Mer, rhymes with bear (merriehaskell) wrote,
Mer, rhymes with bear

Dreaming the Dream, then Being Willing to Live It

sarah_prineas has an essay up about living the dream. She means the writerly dream, of course, but you can extrapolate, if you wish.

If you're reading on, go. Read it. What follows here is a response. It ultimately says the same thing, which is: "keep writing." I'm less about avoiding goat entrails, but it's good advice.

I figure, there have been at least three phases of the dreaming, as I've experienced it.

The Childish Dream

Phase one was the Childish Dream. Much like the Underpants Gnomes, I had an idea of where I was, and where I wanted to be. The middle step was a big question mark, of course:

step 1: collect under pants; step 2: question mark; step 3: profit!

Because that's how childish dreams are. I'd even venture to say that in the phase of Childish Dreams, you're lucky if you know step 2 exists. I had a well-visited fantasy about running into Madeleine L'Engle at the world's biggest bookstore, which my aunt and uncle occasionally discussed taking me to, but never actually did. (In fact, I still haven't been to Toronto, in spite of having worn a Toronto t-shirt for probably 1/10th of my life in junior high. But I've never been to Daytona Beach either, and had a similarly well-worn t-shirt for there as well. Paris, at least, I made it to.)

I knew enough about phase one to collect underpants (I practiced writing), and spent lot of time fantasizing about step two (Madeleine L'Engle would introduce me to her editor, obvi, when I told her how much I loved her work and how I was a writer too, when we met, at the world's largest bookstore). Step three, where I wrote all the time and was a bestseller and children wrote me letters saying how much they loved me? I think the closest I got to really imagining that was in one of the later Little Women books, possibly Jo's Boys, where Jo March Baer is hanging around home, trying to get a little writing done amidst the chaos of running a school, and someone knocks at the door, and oh, noes! It is her adoring public, come to gawk at the writer and interrupt her day!

Step three would be living the dream, all right! And it's actually--but for the fact that Jo March was fictional, and you're not going to live in the 19th century--probably not too unrealistic a picture of life, is it? I never thought the step three life would be like, well, Castle.

Castle playing poker with bestselling crime novelists

Not that I'd mind if it were.

The Dream Deferred

Phase two, for me, was the sudden and abrupt belief that the dream was so far-fetched that it was useless to pursue. Suddenly, instead of the cheeriness of the Underwear Gnomes, you have the Crushing Reality of Parental/Societal Expectations. I'm sure anyone who's even thought for two seconds about going into the arts has had this conversation with an authority figure:
authority figure: It's nice you have this interest. But what will you do to make a living?
the dreamer: I'm, uhm, going to Do Art.
authority figure: Perhaps you should get a teaching certificate. Then you will have the summers off to waste, I mean, spend on your art, and yet will pull in a real paycheck/not be living in my basement/not get on welfare.

In addition to that, you begin to be aware of just how long the step of step two is, and while it's still a big question mark in many ways, you can't see how you'd possibly get from step one to step three. So, you back off from the dream, demote it to hobby status if you're lucky, or abandon it altogether if you're not.

During my deferment time, I wrote complex roleplaying game scenarios for my friends, and in the games I played, wrote complex character diaries. I told myself it was valuable practice for the future. Later, when I had to spend about three years unlearning all of my bad habits, I cursed it. But it did keep my writing fingers limber, and while I was not, actually, learning great things about character and viewpoint and plotting, at least all my writing skills weren't atrophying.

I do not honestly know what it takes to get out of this phase. I only know what it took me to get out of it--and that was my then-boyfriend, now-husband saying, "Look, if you're unhappy because you're not a writer, my suggestion is write." He said it differently, I'm sure, but the tone was clear: I wasn't allowed to whine on his watch. Not when there was something I could do about it.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my husband, and how good he is for me? I'm not sure either of us would be a good match for most people on earth, but this definitely works for us.

There was more to it, of course (there always is). I had dropped out of college for financial reasons, and had pretty low self-esteem about being a drop-out, even though it wasn't my fault. I was working a too-stressful job, and I was too scared that I'd never find one as good to leave it. And when you're scared and low on self-esteem, it's just not a good time to start a writing career.

At least, it wasn't for me. Maybe it IS a good time for other people.


But eventually--and not without plenty of support from my then-boyfriend, now-husband--I did give up that job, and went back to school. I spent the fortnight before returning up north, at the river with my mom and aunt and my best friend from my earlier stint at college, canoeing and getting sunburned and reading the Vorkosigan series for the first time. At one point, we went a-wandering around Mackinac City, and I found a small notebook with a (bastardized) Thoreau quote on it:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined.

It's actually:
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

But I guess they couldn't fit that on a notebook.

I picked that notebook up, even though I knew it was not-quite-Thoreau, and pretty much spent the next three years with it propped right beside my computer, staring me down. I wouldn't say it got me through school, or made me start writing the day after graduation, or caused me to do my first NaNo, or to send my first story out, but it didn't hurt.

Phase three of dreaming a dream is to admit that you have a dream, then to put your head down and start walking towards it. It's finally learning what is involved in step two. I can't deny that it has been a six-year education, starting with learning proper manuscript format and ending with being able to read Sarah's entry and understand every last thing she mentions in it. And I have more to learn, in spite of the fact that I'm up on book contracts and what kind of money "success" really means.

I note every milestone, and I've certainly traveled through the Slough of Despair. But at some point, I moved from phase three to phase four, without even realizing it.

Living with your dream

See, somewhen very early, I realized: I was actually living my dream. Because the dream isn't all about the profit. The dream is about collecting underpants. And the underpants here are the writing.

Sure, I'd like to be in the enviable position of choosing whether or not to quit my day job and so forth, because that is "the dream" as it has been preached to us. But that's actually not my dream. My next dream is getting that letter that says I helped someone survive adolescence, in the same way all my favorite writers helped me to survive mine.

For now, though, every achievement, every sale or review, is just another brick in the house that I'm already building. That first, post-novel-sale year that I really, really, really hope is coming soon? Is probably not going to be that much different than this year right here: "Head down. Write lots."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to scoop the litter boxes. I smell poop.

Oh, yes. The dream. It is good.

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