GIFTS, DREAMS, AND MAKING IT HAPPEN – Marilyn Armstrong

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three-dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatism. It’s reality.

I don’t know when being a pragmatist became synonymous with defeatism. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you know the difference between a dream and an expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

Piano lessons

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you, Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. What a waste!

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real.

Don’t buy the lie.

WHEN THE STARDUST RUBS OFF – Marilyn Armstrong

There was a piece on NBC’s Sunday Morning show about a guy who always wanted to be an NHL goalie. He never made it. Instead, he wound up as the equipment manager for a Carolina team. He wasn’t a player, but he got to hang out with them, be part of the team. Then, one day, the goalie was injured. They needed a backup goalie.

72-Peacham-Monday_022

Not even enough time to call one up from a minor league team … he got the call. Mostly, he sat on the bench, though he got to sit there in a full goalie’s uniform with his name on it. And for the final 7 seconds of the game, he was a player. He didn’t make the goal that saved the game and no one offered him a contract … but he could finally say he’d played in the NHL. As a goalie. His dream came true.

Most of us have dreams and occasionally, they come true. Or very close to true.

alfred_eisenstaedt_kiss_v-j_day_times_square_

V-J Day in Times Square, a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was published in Life in 1945 with the caption, “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers”

I got to hang out with Alfred Eisenstaedt on Martha’s Vineyard and talk to him about his photographs I had bought several books of his pictures (we eventually owned several of his actual pictures) and he went through the books, looked at each picture and could tell me what film he used, which lens, camera … and most important, what it was that inspired him to shoot that picture in that way.

About his arguably most famous “street shot” of the sailor kissing the lady in white on V-J Day in Times Square in New York:

V-J Day in Times Square (also known as  V-Day and The Kiss) portrays a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger—a woman in a white dress—on Victory over Japan Day (“V-J Day”) in New York City’s Times Square on August 14, 1945. I asked him how he got the shot.

He said “I was walking around Times Square with my Nikon. Everyone was celebrating, and I was looking for something special, I wasn’t sure exactly what. Then, I saw the sailor in his dark outfit kissing the woman in white. I swung my Nikon into place and just shot. I had the right lens, the right film. It came out well, I think.” Yes, it came out well. Very well.

I will never get that picture or any picture like it because I can’t “just shoot.” It’s not for want of trying. I see a shot, but I stop to think. One second of thinking is more than enough time to lose the shot. In a second, the hawk takes to the air and the kiss is ended. That special look on his or her face vanishes.

In short, I think too much to be a good street photographer. Fortunately, I think just enough to be a pretty good landscape photographer. Even a sunset moves slowly enough for me to get a few pictures before it goes to black. Which is why I always carry a camera.

Blogging has given me other pieces of my dreams. I didn’t become a best-selling, world-famous author, but I have gotten to chat with authors whose work is best-selling and widely read. And who I admire. Every once in a great while, I get a “like” or a “tweet” from a favorite author. I’m as thrilled now as I was the first time I made contact with one of my favorite authors.

I suppose I hoped by being in contact with greatness, a bit of the star-dust will rub off on me

I ALMOST HAD IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Coherent

Early this morning, I woke from a dream I wanted to remember. It was full of people, but I don’t remember who they were or what they were doing or for that matter, what I was doing.

I sat up in bed for almost an hour trying to get a grip on it and I almost had it. I considered opening my computer and actually writing down something because I know that if I don’t write it down, it’ll be gone. Yet I hold fast to some idea that if I try really hard, I’ll remember at least a tidbit and be able to build a story on that.

You’d think I’d know by now. Dreams slide away faster than my memory of why I’m in the kitchen looking wondering and knowing there IS a reason. I will remember it about half an hour after I go back to the recliner and relax.

Dreams are much more slippery. About the only coherent thought about the process is for about an hour, I remembered it. Then, blearily, I went back to sleep and whatever thoughts I had grabbed onto went silently into my sub-conscience where presumably they will permanently remain.

I have a question about this, actually.

Do we really remember the things we forget? Is there a place in our brains where the stuff we knew and were sure we’d remember are collected? Is the door to that area which is locked, but if we found the key, could we open it?

Would all those random thoughts about things there weren’t terribly important in the first place, come pouring out like the contents of our little memory boxes from childhood?

Those little wood or metal boxes that held the key to our roller skates, a postcard from a long-forgotten friend, a report card from fourth grade and a poem we wrote on our thirteenth birthday which we were sure was going to take the poetic world by storm? Except there would be so many more things in our brains. The Tylenol we forgot to take and the toast we neglected to toast. The time we didn’t water the plants because we came into the kitchen to water them but left with a glass of ginger ale?

These days, I forget more than I remember. I’m trying to figure out if there is a special place in our heads where all these forgotten pieces live in mental cold storage. One day, the door will fly open and it will all explode outward. I better hire a mental maid to clean it all up.

THE DAY WE WON IT ALL … WELL, NOT EXACTLY – Marilyn Armstrong

THE FISCAL DREAM

I just won $1,000,000,000 — that’s one billion dollars — from the lottery. It is a bit mystifying since I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I’m not going to argue the point.  

What’s next?


So there we were watching the news. Trump. Mueller. Some moron fell into the Grand Canyon trying to take a selfie. And then there’s this guy who just won the Lottery. Again. He won $10 million ten years ago and he just won ANOTHER million yesterday.

