"Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly."
When we were children, our imagination enabled us to dream without consequence. We were able to play with the full force of enthusiasm, fueled by this imagination we had discovered. Remember? Many of us didn't even want to come in at night, because our 'dreaming' had taken us to a land that seemingly had no limitations.
"When I was eleven years old, I could be anything I wanted to be, and anyone I dared to be."
If we were given the freedom to be outside, we invented games that went on for days, and covered miles, until we had exhausted every possibility, every derivative, every detail of one simple idea. If we were lucky, there were adults who encouraged this kind of wild imaginative play, and this was the magic that became 'a childhood'. Of course, there were always the circumstances that drew us home to the reality we found ourselves in, the world of adults who had long since left childhood and were dealing with the big things that adults have to deal with. If our circumstances were dire or unpleasant, there was even a greater cause to look to our imagination, which could fuel our need to escape and dream of a better place. Whatever the reason, even for children with unpleasant circumstances, the imagination allowed us respite from our lives and circumstance in a world managed by adults.
As we grew older, we are met with some harsh realities. In our teens, we are encouraged to 'get a job', so that we can learn responsibilities, and of course, learn what we must do to survive. As it says in Corinthians, "When I was a child, I thought as I child, I spoke as a child, when I became a man, I put away childish things." I distinctly remember this passage on a poster in my cousin's bedroom, it was in reference to the war in Viet Nam, and the directive was clear, when you grow up, you can do things like go to war. I remember staring at this poster often, trying to figure out what it meant. Its clear now, grow up and be somebody, leave the imagination in childhood.
When I taught high school, I was very lucky to teach in an arts high school, where imagination was still encouraged. I always noticed the difference between the students who had left the world of the imagination, and the students who still had some freedom to dream and play, an art school the perfect place. For the ones who could be present in this latter state of mind, an arts school offered them a last vestibule of dreaming, a last safe place they could be until they ventured off into the world. If they had really good parenting, they could sustain a little longer to the more rigorous structure of college, still advancing their idealism, forming their opinions, and having softer places to land while still employing their imaginations. For so many, however, the dreaming ended and the road of the imagination did not rise to meet them. For so many, survival had already begun to jade them. Art was not a practical or real way to survive, and so many had no choice but to turn away from the creative process. Early pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, crime, etc. became symptoms of an inability to cope with the tougher realities of living. Although there were always exceptions to these rules, (I'm not trying to generalize) this was my experience, this is what I learned as I observed.
"A dream deferred makes the heart sick." Proverbs.
Of course, in an art school, or school in general for that matter, there were students whose parents had wealth to sustain them while they were learning these survival mechanisms. If they were really lucky, they were allowed to continue dreaming as big as they wanted. If they were even luckier still, a talent was discovered early, that was nurtured, praised, and encouraged. (I'm not suggesting that this talent is relegated to the art world only, I'm only suggesting that this nurturing is not available to all children or teenagers.)
As a teacher, I believed in nurturing the imagination rather than killing it to serve survival, and I suppose, one has to be taught to find some balance in this scale, still, it is astounding to assess how many dreams are brought down under the oppressive nature of life's rules. What happens to us? Remember the love generation? The generation who believed that together we could change the world? What happened to that generation that sought to re-write the book of rules? Oh, life happened. Jobs happened. Insurance happened. Security happened. All of it to sustain something we perceived as a happy life. Then why is there so much unhappiness? Why and when did we stop dreaming and sharing in a collective vision? When did the individual's desire supersede the collective thinking and dreaming of a group of people?
Rather than all preaching and no practice, I left my teaching career, and made a decision to put into action what I was teaching. What is the reality? It is hard. However, it is also liberating. Like most dreams, the intersection between survival and the imagination is a tricky one. We have terms like, 'delusions of grandeur' that cause us to doubt. We have all the trappings of capitalism, which tell us whether we are successful, or not. We live in a society where the self-esteem is systematically destroyed. We live in a society that seeks to diminish the motivation of our hunger. There are a million distractions that cause us to lose our way. For a short period of time, usually in our late teens or early twenties, we can be swayed by the ideas that history taught us and a notion of thinking globally, but this quickly gives way to what a capitalistic society teaches us, that we are assessed by our material wealth. Our outward seal classifies us.
Do I really believe all of this? I only believe it as far as my thoughts will take me. Apparently, this is where my experience and thoughts are leading me. I must have some belief in it to write about it, and frankly, it sometimes scares me to think this way, to let come out my ideas and thoughts. I think it scares most of us, to really think and say what is bubbling inside of us. Why? Because I am taught that I must suppress my ideals, especially as I grow older. I need to stop all this nonsense and come back to the thinking of the pack. Dreaming is for the young people, and they will do it for a time and then 'get real'. I am taught that I must work to secure my place in the world, so that on my headstone I will find the word, integrity. I am flesh and blood, however, I will bleed out one day. I will cease to exist. This is the great lie we feed ourselves, that we will go on living as we are forever, and so we must secure it, or secure it for our children so that they will be happy. Yet, do not our children grow up and do the same thing? Is this the law of order? Is this the mandate of mankind, to be doomed to a mundane repetition?
The truth is that I too have fallen through the cracks. I have fallen for failing to create a material success. I can be a critical success, but it is only a capitalistic one that can sustain me in this society. When I am winning on that front, many people will come forward to help, for I have met the capital ideal. So, my only recourse is that I to must pursue the notion of capitalism again, which frankly, I find utterly a waste of time. I have no family wealth or perpetual financial support. I cannot lie around thinking and writing, I must join the rest, and take my turn again on the giant levy which attempts to push the boulder up the hill. How long, Oh, lord? How long can I sustain this weary life? Don't worry, this is not a plea for my demise, I'm only quoting David in the psalms.
To the students I taught to dream. I quote Hubert Selby, the writer. "Art does not just cost you something, it costs you everything…" Is this a radical quote? You bet it is. Can you eat this quote? No, but you sure can digest it. Being an artist is radical, but so is being a human being, third rock from the sun, on a course that is governed by time, flesh, blood and bone. Can you pursue your dreams? I don't know. Can you employ your imagination as you once did as a child? I don't know. Seize the day and find out.
My intent is not to be critical of you or your ideas on the nature of the life you are leading, my intent is to make you think. Remember, revolution is defined initially as an overthrow of a regime or a government, but if you apply it to yourself, you can have a perpetual revolution within, and in this revolution you can find vibrancy as you re-invent yourself, and you do not have to be young to do it. Happy Sunday! I feel so much better when I find the radical inside of me!