My dreams have lives of their own, honestly. Sometimes they drive me absolutely nuts, as do the characters from the novel I’ve been writing for over 20 years. They will not be ignored and they will not be denied. When I was a child, from the time I could read and write, I have wanted to be a writer. When I was about eight years old I wrote a novel about a black cowboy named Cal–187 handwritten pages scrawled in pencil on 8-1/2 by 11 notebook paper and bound in a floppy purple binder. I dreamed I was Cal, me and my horse riding the range somewhere out west. I never finished the book, and the story has long since faded into childhood oblivion.
My mother wasn’t big on keeping everything I’d written (I wrote some great poetry in second grade); in fact she didn’t really keep anything I’d written, to my immense sadness now. What I wouldn’t give to read some of that stuff now. But when one has six children, one can’t keep the various writings and art projects they produce. I kept a few of my children’s art projects (they chided me a bit about it, “why did you keep this stuff?”) and the occasional bits of their writing. They are each talented in their own right and will perhaps be glad someday to have samples of their early brilliance. Meanwhile, back to the point.
The poet Langston Hughes asks in his poem, “Dream Deferred,” “What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–and then run?” I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve watched my own dreams languish off in a corner somewhere. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about dreams, they can be very persistent and insistent; simply put, they do not go away. Some dreams I have whacked over the head with a shovel, dumped them into a hole and covered them up with soil, only to have them scrabble their way up through layers of dirt and rock to break through to the surface like one of the undead from the horror movies. My apologies for the somewhat macabre metaphor–it’s what popped out from my overactive imagination. But it does illustrate my point, if a bit bizarrely, that true dreams don’t really ever die. They may go dormant for a while or get really silent, waiting patiently for you to remember them, but they don’t go away.
Mine sometimes return with a burst as if to say, “Ta-dah, I’m here!” Other times they are subtler, but no less insistent with their tug on my heart and my attention, quietly urging, “We’re still here.” Today as I sat watching the snow dropping heavily and soundlessly from the sky and was burrowed into a quasi-hibernated state, I felt their persistent presence determined to be acknowledged. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the voices of my dreams from those of my characters because they are somewhat linked. My characters demand to be written, my dreams demand likewise to be heard and if not fulfilled then at least acted upon. For a long time I lived in the realm of the “hows” (not to be confused with the “Whos.”) I spent a lot of time and energy considering how I was going to live my dreams, and everywhere I looked were plenty of reasons why I couldn’t: I didn’t have enough money set aside so I could quit to pursue them; I didn’t have enough time or creative energy to pursue them; I didn’t have any connections that could give me access to the people who could move me along. In short, I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish anything.
“Never let the how get in the way of a good what,” one of my life coaching instructors said during a class. I never forgot that admonition because of course whenever we determine the what, before we’ve even fully formed and developed it we’re zeroing in on the how. In my younger days I focused on all the hows and didn’t take time to develop the whats. These days I have gotten much clearer about the whats and am allowing the hows to emerge. It has been a frustratingly slow process at times, but I believe that it is gradually starting to come together. I have begun to believe that as I understand and clarify my “dreams” I begin to see which doors I need to open. So I approach them with the assumption that as I do, they will swing open for me. I have often used this particular metaphor: we sometimes complain that doors of opportunity aren’t opening for us and yet I can guarantee that they won’t open if you don’t approach them. The doors we’re hoping will open are like the automatic doors at a grocery store or airport: they don’t open until you approach them and get close enough for them to open for you. I can’t expect the doors to my dreams to open for me if I am standing across the street from them. I have to walk toward them and let them open.
Today I was provided with a reminder that I needed to listen carefully to the voice of my dreams that was speaking so loudly to me this morning. My dream has always been to be a writer, and for a really long time I figured I knew what that looked like. I’ve taken roads that looked to be detours, steering me away from that particular dream. But when I trace along each of those pathways I see that I have in fact always been a writer from the time Cal first rode off the pages of my notebook paper novel to today, this moment as I write this blog post. I’ve written grant proposals that have won hundreds of thousands of dollars for my work. I’ve written a doctoral dissertation and published academic articles. I’ve written a chapter in a scholarly book. I’ve written and performed dozens of songs over many years, and over the last two and a half years I’ve written and published over 900 blog entries. I might have yet to accomplish my ultimate writing dreams–writing and publishing my novel, publishing my childrens books that have been written for years, and writing my family history, for which I’ve been gathering information my whole life–but I won’t accomplish them if I stop trying.
Sometimes we get stuck in the how of accomplishing our dreams, and sometimes we get stuck in the how that accomplishment is supposed to look. And sometimes we get stuck in them both. I know I have been, but no more. It is time for me to “advance confidently,” as Thoreau encourages in the quote below, and to imagine the life I want and then try to live it. With any luck I will meet with success unexpected, or perhaps somewhat expected. I will report back as the process unfolds. I am not finished writing about dreams, in fact, I’m just getting revved up. Stay tuned for that. Interestingly when I looked back in my “Lessons in Gratitude” blog, I discovered that I had written about dreams in January 9 of 2012 and January 9 of 2013. I am a couple of weeks later this year, but here I am again in January writing about dreams. Apparently I need to pay attention this time. And so I shall.
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau