Sunday, January 10, 2010

Big Dreams? Or Little Ones?

A few days ago, I got my hands on a copy of Storyworks magazine. I wrote a story called “Silver Dollar Dreams” for the January issue. There are incredible illustrations by Kyle Stone (which I are so amazing I can’t stop staring at them). I got to work with Lauren Tarshis, the editor of Storyworks (the very same Lauren Tarshis who created Emma-Jean Lazarus, one of the most memorable characters in children’s literature. Lauren’s books Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love are among my all time favorites).

My story is about a ten-year old boy who has a dream. Two actually. A big impossible one which he calls a “buried treasure dream” (winning the lottery would be an example of a big dream) and smaller, easier to attain ones, he calls a “silver dollar dreams.”

Storyworks is a magazine for schools, so there’s a teacher’s edition that has some questions about the story. One of the questions for students to answer is "Which is more important? Silver dollar dreams or buried treasure ones."

I ask my husband while we’re chopping vegetables. Fortunately I don’t have to explain the silver dollar/buried treasure dream concept to him since he’s been forced to listen to/read/make suggestions about every single version/variation/word change/comma placement already read the story.

His answer is immediate. “Small dreams, because they’re possible to attain.”

I hand him an onion. “But don’t you think that the big dreams give you some context for the little dreams. Big dreams provide a blueprint for..

My husband interrupts... “a blueprint for the disappointments and failures in your life.” He laughs as he says it… but still.

We chop silently until carrot time. (We’re making soup) I tell him that impossible dreams fill people with hope and give them a chance to see themselves in a whole new light.

“Give me an example,” he says.

“Okay, when you were a little kid, didn’t you dream of being Superman?” It’s more like an accusation than a question. I happen to know that he was one of those kids who jumped off furniture wearing a beach towel as a cape.

“My point, exactly,” he says. “When was the last time you saw me run faster than a speeding bullet or leap over a tall building in a single bound? It’s kind of disappointing that it didn’t happen.”

“Come on. It was fun to be Superman.” I hand him a celery stalk. “By dreaming about Superman, maybe that child learns he wants to save the world. He could grow up to be a cop or firefighter.”

“Isn’t it better to dream about being a firefighter? Then that child would have reached his dream”

Frankly I’m surprised with his answers (and suspect that if I asked him another time, they might be different). This is the man whose boyhood dreams of becoming an astronaut inspired me to set my debut novel during the week of the first moonwalk. So I remind him of this fact. I also remind him about how often he says that this single historic event taught an entire generation to dream big.

He asks me if we need more celery. Then he adds, “Perhaps big dreams are good for society.”

“But not for the individual?” I ask.

He shrugs.

I’ve seen the StarTrek movie where Spock dies in order to save everyone else so I know what he’s talking about. But I’m not buying it. “If you met a boy who said he dreamed of being Superman, would you tell him not to do it? That it’s never going to happen so he should modify his dream and lower his expectations?”

“How old is the boy?”


He’s quiet for a moment. “Of course not.” Before I could shake the parsley at him and say “I told you so,” he adds, “but what would you say to a sixteen-year-old who had that same dream? Wouldn’t you tell him to consider a plan B?”

He got me. If a sixteen-year-old told me he wanted to be Superman, I’d probably go all librarian on him and start pulling out a few of those Ferguson Career Guides and suggest he think of something else.

So at what age are you expected to temper your dreams? Are children the only ones allowed to have big impossible ones? As adults don’t we get some too? Maybe there is a fine line between this-dream-is-a-little-out-there to let’s-get-you-some-professional-help-because-your-dreams-are-crazy. But people beat the odds all time. They win lotteries. They have miraculous recoveries. They do something that others said could never be done. Their giant dreams come true.

I have tons of small dreams. But I have some really big ones also. And I know there’s a good chance they might never happen. But I can’t imagine a life without big impossible dreams. And I can’t imagine a world without people who dream them.


Anna Staniszewski said...

Hm, very interesting question. I was actually struggling with this a bit a couple weeks ago when I was making my writing goals for 2010. I wasn't sure if I should write down goals that I knew were fairly achievable, or goals that were long shots but that I would try to achieve anyway. In the end I went with the smaller goals, but part of me keeps thinking maybe I should have aimed higher.

