Sometimes my dream to be significant is so visceral and so intense, it doesn’t feel like wishing at all.
It feels like remembering.
At first it was movies. “I should have been a great many things,” Jo March says in the 1994 Little Women. I feel this too, and a movie star is the first of these for me.
“Can you act?” a California boy said to me when I confessed my dream to him. It was the first time someone took my dream seriously enough to ask the most important question. I didn’t really know if I could act. They told me I could—my parents and their friends who saw me in our high school plays and musicals. But maybe my dream wasn’t about that.
It might have been mostly about the red carpet and the Kodak Theater and the first year I watched the Oscars as a real, live grownup in my own home. Happy with popcorn on my lap and cold chocolate milk beside me, I knew in my heart I was really on that stage, in a glorious dress, remembering how I used to watch the show with my bare feet on the soft arms of an overstuffed chair I bought on credit.
The truth is, my movie dream never even tried. I live a few hours from the city Brad Pitt left for Hollywood before he finished his college degree, so I knew it could be done, and I knew how to do it.
I didn’t try for two reasons, really. My limited understanding of faith.
And a boy.
He was the boy they sing about in La La Land. If I had meant the dream enough, I would have “left him at a Greyhound station”. That’s what you have to do, and I know that now but didn’t care then. I didn’t weigh one dream against the other. When the boy appeared, there was no movie dream anymore.
We were very young. I’d loved him since fifth grade. Back then, I used to feel so sorry for my future husband because I knew I’d never love him like I loved the boy. He was my first big desire, the thing I wanted more than anything else in life, the thing I knew I could never get over if it didn’t go my way.
And then it did.
It didn’t take long, of course, for the other dream to return. It was too late now for movies. The roots of my new little family grew fast into the soft Midwest soil I otherwise would have abandoned long ago. I soon had three more boys in my life, too many to consider a risky one-way ticket to Los Angeles with a desperate need for significance the only experience I could reasonably list on a resume.
From there, I turned to writing, a promising solo medium that dreamers like me can do from anywhere and eventually succeed.
Then, I didn’t.
I started strong with an article published online and a literary agent’s attention only three months after finishing the first draft of my “cancer memoir” and launching a blog.
Since then, mostly silence.
The now published book blinks softly on Amazon like a turn signal you forgot to release some miles ago.
My email list doesn’t grow.
I have novels finished but can’t get the right people to notice.
I tie my ribboned string to the taped up universe as often as I can, as much as I know how. It’s never enough to rise.
Every day, I try to believe Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic that creativity is not for financial support but survival, that the journey is the dream, and knowing what I love to do is a pretty great thing in this world.
Every day I fail to believe as much as I fail to succeed, but the days start and end with belief.
When I believe in writing for the love of it, when I stop demanding any more from it than that, I turn to the day job. Maybe that’s where I will succeed.
But, no. It turns out, once a dreamer believes a thing is possible, there’s no satisfaction in the rest. The day job for me will always be the thing I seek to transcend.
To be clear:
- I can’t tell you how to find your dream job
- I don’t know how to build a tribe or not starve as an artist (see this guy for that)
- I don’t know how to move from convincing yourself to face the page after an eight-hour day at the office to a life in which you wake up to your own work, and only that, every day
I can’t even tell you how to find love.
I only know it’s the answer life gave me when I asked for the world.