In your dreams
What are our children's dreams? They are as varied as the kids themselves. Here are two examples, both from youngsters still in elementary school. They span the spectrum from the sublime to the silly:
I have a plethora of dreams, but today I'd like to write about my dream of being a traveler.
My dream is to own all the Barbies in the world.
In the Broadway musical Les Miserables, a dying woman sings, "I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living…. Now life has killed the dream in me." The decades can do that. A daily dose of reality can do that.
This is Black History Month. We are reminded that Martin Luther King had a dream. It brought him a bullet. Was his dream realized? Partially, I would say. The 1963 Voting Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a series of Supreme Court decisions, beginning with Brown v. Board of Education, ended segregation. But we don't all love and care about each other the way King wished.
Maybe the lesson is in there somewhere. We begin with unrealistic, if laudable, dreams. The little girl can't own all the Barbies, nor should she. But at the end of the day, she might be able to have a few to call her own. If you could, wouldn't you want to make sure that happens?
At the end of the day, even if Martin had lived to be 80, he wouldn't have made us all love one another. But wasn't his short life a huge success? I think so. I think we wouldn't have named a national holiday and countless roads after him if we didn't think so.
To me the trick is to accomplish a convergence between those childish dreams and the limits of the possible. My message to the "younger generation" is, don't expect to reach the stars, but don't settle for plodding along the ground, either. Life is a process of adjusting your dreams and your actions into conformity… of finding the "sweet spot" where you can achieve the most that your talents and the planet's relentless gravity will allow.
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a veterinarian. In middle school, a marine biologist. In high school, I came very close to failing a mid-level math course, and I realized two things: first, that I had abysmal math skills. Second, I would never be a veterinarian or a scientist.
Luckily this wasn't a soul-crushing experience, as I had long moved on from my childhood dream of playing with puppies all day or swimming with dolphins (clearly I had little understanding of what being a vet or a scientist entailed, anyway). But the point is, we can't necessarily become whatever we want - even if our parents love to insist that we can.
This is especially true today, in a world where there are literally millions, even billions, of other people all trying to achieve identical dreams. Oh yes. You may think you're special, but take a look on the Internet. You want all the Barbies in the world? So do a million other collectors! You want to be a veterinarian? Well good luck, because it's now more difficult to get into veterinary school than medical school. The world is an ever-growing pond, and we're all just tiny fish trying to distinguish ourselves from the rest.
Perhaps that sounds awfully cynical, but it's not all bad. Take the arts, for instance. I work part time at a literary agency, and I see firsthand how many perfectly good manuscripts get rejected every single day. It's disheartening. These days, getting published by one of the "big six" publishers is more often the result of good connections or a catchy commercial hook than pure good writing. On the other hand, that same bias has led to the rise of self-publishing, an outlet that's growing in popularity and legitimacy.
The same goes for film; while big budget Hollywood productions become more insipid and unoriginal, independent filmmakers struggling for any semblance of a budget are creating some of the most innovative and groundbreaking work. Furthermore, those films have a greater chance of being seen because of the many social media outlets now at the common (wo)man's disposal. Heck, you can post your short film on YouTube in minutes and have it seen immediately by hundreds or thousands of people who never would have had the chance ten years ago.
It's a "let the people decide" mindset, a more democratic kind of creation. Maybe all this struggling won't make most of us rich and famous, but dare I say, maybe it will make better art. And those seeking out the good now have a much better chance of finding it.