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MY BAD DREAM IS MANY OTHERS' NEW REALITY

Maybe it was because there was too much garlic in the cauliflower casserole I ate for dinner. Perhaps it was the melatonin I took since, as menopause would have it, I'm not sleeping all that well these days. Or maybe it was something I saw on the evening news.

Whatever the trigger, there I was, stuck in the middle of one of those very vivid, back-in-school dreams, trying hard to sharpen a handful of No. 2 pencils for a big test I was about to take. It was an important one, I know, because the college proctor - or maybe it was a high school teacher - was telling me to get my act together NOW and my stomach was flopping all over the place. (Probably was the garlic.) I was trying my best, but sharpen as I may, the pencil tips kept breaking off, one after another. Finally, with shaking hands, I accomplished my task. But just as I began to peruse the test, the questions began to fade like disappearing ink.

I was in big trouble, I knew, as I tried to tell the teacher that the mimeograph machine must be broken. (Mimeograph? So it was high school.) But the words wouldn't come. I had no voice.

It was a frantic feeling in a recurring nightmare that ranks with the one where I'm back to waiting tables and can't get to the customers lined up like stones in a cemetery, all screaming for silverware.

Something always snaps me out of it. Then all at once I'm staring at my bedroom ceiling, heart racing with a lingering fear that I might not graduate high school after all. Shake it off and reality settles in. It's 2010 not 1976. I got that diploma. But once again, I'm not going to get that eight hours of shut-eye.

No big deal.

Morning breaks and I'm bleary-eyed, but back to the business of writing for living.

And so I'm reminded about that story I saw on the evening news, featuring a woman about my age who's been out of work for so long that she's stopped looking. She's back in school now, trying to forge a new career in the nursing field and fretting some about her ability to retain all that's being thrown at her after all these years out of the classroom.

My nightmare is her reality.

While some might relish the opportunity, I'm thinking it can't be easy to have to re-invent yourself later in life.

It's tough out there for the future nurse and others who are trying to keep their heads above water while seeking a new way to do that.

Unemployment figures are dismal. The sluggish economy seems to be going nowhere. Oil in the gulf is shutting down a way of life for some who make their living on the water.

That's fuel to ignite a callous indifference and all too often, some misdirected, venomous outrage.

An angry din abounds, led by politicians espousing belated fiscal responsibility by refusing to extend unemployment benefits before taking their holiday break, along with ranting talking heads on cable news and online posters spewing anonymous diatribe about all those lazy people who should just get off their butts and get a job.

As if there are jobs to be had out there.

"Sink or swim" is the directive from some of the "haves" these days.

That's a sad commentary.

Me? I'd hope for the option to dip a toe in the changing tide before having to dive in.

Or at least be thrown some kind of a lifeline.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6251.

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