By Dan Carpenter
If we’re the stuff of dreams, as Shakespeare’s Prospero put it, then let’s turn the deal around and suggest our dreams are every bit as substantial as we are.
When I was very young, my dreams were solid enough. Boringly so. I loved writing stories of mystery and monsters that basically ripped off the fantastic yarns of comic books and B movies, but my career “visions” were about as exotic as the blue-collar world I inhabited a mile in the wrong direction (south) from Downtown Indy.
“From the Spanish gold-seekers to the Henry Fords to the dot.com kids to the Rio Grande swimmer with his string of restaurants, we know what dreams are made of: Making it.”
I would be what I saw. A fireman, an auto mechanic (envy there; we had no car), a telephone repairman (if I could work a deal to avoid climbing poles). Leave the jet fighter piloting and World Series heroics to the greedy adventurers, the guys who would jump off garage roofs to impress girls (roofs, girls, both terrifying).
But if my revelries were mundane, they weren’t entirely foreign to the American Dream. Think of my timorous aspirations as junior versions of the pragmatic ambition that’s immortalized so many guys who made America not the republic of imagination so much as the place where anybody can get ahead and get stuff. From the Spanish gold-seekers to the Henry Fords to the dot.com kids to the Rio Grande swimmer with his string of restaurants, we know what dreams are made of: Making it.
We also know better. But the higher meaning of human self-actualization tends to slip minds that are bent on acquisition. Henry David Thoreau instructed us that “success unexpected in common hours” would come to one who “who advances confidently in the direction of his dreams.” An insurance company appropriated that nugget for a TV commercial selling retirement plans. At least we can advance confidently in the expectation Thoreau’s words will outlive the mercenary uses to which they were subjected. Right?
Every day, variations upon the dream-serving-substance theme play out in a society driven by utility and competition. What I’ve come to realize, after a lucky life of seeing modest adult hopes of fulfilling work and enriching experience come to fruition, is that genuine dreams suffocate when they’re bundled into self-advancement. Nor can they be sold or donated to us. I went to college rather than becoming a grease monkey because they told me that’s what dreams were made of. What I’ve learned, for larger or smaller, is that I’m the stuff.
About the author
Dan Carpenter is an Indy-based and Indy-born freelance writer and former Indianapolis Star columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @IndyStarDanC