To the Dream Crushers, or Please Colour Outside the Lines
What’s wrong with wanting more?
To the Dream Crushers....
What is a dream crusher? It is a term I coined decades ago, without consciously being aware I had coined it. Dream crushers were, to me, at first, those teachers that told you to colour inside the lines, to draw a tree this way, and recite a poem that way. They were the teachers who liked order and discipline and had a simmering, fearsome hostility towards anything that did not conform, particularly like those students that marched to their own drummers in an obvious way.
In all optimal worlds, a teacher can be a mentor and leader and inspire you to greater heights in the safety of their tutelage (read my In Praise of Music Teachers) but the dream crusher variety were the ones that felt better when things were safe and orderly and the inner and outer rule books were followed.
As I grew up, I encountered other dream crushers and I am sure you know your own. They include relatives who ask you why you want to be what you want to be and seem sceptical, bored, and perplexed in response. It includes friends that question your choices or are aghast at what they perceive is sheer folly and kindly try and set you right. Dream crushers are those bosses that refute every new idea you bring to the office or meeting, boyfriends that half listen to your aspirations, lovers that simply wait till you are finished waxing lyrical over something that stirs your heart to say, 'pass the salt'.
Dream crushers are editors that tell you each new idea is something that will never appeal to readers; agents that tell you missed what is marketable and 'selling' these days, a publisher who asks that you 'write more like another author with more sales' and even a tough restaurateur that once informed me, as I stood at his counter with a slab of cake in hand as a sales sample, that 'no one will eat something called carrot cake. Vegetables in a cake: it makes no sense'.
A caveat: Dream crushers are not the same as positive people who offer sound, pragmatic, tempered, caring advice. But that said, beware of Dream Crushers poseurs of things 'realistic' and feign concerns about your welfare, lest you be unaware of your own folly, on way to some dream. Beware too of IF's, or Indifferent Folk - they are dream quenching in their own way.
Most worrisome is the fact that many a Dream Crusher is also a gatekeeper to those of us who positively yearn to get our voices out. Having a Dream Crusher as a gatekeeper is like giving a bitter civil servant having the power of a brilliant, possibly society changing emigrant standing hopeful in front of him. Scary stuff. In short, beware of narrow thinkers with a wee bit of power - they will make your life hell before you realize, you can do it yourself, there is always another way, and frankly, you do not need them. You only need them insofar as to tell you 'no'. This is at first, quite depressing. Ah, but then....then this segues to the most marvellous trigger which a creative person, given the second wind of pluck will see as a green-light-means-go incentive. This, is what a Creative can make of the average 'no'.
Of course, it takes years to figure this out so, I am telling you, for now, some how, some way, some day ...learn to blow them off before your dreams hear their negativity and take it to heart permanently! Do not give their gate keeping power the time of day. Start to know - if these people say 'no', you are definitely on the right track and in good company of people like Copernicus, Einstein, Freud, Columbus, Van Gogh, Shakespeare, and the woman who invented Tupperware. (Did I mention to man who patented the Bundt pan, David Dalquist? )
Dream crushers are the first ones to say 'no', 'you can't' 'it won't work', 'because that's the way we've always done it', 'can't you be like the rest of them', 'it is ok as a hobby but can you earn a living that way?', 'not to be negative but.... (and then are, well, yeah, negative), 'why must you?' , 'isn't it ok how it is?' and 'why are you do different/difficult?' and, the very worse, 'it's time for you to grow up'.
Hear these phrases, know them for what they are - not logic, not good advice, not pragmatism: know if for the spirit sucking, abjectly spirit snatching, energy depleting weapons of words they are. Know those words and acknowledge them, in as loving a way as you can, for the fearful beings they come from. Take a breath and recover your personal compass and inner North Star. You are blessed with an innate navigation that comes from a purity of vision, a clarity of mission. Find your bearings. Walk on with dignity.
The worst thing about dream crushers is that when you are younger and a fledging Creative, you actually believe them. You take their fine tuned, rational sounding words and stance as wisdom; you trade your notions of sheer grandness for their dubious advice. How is this possible?
