Perchance to Dream

Many years ago, too many to count or even admit to, I used to listen to a radio show called America’s Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem. His sign off phrase was, “Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.” This is good advice. Dream big, but stay somewhat practical.

Sadly, as children and even well into adulthood, we are often discouraged to dream at all. Sometimes we are discouraged by people who don’t support or believe in our dreams, and sometimes we’re knocked down just by pure circumstance. Perhaps, however, the reason we’re afraid to dream is because we are afraid to fail, or maybe, just maybe, we’re afraid to succeed. Whatever causes the death of our dreams, I just know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Balance is of course a healthy part of life. It’s good to be smart about life, to be grounded, and of course I always say to have a “Plan B.” And “C.” And even a “D.” Believe me, I’m not telling you to throw your life away in pursuit of foolishness. I’m not telling you to quit your job, sell your stuff, and backpack around Tibet. Unless of course, that’s something you really want to do. Then I’m all for it. Send me a postcard!

The young dream big, don’t they?  I mean, they can dream like we adults can’t even dream of dreaming. So who are we to snuff that out? Don’t we know that one of the cruelest things a person can endure is when someone they love can’t support their dreams? In a sense we’re saying we don’t believe in them. We don’t mean to. We’re just trying to protect them from the hurt we may have endured ourselves.

Plus, we think we know it all. We’re adults, right? We’re supposed to know it all. What we have to realize is that it’s better to let go and pursue our dreams rather than to always live with the ache of what could have been. I for one don’t want to be responsible for that in my life or the lives of my children.

What about us older folks? Those of middle-age and beyond. Do we think we’re too old good to dream? Our dreams are what move us to accomplish greatness and gift the universe with our brilliance… or maybe they just allow us to get through each day as we struggle with overwhelming mediocrity.  I will digress here for a moment to point out that Grandma Moses, pretty much a household name now, didn’t start painting until she was 78.  She painted right up until her death at 101. 101!  Her favorite quote, which indeed seems to tell her own personal tale, was “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” Words to live by indeed.

Bram Stoker didn’t create Dracula until he was 50 (Stoker, not Dracula). I mean, seriously, where would the vampire genre be without him?

Donald Ray Pollock received quite a bit of attention for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time, but did you know that he dropped out of high school to work at a meatpacking plant for many years before moving on to a paper mill where he worked for 32 years as a laborer and truck driver?  The same year he turned 55, he took the leap and published a book of short stories – just a year before graduating Ohio University by the way.  Three years later, in 2011, along came The Devil All the Time which won him the Guggenheim Fellowship.  Talk about following a dream.

To digress even further (thanks for your patience!), Laura Ingalls Wilder… well, there’s another one. Even though she was a columnist at the age of 44 and doing fairly well, her Little House books made her a household name, and she didn’t publish those until she was the ripe age of 64.

After the death of her second husband, Mary Delany began creating amazingly intricate paper cut-outs of flowers to help her deal with her grief. She was 68. She created more than 1,700 pieces of this unique form of art and continued with her artwork until she was 88. Her pieces were so delicate and so incredibly beautiful that they now reside in the British Museum’s collection.

My point is, dreams shouldn’t be snuffed out… not in children, and certainly not just because a person has mastered the aging process. If anything, aging gives our dreams greater meaning. Life may throw us curve-balls or set us on a different path than we ever expected to be on, but dreams…dreams can set us free and put a new life in motion.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Or Achievin’

Is dreaming just for the young? How about following your dreams? Can we rebuild our lives – or build a new life –even when we are most definitely smack in the throes of middle age or…ahem…leaning towards the outer edges of it?

When I was younger, I had no qualms about trying something new, going on an adventure – whether that was a career, a move to a new home, a new town, an experience, what have you.

But now…

Whether it was growing up (ahhh…adulthood, not all it’s cracked up to be, I must say), growing old, or simply being stuck for years with someone else’s criticisms eating away at my brain, my heart, and my self-esteem that did me in, I have found myself more timid – quite indecisive actually – when it comes to making decisions that would take me out of my comfort zone, even when it would be in my best interest.

Recently I have been catching sight of that person that I used to be, that plucky, spirited individual willing to take risks, lurking around corners, trying to come out from the shadows (Hello there! Long time no see!) – and now I’m pondering – is dreaming just for the young?  Can older lives be torn down and rebuilt the way we want them to be?  Or do dreams have a shelf life?

I have dreams just like anyone else and I want to make those happen.  Sometimes I think it’s just too late. I’m just too old. The world is obsessed with youth. Everything – advertising, TV shows, movies – even news – all seem aimed at teenagers and twenty-somethings…thirty-somethings at the outside.

