I used to be a big letter writer. And by used to be, I mean still am.
I grew up in that small blip of the 90s when the internet was barely a thing, and the only way I knew to communicate with people was through the good old US Postal Service1.
I wrote a lot of letters as a child. Primarily in a misguided attempt to make my dreams come true. I was that kid who submitted dozens of articles and drawings to all my favorite magazines2. And never saw any of them in print. I wrote a letter to “Les Miserables3” telling them I would be a great Young Cosette4 on Broadway. Never heard back. I wrote to publishers with my story ideas, certain they would want to publish me. Did not happen. When my favorite band lost a member, I wrote and offered myself up as a replacement. That did not pan out.
The sending of each letter was followed by intense periods of wild daydreaming, in which I envisioned the future I was sure was about to unfold at my little feet as a result of this correspondence. I was going to be a Broadway actress. An international superstar. The youngest author ever. The new star of American Girl magazine. And I had so many more dreams that didn’t involve letters. I started bands and dreamed of Rolling Stone covers. I envisioned myself a concert pianist in Carnegie Hall every time I practiced the piano. I had my Oscar speech memorized before I knew my times tables. In all my childhood innocence, I dreamed big and I dreamed hard.
The problem with having big dreams and intense fantasies accompanying them is that over and over and over, I was disappointed. Friends, there is nothing more painful in this whole world than disappointment. In my experience, disappointment is consistently the worst. When I was a child and all my big dreams were constantly and consistently shattered, it left its mark. Which means that today, I am a little gun shy about dreaming. My strategy for a long time was to refuse to acknowledge that my dreams even existed, and when forced to confront their reality, I always expected the worst. While I fully acknowledge this is a terrible and destructive strategy, it keeps me from experiencing the disappointment I did as a child when I let myself dream too big.
But recently, I’ve again found myself confronted by things I want. And it is scary, wanting something as much as this. I am in hot pursuit of many of these ambitions, but the road has already been rough, and I’ve found myself again and again retreating into my strategy of expecting for the worst and not allowing myself to hope for the best.
But I have been trying very hard to apply the advice from one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain. In it, one of the main characters is a racecar driver who says the secret to racing is keeping your eyes on the road ahead of you. If you look at a crash off to the side or where you will spin off to if you miss a turn, you will inevitably end up there. He then continues:
“The car goes where the eyes go. Simply put, that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”
Where we set our sights is where we will end up. And so with that in mind, I have embarked on the road towards the things I want, and I am trying not to look to the side or at where I will end up if I crash and burn. I am trying to be hopeful, and not beat myself down with expecting the worst.
Last week I entered a writing contest called “The Writer’s Voice”, which you were all privy to if you follow this blog with any sort of dedication5. It was incredibly uplifting and encouraging for me as a writer, and I had some unexpected success that has resulted in me maybe taking one tiny step towards the Big Dream of publishing a book. In a few weeks, I may be moving backwards again, but right now, things look so unbelievably bright that I am fighting the instinct to shut my eyes and imagine the worst. I am trying—so very, very hard—to not dream out of control like childhood me did, but not shut myself down emotionally like recent me did either. I want to just exist in this moment and enjoy the fact that for two days, people enjoyed my writing, and something may happen because of that.
And if it doesn’t….that’s okay too.
- I also once lived in the 1860s, which increased my affinity for letter writing.
- Including the one I now work for.
- I’m pretty sure that’s how I addressed the letter: “Les Miserables/The Barricade/Paris”
- Fantine was my first choice, but I was only eight. Too young to play a prostitute. Actually, I think Evita was my first choice, but that wasn’t playing on Broadway at the time. And, you know, the age thing.
- If not and you have a burning desire to see it, the entry is here.