Sunday, January 25, 2004

Dream Chasers and Catchers

I just caught the last ten minutes of a reality show on VH-1 about some girls trying to become Vegas Showgirls. Beautiful gals, kicking their legs and sharpening their claws into each for a spot on the stage. I love reality shows that focus on how people go about pursuing their dreams and I'm not talking about finding prince charming or giving a geek a chance at dating a hottie, although I do watch some of those as well. I like watching people who want to be something, something competitive and difficult to attain. I find the shows where people compete in events to win prizes and money (like Survivor) to be dull. There's never enough at stake (is he going to be rich or not? woo-hoo), it's just a drawn out game show.

I'm fascinated with what the big life dreams are, the priorities, what folks do to try to get it, the sacrifices and how their friends and family support and/or thwart their attempts. I think my favorite "dream chaser" reality show was MTV's "Tough Enough" where a bunch of kids trained for a shot at contract for the WWE (wresting), yeah fake wrestling, not as easy as it one might think. Suddenly I developed a true appreciation for sweaty, muscular titans slamming each other into a ring. Mindless it is not. Early on in these shows you can always tell whose heart was in the work and whose wasn't. It really doesn't matter what the dream is, it's always the same. There's people who want the dream and there's people who just think they do. There's people who have dreams, and people who are just dreamers. Not that everyone who really has the dream gets it. But dreamers almost never do.

Over the years, being a poet has made me respect people who pursue seemingly odd or ambitious careers. I wasn't always like that. I remember when my friend married a struggling comic book artist. At the time I had a corporate job and was enjoying making money and expected everyone to do the same thing. I kept asking her when was he going to get a "real" job. Yes, that's right, the stay-at-home poet and beader once asked somebody that question. She was probably pretty offended and with good reason. Now I understand because I get similar questions all the time, especially now that I'm finished with grad school. "Are you going to go back to work?" "Have a baby?" "Ever think about law school?" "Could you at least write a novel or something somebody would want read?"

Turns out my friend's husband was a man with a plan and has done very well for himself, produced a series on MTV, writes a bunch comic books that people love, won awards and has a big following. Good thing he never listened to us naysayers.

I suppose any dream is successful if you get to do the thing you really want to do, whether or not it brings lots of money or acclaim. I'm always amazed when I meet young poets and writers who are hell bent on fame. What fame? Even when you're dead, it's damn minimal. Stand outside your super market and quiz 20 people to name a living poet. 80% of the ones who can come up with a name are going say "Maya Angelou" or "Jewel." The other 20% are going to name themselves. I remember the first day of an introductory poetry workshop I took as an undergrad. Before we did anything, the teacher passed out a piece of paper and told us to write two lists, five living poets and five dead poets. I was able to do it, but just barely. Granted this was before I decided I wanted to pursue poetry, but it was quite the wake-up call for this 19 year-old. There was no denying it. I was woefully under-read.

But I digress, dreams, we should all give a little thought to what our dreams are and why we pursue them. If you want to be loved and adored and recognized, just start handing out money to people. You'll be internationally known. I promise.


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