Well, Creatives are not sharks in nature. Sometimes termed 'over-sensitive' (they are really simply more 'attuned' for the large part), or 'artistic', but meaning, in temperament, conveying weakness of internal fibre, or oddness, or out of synch (as in cannot remember to do mundane things like laundry, breakfast, and carpool or early college registration and forget to write their SATs). When you hear that term over-sensitive, by the way, it really means, to me, 'as sensitive as the entire world should be, i.e. 'over sensitive' should be the norm, actually, and then we would not have war and could find more cures for diseases and art, music, great literature would pour out of everywhere. 'Over-sensitive' is the dagger talk, flung from the wily, adept saboteur. It is meant to make you doubt yourself. Accordingly, the average Creative - we foot militia of Passion, who, for the most part, are the mainstream un-immune (i.e. those who are not at the genius level, that select group who are the greatest lights of us all). The average Creative can be felled by such labels as over-sensitive or simply a raised eyebrow with a cool smile that says, 'oh, you dreamer you'.
Many a dream gets shelved and stuffed into darkness simply for encountering a dream crusher at an inopportune, embryonic point in creative gestation - usually when one is looking for that thing called positive feedback. It is also important to say that a dreamer or a dream is neither a fantasy thing nor a romantic notion one saves for idle time or a lifetime of being an adult. Dreams, more than gravity, is what makes the world turn.
Well, here's the thing. Creatives are like human embers, that glow softly on their own, simply waiting for the sound of one hand clapping, a knowing responsive smile, the I-get-it-ness in a resounding nod of someone who might not be a Creative but is the Creative's spiritual companion. All Creatives need, since their own ideas more than fuel them, is a pat on the back and a 'go ahead' or a 'that sounds great'. (Of course, sometimes they need a bank loan and woe to the entrepreneurial Creative that meets up with a Dream Crusher as a bank manager). Because - Creatives, after all, are human and need the usual nurturing as do we all.
My hunch is it is probably the lack of that nurturing is what explains 90% of what makes Dream Crushers tick and become dream crushers to begin with. At any rate, this ember-like quality of a creative person grows and glows, given just a bit of 'yes' in their lives. It is almost as if they have wings that are small and want to flex and expand. One stroke is to a Creative like the purest oxygen supply of a small planet. Just one puff of that special oxygen is enough to paint the Sistine chapel.
Creatives are not egocentric (although some can be -just as Dream Crushers can be) but they are driven to express something that is so innate and primal that they could not extinguish it (only waylay it) if they tried. All they want is some extra wind under these wings. With that, they fly and soar, and produce plays, science, inventions, art, music, skyscrapers, planes, printing presses and books, medical cures, toys, movies, a better bread (as I do) or a map to world peace. All for 'des bon mots' and a psychic hug.
No one is born thinking, 'gee I can be a tax accountant or I can be Van Gogh. Now which do I do?' Creatives feel they have no choice - it is this inevitable force that drives us - we are simply vehicles for something that is no less divine that what goes on in a primal forest or church or synagogue or birth or heroic act.
The thing about creativity and free thinkers, is that- not only do they inspire their makers, they inspire the world. Creativity done right, and gone good, is a mystical force, soul and spirit shaking, and makes you feel so incredibly connected, real, and present and aware of why you are here. Truth is, there is hardly even a term for how it feels when you soar and create. It is like being in love, giving birth, getting a gold medal, hearing what deaf Beethoven heard in his head, and finding Everest, all at once. When you say 'no' to this sort of person, with this sort of notion running like blood through their veins, you say 'no' to your own potential and possibly sidetrack (in some dire cases, destroy) the possibility of these human embers becoming a light that guides and inspires the world - whether it be to find the moon or harness the wind. Whether it be to walk on water or part a scarlet sea.
I have a theory on why someone would want to quench such goodness. I think creativity is like extra light. Physicists could probably even measure the vibration of something or other, brain guys could tell you a myriad of special occurrences occur when someone is inventing or composing or painting that is worth its weight in endorphins, good vibes, seratonin, and whatever it is that can even overthrow evil. On a good day. With all of us in concert. This extra light can illuminate darkness with a single spark. But when you are void of light and come from even a minor darkness (difficult parents, crushing experiences, bitterness you have mistaken for reality; it is not) you grow to fear the light. You make a life from control, order and sameness. You worship the ordinary. When you meet up with a Creative, I think it is about quenching their light (which might seem as a threat to your own being) so that they do not have to face their own darkness and work towards fanning their own, (are we not all mystical, special creatures?) ember, long forgotten from the dream crusher/gatekeepers they might have encountered for one, two, who knows how many, life times and generations, before.
