As far as childhood’s, I think mine was average. I played with friends, ran lemonade stands, biked beneath the blistering sun, and attempted to build the perfect snowman. At night, once my mother shut off the lights and said goodnight, I lived in a different world. One of fantasy. I built dream houses that I someday wanted to live in with 6 windows in the living room and a clawfoot bathtub. I fell in love with dashing men and planned weddings. I could hear the applause when I not only mastered my dance recital, but awed the crowd with my brilliance after which, I was swept away to a prestigious dance school where I would be trained as the next Prima Donna.
Overall, pretty average fantasies for a little girl. Except for the one when I was ordained the benevolent dictator of Russia.
When it came to fantasizing about careers, I had only one fantasy.
Nope. Not writing. I fantasized about becoming a Special Education teacher starting at the age of 8. I grew up with two brothers with Down Syndrome and my life was immersed in the Special Needs life. I knew what I was doing and I could make a difference. That fantasy stayed throughout my early life, except for one forray into the dream of singing on Broadway. That dream was dashed when my High School Choir director laughed at me in front of the class after a brief stupid moment when I mentioned it. He taught me to keep my fantasies to myself.
After that, I returned to Special Education because it was what I knew and the only success I allowed myself to dream of. There were other areas that interested me. Ones I’d learned about in High School Debate. But I wasn’t the best debater and couldn’t succeed like my peers. So Special Education it was for me. There was only one problem. After three years in the Special Education Program at a State University, I realized that I hated teaching. Not that I hated kids, but I certainly didn’t want to spend my days with them.
The only fantasy I’d allowed myself was crushed. I quit and settled for a blue-collar life resigned that there was nothing else for me in the world.
It’s not uncommon. I see women abandoning the world of fantasy as they struggle through the dating world. When young, they dream of a man who will hold them through the night and listen to all their dreams. After a few heart breaks, they reduce their fantasies to a man might watch a movie with them on occasion. After too many disappointments there, they settle for the first man who will take them home for an evening. Until finally, they can’t allow themselves another fantasy of love. Sometimes, hope hurts too much. Even just a nice hello makes her weary.
Life took over. I lost my ability to fantasize. Bills to pay, cars to fix, laundry to fold, dishes to wash, meals to cook, eight hours of work, and occasionally something big happening. Like a broken furnace or leaky water heater. I didn’t have time for fantasies, or the strength to survive the failure they were sure to bring.
Until a year ago. One snuck up on me when I didn’t expect it. Nothing fancy, just a simple fantasy of a walk through a dense forest, like the ones I played in as a child in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The smell of musty, rotting leaves rising from the ground. The snapping of branches overhead. The way bark feels against your hand as you grab the lowest branch and prepare to ascend into the trees, one step closer to heaven. (The last time I climbed a tree, my son watched from the ground and yelled at me to come down. “You’re going to fall.”)
What does any of this have to do with writing “Dolly”? Part of writing is discovering what motivates your character. As I try to write the ending, I need to understand where Lisa’s brain is at. She’s given up fantasies, the ones she clung to until she was free from the Plaza Trailer Park.
Maybe fantasies are our hearts way of telling us what we want. When we stop allowing ourself to fantasize, because of failures and let downs, we stop listening to the voice and live in the silence of mediocrity. Because it’s easier. Because it’s safer. Because the silence becomes a sanctuary. Fantasies are a component of hope, which is essential to change. And nobody said change was easy.
Well, I’m out of practice, but here goes…I fantasize about holding a college degree in my hand.
That was easy. Let’s try again. I fantasize about seeing my book on the shelves at Barnes and Nobles. That’s not really a fantasy, is it? A dream, but not a fantasy. I fantasize of people lined down the block waiting for me to sign their book. (And all the while, I’m telling myself…That’s not realistic.) I find that there are two classes of writers. Those who fantasize without realistic views of their ability. And those who can’t allow themselves to fantasize because their words don’t look as good as the Heminway or Anita Shreve. Make that three classes to include those who belong to both groups. No one said writers were rational.
Perhaps the key is to allow yourself to fantasize so that you can hear what your heart wants and not allow unfulfilled fantasies to define you as a person. Some balance, like all things in life, is essential.
Here’s an interesting interview with Dr. Ethel S. Person, Author of ”By Force of Fantasy: How We Make Our Lives”.