Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dreams Deferred

Dreams Deferred
According to this morning's Writer's Almanac, Lorrie Moore (Birds in America and other books), published her first story in Seventeen when she was just a kid. Then and only then did she tell her parents she was writing stories. Amazingly, at that moment, her parents told her that they both had also once aspired to be writers, her father producing a sheaf of stories from the attic, most of which he'd tried to publish in the New Yorker. Neither of them had ever really published, even though their ambitions had been similar. Her mother had become a nurse.

Got an e-mail this morning from a young lady who says she wants in to my short story class soon to commence. We've already passed the enrollment ceiling. She says she's always loved to write stories and would like to know how to do it better.

Aspiring artists we've got in spades. Every school does. For every newbie Hollywood starlet, how many others aren't working at Starbucks, praying for a break? Just imagine how many virtuoso violinists exist in New York alone, or dancers. How many people, just this morning, have put the finishing touches on a screenplay that's going to shatter box-office records?

Who knows how many newly-minted MFAs universities will graduate this year? I think I read somewhere that 80% of the American reading public thinks they'll write a book someday.

The vast majority of would-be writers, just like the vast majority of would-be actors or musicians or TV journalists will eventually have to settle for something else, as did Lorrie Moore's parents apparently. Aspirations in the arts is quite unforgiving for most of us, who then, like Lorrie Moore's parents simply live with dying dreams.

The death of Merle Meeter stays with me, a man who spent a goodly chunk of his life on earth working at Lowe's, or some such building enterprise, when he once was so immensely devoted, so passionately devoted to writing--not only his work either, but nurturing others, like me. He invested his heart and soul in his work, even his salary. He invested most everything.

And yet, just a few years later, all that passion and drive had to have faded somehow or disappeared altogether. It was gone. Unless there is a cache of poetry lying around somewhere in his papers, as far as I know the only reason he touched a pen to paper was to pen some story about arm-wrestling.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-- And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

That's a Langston Hughes' poem, and it's context is racial prejudice, but its reach goes beyond race and culture and into the vagaries of self.

I wish I could talk to Merle Meeter. I'd ask him how he dealt with a dream deferred? Whether he ever considered all that passion he used to bring to the printed page as something, well, illusory? How do so many of us give up our dreams?

That I'm asking the question suggests I've had a good life. That I'm wondering--at sixty years old--about dreams deferred has to mean mine haven't been, even though there are times--lots of them--when it sure doesn't feel that way.

The psalmist says we need to number our days. Good, strong advice. Be happy with what you have. Count your blessings. Name them one by one.

But then there's this: "A man is not old until regret takes the place of dreams."

I'm still not sure how to deal with the death of man who was, in a very special way, so influential in my own life for passionate causes he seems simply to have abandoned. How did he do that?--that's what mystifies me. What did it cost for him to give up what he'd once wanted so badly?

The Northeast Board of the US Arm-Wrestling Association put up a message board to remember their friend, Merle Meeter, a register of tributes that are simply wonderful. Here's one: "Merle was a wonderful man and I am honored to have known him. . . .I remember when he ran around the table in Lake Tahoe with his fists in the air trying to psych out his opponent... what a wonderful moment!!! I am sad for the armwrestling community but very happy for him to be with our Lord in Heaven!!! I will miss him!"

That passion by which I remember him, that strength of character and immense devotion I'll never forget found an incredibly unlikely new outlet: the poet simply became an arm-wrestler. Maybe the lesson is this: even when dreams die, we don't.

I like the image: a huge poet circling a Tahoe table time and again, fists raised.
And I've got this student who wants in to a short story class, even though the thing is full. I better write her, tell her I'll find a way.

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