In Facebook, the terrain of evocative one-liners, I got a note from an old colleague saying that he and his family were “living the dream”. This phrase evokes the image for me of a snake eating its own tail. Living our dreams conflates two very different and necessary dimensions of consciousness into a single, goal-oriented trajectory. Having found dreams to be more dreamable than livable myself, I wonder if we dreamers could be chasing the wrong star.
For example, in the intensely confronting and exhausting two years where I became a mother and wrote/published/promoted two books while also the sole supporter of three people and five animals, it was suggested more than once that I was “living the dream”. The fact was: living the dream was exactly like — well — living. And, honestly, I’m not even sure what I was doing (not-sleeping, not-showering, husband-sleeping-in-garage, etc.) could even be qualified as “living.”
Fulfilling two lifelong dreams in a one-two-punch, I learned, does not spare us the complexities of being who we are and living how we live. In fact, the dream realized does the opposite: it magnifies the bumps and fissures that we were thinking, somehow, we would be spared. Change, no matter how wanted, no matter how appreciated, can still be entirely destabilizing. All of those “living the dream” expectations are like a gorgeous paper parasol in a Portland winter downpour: poorly matched with the matter at hand.
I think before I was an author, I imagined there was some kind of author Eden whose membrane was impermeable, where writers felt worthy and got enough sleep, and were haloed in grace and the unwavering adoration of their readers. I thought these people were gods — they were my gods — and I therefore assigned them a kind of invulnerability and holiness that was first confronted in graduate school when I met a few of these folks and was devastated that they were not the people their writing had led me to believe they were. Ahem.
As I see it, living the dream requires us to stay asleep. Whereas moving towards and achieving the dream keeps us engaged and invigorated. The seeking is satisfying. Achieving can be really nice, too, for about five minutes. And then, it’s time for a new dream. Living and dreaming are, in my experience, parallel tracks that are both necessary to move us forward and dangerous to cross. Living a dream is like living on a bridge. You can’t make a home out of a crossing. It is at best a scenic rest stop where you take a swig of water and a few poor photographs.
When the child is born, when the book is born, the dream has done its work. It has carried us across the threshold of our deepest heart’s desires.
Happily Ever After is a completely different story. Which is why the fairy tales don’t mess with it. And, I propose, neither should the dreamers.