Kate Flora: I begin with a confession. I stole this title from my mother. It comes from a newspaper column she wrote years ago, when she used to do a weekly column called, “From the Orange Mailbox.” It was about identifying one’s dreams and then acting on them. It made such an impact on my childhood best friend, Karin, that she read it at mom’s memorial service. I come back to it from time to time when I find myself cowering under my desk or spinning in small, slow, unproductive circles. And because my mother was very brave and I admire bravery, I remind myself of her advice as I try to shove myself forward.
So I stole the title. And why not? It’s a good title. As we all know, there is no copyright in titles, imitation truly is often the sincerest form of flattery, and there is more right than wrong in heeding the advice of one’s mother. So here I am, as we come into the season of craziness and challenged schedules, when we’re all getting too busy to THINK about anything, writing about the process of thinking and planning for the year ahead, and about to encourage you to join me in considering what might change the shape of your upcoming year.
Perhaps you’re saying, “Okay, but what do those tightrope walker’s feet have to do with this?” But you already know, don’t you. For most of us, taking chances on doing new things out of our normal comfort zone can be as scary as we imagine walking on a tightrope would be even if we were only a few feet off the ground. This is especially true about the things we dream. There’s a big risk involved in taking the steps to move from a dream, with all of its inherent possibilities, to the reality. Our steps may be clumsy. Our execution inept. Often we don’t even know how to start. But most of us learned to walk, and to read, and to drive a car.
Because I teach and have done a lot of consulting for writers, I’ve watched a lot of people taking those first tentative steps toward being a writer. If you’ve always dreamed of being a writer, it can be truly scary to actually clear the desk and sit down to start writing. What if you can’t do it? What if you discover that writing is actually hard? Second confession: It is. What if the flowing sentences and stories you always imagined aren’t flowing? Third confession: We sometimes write for months to reach that amazing phase where things flow, but when they flow it is one of the world’s greatest highs. And it never would have happened if we hadn’t been in the chair, writing, when it hit. What if you discover that your first drafts read like “See Dick and Jane run?”
Well, the truth is that realizing dreams isn’t easy. But looking ahead, ask yourself which is better, to exit this life having lived fully and taken some chances or to have held your dreams tightly in your fist and never risked finding out if they could be realized?
When I was a kid, I was such an avid reader that I used to take twelve books out of the library every week. I’d read six on the weekend and the other six during the week. The library was my temple. Writers were amazing people. I was completely entranced by their ability to take me into another, imagined world and hold me there through the power of their storytelling. I haven’t changed much. I still find writers amazing and I’m still entranced when I pick up a book that keeps me from seeing “the bones” or analyzing what the writer is doing, when I don’t want to stop reading. After twenty-five years at the desk and with fourteen books and numerous short stories on the shelf, I’m still excited about writers and writing.
Back in those library days, I dreamed of being a writer.
Taking the chance of realizing that dream may not be easy. I was in the unpublished writer’s corner for eight years before I sold a book, and sustaining my faith and effort took most of my courage for a very long time. But lately I’ve been thinking that it’s time to start expanding the dream. I’ve been asking myself what else is important, what else do I want to try out? Do I want to write different things? Have different adventures? Learn new things to broaden my perspective and help me see the world differently? I’m finally old enough not to be embarrassed about trying to do things that I may not be good at. I sing like a crow, but sometime soon I’m going to hunt down someone who has compassion for crows and take singing lessons. You probably won’t find me sprawled sexily across a piano like Michelle Pfeiffer, as we age we have to be cautious about breaking our osteopenic bones, but I may yet croak with joy.
I dream of writing a competent screenplay, despite the daunting nature of Final Draft. Of writing the books I’m scared to write. I dream of learning to take an interesting photograph where the people in it aren’t red-eyed, or blurred, or carefully centered by the type of photographer who once worried about coloring inside the lines. I’m trying to learn to color outside the lines. To tap dance. To stop putting myself into a box.
So far, I’ve only managed to kick a few holes in the sides of the box, but light is getting in.
What have you always dreamed of? What are you afraid to do? What’s holding you back? What might change that?
As soon as we’ve decorated, cooked, decorated, cooked, undecorated, cleaned up, and rested, let’s start thinking about some new adventures. Dream it? Sure. But then why not do it?