Time was, long ago, before I was published, that I thought that once I had a book out, everything would be perfect. (It’s the same thought process that tells me that if I just weighed twenty pounds less, well, the laundry would do itself, I would always have on the perfect outfit, and my kids would do their homework the second they walked through the door.) I would have attained my dream and the birds would sing and all would be well. It wasn’t until I was on my third book, or maybe closer to my fourth, that I realized that living the dream meant something completely different that what I had envisioned.
I was at lunch the other day with a large group, sitting alongside a woman who is writing her memoir. She asked me, “so what is it like now that you’ve achieved your dream of being a writer?” I looked at her, and very thoughtfully said, “Here’s the thing. When you have a dream and you achieve it, you have to live the dream in the context of your reality.” And then I wondered why nobody from the Oprah show had ever called me to be a guest because that sentence alone a) sounded like something I had heard on one of her “Live Your Best Life” shows and b) didn’t sound like me at all.
But the more I thought about it, and what a horse’s rear end I sounded like, I realized that there was a kernel of truth there. It’s putting all of the pieces together around the achievement that’s hard. It’s living day to day when you think things should be a certain way and they’re not that’s challenging. That’s why a “dream”—a word whose synonym is also “vision”—is exactly that: it is never what you think it’s going to be. Fortunately, while living this dream, I’m not naked and I’m not being chased by people with no heads, two situations that dominate my regular nocturnal dreams.
I have dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. I wrote stories and novels and poems from the time I was small. Curiously, they all had dead bodies at the center, but that’s a post for a different time. And now that I am a writer—and those of you who read this blog regularly know that it has taken me far too long to admit that I actually am a writer and not just a “freelance college textbook editor”—I run into people all the time who ask me what it’s like to be a writer and how I feel about attaining what has long been a dream for me. They are often surprised to find out that I still work full time or that I don’t have a regular writing schedule. Writers, it would seem, don’t have regular jobs and spend every day, from eight to two or some other reasonable time frame, writing.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in the real world.
I was at a family party a few weeks ago and a relative of my husband asked me why I continued to work full time if I was a “successful writer.” I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to say, “because my kids like to eat” because she was genuinely interested and not passing judgment on my doing both. So, I explained the vagaries of the publishing world and e-books and royalties and advances and such until her eyes glazed over and she was sorry she ever asked. (That’ll learn ya.) Thing is, we live in an expensive part of the country and we’ve got a kid going to college in a mind-numbingly close eleven months and those textbooks don’t come cheap. Just ask me—that’s my day job. But the truth is that the joy I get from writing can’t be measured in dollars (thank God) and despite not having a “writerly existence,” I am still living the dream of putting pen to paper every day (or fingertips to keyboard, as the case may be) in between dealing with smelly soccer socks and a garbage bin that smells suspiciously like death and water that seeps into the basement at the first sign of drizzle.
None of this is a complaint. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the older I get, the less wise I seem to become, and the more surprised I am on a daily basis. I wonder if I’ll ever be that full-time writer who labors in my attic, only to emerge at a decent hour to continue thinking about plot, structure, and characters while drinking a whimsical white Rioja, but then I remember that if I did that, no one would have clean soccer socks.
And we don’t want that.
Tell me, Stiletto readers, what dream have you attained in your life and how has it been different from what you imagined?