The Burrow: Thank God it was Only a Dream!

by Robbie Fischer

Apparently, I have much in common with Hermione. If I had faced the boggart in the trunk during my third year Defense Against the Dark Arts final, I would have probably burst out of it, like Hermione, in despair because my head of house (in my case, Madam Sprout) had just told me I was failing every subject.

In fact, I have actually had an experience like this, many times. Especially when I was in school, I often awoke in the middle of the night in a state of desperation, only to realize that it was only a dream — and how thankful I was! For I repeatedly dreamed that I was in the eighth week of a ten week term when I realized that I had completely forgotten to attend a class I was registered for — one that I needed to pass to graduate — and what was worse, I couldn’t seem to find my way through a maze-like school to the classroom in question.

And usually, it was a math class. My subconscious never missed an opportunity to get a dig in. I always did all right in math, but it was one subject where I was sure that I would never be able to catch up from eight weeks behind.

Amazingly, I also had an experience like this in real life. Twice. The first time it was because my family moved from one school district to another, in March of my sophomore year in high school (tenth grade for anyone outside the U.S.). And my new English teacher made me take the same final exam, in May, as the rest of the class — even though I had studied entirely different material up until March. That was a nightmare come true!

The other time it happened was in college, when I majored in music. I had to take the same, zero-credit “recital class” every term to complete the degree program. The class was easy: all I had to do was attend five classical recitals or concerts outside of school time, and submit a program to prove it. The rest of the class amounted to a sort of sadistic ordeal in which you had to listen to other student musicians, and sometimes professors, trying to play their instruments. You didn’t get credit for the class, but if you weren’t registered for it, you couldn’t graduate. Well, it’s hard to remember to register for a zero-credit class, and one term I forgot to do it. I turned in all my programs and everything, but I didn’t register for the class. When I found out about it, I had to go through a horrid bureaucratic ordeal which took about three weeks, cost me $5, and involved escaping from a suffocating tangle of red tape. Which makes Red Tape my second biggest fear.

How do you cope with your worst fear when it’s a fear of personal failure? By being prepared! By working like a house-elf, pushing yourself, getting everywhere early, reading every word with care, and taking good notes. By turning in the longest term papers, practicing your recital pieces until the wee hours, and spending extended periods of your free time in the library. What Hermione does, I did — and for the same reason. The only way to be sure your nightmare doesn’t come true is to be organized, efficient, and absolutely immersed in your studies.

This strategy has costs, however. Obviously, there’s the “all work and no play makes a dull boy” principle. Now there are two ways to take the word “dull” in that sentence. The one you probably thought of implies that a workaholic, like Hermione or me, doesn’t form many relationships or learn to relax and have a good time. And this is true enough. But there is also the other meaning of “dull,” which means depressed or exhausted. That kind of pushing yourself can take a toll on your body and mind. For instance, I sometimes burned the midnight oil finishing a big paper, but by the time I finished it, I was so mentally tired that I couldn’t think clearly and so physically tired that I made more and worse mistakes every minute. You get so tired sometimes that you can’t sleep! And eventually, you make yourself a prey to physical illness.

I also saw a news article recently, claiming that graduate students are increasingly suffering from mental illness. The isolated environment, the pressure of competition, and other stressors, can trigger mood disorders, possibly even schizophrenia…and in more and more cases, these students are committing suicide! I remember the effect stress had on me at times. In school, when I was under more stress than I could endure, I would become nauseated. Later in life, my stress continued to go to my stomach in the form of heartburn. For other people, the stress goes to their skin (eczema, psoriasis), their lungs (asthma), and unfortunately, also their moods and thoughts. I hope Hermione learns to relax a bit more, because it would be such a waste of talent if her drive for success pushed her into a serious or even debilitating illness!

But again, being a bit “obsessive-compulsive” can be a good thing. It can actually help you decrease your stress — if it doesn’t get out of control. That’s when it can make you miserable! But making sure your alarm clock has a good backup battery in it isn’t crazy; it’s smart! (Unless you replace the battery twice a day.) And having a system of note-taking that enables you to find exactly the piece of information you need, when you need it, is also a good idea (though most dorm rooms aren’t big enough for eight five-drawer filing cabinets).

Magic could help reduce this kind of stress even more. If you set a spell to wake you up, you don’t need to worry about the alarm clock. Maybe there are indexing spells for notes and textbooks, too. “Accio anything to do with Wendelin the Weird!” And finally, a Time-Turner would be a spiffing way to go back one quarter and re-register for that stupid recital class!