Friday, October 25, 2013


When I was around ten or eleven I lived in a hilly Los Angeles suburb called Woodland Hills. My backyard was a plank of mostly crabgrass resulting from an early, unfortunate, and famously ill advised family experiment with weed killer, and was quite suitable for endless games of miniaturized sports like Wiffle Ball and two on one nerf football. This playing field terminated at a pretty steep hill that ran down to our neighbor's backyard below us. A chain link fence, about a quarter of the way down the hill, divided the properties and left us about six feet of hill all to ourselves. This bit of hill was the abode of lizards, bare dirt, and large clumps of a very nice succulent I know to this day only as iceplant. One day, in our endless, desperate, suburban search for self-entertainment, some friend and I decided to dig a great tunnel into the side of that hill. Our plan was to tunnel in and open out a glorious underground abode. It was to be a fort, maybe a wonderland. Visions of a kind of subterranean Disneyland danced in my head. It was one of my earliest and most profound encounters with the wild and ferocious ambitions of my imagination and concomitantly with the way my visions and efforts could sometimes combine with the real world to create an almost pitifully small effect.

We drew up crude schematics expressing vast rooms and underground pools, fun house mazes, bowling alleys and a world of our own. And then, with much excitement, we set to work. I believe we were equipped with two tools. The "good" tool was a hand shovel. The less good tool was some kind of fork-tongued weeding tool, little more than a glorified screwdriver. We worked a long time, our vision fevering us on. We stopped frequently to assess our progress: Hour one, "We are definitely making a dent in the hill." Hour two, "The dent in the hill is definitely growing." Hour three, "You can even set things on the dent." Hour four, "I can sort of be in the dent." And so it went. The first day was the big work day, though we maybe idly picked at it over the next few days. Whether we had progressed from "dent" to "slight concavity" would be a matter for debate. We would have needed to carefully examine the shade lines at noon. Certainly anything remotely resembling a hole never came into it. As to underground lair, don't be silly.

And so I was introduced to a strong streak of Charlie Brown theme in my life. Dreams don't often turn out like you imagine. You are not the great hero of the Baseball field. The football is withdrawn. You cannot make Disneyland under your backyard equipped with a friend and a dandelion weeder. I have, since this digging foray, embarked upon many a grand project, some with all the wild ambitions of that first one. You will not have heard of them. They did not reach the stratospheric heights of realization and acclaim that was intended for them.

Seek and ye shall find. Try and you will succeed. Well, miracles happen every day I suppose. But I am pretty sure at this point that trying, even trying very very hard, only has a very tenuous connection to succeeding. All that try and you will succeed stuff is for accountants, not dreamers.

So do I advocate giving up? Do I advocate despair? No. Actually I feel pretty good right now. I might even feel like I'm getting the trick of it. You do not dream and then try to fill the dream. You dream right into it. You do not write the great "Dreaming" essay that is filled with wonders. You write, about dreaming, and you fill it with dreams as you go.

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