What should you be?


A grumpy old guy at a bar, who was familiar to me, but I could not place. In one of those morning dreams where you incorporate the noise of the day into the dream, and Mr. Sweetcakes’ snoring became the beat to techno-pop that roused customers to dance – in this dream, this guy I almost knew was drilling my tablemates on what they wanted to do with their lives. As if we were sixteen year-olds, waiting to take on the world. But it was present day, and we are more than old enough to have sixteen-year-old children. And some of us do.

And when he got to me, he insulted me. Called me a boy. Put me on edge, then started drilling me: do I want to be a mathematician, an engineer? When I told him I had a book of poems, and one of stories ready to be published, he ignored me, kept rattling off a his list of science professions. I said it louder. My friends repeated it, too. He just looked at me, scoffed and said, “What, you think you’ll be famous?”

When you wake with that sort of question pulled fresh from dreamland, it seems obvious that you need to answer it, though it’s an easy answer (eh, it’s not the goal) and, not, I don’t think, the point of the dream.

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post from Elizabeth Gilbert, asking the question: what are you willing to give up to follow your dream? That’s the question. That’s the why for having had this dream. That bitty nugget has been carpet tackling me for months.

All through the spring and summer when I worked on these poems about science (astronomy) and the journey from my childhood with two religions to finding my way for a good while as an agnostic, and now, being happy to hold firmly a belief in the lack of any higher being, all through this book, I have struggled with finding the time despite the other priorities that call me. It’s constant and sometimes it overwhelms me. It makes me angry and sad, and resentful. And it makes me feel petty, too. Because I have a lovely life, filled with an amazing family, a good marriage, an interesting and challenging career. I am, to borrow the word back from the benevolent world that I no longer claim, blessed.

But the question hangs, always here, pressing at me. Its force is strong.

And it’s not the first time this question has asked me to dance. Though it’s never a nice waltz when we do. It’s torrid, and aggressive. It’s flemenco dancing with a bear.

And this morning, I find a quote from St. Catherine of Seina, and within it, a possible title for what comes next (a novel).  “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire.”

And just now, a character is talking to me, needing her say. So I know: the world answers loudly, just as loudly, and obnoxiously as the crabby guy in my dream.

Time to put on my best dress, dance this brutal dance with the angry ursine. And be crazily, blissfully happy that I can. Because of, in spite of, everything else calling me today.