The difference between people who realize their dreams and those who don’t, is a willingness to put one foot in front of the other, day after day, in service to the dream.
That prospect can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, a step is simply that, one step, and just one is enough to maintain momentum.
In 1992, when I moved from Chicago to New York after college, with the dream of becoming a writer, I happened to be friends with another aspiring artist—an actor. We paired up for the pilgrimage and ended up working at the same Manhattan steakhouse for five years together.
I watched as he dedicated himself to his passion—just like most of the people I worked with at that time—by taking endless workshops, appearing in ill attended productions in dusty attic theaters, pounding the pavement until his handsome feet were black and blue, despite the lack of success.
During this time we had many discussions about how and why to pursue these improbable goals of ours, and at some point he recommended a life changing book to me called, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. With this book in hand, I started gathering the real day to day building blocks of creativity and discipline. Cameron encourages consistent work—and play—in service to the dream, whatever it happens to be, in a structured but liberating format.
The book became like a holy tome to me, and I followed its dictates doggedly for several years, convinced I had the magic key.
Then I hit a bump on the road—a big bump—in the form of a French Canadian dude with a smooth rap and seaweed colored eyes. For the next five years I didn’t write, I was too busy trying to make this guy love me. I think of that time as huge, dark and chasm filled, with monsters (of my own making) in the form of alabaster white lines streaking up my nose and the roofs upon which I slept—when I did sleep, which was rare—because I’d decided that drugs and this man were more important than stupid stuff like paying rent.
When I emerged from my self-imposed madness, I found myself standing on the other side of the chasm, and because the air was clear, I remembered my dream. I also remembered The Artist’s Way.
I started to write again, but apathetically—I had already wasted so much time, what was the point? I began to notice the people I had worked with in New York, pop up on commercials, TV and movies. One day, as I watched Sex and The City, I saw my friend—the man who had suggested I read The Artist’s Way all those years ago. He was selling shoes to Carrie Bradshaw. My eyes filled with tears. I was so happy for him, but so disappointed in myself.
Enough, I thought. I didn’t have a computer, and wouldn’t have known how to use one even if I did. I didn’t live in New York anymore, (publishing capitol of the world), and I didn’t have that much time in my day—I’d married (an incredible) man who had five children, to whom I was now the surrogate mom. It was likely I was never going to have the writing career I dreamed of all those years ago, but I could still write.
So I did. I wrote the whole story of me and the guy with the seaweed green eyes. I built a tower of legal pads filled with my words. I worked at it every single day, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for four hours, but every single day regardless.
Sometimes it wasn’t actual writing that I did; maybe all I could manage was a trip to Office Depot for writing supplies, or a phone call to someone involved in the story, or 10 minutes of fearless meditation on how I’d done what I’d done and why. This was the essence of what The Artist’s Way had taught me—if you have a dream, you don’t just sit around waiting for the mood to strike, you do something, anything, that can be done right now to manifest it.
I slowly began to understand that all the time I initially spent floundering around with my writing in my little Hell’s Kitchen apartment hadn’t been wasted. Even the time I spent with the Canadian hadn’t been wasted, as long as I used the material. There is no such thing as wasted time as long as we decide to utilize, in some way, all that energy we’ve dumped into whatever random thing.
But I still fought with myself over the realization of my dream. It hadn’t been my vision to do drugs and hang out with a psycho, and then turn the whole thing into a pile of yellow paper with scribblings all over it—I wanted to become a published author. Was I just spinning my wheels? Or was the “author” part of my vision not as important as I thought as long as I wrote things I was proud of?
I honestly didn’t know. But what I did know was, if I kept putting one foot in front of the other, in a sincere, creative and dedicated way, I was going to get somewhere that meant something—if only to me. And I also knew, if it was really important to me, I could do this while leading my “regular” life, while getting the laundry done, reading bed time stories, cleaning up vomit and all the rest.
It was 13 years before I got published, 21 if you count the time before the chasm. And it wasn’t anything big, it was just a humble article, a lot like this one. I remember when that article hit 300 readers. I was astonished that 300 human pairs of eyes had seen my words. If I could have, I would’ve run barefoot through my neighborhood with sparklers in my hands.
I still write every day. I still have a dream. Now I’m a bit more loose about it’s definition. I don’t know where the rope bridges of these words will lead me. But if I dedicate a portion of each 24 hour cycle to the actualization of my soul, I’m pretty sure something good is bound to happen.
And it is happening, because here I am writing, and there you are reading, and here we are together, on the bridge over the chasm.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant archives