Monday, November 05, 2007

Hanging on to dreams

I'm gonna live forever
I'm gonna learn how to fly

I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry

I'm gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame

I'm gonna live forever
Baby remember my name

--Irene Cara, Fame

The 1980s film Fame was on Satellite last night. I remember watching it when it first came out and being fired up about the potential of my life. Now rewatching it for the umpteenth time when I am almost 50, I found the movie dated, trite and at the very best maudlin. Of course I'm sure this would be the case if I rewatched any film from the 80s, even such classics as Footloose and Flashdance.

I know that being middle aged jades me a bit. It is easy in your 20s to hold onto the fantasy that you are special and destined for greatness. But one need only look at the careers of the talented young stars of Fame to put things in perspective. I couldn't tell you what a single one of them did since that movie. Fame was literally fleeting for them (though Irene Cara did co-write the theme for Flashdance before spiraling into oblivion).

Want to make some wine out of those sour grapes, you ask? Okay, I'll admit that I used to be a passionate young man filled with dreams of changing the world. I assumed that I would do that with my writing. So I identified with those overachievers in the movie Fame, hopping around composing songs about the school cafeteria while dancing on the tables. Now I look at that scene in the movie and feel sorry for the poor custodian who has to clean up the mess.

Now that I can put aside my youthful optimisim, I realize that the truth is there are millions of people out there who don't have the luxury of basking in the glory of their artistic talents. When push comes to shove in the real world, talent doesn't always pay the rent. So little by little, you bend your dreams to fit reality.

In the real world, very few people make a living as a writer, musician or artist. Those who do are the ones that learn to play the game and produce what sells. I remember standing in line years ago at the University Bookstore in Seattle's U-District waiting to meet author Mark Helprin who was promoting his latest project, an illustrated book for children based on the ballet Swan Lake. Helprin was the author of Winter's Tale, a magical book I loved that I was sure that could only have been drafted by a extraterrestrial. It is an amazing, spiritually inspiring book. I didn't really want a copy of Swan Lake, but I wanted the opportunity to meet Helprin and stand in the presence of greatness. I figured he would recognize that I was talented young upcoming author and pass on some words of wisdom.

When I got to the head of the line, I looked around for Helprin, imagining this heroic figure bathed in divine aura. Instead there was this diminuative guy in a chair behind a table. He had thinning hair and coke bottle glasses. He didn't even look up when I stammered, "hello." He grabbed a copy of Swan Lake off from a stack next to him, opened it up and carefully wrote his name and the date. Then he dutifully noted the sale on a sheet of paper and handed me the book. Before he could move on to the next person and the next sale, I blurted out, "Do you mind signing a copy of Winter's Tale?" I had a dog eared copy in my pocket.

Helprin paused, and then looked up at me wearily and said (without feeling), "I'd love to. Do you have a copy?" I pulled out the book and handed it to him. He opened it up methodically the way he had opened up Swan Lake and signed his name and dated it. Then he handed it back and looked over my shoulder to the next paying customer. I walked away dejected.

The significance of this to me was that despite my romantic fantasy about what the life of a bestselling author would be like, the reality was, Helprin was just trying to make a living. He may have had a certain amount of limited fame in the literary world, but bottom line is you can't spread fame on bread and have it for lunch.

So applying this to my own life, I have realized that, although you may have certain talents for writing, singing, playing an instrument or dancing, you still have to survive. That entails acknowledging that the world doesn't owe you anything just because you can carry a tune or paint a picture. Sometimes you just have to work for what you need.

This is not to say you shouldn't nurture your talents. Because there is nothing that says that you can't light up the sky in your spare time after taking care of business. Even us jaded, middle-aged guys have to hang on to some dreams.


Hayden said...

I grew up poor. I always knew that first you put dinner on the table, and then see what you've got time for when that is done. All of my favorite artists died unknown. So I guess I always associated greatness with anonymity, and this craziness for fame seems to celebrate the shallow. I mean, come on. Paris Hilton is famous. Thats enough to make me crawl under the bed and hide!

Anonymous said...

