Friday, June 27, 2014

"The jungle is dark but full of diamonds..."*

On a particularly piteous kind of day, I started hum-drumming about all my financial burdens and the creaky, leaky apartment that I share with two other people and the job I find duller than staple-gunning vinyl to chairs and then doing that same thing for 8 hours, when it dawned on me. I have been lied to. We all have, in fact. Forever. Now I'm sure this comes as no surprise to the misanthropes out there, but in this particular case I find it sort of unnecessary. To clarify, it isn't so much lying as just...not talking about certain things. So basically all politics everywhere, only not as tyrannical or soul-crushing. Mostly.

The lie of omission is essentially this: I don't think people realize how hard it is to pursue your dreams. Mostly because the people who actually do succeed in achieving them only really talk about the euphoria and the joy inherent in what they get to do now. And that's fine, they should talk about that because pointing out the silver-lining can only encourage other people to keep slogging through. But I've never been a rose-tinted-glasses kind of person. I'm no pessimist, either, but I'm not one to get lost in delusions of my own idealized reality. So while the success stories are good and serve a purpose, I think it's just as useful to talk about the struggle to get there. The After is a very pretty picture, but the Before is the more comforting image.

People setting out to pave their own way, following their dreams, choosing the road less traveled and all that jazz; they know there will be difficulty along the way. Pretty much comes with the territory. But what I don't think they realize, what I certainly didn't realize before joining the workaday world, is that the hard part isn't necessarily the steps directly related to attaining your dream-whatever. It's every other part of your life, all the time. And it isn't only the artists and writers and actors and musicians, the creatives and Bohemians. It could be starting your own business, designing your dream house, an invention you're trying to get off the ground or even just your ideal career. It's dragging yourself through schooling and shelling out your carefully saved pennies for tuition and supplies, it's massive amounts of debt and working odd jobs you hate because your field is bottle-necked and no one is hiring. It's the creepy-crawly feel of futility coloring all your small victories, the sweetness of a hard won comfortable life leaving a bitter tang in your mouth because none of it feels real yet, none of it is "your life."

And while dreams are always laudatory things, sought after and prized, there is never any discussion about how having a dream can be a double-edged sword. On the one side it's passion, drive, gives you direction and something to aim for, puts up rudders for you to steer your life by. But for those who aren't able to realizes their dreams, or even those who struggle for years and years to get there, the effect it can have on their perception of life is...disappointing. Hope can be dangerous when it is constantly beaten down. There is no despair if you never expected better to begin with, and having that One True Calling that never manages to break into the real world can be its own exquisite form of masochism. Just ask Willy Lowman.

But that isn't to say dreams are an evil. I'm just saying they need to be approached realistically. Don't work yourself into a corner, refusing to take minimum wage jobs because working at McDonald's so you can feed and shelter yourself will somehow cheapen your "craft." The starving artist is a lovely romantic ideal and that's great and all, but do you know what the starving artist actually is? Hungry. The starving artist is living off ramen they heated up over a garbage fire because they're actually squatting, have no heat, and no one's around to enforce fire codes. The cast of RENT is a prime example. They were all "dedicated to their craft" and what happened to them? Couldn't afford their rent (spoiler alert!), became truants, half of them had AIDS or drug addictions or both, and the most talented one of the bunch dies before the end. Take all the sweeping rock-opera numbers out and you are left with a fairly tragic grumble of people who, at the end of the day, have basically nowhere to go. Gainful employment is not conceding to the man. It's being a functioning goddamn member of society.

So I guess the message for today is yes, go out there, dream big, refuse to settle for second-rate or less than your best. But understand that there are steps that have to be taken, that just about everyone has to take before they can get to the point where they can do what they really want. Don't back-burner your dreams by any means, because like as not you'll just keep putting them off until one day you're a failed salesman with a dismal home life and you're rolling your inadequate car off the road so your loved ones can collect on your life insurance policy. No one needs that drama. But do go into life knowing that there will be drudgery, expecting it, embracing it, so it doesn't catch you completely off-guard when the time comes to join the great cesspool of iniquity and doubt that is early adulthood. It took me off-guard, and that's why I sit in a tiny grey cubicle musing on existential crises. Never fear, though, I won't be pulling a Death of a Salesman anytime soon.

I don't even own a car.

*Quote from Death of a Salesman