I’ve beaten this horse damn near to death, and I’m not a huge fan of animal cruelty, just, you know, an average appreciator of it, NO I’M NOT, lighten up, I’m kidding…
When I was 22, back in Aught-Six, or 199something, I don’t know, I can’t do math, I had some random jobs in San Francisco, where I lived, and where everyone should live after college when they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Then I decided that what I really wanted to do was work in public radio. Like, as in, not just “I wanted to…” but that it was my destiny, my dream, my most fervent desire.
Turns out though, that in order for someone with no experience in journalism to get started in a major market in public radio, you have to have one critical element in your portfolio…a trustfund. I had smarts, but I had no money, and I possibly also lacked a little creativity, and what with San Francisco being the land of, well, lots of things, but also the land many many many 20-something Trustafarians with the earnest desire to be unpaid interns in public radio, I was shit outta luck and there was no way I was going to be working the 60+ hours a week for no pay required to get my foot in the door in public radio.
So I opted for what was behind door #2…I’d always said that I never wanted to turn 40, look in the rear view mirror and regret that I’d never done anything completely random like move somewhere amazing like Montana. Hence, I got a dog, applied to graduate school, packed my car, and moved to Missoula, Montana. As far as Plan B’s go, I think I did pretty well. Missoula, Montana has to be one of the greatest places on earth. I know there are lots of lovely and thoughtful people who would respectfully disagree, but I’d put it above even San Francisco any day of the week. And my time there was capital I Important. There is place in my brain reserved for Missoula and I visit it almost daily. It’s like a private zen garden, but with mountains and good coffee and my best friend and my dog and rivers.
But I digress…So I got a Master’s degree and I became a teacher, which was, I am reasonably confident, the thing that I was meant to become, professionally speaking. I never did entirely let go of the public radio fantasy, however. When I turned down the internship in San Francisco – it was offered to me – well, that was a hard day, a hard week. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I had the distinct feeling that I was letting something important slip through my fingers.
Langston Hughes, when he wrote so famously about what happens to dreams when they are deferred, was speaking of something much more significant than the career arc of an upper middle class white girl. It’s not that much of a stretch, though, is it, to suppose that even a small dream, deferred, could dry up and get swept away in the wake of a life lived in some other direction? Or that the dream could harden into a kind of callous, a perpetual irritation that, when rubbed the wrong way or leaned on just so would remind you of that one thing you hadn’t done when maybe you could have…and what if?
Last week, I sat in a chair in the studios of WHYY to record a little essay I wrote. Not such a big deal in the scheme of things. And it was a one-off event. But I put those big headphones on, and scooted the chair, usually reserved for someone I listen to almost daily, closer to the microphone, and looked through the big plate glass window at the engineer and the producer on the other side and let myself feel what it feels like to have a dream come true. And the thing is…even the little ones, the ones you thought had dried up and been swept away with no regrets,they feel really good when they happen.