Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Live the Dream or Merely Dream

For the past two days this blog has idled in its subject matter, all the posts have been about Bones, that will not be the case today. Instead, I think that I would like to begin a discussion on a theme which will continue for the remainder of the week. Certainly, it will be the focus of my post today. That subject is the disconnect between "Living the Dream" and "Merely Dreaming."

What do I mean by "Living the Dream?" As you might have guessed, it deals with having a job in some creative/entertainment field. A professional baseball player, minor league on up, is living the sporting dream. The struggling rock band playing at a local dive bar is living the rock and roll dream. The author who slavishly writes stories and books with the hopes that they will sell, is living the literary dream. You get the picture. Naturally, in all of these cases the more successful the person is in their professional field the more of the dream they are living. But what I mean by living the dream is the actual taking of the risks and making of effort to actually attempt to succeed at a desired entertainment profession.

This is opposed to "Merely Dreaming." A mere dreamer is the person who goes to batting cages, buys baseball cards, and carefully monitors his Orosco Number, but who never even tries out for independant baseball. It is the girl who sings in the shower knowing that a famous record producer is going to call and she doesn't have to put in any effort. It is the "idea man" who has hundreds of great story ideas that he never shares with anyone or bothers to jot down on paper. The "mere dreamer" is the person who expects to be discovered and handed the dream, but who doesn't put in any effort.

This may all sound very hard on the dreamer. After all, it is important for all of us to be able to fantasize about being a professional athlete, rockstar, or writer. Fantasies help us deal with the stress of our day to day lives. That is not the kind of mere dreamer to whom I am referring, that would describe everyone. I am pointing out the person who knows they "deserve" to be a superstar.

There are also those who want to succeed, and don't know how. There are those who find the prospect of trying daunting or even frightening. Where do they fit in? They aren't "living the dream," but they aren't "merely dreamers." They are in a kind of goal limbo. An acquaintance and I were having a discussion about life and I asked her what her brother was currently doing.

Since I work for a non-profit devoted to youth civic engagement, I often find myself talking with young adults just deciding their potential careers. I also am presumptuous and typically decide to give my own, obviously invaluable and correct, advice on "how to succeeed."

My acquaintance told me that her brother wanted to do computer graphics work on video games or become a professional, but that he was currently not studying it in school or anything. I responded with my typical two-fold answer. First, college isn't necessary for every occupation particularly artistically oriented ones. Sure it can be helpful in programming etc., but a real "computer genius" could be self-taught. Second, that too many young people think they have to hurry into life and often rush into bad decisions.

Lord knows, I did. I spent 3+ years as a 21/Craps dealer, not going to school, because I thought it would be a good paying career choice. It can be, but it was misery for me. In fact, I was a "mere dreamer" when it came to being a college student for a time. I claimed to be a student when I hadn't been for a couple of years. I was dreaming, but not making effort to return to school.

The young woman followed up my responses with a very simple statement. "Well, actually, he just spends a lot of time playing World of Warcraft, and he doesn't even draw anymore." Boom! Instant "mere dreamer," right?

Not so fast. Given her brother's youth, he is twenty, there is hope for the young man yet. Sometimes there is a tendency to make even slight obstacles seem epic. When I dropped out of college for four years, returning to school seemed an absolute impossibility. So I didn't even try for a few years. It wasn't until I met the woman who is now my wife that I was able to see how easy it was to get back into school. We weren't dating at the time, we were just friends, but she was a subtle inspiration and constant reminder of possibility.

So I gave my third piece of advice, this for my acquaintance. Don't worry. Be supportive and discuss realistic ways to a career path. When one only looks at the end goal, in this case being the person who designs the next World of Warcraft equivalent success, it seems impossible and is hugely demoralizing to the beginner. Instead, I offered, talk to him about his drawings. See if he is interested in cartooning. If he still is have him draw some single panel jokes based on op-eds written in small local papers. When he gets about thirty, have him send them in to those same local papers asking if they need a cartoonist or illustrator. It won't pay a lot, but it will build a resume and give good experience. Of course, then he will also be..."living the dream!"

I should offer that the advice I gave is basically a description of how John Kovalic and Patrick McDonell, among others, got their start.

But that's not where my advice comes from, no it comes from watching my wife. You see, one of the things that was so inspiring about her was that she was able to live off of money she was being paid as an illustrator for two local papers and the university newspaper. She wasn't making much money at all, but she was making just enough to live with 3 roommates as long as her scholarships kept paying for school. She wrote a romance novel as her Master's thesis, and directed a neat 8 minute romantic comedy as her MFA thesis for film school. My wife is "living the dream." It is a true inspiration to watch and it started with very small steps.
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