Ms. Hayes is a high school English teacher at a small, happening private school in the Bay Area. She charms women, dazzles men, and rocks a pair of red high heels like it’s nobody’s business. She currently loves chili cheese dogs and she always loves Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups. They are her favorite.

About a month ago, I started having teacher dreams–that certain harbinger of school days a-coming. Of course, nothing is going smoothly in these dreams: Going to the school, only to find nothing is where it used to be, and I can’t find my room or anyone else’s. Finding myself unprepared for the first day–and madly trying to plan my lessons on the back of receipts I find in my purse. You get the idea.

(I thought perhaps I was crazy, but then both my teaching roomies confessed that they too were having dreams/experiencing difficulty sleeping due to the upcoming school year. I felt so vindicated.)

But a few nights ago was my favorite:

I was teaching my literature class. Two students were present–one, a typical fifteen-year-old male, and the other–the famed poet and critic, TS Eliot. (No joke. The man was sitting there, cramped in a school desk, nodding thoughtfully as I lectured.)

Average-teenage-boy raises his hand and asks that age-old question, echoed daily in English classrooms across America, with bet-you-haven’t-heard-this-before confidence: “Do authors really put in all this symbolism and meaning on purpose? Aren’t we just making all this stuff up, Ms. Hayes?”

I’m sure I straightened up in my dream, and with my own assurance that I could not fail, looked expectantly at our guest. The grand modernist poet and god-like literary critic of the 20th century, Mr. T. S. Eliot. Surely he would expound brilliantly on the relationship between reader and text, the joy of entering the intellectual conversation between the author and the reader. If anyone would have my back, it would be this guy.

And you know what he said? With all the gravity and solemnity befitting his reputation, he intoned, without irony and without guile: “You know what, son? None of that stuff is in there on purpose. We just make it all up.”