As life goes on, it may finally dawn on you: You’re not going to win the Olympic gold in figure skating or discover a new species of toucan in the Brazilian rainforest. But there are other valid insane dreams, says columnist Leigh Newman, that you absolutely must pursue.
1. The Dream of the (Tiny Little) Thing You Were Meant to Do
Look, we all know what I was meant to do: sing jazz in a Paris club (except that I can’t sing) or write a novel (except I tried that—it didn’t work) or become a large-animal country vet (except I’m too old to go to vet school, and also word on the street has it that it’s harder to get into vet school than medical school). At times, the big yucky struggle of our life direction and purpose (which, by the way, is the most important struggle in our lives) is just too big and yucky to contemplate. Take a day off. Figure out the tiny little thing you were meant do. My friend Rachel was meant to dance in nightclubs. At age 42, she goes out once a week and shakes it until 3 a.m. in Minneapolis. My friend Marie was meant to look at paintings and just walk around admiring them on her Saturdays off. My mother was meant to take hot baths with scented candles. (Not just everybody can do this either; I find hot baths scalding, confining and panic-inducing.) Find your one tiny little thing and make it a big part of your existence.
2. The Dream of Having a Child in Your Life
Nobody wants to talk about this. It’s too sensitive. It’s too personal. It’s too painful. But just about everybody has some version of these thoughts: You couldn’t have a child, or you could, but you didn’t find the right partner to have a child with. Or you had a child but wanted more and couldn’t afford them. Or you had a child but wanted more but got divorced. Or you had a child, but something awful and life-rending happened (see Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs. Or—and in my humble opinion, this is the most heartbreaking—you didn’t think that with your problems or your history or your hang-ups, you had much to offer a child. Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m about to say, but for the 98 percent of us who are not violent or creepy or legally insane (yes, I made up this statistic), you have something that a child not only will find instructive or beguiling but also needs. It will be the neighbor’s kid or your granddaughter or your niece or the sullen teenager who works at the corner store who you befriend after catching him stealing whipped cream canisters for use in mind-altering activities, and you’ll say: “Hey, I used to do stuff like that too. And by the way, it never produced any kind of long-lasting happiness. Whereas bike riding or building geeky but awesome rockets with you in the park…”
3. The Dream of Universal Free Umbrellas
Imagine a world where, in front of every house and store and school and office building, there stood a bucket of free, unbreakable umbrellas. Should the clouds roll in and the first plops of rain splatter on your head of carefully negotiated hair, you—and everyone else in the world—could simply grab one these sturdy, protective items, open it and relax on the way to your job interview or first date. Should the sun peek out two hours later, you could drop off said umbrella in the nearest available bucket—and walk on. The reason why you must have faith? Similar programs have been done with bicycles to great success. Both items have spokes…that’s all I’m saying.
4. The Dream of Feeling Good in the Morning
For most of us, getting out of bed each morning after age 27 is physically uncomfortable—not in a massive, disease-riddled or car accident kind of way. We’re just overweight and out of breath. We’re relatively thin but with throbbing joint pain. We get soul-crushing headaches due to stress or break out in hives due to some as-yet-undiagnosed allergy. Furthermore, none of us are doing much about it. We’ve been to see doctors, herbalists, acupuncturists and weird cultish healers that scared the heck out of us. Note to us (me included, due to my back problems and bad diet): You’re not done until you feel good. Get back in the game. Quit, find, solve whatever so relentlessly ails you.
5. The Dream of the Amazing, Life-Changing Trip You Don’t Have Time For
Studying the northern lights of Norway or floating down the Mekong River to view the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia: Let’s face it, these are trips that require three totally scot-free weeks, not to mention the four full days in flights, buses and trains. These are also trips that, perhaps, sitting in your kitchen or cubicle, you’ve built up in your mind as the one badass, awe-inspiring journey that will finally make you into the badass, awe-inspiring person you dreamed of being at age 19. It’s hard to admit (trust me, I’m writhing on the floor right now making upsetting injured-kitten noises), but you are who you are, regardless of whether you’ve been to a surf camp in Morocco. And, honestly, who you are is somebody who needs at least one week of hard-earned vacation spent not at home trying to save money so that one day you can go where you’ve always wanted to go, but rather in some doable version of the dream trip, which may, in fact, be a fantasy designed expressly to keep yourself from ever being able to realize it. Shorten the length of your stay or replace the destination with a similar but more achievable goal that exacts no jet leg (say, Buenos Aires with Paris) and just go!The thing to realize is this: It’s not any one particular geographic place that’s haunting you; it’s the idea of not being stuck in any one particular geography.
