A very wise man once told me there was a difference between fantasizing about what you’d like out of life and actively pursuing a plan to make those dreams a reality. Now, thirty-some years later, I finally understand what he was trying to tell me.
As a child, I was great at make-believe. For hours at a time I’d sequester myself in my room and create adventures with Legos, Lincoln Logs, toy soldiers, and what-have-you. I watch my son do the same thing. If he’s not making up stories with his Lego men or his assortment of cars (Hot Wheels, of course), then he’s pretending to be a ninja by bouncing and tumbling over the furniture.
Day dreams are fine for children. And while my imagination has served me well in my writing, my obsessive knack for pretending has actually prevented me from attaining any real success in my life. To put it simply: pretending is easy; it’s the doing that’s hard.
Although I did some stage acting in high school and college, I came to realize I would never do anything substantial. As much as I loved it, I knew that any kind of success as a performer comes from fearlessness, a willingness to be open, exposed, and vulnerable. No qualities of which I possess. In other words, I would’ve never been able to handle real acting. It was easier to just pretend for a while.
It was also easy to pretend to be an aspiring film maker, making little Super 8mm movies for friends and family. The year I spent studying avant-garde film at the San Francisco Art Institute only fueled the fantasy. Because, come on, who the hell watches avant-garde films? Other avant-garde film makers, that’s who. And who gives a crap what they think. They just make little movies that no one watches. There were any number of institutes of learning I could have tried to attend for someone serious about film. But that would’ve been too hard.
Instead of learning to play a musical instrument, it was much, much easier to play air-guitar and air-drums in my room with my friend before an imaginary crowd of listeners. We were awesome there in our own little world. Now I struggle to find the time to learn, and regret not being able to play even the simplest of tunes.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to practice a martial art. I’d certainly watched enough of David Carradine in Kung Fu and seen Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon more times than I could count. But, as you can guess, it was easier to pretend to be a master of one’s-self than to actually endure the real physical, mental, and spiritual challenges that come with being the student of a true Sifu. My attempt was a debilitating failure.
It was then I decided to take my writing seriously. It was the one passion I had left that I hadn’t screwed up, and I was determined to keep it that way. So for the last 25+ years I’ve stumbled and crawled, been frustrated and rejected, like an honest-to-goodness author. Where I once tip-toed, I now walk steadily ahead. Where once a story I wrote was turned down because that particular magazine only accepted work from “good writers,” I now look forward to doing a reading from my third novel at a local bookstore later this year.
Whatever minor triumphs I’ve achieved of late pale in comparison to what I’ve dreamed, but they’re more satisfying because they’re real.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.