My come-to-Jesus moment of freedom.
Here is a short list of dreams I knew would come true when I was young:
I would become a concert pianist and play Carnegie Hall.
I would be picked up by Epic Records, and join the pantheon of great singer/songwriters — Janis Ian, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell.
The musicals I’d write with Elise Forier-Edie would make their way to Broadway — two of which, Tony winners both, would run for decades.
I would become a great actress, and pal around in Cannes during the film festival with Meryl Streep and Kathy Bates and Tony Hopkins (he would insist I call him Tony).
Or I would become a Buddhist lama, live on nothing, and teach meditation to inmates convicted of terrible crimes.
Or I would be an extremely cool, sharp-witted, fit, brilliant older woman. I would actively keep up with the latest technology. I would know how it works and use it all the time.
That’s a hell of a lot of ME going on there. An awful lot of I Am The Greatest. Why? Why all the Best Ever, Top of the Line thinking?
The short answer is I grew up in a family of Best Ever, Top of the Line people. My father was Bill Lear of Learjet. You have no idea how many of his inventions you probably use versions of every day. (Every time you pick up a remote, for instance.) And he didn’t even make it through the eighth grade.
My grandfather was Ole Olsen of Olsen & Johnson. Their comedy revue Hellzapoppin’ was (in its day, in the ‘30s) the longest-running Broadway musical, with 1,404 performances. He was the guest of royalty all over the world.
When you grow up in that realm, greatness becomes an unconscious mashup of mandate and fait accompli. It’s so weird. I was musically gifted as a child, so I just thought it would *happen.* I was both fated to succeed and not allowed to fail, in the same breath.
Don’t get me wrong. I did come close. One of my songs (Classified Ads) was #1 on jazz stations nationwide for about a minute during 1994 (Shout out to KPLU in Seattle — at that time among my biggest fans, the DJ there said, “This song gives good phone.”). Three of my musicals with Elise got produced in Washington, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. One got published. And I actually did teach yoga to women inmates at Rikers Island for a couple years.
But I never made it big. And I certainly never lived on nothing. And the ‘cool, fit grandma’ thing? Nope. I’m still on Facebook, never looked at TikTok or SnapChat. I don’t understand why they’d name a platform “Discord” on purpose. I’m offended by the music on the radio. I miss my misspent youth. My body hurts all over. And I’ve stopped caring so much about how I look.
Does this sound like decline? Yes? That’s because it is.
Listen, I’m 68 years old. Why should I always be growing, growing, growing? Nature doesn’t work that way. Everything that goes up comes down. It’s not a condition to be healed or reversed, any more than gravity should be healed or reversed. These are facts of life. In keeping with honoring these facts, I have made my bathroom mirror a strange, intimate altar to What Is. In it, I consciously let go of my dreams. (The ones where I lindyhop through all my stunning accomplishments, brandishing my Olympic Gold Medal in Awesomeness.) I practice letting go of all that. Breathe in, breathe out. Look in the mirror. Poof. Gone. So what’s left? What’s left of me, when the me I thought I’d be all my life is gone? Who is she, this tired, spent woman of substance? Without my dreams, I am someone who tries and fails and tries again to be a good person. Without my dreams, I lie to myself and others all the time. I lean vegan, but not enough for my superego’s comfort. I celebrate the wrinkles in my face, but I still spend money on face cream (not tested on animals, though!).
Without my dreams, I say I’m a writer, but when I get time to myself, all I wanna do is eat popcorn, and watch West Wing reruns.
Without my dreams, I’m this woman. The one today who took care of her wife, helping her recover from the most recent shingles shot. The one who walked our dog.
Without my dreams, I’m this woman, with the spots on her hands and on her face. With the ingrown toenail, and the fried egg breasts, and the stroke-pocked brain, and the aging joints, and the trouble sleeping, and the stutter, and the facial ticks.
Without my dreams, I’m this unique and precious woman. The one who showed up. And if I hadn’t shown up, my children and my grandchild wouldn’t have either — and that would have been a sad world.
If I can love this woman, do you see how much easier it is to love everyone around me? Do you get it? It opens my heart so I can even feel a wry connection to the guy who flipped me off in traffic. He’s frustrated, too. He isn’t the man he thought he’d be either.
Feed your dreams. Don’t feed your dreams. It doesn’t matter.
The only person you’ll ever be is you. And the only time you have to do it is now. That’s all you get.
And anyway, you know what? Forget about feeding your dreams. Feed the eyes you’ve been carrying around your whole life—the ears, the nose, the tongue— feed them with this day, this moment, this bite, this life. Feed your soul with everything. Say thank you for it all, for all you’ve lost, and for all the unimaginable wealth of what you have right now, the whole, imperfect, messy treasure...
looking back at you in the mirror.