Friday, April 22, 2016

creativity, fear and the dream deferred

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Is it ever too late to be what you might have been? To take your dream out of the box and put it back in motion?

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is.

If you dreamed of playing for the NBA but you are now 43 years old and overweight, then yeah, that ship has sailed. Sorry...

But what about the other things we aspire to, desires we've long held, dreams that aren't limited by age or weight or time?

In A Dream Deferred, poet Langston Hughes speculates about what happens to dreams and desires that are put aside for later.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
When I first read this poem in high school, I assumed Mr. Hughes had covered all the options. When a dream is deferred, it is somehow destroyed, ruined, kaput. Get it, got it, good.

But now that I have lived longer, I think maybe there are other possibilities.

One of my dreams was to be a writer. I wrote all through puberty, high school, college. I majored in English. I read the classics and tried to mimic them while I found my own voice.

But I kept this desire - and everything I wrote - hidden. I kept my writing tucked away in a cedar chest inherited from my grandmother and restored by my parents, three people who had passed along to me their love of and way with words.

No one in my family ever made a living with words. But they all used words to make prayers, to make love, to make stories, to make hope, to make peace, to make life. They weren't published, but so what? I don't remember any of them ever asking permission to write or create. Why was I so afraid that my little treasures couldn't withstand the gaze of others, and why did I think that only "other people" were qualified to say whether my work had value or not?

In 1996, my husband convinced me what I had was worth sharing and encouraged me to enter a fiction competition. My first short story, Game for a Name, was selected for publication and won the SC Fiction Project prize.

Winning that prize and having my first short story published was amazing. "Other people" thought my work had merit and value! It was also scary. What if "other people" didn't like the next thing I wrote? What if it was just a fluke, a cosmic accident? What if I couldn't write another story worth reading?

I cashed my check. Then I took the print copy of my story and my crazy ideas about being a writer, and stuffed them under the lid of my cedar chest, the one I inherited along with my writing gene from my late grandmother.

A few years ago I took a look at my life and realized I wasn't having any fun. I had let Fear take too much control of my life. He had locked Creativity in the trunk of the car, and it seemed that Creativity had passed out from lack of oxygen. But she wasn't dead. When I unlocked the cedar chest to dust off both my story and my writing ambition, Creativity took a deep breath, revived, and climbed out, too.

It was a long time since I wrote that short story. Reading it again, I saw many things I would change if I were writing it today. It was written by a younger woman, a child really, without the experience and scars I hold now.

As I read the story, I caught a glimpse of the girl I was then. I remembered how the story came to me in a dream of a girl named Chrysler Anne. As I wrote down her name, her story came pouring out of me like rain water down a gutter, a torrent of words from a person I thought I had created but who in turn dictated her story to me.

The story was still good.

And the dream that I deferred? It wasn't crusty or rotted. It wasn't heavy nor had it exploded. It was just hibernating in my cedar chest, waiting to be awakened, rubbing its eyes and glad to be back in the light.

I started writing again. As I did, I have felt life return to me. Sometimes it stings, like when blood starts flowing again in a limb that has fallen asleep. But when you know the alternative is amputation, you can handle a little sting.

So I keep on writing. At 50+, I may be one of the slowest emerging writers around, a three-toed sloth or Galapagos tortoise compared to others. My deferred dream slept a long sleep, preserved by all the love gone before me.

It is not important how my creativity compares or appears to others. I have to take it out, claim it, shake it up, and pass it on.

And it is not important that I use my creativity to make a living.

Only that I use it to make a life.

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