I was having a goodbye drink with my friend some months ago, she was moving away from the place she’d grown up in her whole life to start a new job. I asked about things she learned and will hold with her as she embarks on this new era of her life. She went through all the people close to her and tenderly recounted what they had taught her. In each person she swiftly struck to the center of their protruding values. Lastly she told me what I had taught her; “from you I learned how valuable it is to have dreams”. These may seem to be cheesy, sweet and innocuous parting words, but they winded me quicker than any other sentence shot in my direction had before. This exchange came at a time when I was trying to talk myself down from my dream because its loftiness too often facilitated disappointment. I had spent years at this point feeling like I was crawling over broken glass in pursuit of it. I was fed up. I was biding my time for an opportunity to sit still and pick the glass outta my palms and knees. I felt the need not only to recuperate from disappointment, but to recover from my dream and reform myself into a person who had more regard for practicality. That opportunity to sit still came when ‘Corona-Lisa’ dug its claws into the world.
Lockdown gives you a lot of space to think. While holed up at my parents’ house in a small coastal town, in between sessions of freaking myself out by watching the news, I thought about the nature of dreams. Their volume, their depth, their shape. What part of the body they come from. Where they’re stored and how they manage to maintain their presence at the corners of consciousness so ubiquitously. If I wasn’t some big success from having faithfully followed my dreams, just like TV taught me to, I petulantly wondered what the hell the point of them was. So the question: why should anyone bother with dreams, when there’s no guarantee they’ll ever be realized? Due to the combination of being a cornball sentimentalist and finding myself with an increased inventory of time on my hands, I thought I may as well take a stab at my own version of an answer.
There is something divinely combustible that takes place when your sensorium reacts to a headlong collision with something that stills you for the first time. Something that rips through your atmosphere and causes you to be nowhere except for exactly where you are, and to be no one aside from precisely yourself, making a planet of your mind and a fire of your belly. Struck upside the head by starbursts of cognizance, you are delivered with the knowledge of what it feels like to care about something passionately. And in this kinetic burst that seems to eclipse all else, an ostensible purpose in life materializes and drips into your rapidly awakening eyes. This is the planting of the seed. This is the ‘getting’ of a great passion. In this a symbiotic dynamic hatches, you are the organism forming and the passion is the root that hosts you. With your brain fully lit, attention fully arrested and sincerity fully administered, a compulsion arises to risk a great deal for that passion, to sidle up closer to this thing that makes you feel alive. This thing that makes you feel full when you first become aware you were missing something. We’ve got a world filled to the brim with a surfeit of possible paths to take, places to go, and versions of yourself to be. That’s where being deeply passionate about something comes in handy; it condenses the multitudes, making the largeness of life easier to navigate, giving you a clue where to start. Naming this passion your ‘dream’ gives it a type of infrastructure, while still under development; you gain a receptacle for the energy.
The narrative of following and successfully achieving one’s dream has had a perennial allure in pop culture because it has been portrayed as an effective mortal means to evade vanishing and remain in some way corporeal. This formula is triggered by the belief that being able to clutch what it is we are reaching out for sews us more securely into our own presence on earth. Eternally faced with the inevitability of biting the big one, the headiness of feeling tangible amongst so much everyday emptiness promises a lot. It tantalizes us with the possibility of amounting to more than a constellation of dissolving memories. It promises a defense against an insignificant life. So in terms of the archetypal pursuit of dreams, fear and success are enmeshed. Fear is the motivator needed for external displays of success to become necessary in verifying the validity of a dream. If a dream is the infrastructure of a great passion, the requirement of external success is its particularly anal building inspector.
Allowing your head to plug into fear, whether it’s if your dream will ever be achieved, or whether others are judging if your dream is a worthy investment of your time and attention, is a common obstacle loaded with the potential to defeat the parts of you that benefit from having a dream. However, when you view your dream as being just for you, rooted in the passion it’s based on, and not as a vehicle to display yourself or beget external forms of validation, you gain an ineffaceable and quiet form of success. A success emancipated from fear. Dreams can be instrumental in the fortification of spirit, bringing you closer to an authentic self. Following this sentiment, a worthwhile draw in having a dream isn’t necessarily to have it realized, but rather to have yourself realized. All that passion, all that caring, all that wanting, all those wishes whispered into the dark and all those prayers sent heavenward congregate in your skull and hurtle up from your subconscious, revealing you to yourself. So you put the work in. You roll your sleeves up, milk the grease from your elbows and toil. And get knocked down repeatedly.
