Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Dreams

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp-or what's a heaven for?"
-Robert Browning (1812-1889)

I was nine, living out the unfortunate fashion legacy of the 80's, on any given day sporting Jams and jellies or leg warmers and Keds, and devouring Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret when no one was looking. I was ugly and I knew it, like an English Bulldog puppy. The kind of ugly that tugs at heartstrings and causes onlookers to want to scoop her up, fix her a cup of cocoa, swipe the smudges from her pink plastic glasses, and entertain her wild ideas.

A fair amount of my time was spent watching surgeries/procedures, studying oddities that my Dad retrieved from the stomachs of his equine patients, and exploring the barns and acreage around his veterinary clinic. I enjoyed the dual citizenship extended in childhood, dividing my days between reality and imaginary worlds that spun themselves into convincing, more entertaining versions of the truth with colorful landscapes and curious culinary creations.

I was an odd little girl, (which may be the most redundant phrase ever uttered, following the previous paragraphs.) I wrote myself into mystery stories. I concocted ridiculous diary entries that chronicled the life of a more ordinary and attractive girl. (If someone were to find that little diary, some day, which is hopefully decomposing nicely in a landfill somewhere in Oklahoma, they'd be bored to tears and think I lived a very different life...with platinum blond braids.) That was the year I decided on my career path: I would attend Harvard Law School followed by a brief, but spectacular stint as a lawyer before being appointed to a judgeship which would of course, lead me directly to my seat as Chief Justice of The Supreme Court. I was nine--where are the dizzy daydreams of riding unicorns over rainbows (both of which enjoyed popularity in the 80's thanks to Rainbow Brite, The Care Bears, and Hippies having children) or wanting to be a Marine biologist and work at Sea World when I grew up?

My Mom and Dad encouraged this phantasmic life plan. I was really good at Memory so, you know, I was already qualified.

It never occurred to my adolescent self that I might not be the Chief Justice, or attend Harvard, for that matter. These things were guaranteed because in my other world, my imaginary world, I had already lived them.

My imaginary world was as easily accessible as my back yard. It wasn't until I was fourteen that it started to crumble. Reality came crashing down and the pillars of my youth showed deep and unsettling cracks. I began to question everything. Pragmatism emerged as an important ally in the days after my Dad left and my Mother couldn't stand up underneath the sadness that enveloped her. Dreaming, planning, writing, inventing, creating, were dismissed (by me) as childish and I no longer had the luxury of being a child. I locked the door to that world of dreams and tossed away the key.

A recent commenter on Jen Lemen's All That Glitters... post said this about dreams, "Perhaps the greatest threat to our dreams is what we do with them when they do not pan out..."

I have thought about this for a number of days now. I've thought about it in the context of my own life and how it applies to my daughters. I want my girls to wander through these adolescent years, unscathed by fear or pain.

But the idea that there is no pain and fear associated with dreaming is obviously absurd. Dreams and hope are as linked as fear and hope. Fear being a rope that binds, strangulates; dreams being the breath of inspiration; and hope the common ground between the two.

I want my girls to entertain dreams as possibilities. I want them to embrace potential and to understand that when a dream changes shape, it is not a death.

To reach, to dance, to follow the white rabbit, to collect keys to unknown doors, to dare, to imagine, to dig deep, to get dirty, to peel back,to question, to seek, to know...

And then I think of the odd little girl I once was, riding fences through a wilderness of infirmities, and I wonder why I did not volunteer those same ideals to her. Perhaps it was because she and I had not lived through the pain of hope differed. Perhaps she and I mistakenly thought that disappointment meant the blanket eviction of higher plans and not merely the restructuring of them. Perhaps she and I were naive in thinking that dreams are aspirations, goals to be attained, when perhaps they are meant to be forshadowing chapter titles in the unfolding story of who we are becoming.

I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're going and hook up with them later.

-Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)

Do you read Jen Lemen? No? Well, go and make yourself a cup of tea, cancel your lunch date, pull up the comfiest bit of couch you have and settle in. She is an amazing soul. And how very fortunate for the rest of us that she is also a gifted writer and artist, drawing pictures of life and purpose in our heads with her words.

She has been talking about dreams for the last little while on her blog. (Seriously, click over and read just a couple of her posts, today. It will change the way you look at the lady who just stole your parking place at the grocery store, and that annoying neighbor, and your mother in law, and that vaguely familiar face in the mirror...)


Mrs. G. said...

You are an absolutely wonderful writer. I look forward to checking Jen L. out.

I love the Hedberg quote.

NotSoSage said...

You and I would have been fast friends...right down to the dreams of being a marine biologist and the fascination with veterinary paraphernalia.

Though I did have the platinum blonde braids, I dreamed of being a red-head, and cursed Anne of Green Gables every time she cursed her own hair.

I, too, became a pragmatist and fear that I am instilling my own pragmatism in my daughter. I am achingly conscious, in my interactions with her, of trying to find a balance between dreams and reality. Between play and truthfulness.

I guess the place to start is to question who has the larger claim a hold on "truth" between the two of us.

Lovely piece.

the dragonfly said...

I've been dreaming of space as long as I can remember, of looking at the earth from above and feeling the freedom of zero gravity. I know I'll never be an astronaut, but I can't let go of the hope that one day I'll venture into outer space...

sex scenes at starbucks said...

creatives are weird. it's part of our charm. :)

Hannah said...

Oh my, what a beautiful post. You made me nostalgic and sad and wistful, and then you hit me with the Hedberg quote and I laughed out loud.

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

I like the quote from the late, great Mitch Hedberg......although, that's not entirely how I feel about dreams.....

I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing :o)

ConverseMomma said...

Do you have an e-mail? Would you be willing to e-mail me at
Strange request, I know.
But after reading this,

To reach, to dance, to follow the white rabbit, to collect keys to unknown doors, to dare, to imagine, to dig deep, to get dirty, to peel back,to question, to seek, to know...

I would love to talk to you about a writing project.

I'm not a stalker, just an aspiring writer cum blogger.

Furrow said...

I'm quite sure we would have been friends. Sounds a lot like me at that age. Oddly enough, I also wanted to be a judge at that age, except I didn't know then that I had to be a lawyer first.

P.S. I love(d) MH. Never laughed so hard at any other comedian.

Mary G said...

I just did a post about raising my girls and then I read your post about dreams and what you want for them and how it is different than what you granted yourself. And had one of those 'Yes!' moments.
What a great post!
I dared my girls to dream; I wanted to raise them to be good people, good citizens, and happy. But most of all, I wanted them to be capable and strong.
And I am off to read Jen Lemen.

Lori said...

I think you and I would have been good friends. I lived more in my head than I did in the world. Sometimes, I still do.

You should read Rabbi Wolpe's book, Making Loss Matter, sometime. Each chapter chronicles the different ways we experience loss in this life, dreams, home, faith, love, and life, and how we respond to those losses. It is written so beautifully I think you would really appreciate it. It is one of my all time favorites.

kim the midwife said...

It is a challenge, an honor, to help our kids grow. But isn't it also a challenge to just avoid messing them up? I think we are born so well, so full of the future and it starts to crumble right away. I think of this every time I am late for work and my 4 year old wants to stop on the front stairs and look at a spider web. I want to give a lingering, genuine look at what she sees, but usually I just drag her along and think later, "tomorrow I'll be a better mother."

I loved your post. What a beautiful girl you were.

Meadowlark Days said...

Thanks for this beautiful post. I can relate to so much of it. Even as an adult, it's scary to let myself dream. Perhaps even moreso now than as a child.

painted maypole said...

this is such a beautiful post, and I'm sorry I'm just getting around to reading it. the blogging thing has gotten a bit away from me of late.

Manic Mother said...

Beautiful...that is exactly what kept me awake until 4am...dreams...