This post is for Cate, who commented here.
I am a dreamer.
I want big things. I want gorgeous settings. I am idealistic. I am impractical.
I am old enough to know better, so I don’t think I will ever know better.
I am fragile. I want to be famous. God, that’s embarrassing. At least there’s this: I don’t want to be famous and get invited to all the best penthouse parties and know all the names of the owners of the sexiest clubs. I don’t want fame to follow me outside, into the street. I want to be a famous writer. I want people to read my words and disappear briefly inside them. That’s what happened to me, as a kid, reading fantasy novels. I slipped inside another world. I want to do that for people.
I am a failure. I tried being practical. I tried growing up right. At fifteen, I got my first serious job. I worked through college. For a while, I was making more money than all of my friends. I was a little smug about it, when a guy who liked me bragged about how much he made at his job, repairing computers, and I made more. Don’t say anything, I thought. Don’t you dare say anything. I really wanted to say something. I only let myself get A’s, and I only considered Ivy League grad schools-- I got into the one my professors wanted for me. There was this straight, groomed path, and I was on it, and I was going to take my degrees out into the world and knock on a bunch of impressive doors with them (they make a more important sound than just my bare hand), and things would fall into place.
And then I couldn’t.
(that’s my backpack. And my chocolate milk. This is where I was writing yesterday)
Three internships, at a desk wedged in a corner with no windows in sight, a job, commuting to work in a car with a guy who kept talking about his penis– how amazing his penis was. It was the most amazing one ever. He was almost positive. No, he was entirely positive. Working for organizations that were trying to improve the world in little, gradual ways. I was the stupid one. I wanted to change the world myself. I was the irresponsible one. I couldn’t adjust. I couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t believe that after everything, this was the way life would go. That after all of the adventures that played out in my head, this would be the reality.
I am scared of the smallness of life. The trip back and forth to the ShopRite– back and forth again, endlessly. I am scared of small yards with fences around them. This is where your life stops, the fence says to me. Right here, by the swell of the septic tank, up against the back of the neighbor’s flaking gray shed. This is it. So when I write about my friends who are moving to the suburbs, it’s not so much the house, but the borders that bother me. It makes me angry– why don’t I want the things that other people want? Why don’t I even like them? I don’t like House. Or The Office. See?
Sometimes I think everything I want started when I was eight or so. When all I did was read. Once I found a book that I loved more than every other book. It was the story of two kingdoms at war. The humans and the demons. The demons were a species that lived in caves, the humans lived above ground. The human princess was a fiery, opinionated young woman who snuck outside the gates of the castle and met a young, furry, short demon man who thought that war was unnecessary. They fell in love. And then his people found out what he was up to, and tortured him. And just at the last moment, the princess rushed in and rescued him. I think they lived happily ever after– but more than that, I remember the look in his eyes when he saw her, her hair streaming behind her, exploding into the underground chamber where he was being held captive.
I read the book once and then returned it. Later, I couldn’t remember the title. I combed through the shelves in the enormous public library. Week after week. The title was his name. I thought his name started with an X, or maybe it was a Y. Or a Z. I never found it.
So my life’s goal is to write a book that good. I want to write a book for my eight-year-old self to read. I want to write her perfect book.
Maybe I shouldn’t have read so much as a child. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone into the forest and pretended, alone for hours and hours, that I was a powerful mage. That I was a human princess who loved a forbidden demon man.
Maybe then I would have had more practical goals. Maybe then I wouldn’t have stood at the edge of Morningside Park, by the statue of some old dude who no one cares about anymore, at the end of grad school, and said, out loud and with total conviction: “No.”
I wouldn’t have decided to do something immature and ridiculous and impossible to respect by the people who would later ask me what I was doing with my life and then smile blankly and look awkward when I told them.I wouldn’t have taken a huge risk despite not being a risk-taker. Despite being cautious rather than bold and hesitant rather than cool and anxious rather than confident. I wouldn’t have decided to start again, after all that work. To write all the time, instead of doing something that would involve real money and the possibility of promotion and the security of social status and the hard-headed realism that separates so many successful people from people like me. From people who dream and dream and stubbornly refuse to wake up.
This is all very confusing. I mean– I don’t know who to aspire to be. The people I admire most are happy people who have never done anything that will end up in a history book and don’t care, and also the people who click automatically onto that tight, greased track that you ride at the top of the world.
But really, no one, not even those greased track people, is remembered by history.
Once, a couple years ago, across the country from here, Bear and I sat on a stone bench on the crest of a tall hill overlooking everything, and we talked about life.
“No one is ever famous enough to be remembered forever,” I said.
A hawk wheeled by in the wide blue sky, and then sank, thoughtless and hungry and deceptively gentle, towards the trees that carpeted the floor of the world.
“Who is ever remembered?” I said. “Like, five people, and we don’t really know their stories. There’s something about a cherry tree. There’s something about a kite and a key. And no one can even spell Gandhi.”
“I think we should just let ourselves be temporary,” said Bear. “That’s the great thing about life–we don’t have to hold onto things. We can’t even do it when we try. We should just think about being whatever we need to be next. And then one day we’ll die and it’s over– you never have to worry about anything again.”
“That’s the terrible thing about life,” I said. “You can’t really ever make a difference.”
But for some reason, it didn’t feel so terrible, in that moment. It felt a little like a relief. I won’t be remembered. Thank god. Because if it was really a possibility, then I’d have to try to be perfect all the time, so that the best of me lasted. But instead, I want to write and write– little books about girls who fall in forbidden love in a world where there are no fences and no litter. And definitely no septic tanks, but also some secret, potentially magical form of plumbing that makes it non-gross.
So maybe my dreams are smaller than I think. Maybe they are more practical.
Maybe this ferocious struggle I wake up inside of every day– the effort to figure out what I should be doing and the old, sour fear that I made the wrong decision when I said “no” to the path I was on and suddenly veered off into the part of the woods the Eagle Scouts haven’t marked yet– maybe that’s just looking through the wrong end of the telescope. My life is bigger than that. There are mountains in the distance, and the ocean, and I am going to follow my stupid, incessant dream right up to it. Because sometimes life isn’t about failure or success or one path or the other. It’s not about doing the right thing or being remembered or the title you have or don’t have or whether or not you got the degrees you were supposed to or if those degrees opened the right doors. It’s about what you are, fundamentally, underneath all of that.
And I am a writer who needs to write a book about a girl who lives in a big, open world.
I am a goddamn dreamer.
* * *
What about you? Any dreamers out there? If so, how does it impact your life?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a black shirt and jeans. Really simple. I wore it by accident, but it works!
P.S. Here’s my piece about weight gain on the Frisky. I have to write a lot of pieces about it, because I’m self-centered. And I love the topic.
Here’s a new cake pic for the gallery! I LOVE it. Send me yours soon! And if you’re on Twitter, follow me! I tweet stuff. Sometimes it’s interesting!