Is it any wonder that middle-aged folks might think that their best years have passed them by…that if they were going to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be, they’d have done it already? We’ve been indoctrinated to think so.

But then I think, surely I don’t have to be stuck here, in this part of my life, if I don’t want to be. If I can oust this echoing voice in my head…the one I’ve been listening to for too many years…the one that makes me doubt myself…then certainly I can do something with my life, to make my dreams a reality.  Something that’s meant for me.

Historically speaking, it’s not unheard of – this rethinking of one’s life at middle age or beyond.  Grandma Moses comes to mind. She was 78 when she started painting – 78! Prior to that she’d spent decades embroidering, but when arthritis made that too painful, she took up painting, and within a couple of years became a household name.

Or how about Julia Child? She was 40 years old when she started to learn French cooking, and 50 years old when she started her cooking show!

Ever hear of Phyllis Diller? She was 37 years old when she became a stand-up comedian.

Then there’s an author named Elizabeth Jolley. One year she got 39 rejection slips! How many people give up their attempt to write after that first awful rejection – and she kept going and going and going until finally, at the age of 56, her first novel was published. The rest is history.

If they can do it, so can I.  So can anyone.  Right?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to become a household name.  I want freedom, not fame.

The world cannot be just for the young. It simply cannot work that way. I’ve had dreams sitting on a shelf for some time, and it’s high time I started looking forward, not back.  At this point, there’s nothing holding me back but me.

Of Haunting Images and Hope

Okay, so time for a more serious post.  I hope you’ll stick with me long enough to read this one through.

I’m sure everyone has seen those horrific photos on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet. The ones that show an animal starving or abused or neglected.  They’re horrendous and just who the hell wants to see them anyway?  Ye Gads, once they’re seen it’s difficult if not impossible to un-see them.  It just ruins a person’s day (I had someone tell me that once).  Honestly, I understand just where those people are coming from.  I hate the photos for the very same reasons.  I’ve always had a problem with getting images out of my head.  Some people can’t stand to see horrible things, but I take it further in that once I see something horrific or disturbing, I can’t seem to get rid of the image…ever.  It stays with me, in my head, and pops back up at the oddest and most inopportune times.   Of course, it’s the emotion that is behind the image that stays with me….but it is the visual that truly haunts me. Forever. It’s like a kind of demented eidetic memory.

But you know what?  These photos are necessary.  It’s easy to say “I know what happens; I don’t need to see it.”  That really isn’t true though is it?  I mean, being told “that dog was starved to death,” isn’t nearly as moving as seeing a dog that had been starved to death. Sometimes words just aren’t enough.  And of course that’s what makes people so angry….the photos hurt their heart.

I support the fight against animal cruelty in all forms but I especially work towards ending horse slaughter.  It’s such a needless and inhumane business.  And I know that by supporting animal advocacy groups I’m helping to keep animals from being exploited and slaughtered and I realize that raising awareness is the key to change.  But I’ve often wondered if I can continue to deal with the constant horrific images floating around in my head and in my heart.

I had a revelation one night and it came, as they usually do I guess, through a dream. I dreamed of watching a horse slaughter transport truck go down the highway from a spot high above on a rocky hill, and seeing a horse, a splendid fawn colored, spotted horse, falling out of the truck thru a gap at the top of the side wall.  In real life, this would of course be physically impossible…but then…this was a dream.  And in my dream, the truck was so completely overloaded that it caused her to fall out, to basically be forcibly shoved out through a small gap in the sidewall of the truck.  In my dream I sat there gasping in horror as the horse fell completely out of the truck. I was just sure it was dead because there was no way it could survive the fall, let alone make it off the busy highway without being hit. Instead, to my absolute delight, it ran across the highway and up the hill where I was sitting. It came to my vehicle and leaned down to look in the open window as if to talk to me. I looked into its sensitive eyes and face, knowing that it was free of the horrors that had awaited it, that it had escaped, and I was inspired by the hope I saw there. I awoke with this amazingly beautiful image in my mind.

And that, people, is the image that will be sticking with me from now on, regardless of anything else that I might see. That horse, that one magnificent horse, can turn into hundreds and into thousands and then tens of thousands of horses that are saved from future slaughter, from future horrors that they do not deserve. That image of hope in her soulful eyes, of future, and of survival moved me far more than the horrific pictures I’ve seen.

It moved me more because that horse represents everything animal advocates, myself included, work towards.  Her heroic escape from an overloaded truck headed for a slaughter-house, gallant run to safety, and entrance into freedom represents a journey.  It is a journey that we must all take to stand up for the rights of animals who cannot stand up for themselves.  It is a journey that requires facing our fears and standing up to evil itself.  It is a journey of hope and hope is what gives us all the strength to fight animal cruelty every day.  Hope is so much stronger than evil.  Hope can move mountains and save horses.

