Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What Happens To A Dream Deferred

As I was sitting in front of my computer working on a business writing project for hire, wishing I could be doing something more creative, I thought back to my childhood, and how great it was to be four. My entire world then was playing, running, drawing, and imagining. My parents were infallible, and I couldn't wait to turn 5, so I could be big, and go to school like my older brother.

School, as it turned out, was overrated. All of a sudden, playtime had parameters, work was expected, conformity was the norm, and creativity was stamped out. After the first day of kindergarten, I had had about enough, and recall asking if I really had to go back. In retrospect, I think I would have been a perfect candidate for home or Montessori schooling.

Of course, I went back. For the next 12 years I went back, though not as often as one might expect. I graduated high school with the record of being the second most absent student in my grade. If it weren't for LF and his juvenile delinquent ways, I would have been number one! What's funny, though, is that I was a pretty good kid, all things considered. I just was not good at conforming - nor at subjects which held little interest for me, as it turned out. For the most part, I hated biology and did only passably well; genetics fascinated me, however, and I aced every test. It was that way with every subject but English and Art, which I always excelled at - if the topic discussed piqued my interest, I was in, and if not, I was off in dreamland.

It wasn't until college, and even more so graduate school, that I really enjoyed school, really grew to love academia - I'm sure in part due to being able to choose my schedule, and in part because I could take mostly classes that I enjoyed and was interested in. I took studio art and literature classes, track and drama, film and writing and Judaic Studies and foreign languages. It was bliss (well, except for Blake and Melville and whatever we had to read in Old English, but we won't talk about that). I went to readings and plays, and was part of a writer's group, and was encouraged by my professors to transfer to the School of Visual Arts.

Reality hit about a year out of school - none of the things I was interested in were valued in the real world in their pure form - unless you were very fortunate or a dead white European male from the 16th-19th centuries, in which case you appreciated and were appreciated more with the passing years. The trajectory is kind of bizarre - you begin as a child encouraged to be creative and free, only to have that stifled in elementary and high school, only to have it rekindled in college and grad school, only to have it squashed again by the working world.

As some of you may recall, I have this recurring nightmare of becoming an accountant (with no offense to the fine upstanding accountants and accountants to be out there, especially Ezzie). Though it would mean a nice upswing in my financial status, it is not in any immediate danger of happening, nightmares notwithstanding. You can't be something you're not. But it is equally hard not being something you are.

They say you should look to your passions as a child to find your calling. When I was in second grade, the teacher asked us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote about being a chef. At other times during childhood, I remember wanting to be an artist, a writer, a runner, a rabbi, a husband and father, a doctor, an astronaut and a firefighter. The last two fell out of favor along the way to adulthood, and I am much too squeamish to be a doctor, but the others have never left their places in my dreams.

Were I living out my childhood passions, I would spend most of my days writing novels and short stories and literary non-fiction; I would create funky artwork and lamps and furniture to sell at fairs on Sundays; I would be a gourmet chef and create recipes and write cookbooks; I would teach chassidut; I would be a healer; I would run marathons and I would be raising a rambunctious brood of kids with a wonderful wife and companion.

It's true I do/have done some of these things - some in quiet ways. Some I have worked hard to reach, some I have even seen a bit of success with, others are but a flirtation, and some I let float out there just beyond grasp. What happens to dreams deferred? They stay dreams, until they become real.

What were your dreams as a child? And where do they show up in your life today?