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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dreaming things that never were

When I was little, I probably spent most of my time daydreaming. I read a lot, and consequently wrote stories a lot, most of which were set in nonexistent worlds and featured dragons, dinosaurs and wizards with great frequency. Sometimes all three together. My parents didn't seem to mind that my little invented worlds didn't really exist or even make any sense - they just let me keep dreaming.

My best friend Ellen and I would spend hours inventing our own universe full of dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures, most of which we invented. We even made a map of our imaginary world, big enough to cover almost an entire wall. My sister, my neigbors and I made hour-long movies with plots that, in retrospect, made absolutely no sense. We were Native Americans, we were Egyptian Princesses, and we were distraught pet owners searching for our cat who had been kidnapped by an invisible man.

the more I grew up, as is inevitable, the less I imagined. I missed being a kid - playing, daydreaming and inventing silliness. After my sophomore year at St. Olaf, I started teaching music at theatre e3, a music-theater program owned by my high school theater director. Spending my summers working with 70 kids, teaching music classes and hanging out with them on breaks, made me feel like a kid again.

There was the seven year old who came to camp every day in knee-high, neon pink rain boots, acted like she hated me and then inexplicably invited me to her birthday party. There were the three girls who found a stick in the grass, drew a face and hair on it, named it Petunia and proceeded to carry it around and talk to it for the next three weeks. My students were ridiculously smart, immensely talented, and they weren't afraid to flounce around onstage while wearing ridiculous costumes, singing in falsetto and holding a harp.

Meanwhile, I was trying to transition out of my own dream - I had gone to St. Olaf convinced I wanted to be an opera singer, but the further I traveled down that path, the less I really wanted it. I'd always envisioned myself having a home and a family - could I really handle a career that forced me to move every few months and plow through rejection after rejection for years before even landing a paying job? Did I really want to spend hours a day alone in a practice room? Not really.

So, while my students were dreaming wildly, I was slowly giving up on mine.

I taught for a couple more years before ending up in marketing in a corporate setting. How'd this happen? Still not entirely sure. I gave up the jeans and t-shirts of my teaching days for heels and dress pants. I gave up "sure, you can whip your shirt off and do a crazy dance, just make sure it's Ok with Eric...", for "do you think 200K units is a reasonable forecast?" Words like "realistic forecast" and "joint development agreement" became part of my everyday vocabulary. I began thinking about things in terms of the limitations of reality instead of limitless possibility - simply because, I was convinced, this was my duty as a Real Grown-Up Adult.

A couple of months ago, I was sitting with Ben in Baker's Square, eating pie and talking about how to fix Major League Baseball - the major problem being, large market teams have too much power and too much money.

"Maybe if we could get all the owners to realize that if they collaborate and don't let salaries get too high, it would be better for the sport?" Ben suggested.
"Yeah," I replied, "but that would never happen. Outright collusion is illegal, and if they tried to do it by tacit agreement that just wouldn't work. People are selfish - nobody would agree to that. Or maybe everyone would except Steinbrenner, who'd keep salaries ridiculously high and then where do you think all the good players would end up?"
"But if he realized what a good thing it was, and if we could convince him to do the right thing - "
"Never gonna happen."
"But WHAT IF, in my own personal imaginary world -?"
"Not possible."
"But what if - "

We paused. We smiled. One or both of us started giggling.

At that moment I thought, what's so wrong with ridiculous possibilities? Sure, realism is fine and it helps make decisions in the real world, but every single great achievement has started out with a dream that everyone thought was impossible.

I thought about how fortunate I was to have someone in my life who reminds me that sometimes, realism and parameters need to go out the window - silliness is OK. Dreaming is OK. Having pie for dinner, or building a fort in your living room and sleeping there when you have a perfectly good bed in the bedroom is more than OK. It makes me feel like I'm nine years old again - more like myself, or at least, the me I like the most.
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