 

 

Night Mares

As any parent out there knows, the older your child gets the less it seems they need you. The more children learn about the world, the fewer things about it frighten them. When they learn that shadows are nothing more than the absence of light, the monsters lurking in them seem to disappear. When they realize that there really isn’t a goblin hiding under the bed, they call your name out less in the middle of the night hoping to God you have a flashlight with you. When they understand they will see you again after school lets out, the cries when you drop them off seem fewer and more far between. While it’s great to watch your child mature and develop, to become their own person that is slowly but surely building their arsenal to someday take on the world on their own, this growing up phase can be bittersweet for us parents.

I don’t know if you want to say that we feel left behind. More so I think we don’t like the idea that we are slowly but surely being stripped of the role as the all-knowing all-saving protector of this precious life, a life that looks to us when the rest of the world doesn’t make sense and is filled with dangers around every corner. I know, I know, selfish, right?

I get especially nostalgic about this when I think about the nightmares my daughter had when she was little. She had them often. We’re talking screaming in the night, trying to escape the hell her bed had become, while never fully awake nightmares. So to help her get to sleep I used to lay with her in bed and we’d talk about all the beautiful dreams we were going to have that night and made plans for how we were going to meet up. We’d make gloriously detailed plans about what we were going to do when we saw each other in this wonderful dreamscape. The setting would vary a bit but we always chose horses to be a part of our joint dream.

Sometimes they’d be the everyday horses we see grazing in the fields now. She and I would choose what color our horses would be; the hair, the mane, even the color of the eyes. Then we’d pick out where we were going to meet. Oftentimes our destination was a peaceful riverbank where we’d enjoy a picnic, our horses neighing next to us before we would take off on a ride along the countryside next to the bright blue water. Other times we’d be creative and imagine ourselves flying on the back of majestic winged Pegasus horses. We could see the colors of the feathers in our minds and wax poetic on where we’d fly to.

black horse white mane

one of our favorite color schemes

Once all the details were settled I’d hug her tightly, slip out of bed, and we’d say, “See you there!” to each other as I turned the light off and sent her to a restful sleep. It really did seem to be an effective way of taking her mind off the fear she had about possible bad dreams creeping in. Sometimes worrying about having nightmares can be worse than having the nightmare itself and ends up being a twisted sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

My daughter brought this memory up just the other day as something she had treasured…and it warmed my heart thinking about this little game we used to play, back when she still needed me to protect her from the Boogeyman.  At the same time it also made me a little sad that she’s certainly old enough now where she doesn’t need me to join her in her dreams anymore. But even though I’ve lost that, I know she’ll always need me for something else and while it might not be galloping through the stars on mythical beasts, I’m more than happy to help her cross through her valley of fears in any way she needs.

If I could bottle my nightmares (in prose)

I could easily be a multi-millionaire. Seriously. I’m very close actually. If I can get my brain to work with me, I’d be raking it in. How? Easy. I’d be an author using my dreams as inspiration. Not really dreams so much as out and out nightmares. The one problem I have is my memory isn’t cooperating in my get rich scheme. I can’t remember my dreams well enough to write them down.  If I could, I’d make Stephen King books sound like lullabies. Pretty much all of my dreams are some kind of nightmare that are spilling over with titillating plot lines, unbridled suspense, and chilling revelations at every terrifying turn. My novels would be easily adaptable into movie form. No need to be picky about that. We can franchise it even. Maybe make an app for them. I’d be into merchandising too. T shirts, boxers, hats, those little do-thingies with the bobbly heads. We can discuss all of the logistics later.

Right now I’m just ready to start writing and I fully believe my literary creations would be a rousing success. The monsters I see when I sleep are right on par with anything portrayed in John Carpenter movies (back when he made kick-ass horror movies). I want to be humble, but honestly, they might even be better. The things my unwitting mind conjures up while it’s supposed to be resting are truly horrifying and unique. I mean, I should get credit even though I’m completely unconscious. That’s only fair.

The only thing holding me back is that I can never fully remember the way the story goes. (If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.)  Seriously though, I can visualize the dream easily but getting it out of my mouth or onto paper is the problem. I know it would make for good story material and I know I’m ready to write.  The fact that I lack any type of writing skills or motivation whatsoever shouldn’t even come into it, right?  So come on, brain, let’s start working together and get the next Salem’s Lot on the shelves. Now…just where did I put my thesaurus??

calvin