A few weeks ago, I was sitting by a pond with my friend, T. It was a warm fall day and the pond looked as if it had been ripped out of Idyllic Ponds Monthly Magazine. There were gently rustling reeds, lazy koi fish kissing the surface of the water and a heron, arrogantly surveying it all from the shoreline.
T is a writer and an English professor and we were talking about writerly things, like muses, death and Scotch. We talked about my book being published and he told me about the novel he was working on. We were perched on a wobbly stone bench and T stood up to stretch his legs and smoke a cigarette far enough away that I wouldn't complain about it too much. He exhaled pensively for a moment and looked back at me:
"So, I have to ask you this, what's it like to be living your dream?"
I laughed at him because the question seemed absurd. It feels strange to think of your own life like that. Most of us are more likely to tally up all the things we've not done, and focus on them.
When I look at my incredibly talented writer friend, I see his MFA that I'm envious of and his job in the academic surroundings that I admire. He's a creative soul whose apartment is filled with Escher prints and typewriters and masks that he made in college. But he'll downplay it all, even the things he's published, waving them away like the cigarette smoke that still manages to get in my eyes. And all the while, I'll feel inferior because I don't have advanced degrees and I don't even know how to make a mask -- and I'll wave away the beautiful moments in my own life.
Why are we compelled to move on to the next thing and discard our accomplishments? I've always felt that if just one person enjoyed my work, I'd die happy. But now Facebook is telling me that I need to keep tabs on pages that are similar to mine so I can "keep up." Suddenly, I'm in a world where 8,000 Facebook fans doesn't feel like enough.
Why do we change the rules on ourselves?
If we really were living our dream -- would we even notice?
When I get still for just a moment, I realize how astounding it all is. I'm a writer. That's the dream I've had since I was eight and compiled the Collected Works of Lisa Jakub. I'm also healthy and I have friends and family and a place to live. That's a dream, too.
So, my answer to T was rather dualistic:
Living my dream is wonderful. And it's exactly the same as life before I got a book deal.
I think most of us assume that if we are living our dream, then everything must be all shiny and effortless. Therefore, if it's not perfect, we can't be there, yet. I still have maintenance issues with my car that require me to spend three hours waiting at the repair place. My dog is still half blind and has seasonal allergies. I used to get frustrated and cry because no one wanted to publish my book, I still get frustrated and cry because I have meetings with my publisher and I worry about disappointing them.
People have said that it must have been easy for me to get my book published because of "who I used to be." I won't detail the mountain of rejections from agents and publishers, the endless emails saying that no one is interested in a Hollywood story from a no-longer-famous person that doesn't involve orgies and rehab - but I'll just say, getting published was not easy.
But this is what we do, as humans. We tend to assume that everyone has it easier and better than us. They have connections or innate talent or more money or prettier hair. But none of that means that they don't have troubles and stress and heartbreak. It's just in different packaging.
Knowing those concerns are universal makes them feel so much more manageable. This is simply what it means to be alive. We might as well find some joy and gratitude in there, because life is never going to be perfect. For any of us. No book deal/MFA/sweet car will cure the essential human condition of uncertainty and unease.
But maybe being alive, being truly awake in your life, is the real dream. Maybe the rest of it is just icing.
The ducks in the pond paddled towards us, looking up expectedly with their cutest begging duck faces. Since I only had bottled water and T only had gum, neither seemed to be appropriate offerings. The ducks got tired of watching us wax philosophical and glided away, muttering what I'm sure were disappointed profanities.
T and I left the pond to wander through the fallen leaves that were mostly obscuring the pathway. Kicking the leaves aside, we made our own path.
Back to our lives.
Back to our dreams.