How do you keep dreaming and more importantly keep believing in your dreams when you are 40-ish and they have not materialized? I have always wanted to be a successful author, a journalist, an adventurer. But my reality made these dreams, well, unrealistic. It is hard to be a journalist trekking into the wilds of Africa when you are a single parent and have no one to really parent your child except an aging mother. I half-completed a graduate degree in journalism hoping to fill my need for escapism, adventure, wanderlust in the guise of inquiry and truth-telling only to turn down a job that interfered with my duties as a single parent. I just couldn’t do it. I had to abandon my dream. It was devastating. It plunged me into a depression that lasted for a year and a half. I berated myself for many years after that. I had wasted my time, my energy, not to mention money that I had to borrow from Uncle Sam. I had disrupted my daughter’s education in moving her across the country to pursue my dream—a dream that had ended up going nowhere. I felt like a complete failure. I could not do both—be a mother and an international correspondent. That reckless pursuit of my dream had cost me in depression, in conflicted relationships, in debt.
We live in a dream culture. Dream it and it will come true. Believe—a magical mantra. But I have reached the borderline cliff at the edge of dreamtime that makes me pause—do I jump or do I hold my senses and stay safe on terra firma? the realities of your waking day interfere with your dream life.But those dreams could be destructive. Potentiality is measured by circumstance here and now. I have been a dreamer since childhood. I indulged in a vivid dream world if only to escape the deplorable conditions around me. I was incredibly unrealistic as a result. There can be something dysfunctional about holding onto dreams that have little possibility of actualizing. The dreams keep you in a deluded purple haze much like a drug-induced euphoria. Some of us are not born with the privilege that comes with realizing certain dreams. The reality is some of us have the benefit of class, race and time to make dreams easier to manifest. Remember Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman? Just before the climax he yells as this father, “Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?” His father’s delusions to acquire the dream of sucess becomes destructive for both himself an his family. Sometimes it’ best to just stare at reality in the face and deal with failure.
Dreams although they keep you afloat must be tied to practical realities. What’s the use of keeping a dream that has little possibility of coming true? It is a psychic masochism. There is freedom in killing your dreams, the ones that do not make you happy because they (or you) have passed an expiration date. Perhaps it is healthier and more enriching to selectively prune dreams like that unruly rosebush I have in the back yard. Keep the branches that are producing buds, but cut off the ones that, while waiting waiting for the roses to sprout, prick me every time I pass through the gate. So maybe you couldn’t become a world-famous dancer, but you opened a dance studio in your neighborhood. Maybe you didn’t become that professional athlete but you are appreciated as the Little League coach. It is the realistic acts of achievement that feed, heal, teach those immediately around us that are worth their weight in substantive importance more than any dream that has little chance of achievement.
The older I get the more realistic I become. And what the hell is wrong with being realistic? In seeing things for what they are—for finding the adventure in the routine of a stable job, for sacrificing one’s own welfare for the stability and health of one’s children. It is the cost of bearing the dreams made untrue that wins you your battle stripes. I am not preaching to give up on dreams, just to revise and review them in the light of each person’s particular circumstances.
Perhaps it was all for the best that I did not pursue my dream of being a reckless journalist; I might have wound up unemployed or dead. Or perhaps not. I probably would have been deliriously in love with my life. What I have now in practical terms is a budding freelance writing career, this blog which I have learned to love, and new creative frontiers.
The search for realizing a long lost dream does not always lead to happiness. It might keep you restless, unsatisfied, and uncentered. Sometimes the trick might be to dust it off, kill it altogether, or swap it for something that works.
This might be the boon of getting older. That you can stay put in one place, do the same old thing, yet find the beauty, the fulfillment, the success in what the universe has given you to do right here right now.
Perhaps we should look at dreams like little bubbles of potentiality. Like the little bodiless cherubim that float around the head of the Virgin Mary in so many Renaissance portraits. They are potential babies huddling around her head striving to be born through the flesh and blood body of this Virgin. But the one that really matters, the one that she devotes most of her care and attention to, is the one she is holding in her arms, right there smack in the middle of her bosom right here, right now.