By the way, I'm a big Emma-Jean fan and I'm definitely going to check out Storyworks!

Joanna Ruth Meyer said...

I kind of think big dreams make the world go round. I don't really know what I'd do with myself without them. Then again, I'm one of those people who has a hard time being grounded in reality, so I'm probably not the best judge. :-)

Congrats on getting your story published!

Anonymous said...

I still dream small and big, but more so small the older I get. I become more practical with age.

Angela Ackerman said...

This is a great subject for discussion, because there are no easy answers. I think we should always hold onto the big dreams, but not be consumed by them. And dreams that leave us feeling inadequate if we cannot achieve are not worth holding onto.

nanmarino said...

You all have very interesting comments.
Anna, Don't you love Emma-Jean? Just thinking about EJ and Colleen makes me smile. Btw,those small dreams are important too.
Joanna, Me too. Reality is not what it's cracked up to be.
Medeia, I wonder if dreams shrink with age.
Angela, I agree. There are no easy answers especially when dreams stop inspiring and start making us feel inadequate.

cleemckenzie said...

I read this a very long time ago when I was in grade school and it stuck in my head.

"They who build beneath the stars build too low."

Since I didn't have a clue about citing sources at that age I don't know who wrote it, but it sure made me think about big dreams. Just having them is enough, but believing there's a possibility I might attain one is absolutely necessary.

S A Putnam said...

An interesting question. Nan. It’s a little like asking if a glass is half full or if a glass is half empty.

I’m with you! A world without people who dream, whether they are silver dollar dreams or buried treasure dreams, would truly suck.

I think I’m a silver dollar dreamer within the context of a buried treasure dream, if that makes sense. As a child I was definitely a silver dollar dreamer with goals that were achievable, like walking the length of the parallel bars.

But as an adult my dreams have shifted somewhat in that I have a main goal that could be labeled a buried treasure dream, but inside that dream are a zillion and one silver dollar dreams.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
~ Langston Hughes ~

nanmarino said...

C. Lee, I love that quote. Isn't it great that it stayed with you from elementary school?
S.A., Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a big dream and a little one.

Jacqui said...

I like to think of the big dreams as dreams, and the littler ones as "plans." If a sixteen year old dreams of being Superman, I'm all for it. If that's his realistic life plan, well...

nanmarino said...

Even though I've got lots of little dreams, I never thought of myself as myself as a planner. Defining small dreams as 'plans' is a good way to look at them.

Unknown said...

Sometimes I wonder if we give up on our big dreams too easily because we are taught that we need to be practical, to grow up, blah, blah, blah...

We live in a great world, just imagine how much more awesome it would be if we pursued those big dreams...

nanmarino said...

I agree, KB. I've never met anyone who said that giving up a dream for the sake of practicality was a good decision, and yet people do it all the time. Thanks for the comment. Glad you stopped by.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Wow! I have to tell you that was beautiful. What an excellent topic for discussion. And by the way - I agree with you! The big dreams are VERY important. I happen to be a dreamer and an optimist. If I didn't have my big dreams, I wouldn't have gotten as far or done the things I have in my life that I am so proud of. I think they are even important for sixteen year olds and adults for that matter. Sometimes you may have to tweak them. And you definitely have to actually WORK toward them, but I still believe in the "big" dreams...

MG Higgins said...

It's one of the byproducts of being an INFP. We like to ponder the possibilities. Big dreams are all about possibilities.

Anonymous said...

I was talking with a friend about being upset that my dream didn't come true, and she told me to look at a smaller goal as a step to the big one.

Guess it's the same as your silver dollar dreams.

nanmarino said...

Thanks, Lisa, Yes. I still believe in big dreams, too.
MG, Is this a known characteristic of INFP's? If not, this could be a great research topic.
Anon, I'm not sure if big dreams need to come true to be important. But perhaps working toward all those smaller ones is the direction to travel.

Anonymous said...

Love this post. I still hang onto my big dreams, even if no one else knows them but me. Smaller dreams are more like goals. Oh, and I also love Emma-Jean Lazarus!

nanmarino said...

Karen, I keep a lot of them to myself too. But I'll never let them go. Three cheers for Emma-Jean!