You don’t believe in luck? Really? AND he bought each ticket in a different location. I want some of his ‘not luck’ because whatever it is, I want a piece.

Winning the lottery is a major fantasy here on the Kachingerosa. I don’t know about you, but I can lull myself into a pleasant sleep imagining what I’d do if a huge amount of money — so much that I don’t even have to count how much I’m spending — were to come my way.

The only time I inherited money was when my father died. It turned out to be exactly enough to fix our dying septic system — and a new camera. It had to have been just about nine years ago because that’s when I had cancer.

The money and cancer arrived simultaneously. Everything has a price, it would seem.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It was the defining moment of my unfortunate relationship with my father. He was much too dead for me to thank him, but it was the single nicest thing he ever did for me. No longer being alive, he could not, this once, ruin it with a lot of snarky not-funny jokes at my expense.

Home

After the executors finally coughed up a check, we had the septic system repaired. This meant we wouldn’t have to abandon the house and live in the car. We should have had the well done at the same time, but who knew it was going to pack it in? Anyway, it wasn’t enough money.

falling-money

With no windfall or backup money, we’ve been paying things off.

But with a billion dollars … well, that would turn the tide. I could pay everything off, knock this house down and build a new one suitable for we aging folks.

A flat house. No stairs. Insulated windows. New heating and cooling systems built in. New bathrooms with great showers.

Two new cars. The non-winter vehicle will be something entertaining and sporty. When bad weather comes, our little sports coupé goes into the garage. The second car will be our winter truck, an all-wheeler that can plow through snow drifts and laugh.

Oh and an extra-large garage. Enough room for the cars we use and at least one we might want to use. Sometimes. AND room for the other “stuff” like snowblowers and lawnmowers and rakes and brooms and weed-whackers. A powerful generator so we can stop being terrified of wind and snowstorms.

Huge closets. Huge. Someone to come in and clean — and a cook!

How about a garden tractor? We’ll have a guy tend the gardens, clear away the leaves in the autumn. Run heavy errands which involve hauling and lifting — groceries for example.

We won’t forget our friends and family. We’ll make sure everyone we care about has what they need. Maybe we’ll have a compound so we can live in close proximity. Visit without driving long distances.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Beyond this? Security for whatever years we have.

Life won’t have to be so hard. We can grow old and enjoy ourselves without wondering what weird laws the government will pass or which strange new rules will make it impossible to get medication. It won’t buy us more time on earth — money doesn’t matter when your number is up — but it could make the time we’ve got more fun.

More fun for us and for our friends and family. Maybe for you, too.

DREAMING ABOUT CHICKENS – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I dreamed about chickens.

It looked a lot like it does around here. A bit hilly. Lots of trees. There was a movie star living in the house. She was supposed to be young, but her skin looked like the bottom of an old leather suitcase and was a trifle orange. She was going back to California where she believed she would be better off.

youtube.com

That left me with 200 chickens. The fowl were arriving (shortly) by truck. Healthy, young, hens and roosters. Enough to start a nice little chicken farm.

Except I didn’t want to be a chicken farmer and I was pretty sure, neither did Garry. I couldn’t just leave the chickens to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. I’m a responsible person and I love animals. Even chickens.

Chickens don’t get lost

I was still baffled over the whole chicken conundrum when I finally gave up, opened my eyes, and began my day. Coffee would banish chickens. Garry said it was from a movie we’d seen and I was caught in an old movie loop.

Sometimes, the absolutely best storyteller in the world has got to be my subconscious. I would never consider creating a story involving me and chickens.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry, and chickens

Not counting authors since this prompt doesn’t concern that … who tells great stories?

Garry tells wonderful stories. He makes us laugh. I don’t know if the story is true or maybe just a little true, but whatever, it is great entertainment. Tom tells great stories too and he usually has a good closing line, which is probably my biggest story-telling issue. I can tell a good story but I run on too long and am not good at wrapping it up. I’m good for the yarn’s first three-quarters.

Story-telling is the glue that makes friends want to hang out with each other. If you can keep the crowd laughing, you’ll never be alone.

It’s not booze, movies, or video games. Certainly not texting. It’s stories. The tales of our experiences, things we remember, times and places and people we’ve known.

Photo: Ben Taylor

I keep wondering what people will do when they realize you can’t live forever with just a cell phone? They don’t seem to have a clue about having conversations or telling stories. From whence will their stories emerge?

Our stories are our personal mythology. Will our children and grandchildren have stories? Or anyone to tell them?

It worries me. It really does.

RAGE AND HELPLESSNESS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Number

I woke up this morning in a rage at my father, but really, at all the men in my life who have taken so much and given back so little. In all these years of living, how could I let so many numbers of years travel by while I failed to realize the amount of anger I’ve accumulated?

And how did I fail to realize how helpless I have felt through all these years?

Goes to show you — just when you think you are over the hump, there’s another hill right in front of you.

I think the hills are never done.

DREAMS – FOWC FROM FANDANGO AND THE EVERLY BROTHERS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Dreamer


This song peaked in 1958, the year I turned 11. But that was not the end of it because many other people sang it and for reasons someone can probably explain, the words have had a strange way of sticking in your head.

This song has gotten stuck in my ears regularly over the years … and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

The Everly Brothers: ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM!