Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Living the Dream

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?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. I'm pondering your question on the morning of my surgery. I wanted and dreamed that my husband and son would be close and be able to bond. When our son was little he and I were always together and with my husband at work it didn't always allow for one on one time.

    Along came cancer and and all that changed. I had to focus on myself and recovery and father and son had to learn to communicate. It's been almost 7 years later and though they are still working on it their relationship has truly evolved.

    Today I am looking at another time when I now have to focus on myself and they have to work together. Would I have hoped their relationship became stronger without my cancer, yes of course, but it didn't turnout that way. I am thankful for the life lessons they have learned and so blessed to have them both in my life.

    Next dream, being cancer free of course! : ) And perhaps finally sitting down to do some writing.

  2. Anjali, sending you love and healing energy. From this survivor to you. Much love from your friends at Stiletto Gang. I hope that the situation between your husband and your son improves as your health does. Please keep us posted. Maggiexo

  3. I am living my dream! Leaving a successful career as a CSI was difficult but this pursuit has made me a better person, writer, and humbled me in ways I never imagined. I have so much to learn but the challenges and struggles are what excite me. It may take a life-time of learning to make a living at this but the dream is fulfilled by the pursuit. Best of wishes to you Anjali, here's hoping for a speedy recovery from your surgery.

  4. Maggie, I've been living my dream ever since my first book was published in 1999 (after I'd had a number of manuscripts rejected through the years). I've been writing full-time since about 2005, which is like reaching another plateau on Cloud 9. Then I met Ed and fell madly in love, which was like living an entirely different and wonderful dream! So I can't complain. ;-)

    Anjai, sending you lots of positive energy from St. Louis! I'm a survivor, too, and someone just asked today what my goals are for the future. I said, to keep writing, to have more time with my husband, and to live a long and healthy life. Once you've been through a diagnosis and treatment, it changes you forever. Which is all to day that I wish for you a long and healthy life, too! Please, let us know how you're doing!

  5. Maggie, I was trying to think of something brilliant to follow up with, but you said all the brilliant stuff. Great post!

  6. Thanks, everyone! I'm glad I got across just how lucky I am to do both--write and work. It's crazy sometimes but it all seems to shake out at the end of the day. Maggie

  7. My best wishes to you, Angell. Hopefully, you will have a speedy and smooth recovery. I lived my dream for a long time-being a full time psychotherapist and continuing my training. Of course, I read a whole lot for fun, and I did loads of hand work to "balance" the headwork. Today, poor health limits my work, and my play. Fortunately, I still read voraciously and enjoy blogs like yours. I am grateful for every day, and all the human contact. And I still do laundry.

  8. Lil, if you're still doing laundry, you're doing great! It's these little things that keep us going, right? I hope your health improves, too. I'm so glad that you love to read. There's nothing better, is there? Maggiexo

  9. Oh, Maggie, I could have written this! Only it would not have been nearly so clever. I too, remember the days when I used to think that everything would change once I got published. And then being published brought along another set of goals/dreams, ie: to KEEP getting published. As the mother of 2 kids in college and one who still needs $ help from time to time, it feels like it will never end. And personally, I hope it doesn't because being busy means I'm alive and I'm working and I'm eternally grateful for everything I've been given. Even if it means dirty laundry :)

  10. And this is why I love the Stiletto Gang: like-minded writers and readers one and all. Maria, I love your outlook and your gratitude for what you've been given. We are all very lucky to be doing what we're doing and we can never forget that. Maggie

  11. Lil, we so enjoy you hanging out here with us! :-)

  12. Anjali - I am sending lots of positive vibes in your direction.

    Maggie - Funny, I've been thinking about this "living the dream" thing a lot with the new book coming out. When I was performing full time I thought I 'made it' when I landed my first professional lead. Yeah - not so much. Then I had to worry about the reviews and getting sick and so many other things that never seemed important until I ended up living through the dream. This topic kind of reminds me of fairy tales that end with "And they lived happily ever after". The characters in the fairy tales always achieve their dream at the end and that's where the story stops because no one really wants to talk about life after the dream. I guess maybe that's why we write. Someone needs to tell the story that comes after the fairy tale ends.

  13. Thank you so much for the kind words. I like reading your posts, and your attitudes. Certainly, I like your books!