The night Barack Obama found out he was to receive the Nobel Prize, I was having a humbling experience of my own. Though I’m a semester and a half from a college degree, I could not make my bed. I don’t know whether it was because my foam mattress pad was lumpy, or that my sheets were the wrong color, or that I’d thought Twin “XL” was a fake size and refused to buy any bedding labeled as such. But, after a half hour or so of trying to wrestle with the impossible, I gave up and did what any 21-year-old might in a similar circumstance: I curled up in the fetal position and cried myself to sleep on the floor.
It’s true that tears come easily in these days of change—the leaves are turning, construction abounds, and babies are everywhere. In general, I don’t understand why the things normal people do (like, say, buying the appropriate size bedding) are so difficult for me. However, in this case, I was struck by a realization of something sadder.
Just as too-small pillow cases and oversize comforters complicate my hopes for a made bed, my increasingly limited options and crippling self-doubt sometimes stand in the way of my best aspirations for life. Aside from the fact that we’ll be entering the workforce in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, I’m disappointed and more than a little frightened to discover that the older we get, the more realistic we have to be.I know it’s time I started planning pragmatically, orienting and preparing myself for life after graduation. I know I have to network to find work and make phone calls and learn how to use a fax machine. One of these days, I’ve got to put the old resume together and learn French so I won’t be lying when I list lire des poemes francais among my extra-curriculars. But, with apologies to the Career Development Office and all checklists, I used to have dreams!
Oh, did I have dreams. I had dreams of marine biology and training rescue dolphins before it occurred to me that I’d need to take Organic Chemistry. I had dreams of opening a neighborhood private eye detective agency and charging quarters for solving capers, like Encyclopedia Brown did. Dreams of musical theatre, escaping to Narnia or from the Doldrums, of Tan-gram mastery and Monopoly stardom. I was going to buy Park Place and Boardwalk. I wasn’t just going to find Carmen Sandiego in ancient Alexandria hiding in some hieroglyphs, I was going to be Carmen Sandiego. I would travel the world and collect historically significant artifacts in a burlap knapsack, selling them at a marked up price to the British Museum or some other old relic of imperialism. I was an eager gumshoe and the world was my [un-kosher shellfish]! Though I was forbidden by both God and my mother from eating the treyf fish of the sea, I could imagine what they might taste like. And I imagined that the world beyond my cul-de-sac would be absolutely delicious.
When I was younger—oh, sweet youth!—I would roll down grassy hills with abandon, totally unaware of the wasps nests that awaited me. I didn’t know I’d end up in the hospital with 52 stings and a stubborn rash from an undiagnosed grass allergy, but that was the beauty of it all. I didn’t know what was coming, but it didn’t occur to me that I needed to worry.Now, more and more I find that the wonderful optimism of my childhood has been replaced by the necessary skepticism of adulthood. In order to sound world-wise or educated, I’m told I need to express suspicion about otherwise perfectly innocuous daydreams. Not to worry, I’m learning the language of casting doubt: Barack Obama probably won’t speak at our commencement and take me out for one last milkshake at the Coop. I’ll have to buy myself that Orange Julius. My parents, in all likelihood, will not gift me a one-way ticket around the world for graduation, hoping to encourage my adventuresome spirit and travel writing career. Realistically speaking, I don’t have enough time in life to fulfill my kindergarten-hatched dream of counting out loud to a million.Skepticism is the ugly side of being a grown-up, one that I am not looking forward to. As is budgeting, and balancing checkbooks, working 9-to-5, unloading groceries, having to pay the bills, or setting my own ant traps. I know some of my peers have been doing this for years or months or periods of time longer than I’ve even entertained the idea. I know it’s probably not as tiresome and boring and totally soul-crushing as it sounds.Whatever I believed about myself when I was younger, whatever illusions I had about the future, I’m sure I didn’t envision myself turning into the kind of adult who would be more concerned with the cost-benefit-effectiveness-analysis (disclaimer: I’ve never even taken Econ!) of a business plan than with the dream of opening a self-serve smoothie shop.
I’ve heard it said that might doesn’t make right and that being a skeptic isn’t always a sign of intelligence or maturity. That responsible grown-ups don’t always have to think practically and that there’s room for imagination in adulthood. I don’t know where I heard these wise old adages, probably from a great-uncle or an ex-President, but I plan on taking them to heart.
If there’s anything Professor Dumbledore taught me in my years at Hogwarts, it’s this: When it comes to dreaming, “Of course it’s happening in your head, by why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”