Jim Carrey and Nietzsche
Nietzsche (yep bringing out the big guns) was big on ‘self-overcoming’, believing that growth fulfilled the central desire of life. In order to achieve growth, Nietzsche believed it is imperative to have a great passion; “that something is a hundred times more important than the question of whether we feel well or not: basic instinct of all strong natures…In sum, that we have a goal for which one does not hesitate…to risk every danger, to take upon oneself whatever is bad and worst: the great passion.” In Nietzsche’s stance, obstacles one comes across in the pursuit of a dream are not only unavoidable but necessary if you want to obtain growth. So while the toil that laces the pursuit of a dream will offer up resistances that bite off chunks of time, ego and peace of mind, it also offers up opportunities for elevation. So in all the times you will have your ass, teeth and heart handed to you, you’ll never be left without some form of lesson nudging you in the direction of growth, which as Nietzsche decrees “is life itself .” While growth as a pay-off may not be as enticingly packaged as more widely extolled things like fame or riches, it serves to adrenalize a feeling of satisfaction that cements you into your skin and spirit.
In the midst or ‘Rona’s’ reign, uncertainty feels like it rules now more than ever. As the pursuit of dreams is usually tailed by an element of risk, it feels like the environment in which to pursue them will grow more inhospitable. The toiling, as seems to be its purpose, will endure and escalate and push at your ability to care. But it can also be noticed that the rarified air of the current climate offers a chance to breathe and reclaim purchase on the portions of life to slice fear away from. With the economy headed the way it is, we could see Covid-19 impact 195 million jobs. It will become harder than ever for me and many others to get jobs we don’t even want in areas we have no interest in. Before ‘Rona’ hit, a job in an area I didn’t particularly care for felt like the impending practical choice if I was to pack my dream away and sync up with the value systems of ‘proper’ adult life. This Jim Carrey quote always rattles somewhere in me; “you could fail at doing what you don’t want, so you might as well do what you love. ” Well, with everything closed or going out of business I can’t even score a job at the local pub right now. I’m starting to find that when all the noise of regular life is paused, whatever it is you’re passionate about remains. Seems there is a decision to be made, one that will have to be made over and over again, on whether or not to allow the fear that comes with uncertainty to win over passion.
I’ve spent much of my time worrying about time. Wanting to have and be certain things by certain ages. Success and time always seemed to be inextricably linked in this way, with time wasted resulting in success being pushed further away. A future without any guarantee of success cultivates unease and uncertainty. The strain of which can puncture many corners of a life. But it occurs to me, that it is this incessant measuring of time that is actually what ends up eating so much of it. Throughout the time that I’ve been pursuing my dream I carried with me the fear of populating the world with another person who’s too lost, too lazy, too tired, and too angry to go after what they passionately care about. It seems that when a person ignores something that tugs at their sense of wonderment, the world gets fuller with people who bear chips the size of planets on their shoulders. And so, equipped with the fear of becoming one of them, I let myself get tired. And tiredness is dangerous, it leads to giving up. It’s important to continue nurturing the passion that motivates the dream. So take breaks, hibernate, whether there’s a global pandemic forcing you to or not. Just keep it alive, let it keep you full and keep it yours.
It’s important to pay attention to what you pay attention to. Attention can function as an umbilical cord to the universe, in that the more attention you pay to things you actually care about; the more you get coaxed out of yourself and into the moment you’re occupying. It’s a means of feeling felt, providing a form of analgesic for disappearing from time after you’ve lived it. Lives can pass by far too easily. You turn your head for a second and the meteorite shoots by without your notice. Realize if you’re doing something you care about, find meaning in, makes you happy, no one can tell you you’re not successful. Realize that the definition of success is malleable, adaptable to whatever you decide for yourself it is. Realize that time can be seen in the same way if you so choose. Realize disappointment is an unavoidable ghost of caring passionately about something. Realize how awesome it is to care about anything in the first place. Because in caring, giving a shit, getting woken up, and recognizing a great passion, a dream, that’s just for you, you get equipped with imperishable ways to connect to your life. So much living goes on amidst the pursuit of dreams; it makes it difficult to see what life is without one. It may all still flash by, but your head will be straight, your jaw will be slack, your eyes pinned; the meteorite congratulates your attention.