I want to tell these people who so uncomfortable with no-rules, free thinkers, 'artistic' types, a few things.
First, please join us. We do not bite. We are not all-bohemian, counter culture, why-bother-with-hygiene, forget carpool, eccentrics. We are not some subversive underground; we are mainstream but with a dream and a pulse that won't quit. We have been nourished on passion and never will return to formula feed. If you make us struggle, you will only delay us, your 'no's might even encourage us, and sometimes, regrettably, our power struggles might have us seem bitter - which is a toxin to creation. BUT - and listen carefully: you will never, ever, EVER, witness the total destruction of a dream that is meant to be. It is that simple. This is not my rule. This is how the universe works.
Second, we forgive you. Because - our light and our drive will see us, (and you), through anyway. We could get there faster if you were not dug in against us at every level as we grow, but we will get there. But we forgive you, because the greater the Creative, the more enlightened, and the more generous their spirit. The overflow of creativity is compassion. It goes from the musical score, architectural drawing board, artist's canvass and entrepreneurial's statement of goals to our own human spirit.
Third - make room for the fact that you can be a tax accountant or Starbuck's barrista as well as an artist, poet, musician, new age scientist. Do not compartmentalize things away in that fashion that is ersatz comfort but really, limits the possibilities. When it all gets blurry, artists remembering carpool, dental hygienists painting a new tarot deck, then we will be one family of light and can guide each other.
Fourth - to the dream crushers, whenever you think you are being a realist or hide behind being 'sensible', please check the look in our eyes. If you see the lights get dashed out, chances you have discouraged us and something equivalent to angels losing their wings is happens.
Please know that the world will find a way to tell us if our ideas are stale, ordinary, or unworthy. That is how we hone our craft, magic, and gifts. We do not need the extra negativity. And please, please, please, do not worry that we will make a fool of ourselves. We are sensitive but neither frail nor stupid. We will brush ourselves off and rise above. Being thought a fool hardly threatens us but letting dreams die or lie fallow is the ultimate tragedy. Dreams never die but their dreamers get discouraged. A lost dreamer is a terrible thing to waste.
Fifth - and this is for Creatives who are on the path. Be on the look out for the nay sayers. Know them. Bless them but do not make eye contact. Find other Creatives. Do everything but unionize. You are not alone. If someone calls you difficult, doubt him or her. It is the basic red flag - the first line of defence a dream crusher will call upon. Call a warm friend who will say you are not difficult and besides, if you are - it is probably because you are excellent and blessed. G-d would not notice you are difficult; nor would the Pulitzer Prize pass you by for such a thing.
Creativity is not about ego, although it is about expressing something divine by the human vessel partnered with our individualism and personality. If you nurture the creativity in us, and in anyone, we all benefit, I promise you.
And last, dear Dream Crushers, simply let us do what we need to do in this world while we are in it. Once you stop resisting both our rebel notions, and us you might find and cherish your own buried hopes. In turn, you will discover untapped sources of your own light rather than spend a lifetime trying to extinguish ours. But there is more: you will find your own soul in the attic of crushed dreams - this beautiful Phoenix that has been waiting there, all this time, simply needing the tears of your own rejoicing to revive it. You will hear someone whisper: welcome home. Startled, you will look to see the source of that sound. With a gasp of joy so intense it ignites a harmonized hosanna from the stars and angels above, you will realize that sound is your own voice. And then you will hear the sound of one hand clapping. It will be one of the dreamers who applaud you and embrace you into the fold. Welcome home, old friend, welcome home.
Marcy Goldman © 2003
Dedicated to all those who say 'why?' but especially to those who say 'why not'?. Also dedicated to Julia Cameron, Author of The Artist's Way.
Other Writing Features: