Last week we discussed the value of paying attention to your own dreams, especially in terms of using them as sources of creative inspiration. Today we're talking about your experience with a much more conscious kind of dream. These are the dreams of desire, of invention, of need. These are the mixtures of longing and inspiration that provoke us to action, to pursuits of life. These are the waking thoughts that follow us around through our days, the things we wish were different, the things we believe might transform the nature of the world in which we live.
Hopes and dreams are the propulsive engines for creative acts. Whether they're things as intangible as trying to capture the essence of a tomato in a few poetic lines or something as tangible as a desire to make lots of money through innovative software development we all dream about worlds that float beyond our grasp.
Some details we try to hide, even from ourselves. Some we want to share with everyone. Always, always, always, we wonder if they're worth the pain of pursuit.
The answer is: sometimes. Each of us undoubtedly has a list of imagined existences for ourselves, more fantasies than dreams. Sure, more money is better than less. Green lights along your morning commute are always welcome, and guilt-free cookie breaks at 2:30 in the afternoon would be a pleasure, too.
Those aren't the dreams I'm talking about.
The ones that matter, or at least matter here, usually concern the inevitable trade of intense effort for something you may have trouble explaining, even to yourself. Why run a marathon? The answer doesn't immediately explain itself. It's possible to be a terrifically fit person and never run a marathon. Why write a novel? Most novels never get published. Thousands that do hardly ever get read, and you'll clearly have more free time to read good ones if you don't try to write one.
Some dreams simply defy good explanations, but they move us anyway. Some dreams have immediate explanations. If you're dreaming about paying for your children's college tuition so they're not burdened with debt, explanations are easier to unspool. If you're hungry, homeless, or hopeless, dreams of a life with less struggle and more purpose are immediately clear and resonant.
Where's the connection between the dreams of accomplishment and the dreams of necessity? They all turn on a sharp point of creativity. And make no mistake: the point is always a sharp one. If your dreams really and truly matter to you, there will be a terrible, growing pressure to see them through. If you're hungry, you'll go to great lengths--any lengths-- of invention to feed yourself. If you're desperate to complete a series of paintings that you've been carrying around in your soul for years, you'll also go to great lengths.
Do I conflate the desperate, vital needs of sustenance against the comparatively bourgeois desire to make art? Not at all. There's clearly a hierarchy of need here, and a worthy social discussion about how some people can have nothing while others have the privilege--the luxury--of contemplating what kinds of self-indulgences they want to pursue.
But the point here is that dreams are not precisely the same as interests, or even desires. They're bigger, deeper, richer, more powerful. They compel us. They push us. They take us in unexpected directions.
It's no laughing matter to dream about leaving a disease behind. There's never anything wistful about dreams of peace in places that only know violence. What's more, real creative solutions always exact a cost, often big costs, and they always cost upfront, when there's no guarantee that the effort will amount to anything valuable. But imagine the novels that matter most to you, and then imagine them not written. Writers dream their stories, and those dreams must overcome the exhaustion of busy days at unrelated jobs to become real. The power of dreams to remake the world overcomes exhaustion, fires furnaces of invention, remakes souls. At least it does for those who answer the call. If it didn't, music would be unsung, marathons un-run, justice undone.
The philosophical distance between the so-called art world and the world of justice turns out to be infinitesimally narrow. Into that breach, we commit ourselves, our dreams, and create new worlds. By dreaming of worlds that have not yet come to be, we widen the space of possibility, and once the spark of possibility chases shadows from dark places, the rising dawn of invention at least has a chance to follow.
Remember the song? It's very simple: "All we are saying…is give peace a chance." Leave it to the artists of the world to see this so clearly.
PS -- Yes, yes, here's where the good people of 1AU ask our dear readers to share what you've read with friends and colleagues. And here's the place where you think, "Oh, sure, one more imposition of my precious time." Well, we're asking. It's something we value above rubies, above gold: if you like an idea enough to give it a moment's thought, then consider giving it a measure of freedom. When you share an idea with another person, you release an idea to grow freely in the world. Like what you see? Set it free.