How many of our adolescent dreams have stayed with us into our thirties and forties and later? And how important were these dreams to us that they continue haunting us? What does it say to us and about us that we continue to be haunted by these dreams? Life does not wait for these ghosts to materialize for us. Life makes everything a ghost eventually. To give flesh to dreams often requires venturing out of one’s comfort zone. How many of us enjoy doing that?
Out of This World
In my early teens, I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to set foot on the moon… and Mars. I wanted to explore and experience these worlds. I wanted to feel the thrust of a rocket kick me into orbit. I have always been somewhat introverted and have always possessed a scientists need to study things, to figure things out. This dream has never left the ground. I do not have perfect vision. I am moderately near-sighted. I did not think this would allow me to make the cut.
In Huge Footsteps
In my teens, I wanted to be a teacher. A biology teacher to be precise. My father was a high school biology teacher and biology (and science in general) was my best subject. I started college as a biology major with a concentration in secondary education. I got bored with biology and found myself sitting through courses in which I already knew the subject matter. I wanted to be challenged. Eventually I decided on computer science, although in the last semester of my senior year, I almost switched my major to English with a concentration in secondary education. I did not, as I thought I would return to college to pursue it after saving money from working in the computer field after a year or two. I barely broke even. Eventually it became a dream that faded away. Lately I have considered returning for a master’s degree in secondary education at Western Illinois University, but family financial needs will probably preclude it.
Another man I thought of emulating was my maternal grandfather. He was a carpenter and worked for years at a lumberyard in Amboy, Illinois. I worked alongside him for three summers during college. I learned a lot about carpentry from him, but mostly I learned about life. After college when the recession of the early 1990s made it difficult to find work in the computer field without experience, I kicked around from job to job to try to pay bills. Eventually I found myself living with my grandparents and my grandfather had lined up a carpentry job for me with an Amboy contractor. My grandfather died shortly after I moved in with my grandparents. Less than a month after his death in early December, winter slowed down the need for carpenters and being the newest hire I was laid off. By the time the building season started the next spring, I had found a job designing ads for the Bureau County Republican newspaper in Princeton, Illinois. I stayed with ad design and graphic design for a few years after that. I loved carpentry work, but I do not think it ever was a dream of mine. Rather, it was a way to earn money to pay bills.
Running Down a Dream
I did dream of being a world class runner. Just a year prior to working home construction, I was running five to fifteen miles daily. I had built the best base of all my years of running. I was consistently popping off miles under five minutes and often closer to four and a half minutes. I was injury-free and really enjoying it. But I found myself in a period of unemployment that made it impossible to buy replacement running shoes. Eventually, my shoes were so worn that I stopped running.
I had a coach when I was in college that urged me to run the marathon. He felt with consistent training and solid competition that I was capable of qualifying for nationals and placing. I did not buy into it. I was an unknown runner who rarely went all out through the pain to see just what I could achieve. I did not possess that winner’s swagger
Today, it is a dream that I regret not chasing. At 39, such a physical achievement is long behind me. Today I suddenly look up to find myself in mid-life as Paul McCartney sings in Ever Present Past, I am now “Searching for the time that has gone so fast, The time that I thought would last, My ever present past.”
I think my regrets about wasting my running talents could be mollified by returning to regular running and building up to compete in my age group in the local road racing club circuits.
The Next Great American Novelist
In my pre-teens, late-teens, and throughout the years to today, I wanted to be an author. I wanted to write sci-fi, fiction, non-fiction, essays, and poetry. I remember outlining a sci-fi novel called The Flobian Wars when I was a high school underclassman. I never started it. But on the plus side, I continued to read a lot of books in high school — sci-fi novels, Louis L’Amour, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, books on astronauts and the U.S. manned space program. I always had a book I was reading.
In college, I wrote some awful poetry and a few short stories. I also continued reading books, but not as many as I read in high school. Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a favored author and after college I continued reading his novels. At that time I also began reading books by Thomas Merton, D.T. Suzuki, many books on religion and philosophy, biographies, and fiction by Steinbeck, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Alan Lightman, and Charles Dickens.
After college I wrote often, but never as part of a daily routine. I wrote several short stories. Only a few of which I submitted to publications. A few of those were published in small literary magazines. One story, The Subway, was nominated for an Illinois Arts Council award. I also wrote the first draft of a novel and developed and wrote the first 80 pages of another novel. There was a sci-fi novel that I wrote almost 90 pages before I let myself drift away from it.
In my early thirties, I started writing again. This time on a new novel. I again completed about 80 pages and fleshed out several scenes before letting my life’s activities take me away from writing.
Chasing Myself to Chase a Dream
Recently I started blogging to establish a habit of writing. It is helping. I am thinking about writing and finding topics to write about more often now. Of course a blog is rarely more than an article or essay, but it is writing. And at 39 — being unemployed, with a family of five and no money, no savings, no retirement, and struggling to keep our house even as the family has outgrown it — there is no zone to even call a comfort zone. I need a good-paying job. And I need a dream or two to chase outside of any comfort zone that I may still have left.
After all, what is a comfort zone but a place to stifle a dream?