Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Drugging the Munchkin

I want an audience, but not so they’ll clap for me. It took me about three decades to figure this out. But back in my teenage years, I wanted to be Billy Joel playing to stadiums full of screaming fans. I wanted an audience, but I didn’t realize why. I thought it was for the accolades of all those people loving my music.

Maybe the dreams of the young are the answer. Could it be they project images of what we really need, if a little out of focus? Teenagers, to me, are the most honest form of human. They know what their souls need – they just have a hard time making sense of how to get to it. They just don’t have the intellectual mojo to decipher the messages the emotions are sending in hormone-drenched code.

Sometimes, we never figure out what our souls need – and we deal with this in a whole lot of ways. One way is to give up the dreams, dismissing them as silly, youthful obsessions – we’re more mature than that. This can be tragic.

Can anyone honestly say they don’t wish they could have been what they dreamed of in youth? Is there a salesman out there who wouldn’t rather have been a pro baseball player? Is there a mail-carrier in the world who wouldn’t rather have been a detective, like she imagined while lying in bed at night? I’m guessing a lot of people who have smugly snuggled up to the “real world” know the truth of this. But you gotta eat . . .

So we do what we have to. We give up the dreams for “practicality”. Why do we feel we have to do that? Because for some reason, we think the dream ain’t the dream if it doesn’t match the projection. But it isn’t necessarily so. At least not down deep.

One day, in a high school classroom, while I was teaching a literature course, the kids really picked up on what I was saying – the discussion really affected them – and it felt, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, like the top of my head had been lifted off and my soul was flying around the room. I felt literally high. I realized it wasn’t accolades I wanted from my audience, it was connection. Connecting with others in communication (whether artistic or verbal) is a way for me to “plug in” and recharge my spirit. I feel it when I’m on stage sometimes (all too rarely). I feel it when I’m just having a great conversation or when someone really “gets” my music. See, I had it right when I was a teenager, I just didn’t see that there was more to it.

I only figured this out by not tossing the dream away as nonsense – by, in a sense, not growing up too much. I did what I needed to and “got a job”, but the music and the writing never disappeared. I still need them as much as I ever did, but now I don’t feel the only way to get satisfaction is to play in front of a stadium crowd. (Ironically, once, I did get to play in front of 20,000 and it was kind of a letdown. Could this be why there are so many unhappy famous people?)

I guess at some point we all need to look closely at our teenage dreams. Maybe we wanted to be ballplayers because we take joy in motion and love being outside, but we mistook our desire for wanting to be rich and famous. Maybe we wanted to be detectives because we simply love solving problems, but we mistook this for wanting to carry a badge and a gun and be “important,” moving around in movie shadows. My point is that there are a lot of ways we can “move” and “solve problems” – and connect. We just need to uncover them by refusing to give up the quest -- not for our dreams but for the payoff of our dreams really offer; for what our dreams represent about us.

I don’t think it is ever too early or too late to uncover their real meanings.

Of course, none of this means any of us can walk around twenty-four hours a day grinning like a drugged munchkin. That just doesn’t happen. But continual happiness would be lame, don’t you think?


  1. Excellent insight. Looking forward to more of these.

  2. I returned from a rushed shopping trip, running late as usual. I had never closed out your blog so of course greedy reader that I am, I had to glance at your page once more. So instead of getting ready for the 12 Junior Girl Scouts about to descend upon my home to begin our baking frenzy, here I sit writing on your blog instead of cleaning and preparing for the onslaught of messy minors. I figure what the heck they're only going to wreck the place again anyway : )

    As for your post I couldn't agree more. Connection is 100% the key in my eyes!! Although for me those teen dreams tend to take a back seat not so much because, "I've gotta eat," as it seems to be, "I've gotta feed the kids - both stomach and spirit."

    I think we're much closer here than Mars and Venus although I don't for a moment believe we all give up on our dreams. I tend to "shelf" mine and from time to time I take it down, dust it off, play around with it until the laundry whistle blows or the insistent beeping of the school bus interrupts the wandering of my imagination.

    Something else to consider is that some times dreams change. Take a boy who might once have dreamed of becoming the next Evel Knievel. That is until one day he breaks a bone or climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, glances around and realizes hmmm... that's a loooong way down. Now talk to that same boy, a few years and a college degree later and he'll probably have a whole slew of new aspirations.

    I do see your point although it’s tough to completely relate since maybe I just never chose to allow myself to have too many dreams as a teen. Reality was all I could handle at the time. To say I had a difficult youth would be like saying King Kong is a little large for a gorilla. I never saw myself as getting married or having kids. There was no doubt in my teenage mind that if I did I would most definitely screw them up but good; and yet here I am (and since you've met me and 2 of my 4 kids, I'll let you be the judge there :-)

    Whether you could call writing an actual dream of mine, I can't be certain. It's just something I've always utilized as more of an outlet. Okay so maybe I've had a "fuzzy wish" for someone to discover the genius I never knew was there : ) or maybe more to the point to simply appreciate and enjoy what I had to say.

    Who knew I had all this to say? Maybe I need a blog of my own... NOT!! Okay if this is a bit scattered I hope you can connect all of my crazy dots. I’ve only had about 10 minutes to get this all out and as I predicted in paragraph 3 Danielle and Domenic’s school bus is about to beckon.

    Keep writing, you’re incredibly talented. Thanks for inviting me in… are you sorry yet? : )

  3. Not sorry at all! Every comment only deepens the understanding we all get out of things . . . This isn't about me preaching, it's about opening a conversation. The more the merrier! Thanks!

  4. I really enjoyed this post, perhaps because I can relate so strongly. Throughout high school, and college, and even now, I have constantly re-evaluated my goals in life (like I think any breathing human being does).

    For a long while, I was very conflicted over my chosen career path. Sure, I enjoyed medicine, but I loved music. Should I be a musician? I loved video games. Should I become a designer? I loved drawing. Should I become an artist? And so on, and so on.

    I eventually came to the realization, however, that we shouldn't pursue our careers in the hopes that they will somehow "give" us happiness. That's not the purpose of a career. The great secret, I think, is that if we look at things properly, we can DERIVE happiness from the things we do. It's not easy, but it is fulfilling.

    Sure, being a doctor isn't the most artistic job on the planet, but I'll be damned if there's something more rewarding than knowing that you're helping people when they need it. That goes for a lot of other careers as well. Also, it's challenging, and interesting. Not a bad place to be in life, I think.

    But I know that I enjoy my art, and my music, and my other interests. Thankfully, there's room for those things in life, too, if we make room for it. And yeah, perhaps a career might be the WORST possible place to explore those interests geniunely; I'd rather explore them in a place divorced from the pressures of "making it".

    So then maybe we should be shifting our focus. Perhaps instead of teaching students to find a job they will like, perhaps we should be teaching them to find a job that's challenging, rewarding, and positively affects society, and they can learn to find enjoyment in it. Furthermore, we should be teaching students how to properly manage their "free time" as well, so as not to stifle all of their other childhood dreams as well.

  5. Astoundingly well-said, Nick. I couldn't agree more.