Friday, February 26, 2010

The Possibilities of Dreams

I heard a very interesting interview with James Cameron on NPR's "Fresh Air" the other week. He was talking about how many of his best ideas for Avatar came to him in dreams. He then mentioned in passing that many children can fly in their dreams, but adults typically can't.

What does this say about the infinite possibilities of childhood, and the restraints we, or circumstances, place on us as adults? To a child that believes in Santa Claus, Harry Potter, and the monster under the bed, it's an easy thing to dream of flying off to Neverneverland or on her own personal adventures. Anything could happen at any point in time.

It makes me wonder what I dream about these days, if I even know. Do I dream about work? Sometimes I know I do. Do I dream about cleaning? Or walking the dog? Surely I dream up unusual situations too, right? I might not fly, but maybe I am side-by-side with Matt Damon, destroying our enemies with nothing other than hardened ninja fists and razor-sharp minds. If I kept a dream journal, would I find it elucidating or depressing?

The comparison also makes me think about why we get nostalgic, particularly as Keith and I are coming up on our 10-year college reunion. I loved being a college student, and almost everything about being on a college campus. I loved taking classes, learning new things, eating from the cafeteria and not having to cook or wash dishes. I loved meeting new people and, really, the newness of everything—knowing that new experiences were always just around the corner.

But I am very content with my life now, too. I have a wonderful husband, daughter, and extended family. I feel incredibly blessed and fulfilled. So why do I get so nostalgic, thinking about the good old days?

I've decided that, for me personally, sometimes it's hard to admit that the possibilities of our lives are dwindling as we get older. When I was 22 and a senior in college, I could do ANYTHING, and I could do it by age 30. When was I going to get married and have kids? Where would I settle down? What kind of adventures would I have? Just like in dreams, the possibilities were endless. One day, I would imagine myself as a world traveler with no permanent home, just a duffel bag on my back. The next, I would sit in class and imagine my dream house, right down to the kitchen cabinet hardware and workout room paint color. I could see diametrically opposed possibilities as equally appealing, because they each appealed to a different side of me.

But now I have a house, and a career, and a family. I don't get to wonder about whether I'll travel or marry or have kids, because it's all been done. I feel like my daydreams now revolve around paying off students loans or the home equity line of credit. Sometimes I feel like my dreams are smaller, because many of the big questions in my life already have answers.

So I don't think I feel nostalgic for the actual college years. I miss the possibility inherent in the years after college. Much of which has been replaced by actual fact.

How do I recapture that sense of possibility? Maybe I'm too short-sighted. Maybe I need to be thinking more about Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, and instead of looking at concrete, external milestones (marriage, children, house, career), I need to focus on the internal milestones. There's still PLENTY of potential for personal growth. Maybe I should be fantasizing about finally writing (and getting published!) a novel. Being happy with myself on a regular basis. More traveling, to further reaches of the Earth. Learning a new language, or picking up a new hobby.

Maybe I will learn to fly in my dreams.

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