Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tweaking a Dream

It's a lovely afternoon in Streeterville. The sun is shining. The clouds have rolled away. It's 63 degrees at the Mini. When I got home from a hard day of AP test giving at The Outpost, I looked out the windows on the 14th floor and on the lake I saw one of those big power boats motoring across the way. It appeared to be one of those 2 story jobs with a full finished basement. It had TV antennas, radio antennas, radar, sonar, and things on the roof going in whirly circles. It was what my friend Colin would call a 6 bikini boat, minimum.

Colin was a great friend, and an interesting study in alternative approaches to life. At some point he decided that he was too old to be a hippy carpenter anymore, so he decided he'd quit rebelling against his PhD parents and become a hippy PhD who teaches history. University lecturing is much less taxing on the body than carpentry, and a good bit more secure once one attains tenure. Last I heard from Colin he had left Champaign-Urbana and the U of Illinois for the East Coast. Babs did a Google search a while back and as it turns out he is teaching history in Virginia.

Colin, like many of us of the Baby Boom, initially did not want to do it like his parents. He couldn't see himself in a traditional role. Yet when one achieves middle age, one wakes up in one's 40's one day and realizes that one does not have a lot of money, a lot of possessions, a pension, an IRA, or frankly, not a lot of anything except good memories of a life well-lived. It was time for a do-over.

A lot of us experienced do-overs, and somehow it turned out OK. I dropped out of grad school to pursue an acting career and after many years of working bad day jobs to pay the bills while pursuing acting at night I decided to return to school and become an educator. A lot of us drifted along, enjoying life while not thinking much about growing old, only to have life slap us in the face somewhere along the way and tell us, "Wake up Bozo. You were born with a good wit, but not rich. You're going to have to join the working world and prepare for old age and retirement."

Then there are a number of acquaintances I have acquired over the years who refused to give in. These individuals have gone on as if youth were eternal, and have drifted into their 40's and 50's, as my father would have said, "without a pot to piss in." Colin saw fit to give up carpentry and go into academia. Another carpenter friend of mine, a gifted artist with an MFA continues to struggle with his small carpentry business and selling a bit of art here and there. He has no health insurance. He has no savings to speak of. This is a guy who seems overdue for a do-over. Yet he, and a whole group of friends just keep on. What will they do in 10 or 20 years? As they age, the do-over becomes less and less possible. Life did not give in and meet them on their terms. Now what? 130 IQ's and artistic talent aside, if you don't play by the rules, you get squashed. One day you wake up and you're broke, out of work, and living in a homeless shelter, or a flophouse.

Babs has spent a great deal of time wondering if the stakes have been raised for our current generation of youth, and they will never have the option of a do-over. Do they have the option of drifting for a while and then getting serious at some later time in life? Do they have to get it right the first time? Do they really have to figure out what they're going to do for the rest of their lives when they're still teenagers? Well that is one for Babs to confront. As for my generation, a lot of people did get the option of a do-over, and a lot more refused to even consider bailing on the dream. Now the dream is turning on them. Decided to live the dream no matter what? One in a million make the dream pan out. The rest of us have to give the dream a little tweak every now and again, to ensure our survival and comfort.


  1. I read somewhere that it's not genius or even talent that gets you to the dream circle, but practice, 10,000 hours of it, to be specific. (yes, someone--and not Malcolm Gladwell--quantified it). So maybe the distinction between those who dream and make it, and those who just dream is determination and that old thing called stick-to-itiveness. And maybe becoming an adult is when you realize that you're just not willing to commit to make it happen. For some, though, that realization is a hard pill to swallow, so they gut it out for another decade well into their 30s. Sadly in this country, that is the decade that seals your fate in lifetime earnings.

  2. ps-- 10,000 hours is 3 hours a day for a decade.

  3. So I may still make it if I do this for 3 hours a day for the next 10 years? Even with the do-over thrown in? Cool.