I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot lately. Not the ‘go to sleep and fly’ type, but the ‘one day I want to’ kind of dream.
When I was young, I was obsessed with the written word. I read a lot and I wrote a lot. Pretty much all I spoke about was books – they were my passion. I loved everything about books – their musty-old and peppery-new smell, the smoothness of the paper, the patterns that the words make on the page. Being a pretty lonely and nerdy kid, I loved their ability to transport and transform. I know that its a teen lit cliché, but books were my best and most constant friends.
I dreamed that one day books would be my life. My profession. My career. I had plans. Like Martin Luther King, I had a dream. I was going to write and write and write until I finally produced a great novel.
I dreamed about being the kind of writer that reached people. That touched them. That let them know that they are not alone and that what they are feeling is ok. Unique to them, but all part of the complex human experience. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to make them cry. I wanted my writing to be an expression of who and what I am, but also of who and what we all are. I really thought that I would get there one day. Because back then I was Confident with a capitol C. At least, I was confident about my writing ability.
But somewhere along the line that dream began to fade and doubt made its stealthy way into my mind and heart. I’ve been trying to figure out when and why this happened.
At first I thought that I began to let go of the dream at varsity; where I discovered sex, alcohol and a heady independence that meant I could stay in bed all day if I wanted to. But when I think back on that time in my life, I realise that I was just as passionate and naïve about a career in literature as ever. Sure, I was completely distracted and did nothing to take me closer to actually accomplishing the dream, but it was still alive and visible through the alcoholic and post-coital haze.
I think that the reality has more to do with the fact that it was at varsity that I began to truly doubt myself. Suddenly everyone seemed smarter and more talented than me. This is probably why I dropped out of the university that I had spent my teens dreaming about. Well, that and the fact that I never went to lectures. But even after I’d left the dear little university town that introduced me to a host of new experiences, the dream lingered.
Then life took over. I started making more and more compromises and sacrifices. More bad decisions. I kept changing my goals to suite what was expected of me. What was normal. What was reasonable. Until one day I woke up to realise that I was a stay-at-home mother who had lost her dream.
Sure, I do write today and it does pay me. But I’m not writing what I expected to be. And that great novel is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the writing I get paid to do is about products that I often find it difficult to get excited about. Sometimes I am lucky enough to write about something that does resonate with me, but for the most part I write its just work. Instead of writing about the things that should and do matter to humanity, I write about things that don’t. I write for businesses and help them make more money. My writing has come to be about greed instead of giving; spinning and massaging the truth, instead of honesty. And when you surround yourself with those words all the time, they become your reality. Because words have power. I understood this as a kid, why do I understand it less now? I think my teenage self would be a little disappointed. She would wonder what had happened to get me to this point. I don’t think I’d be able to give her a satisfactory answer.
Its difficult for me to say that I regret any of my decisions though, because I love my life, I do enjoy my job and I adore my family. But I do still find myself wondering what happened to that dream of contributing something meaningful. If I’m honest with myself I can admit that its still buried somewhere deep down inside. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I decided that it wasn’t possible for me. The dream became unattainable in my mind and I gave up.
I let go of my dream for things that seemed more realistic and reasonable. It was worn away by monotony, routine and the need to put a roof over my head. I wonder if that is just the reality of life and growing up, or the saddest thing in the world? I think its both.
So what do I do now? Is it too late? Sadly, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to contribute to the literary world. The dream is kind of blurry and because I no longer have a clear picture in my head I no longer know if I can do it. I don’t even know if I should – if I have something important to say. I’m not sure that I can reach out to people in the way that I would like to, or that I even have a story to tell.
I suppose that’s the great thing about being young – you think that everyone wants to listen to what you have to say because you are so convinced that it Is important. As an adult, you realise your own insignificance. You understand that your story has been told before, and you realise that the world isn’t really all that interested in listening to it.
Title adapted from “My Brilliant Career goes Bung” by Miles Franklin.