I think under usual circumstances your view could be misconstrued, as you called it, "jaded." It does not come across like that to me. You probably think you wandered off your path to greatness, but reading between the lines, I believe you found the real path. True greatness is not something that sparkles or makes money most days. I believe greatness can be found in a burrito my Father lovingly made me one morning for breakfast or my son saying to me, through mouthfuls of french fries, "I happy, Mommy."

I remember the movie "Say Anything." In one scene John Cusack's character is showing his two best girl friends a love letter he has written. After reading the letter out loud and seemingly affected by his simplistic expression of love, one of the friends turns to him, smiles wide and says, "Get ready for greatness, Lloyd." I have seen that scene numerous times and heard that line and it never gets old. Greatness can even be found in a high school love letter.

Great post, Tim.

Karen said...

Great talent mostly remains undiscovered I have always felt. Very few people get their name up in lights but it doesn't make their talents any less wonderful. In fact, people who become famous for their talent or just the talent of being famous (insert Paris Hilton here) often have to sell their soul to remain that way. I'd rather be anonymous personally and as for you Tim....I hope we always get to keep you for ourselves. I'd hate to see you sell out. I admire your writing talent immensely for what it's worth.

Time said...

Very good point. Perhaps true greatness isn't recognized until after you die. There is hope for me yet! :)

Miss Bliss,
As Hayden points out, fame doesn't necessarily equate to greatness (Dog the Bounty Hunter being the notable exception). I suppose in our children's eyes, we are the celebrities.

I sold out a long time. I just didn't sell out for enough :) And thank you for liking my writing. But you are the one who will soon be famous. I've never known anyone who appeared on a television program.

Anonymous said...

How succinctly you've summed up my latest realization. I miss those days of dreaming that once my kids were grown I'd have the time to write and promote my work for a living. The reality is that even with time, even with half a dozen finished manuscripts, its very hard to break in.

Time said...

Don't give up the dream Kat. You are a talented writer. Just promise to send me a signed copy of your first published novel. Please don't make me stand in line :)

JP (mom) said...

Fame ... I remember how inspired and magical I felt when first watching that movie. I now know that we achieve greatness in different ways (very few are publically recognized). I would hazard a guess that one day your daughter will be asked who her hero is - and it won't be a movie star, famous author or nobel prize winner ... I bet it will be her dad. Now that's greatness! Peace, JP/deb

Whitesnake said...

I wrote something a few posts ago giving my view on a realist and a dreamer.
Ya see the thing is, to be a dreamer you have to be a realist. If you are a realist you can't be a dreamer!
You get screwed both ways.

To have dreams is a wonderful thing. You think you sold out huh?

Write a post just after Christmas the first Christmas with your little girl, then tell me just for a few moments ya dreams all came true!

Time said...

What a wonderful thing to say. Thank you! I appreciate that.

It is a paradox, isn't it. Is it possible to be a realistic dreamer, though?

Whitesnake said...

All dreams are realistic or have a realistic outcome that is possible.

Go back to all those that have conquered mountains in whatever they attempted. Without dreams we are lost.

This year has been good to you. Your dreams of having a child to love and care for have come to pass.

Now tell me again that you REALLY sold out!

As much as we think we have had enough and we want to give in, we find a reason to go on. From somewhere we find the strength to take on whatever lays ahead. Simply because we are dreamers.
Believe it or not...........

R. said...

For me it wasn't so much that I wanted fame - just recognition and some sort of encouragement to excel at what I'm good at.

I learned that the "follow your dreams" spiel was primarily for people who didn't have dreams (I think you mentioned that realization in another blog entry.) It really meant "follow these prescribed social roles and you'll at least have something to preoccupy your higher facilities in what is an otherwise base animal existence."

I learned that most of the time no one will care unless they can somehow deride my efforts.

I recently learned that the only way I'll excel is to excel - even if it means pushing mind and body to uncomfortable limits.

I learned that if you compete, you will lose, so it's best to compete to win - that way your win was earned and your loss was meaningful.

Time said...

I don't think I sold out in my personal life. I have a wonderful wife and now an amazing daughter. It is professionally that I sold out. I am reminded that everytime I sign something and realize that is 90 percent of my job...signing things.

Well stated, and great insights.