funny that the whole scene dissolved into belly laughter. Meanwhile, the other students, with me alongside--circled the dreamer and reassured her.
I told my students that I would not go into the oven, since I am Jewish, and that's not a "play" option for me.
Thank goodness, the playlets went beautifully, and created bonding and trust, lots of good feeling, and laughter.
These mini-theatrical interventions don't cure the dreamers, but they do stop the nightmares in their tracks long enough for reflection. They show other options beside letting oneself be shot without a peep, beside swallowing poison over and over again.
Some of these students will need real therapy, and I will encourage them to seek out our free psychological counseling center during the term. Others are just having a bad day or bad night, and their own writing can be a lifeline. All of them will learn to use dreams as a source of poetry.
Am I not the luckiest teacher in the world, to have such funny, resilient, and tough cookies?
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.