I'm not much of a dreamer.
I think of dreams as what happens when I'm sleeping -- pretty vignettes on loops that are of my control, marred occasionally by demons, and that end with a jolt, the buzz of an alarm clock or, more likely, in my case, the heavy breathing of a dog or two. For me, dreams happen without notice, without planning, without consequence. And with dreams we bear no responsibility for making anything happen. I may dream of one day visiting Mount Rushmore or Paris, but if all I do is dream about it, nothing will happen, and while it might be disappointing, but ethereal in nature. To me, dreams evaporate in a mist of want and wonder.
But if I say that one day I'd like to visit Paris and Mount Rushmore and think of it as a goal, then the onus is on me and only me. Face it, travel is something that requires not only money, but time. And you can't acquire either by dreaming! Dreams are made up of stepping off curbs and getting stuck in elevators and even seeing people long-gone or far away -- not the money and time it would take for me to trek to South Dakota or France from my small town near Chicago (although wouldn't that be something)!
But goals? Goals require keen planning, and yes, maybe a little luck. Dreams require, well, dreaming.
For example, I always wanted to be a published author. Was it a dream? Perhaps it was a dream when I had no real intention of doing anything about it. But once it became a possibility and a goal, it was real. It took seven years of writing, publishing, and learning the business, meeting the right people, doing the right things to get to the place where I'll have my debut novel released by a major New York publisher.
I guess for me, the word "dream" makes light of the work I've done to get here. I didn't just conjure up a book in my spare time. I didn't close my eyes or cross my fingers or pick up a penny. I worked my tuchas off (excuse my Yiddish).
Maybe it's simply a matter of semantics. That wouldn't be unheard of. I am a writer after all. One person's dream is another person's goal or aspiration. The word "dream" unsettles me because dreams aren't real. Dreams are tenuous. Dreams are easily forgotten. These are things that don't sit well with me, who tends to be a realist. And even goals aren't always met. Dreams especially fall by the wayside with the responsibility of home, pets, spouses, and children, not to mention divorce and death. But some goals, well-tended, can be harnessed with time.
I guess another issue I have with the concept of dreams, is the idea that there should be a list with a capital L. If we're interchanging goal for dream here -- my list was short -- I've had two. To be a mother and to be an author. I spent the better part of my adult life (so far) supporting the goals and aspirations of family, living and working toward the well-being and health of my children and others. That was what made me happy -- seeing others reach their goals. I do not regret, begrudge or belittle it. But being a good mother is hard work. And frankly, rarely is what you imagine. Dreamlike? Maybe when I was awake 20 hours a day with a newborn. Otherwise? Hard work. Beloved work, don't get me wrong. But not easy. And I promise that being a single mother is nothing akin to "living the dream." Sometimes my goal is simply to get through the day.
It wasn't until my kids were out of elementary school and our lives settled down a bit that I sauntered back into writing with a blog in 2006. I didn't look at it as reaching toward a dream. At first it was just for fun. When I realized the blog might lead to publishing essays in major publications, it shot straight to a lofty goal. Late nights of writing, editing, submitting, rejections, workshops, networking, writing. I loved and still love every part of the writing and publishing business, but a dream? Not for me. If it had just been a dream, then I could have allowed it to slip away when times were tough.
I don't aspire to travel to many foreign lands. I don't want to own a boat or a bigger house or to skydive (ha, me, skydive). I want to see my children graduate college in a few years and fulfill their ambitions. And if that means live their dreams, then yes. I want them to be content, fulfilled, and loved.
But for all those things they're going to have to open their eyes, work hard, plan accordingly, and put one foot in front of the other. If they simply dream, they'll probably never leave home (I love them, but still). In this case, I will dream on their behalf -- and I'm good at that kind of dreaming. Of helping to make sure they keep track of what they want and where they want to go. That means being supportive and encouraging and involved and interested. Making it all really happen will be up to them and it will take fortitude, and strength, drive and determination. Okay, and maybe little direction and guidance here and there from me, just to make sure they don't fall off any cliffs.
Maybe not having a list of dreams makes me a cynic. Maybe saying I only ever wanted to be a mother and an author makes me simple. But maybe what it really means is that I know myself well and feel completely content with who I am, and where I am, today, while I'm still striving to meet a new goal or two tomorrow.
I'll go with that.
Amy Sue Nathan's debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be published on May 14, 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin. Amy lives near Chicago where her roots are firmly planted, for now. She may not be a big dreamer, but Amy is a cautious optimist who is hopeful about her plans the future, with two kids in college and two dogs under her feet.
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