Today is an important day.
Politics and economies and foreign policies aside, September 11th is a day to remind us of standing up after something is destroyed. It’s a day to rise above adversity, to strive to rebuild and rework and hunker down and not let others take away what lies within ourselves, no matter what.
I’m old enough now that I don’t remember how old I was in the 5th grade. I actually had to think about it. That’s another epiphany regarding time in a growing list of them as I get gray at the temples.
I guess I was nine when I discovered a love of writing because of what it could evoke in readers. What started it all off was a story about an alien world and lava pools and molten spiders. The teacher loved it. My classmates loved it. It was the first time I ever heard someone read out loud what I had written. And in that moment a fire was kindled—a dream born.
So I kept writing—here and there—because it was a way to explore new places, even play god by creating them and setting lost souls adrift within them. But, while all this was going on, reality struck hard and took hold.
My father was born in 1929—in Brooklyn, New York. While you probably didn’t hear about the birth of my father till just now, you may have heard of something else that took place in the same city and the same year. It was called Black Tuesday, and in its wake lay the Great Depression. These were the formative years of the man who would eventually raise me. He had very specific ideas on career choices and artists and stability and retirement. Being an author wasn’t in that mix.
Like it says on the bio I have on my website, I was “…waylaid by bandits armed with the age-old adage, ‘So you wanna be a starving artist the rest of your life?’” Those words came from my father. More than once. And they killed the dream I had… or, it seems, pushed it into a deep coma. I don’t blame him for what he tried to do. There’s no doubt that my father cared deeply for all three of his children, and he did have the very best of intentions. He thought he was helping.
So, one day, after having spent seventeen years in IT and pursuing a career that wasn’t mine for reasons that belonged to someone else, I found myself staring down the barrel of a layoff. A few mornings after, I woke up wondering what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was forty-three, a bit long in the tooth to start a new career, but totally disinterested in going back to IT.
And then the writer within me, the one that had slept soundly for over two decades, woke up. You know what he told me? He said that he’d rather die a starving artist than live another day as a slave to the corporate grind. And then he became me.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have a day-job, and it’s still somewhat in IT. I write technical documents for a software company. It’s enough to pay what few bills I have while I whole-heartedly pursue the dream. And that’s the lesson here.
I’m reminded of the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” If there is one quote to take away from that film, it’s when he’s talking to his son. They’re living on the street and his boy talks about becoming a superstar basketball player. Will’s first response is to shoot down the dream because it’s risky and many don’t make it, and he’s raising his son on the street. Then he stops. And ponders. And then fixes what he broke with his words by saying, “Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”
I still get teary-eyed when I think of that. I was that little boy, but I never got the fix. My own father didn’t figure it out till after I started having successes in the writing game, and that was twenty-five years later… after I did it myself.
But I’m telling you now: if you have a dream, don’t let anyone take it away from you. Ever. You may fail over and over again, but that’s what dreams are for, to give us a moon to shoot for. And if there is a better definition of what this life is about, I don’t know it.
So go get it.