6. The Dream of Finding the Person Who Gets Your Cockeyed Take on Life
I’m known at times to wear less-than-flattering clothing. This is because I wear a lot of hand-me-down items from friends and family that have a story behind them that I like. In the winter, in particular, I enjoy wearing a certain black ski hat with neon orange, pink, blue and green stripes on it, which my mother wore in 1983 skiing with my father and me. This clothing does not make me look ironic or vintage or retro. As long as I’m not looking at myself, however, I feel terrific. I feel like I’m my mom on one of those crispy, snowy days when I looked up at her and she seemed to know all there was to know about joy and freedom and ski poles. One evening in 2004 in the great city of New York, I went into a bank to apply for a mortgage. It was a fancy branch. There were suits and pantyhose all over the place. One particular man was sitting in the customer waiting area, his legs crossed, a briefcase on his knees that, by the look of its alligator skin exterior, had to hold various secret Swiss bank account codes within its interior. He stood up. “Hey,” he said. “Great hat!” I looked around the bank, though I needn’t have because there were no other customers with a 30-year-old, totally tacky and out-of-date ski hat on. Then he came right up to me and shook my hand, pumping it the way powerful people do to other powerful people. “Your hat made my day!” he said. “That hat is terrific! My dad had a hat like that!” He started laughing—not at me, but with me, because at this point, I was laughing too. I was pretty sure that this guy had not grown up at the small, broken-down ski resort (also known as Artic Valley) in which I’d grown up in rural Alaska. But I was also pretty sure he had loved his dad and missed that feeling of absolute child-parent worship on a dazzling snow day when school and work comes to a standstill and you get to go sledding or skating or snowball fighting with your family. He went off to his world of corporate finance; I stayed in mine with my never-to-be-realized mortgage. But it was zestifying really, to have this thought: They are out there—and often where you least expect it—the people that see life through the same scratched, nostalgia-fogged lens.
7. The Dream of the Hero
Some of us dream of saving an old lady in an upstairs window from a raging fire. I, on the other hand? I’ve watched too many Angelina Jolie movies. I have deep, developed fantasies about a rogue band of terrorists storming into my book club meeting, at which point I transform into a sexy, karate-chopping warrior, complete with machine guns and machetes, and kick the butts of all the evil masked offenders, only to take off running into the night at high speed to preserve my secret double identity, which no one in my book club ever suspected. This is not going to happen. But I have been the warrior of lasagna for my friend with leukemia, who couldn’t stand up to cook. I have been the ninja of at least two weddings where the bride succumbed to a panic attack and fainted in the bathroom. And I have been the superhero of Tuesday afternoon swimming lessons, which my son so badly wanted to take, but which also coincided with the end of the school day, requiring me to drive across town in under seven minutes, find an illegal parking place (since no legal ones exist), gamble on how long it would take the meter maid to find us and tow us, and then dress my son on the sidewalk as we sprinted to the pool, ripping off his T-shirt, slapping on the floaty backpack, only to bust through the doors and sit him down on the bench by the shallow end, saying to him with all gravitas, “Nobody can stop us, son. Nobody.” You too have pulled off the heroic and inhumanly possible on the way to the convenience store—and you will again and again and again. Most dreams are also part reality (otherwise we wouldn’t believe them), and reality happens to be a condition that gives you plenty of chances through your life to rise to—no, soar though—the occasion.
8. The Dream of Fat-Free Cheese Fries
Eventually, this one will come true. I will sit down to a plate of fat-free cheese fries that taste so greasy and salty (though without any actual grease or salt) that I will be compelled to suck down another No-Hangover Amber Ale and then tipsily laugh (on a weekday night) at my husband’s jokes, so much so that he will share half of his no-calorie chocolate cake with me. And here is why: There is some smarter, equally round scientist out there in the world who has exactly the same dream—as well as an imagination that can visualize waist-reducing, full-fat, overly sugared whipped cream.
9. The Dream of the Airplane That Actually Flies
When my son was 4 years old, he used to build elaborate paper constructions in the afternoons after preschool. Sometimes these were airplanes or rockets made out of water bottles covered in tinfoil, with invisible explosive flames. One day he built a car out of an actual matchbox, along with looping paper roads that, at certain intervals, were supported by the cardboard rolls that come inside paper towels. That day, he handed me a shoebox. I knew what it was, and the dread immediately sunk in. “Put in the batteries,” he insisted. “Get the electricity and the coal and help me make it work.” I stood there, so painfully aware of what he wanted, for me to know how to build stuff that functioned and for me to be able to teach him how to build this stuff that functions. All his life, people were going to dodge this by telling him to ask for the Hot Wheels loop-the-loop set for Christmas or just enjoy pretending the noise and sound and motion of an imaginary remote-control car and track. All that is fine, of course. We’re not all engineers or Da Vincis. But there was a time in your life when you wanted to do something: fly a plane or catch a butterfly or draw a human hand that looks like a hand and not some weird, fingered crab. This skill is actually possible. Excavate the longing you used to have, practice and master it—even if that skill is simply lying on your bed the way you used to and dreaming of things the way you used to.