The Case Against Dreams

Since graduation, people have increasingly been asking me what my dream jobs, dream companies, and dreams for the future are. Which is leading me to realize that I no longer have any. And I say that in the most optimistic way possible.

Dreams are made of ideas alone, floating in a weightless world with no bodies to bump up against them and shake them off course. So they go in straight lines, mostly just up.

But try to follow a dream in a world of matter, and things get far more twisted. You’ll hit walls and laws and ceilings, and have to recalculate your route to dodge, climb, or break them. When your ideas spill onto the scene and cause reactions, they’ll fizzle and change colors and explode, until you can barely recognize what you started with. You’ll collect dirt and leave a trail of elaborate curlicues as you spin your way into places you never planned to see.

And at some point, you’re likely to find that you and the dream have left each other’s sights. You might scan your surroundings, looking for another nearby dream to start your next game of obstacle-tag. It’s a game that can keep you moving for a lifetime, if that’s your thing.

Lately though, I’ve become more inclined to let those naked ideas float by as I turn my sights downward for inspiration, following the landscape of reality itself.

People say that dreams are about imagination, but when I listen to most of their dreams, the scope of possibilities is far more square and narrow than anything reality could devise. In those dreams, you know that the good guys win, and the girl marries the boy and stays that way, and success comes in windfalls and stays that way, and matter is different from energy and stays that way, and everything happens for a reason.

Some people get so caught up in those limited dream-worlds that their imaginations shrink to that scope. And with imaginations so narrow, they can’t envision the full range of reality, even as it stands right in front of them.

If you want your brain to buzz with things you never dreamed possible, try really exploring reality. Run your fingers into the crevices you used to step over, and trace the wrinkled pathways all the way out to the fringes. Look close at the frayed and jagged edges. (Truth be told, it’s all rather broken and messed-up, but so are most things worth spending time with. So are most things I love.) Now stand on the edges, and look at it from far away.

Once, I dreamed I could just spread my arms and fly. So I started running and jumping and falling and building to try and get up there. Until I was just running and jumping and falling and building to get somewhereSo far, that has been remarkably more interesting.

just say no

Okay, this is a bit extreme.

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Academia: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a shiny white tower which stretched above a big forest called The Real World. She had entered the tower when she was young so that she could escape from the scary market forces and tax monsters in forest.

 

Of course not everyone could get into the tower. To get through the gates, she had answer a very long set of riddles sent from voices higher up.

Every so often, she would have the opportunity to climb one story higher in the tower if she followed the rules. And she did. She would answer more long sets of riddles. She would do a special kind of magic, turning very small ideas into very big books. She would create perfect illusions, appearing to know everything when she didn’t. She would learn to speak in peculiar tongues so that no one below her could understand. And of course, she would worship the voices above her. And so, over the years, she steadily rose higher and higher.

Each story of the tower was narrower and narrower, and fewer and fewer people would rise each time. Sometimes, people wouldn’t pass the tests, or the magic drained all their energy. And some would choose to leave. Either way, they would be sent tumbling down, scraping their skin as they brushed the thorny treetops of The Real World and bruising their bones as they found themselves at the very bottom.

But those who rose had their eyes on the tower’s tiny top floor. If you made it to that level, the prize was that you got to stay there forever and never leave.

The towers had windows where the princess could look down upon the people in The Real World. With each level she rose, the people became smaller and more distant. The higher voices said that the further away you were from people, the better you could understand them. This seemed true enough: she could see wider and farther than ever, noticing their numbers and patterns in ways she never did before. But most of all, she could see how small and faceless these people were, and feel bigger herself.

columbia princess

But one day, as she looked out the window, she could no longer see people, only a mass of tiny dots. She thought about the floors above her with fewer people around and tinier people below. She was starting to miss seeing faces.

She began to sit on the windowsill, thinking about what it might be like to live outside. One of the voices above warned her: “When you’re down there, you’ll be just as small as all those people. They won’t care about your crown or your magic tricks, and they won’t listen to your funny words. But if you stay here and keep climbing, I think you can make it all the way to the top.”

But as she imagined getting higher, lonelier, and further from the ground, she wondered if she should make the jump before it got too far.

Epilogue:

She hit the bottom and it hurt. The market forces blew away her crown and the tax monsters chased after her. She started crying “Take me back to my ivory tower!”



Yeah, I guess I’m feeling kind of cynical right now. 

Audition Adventures: Paul Taylor Edition

During spring break, I took a class at the Paul Taylor studios with a friend, and some people were talking about the company auditions which were taking place this weekend. To which I responded “I kind of want to go, for fun. I mean what’s the worst that could happen: me still not being a Taylor company member? (Spoiler: that’s exactly what happened, and that’s totally fine.)

So I went online, filled out a registration form, and got my time slot . . . 7:40 AM. Yep. I consider myself a morning person, but that’s just a bit extreme, and the Taylor studios are quite a hike from Morningside. And of course, if they have the need to start at such ungodly hours, they must really be expecting a lot of people.

Not that this really bothered me. After all, this was the Taylor company*, so I knew that a major chunk of NYC’s dancers would be there, including all the serious Taylor junkies (I like the Taylor style, but I haven’t really studied it or attended their intensives for years like some other people there), and I really wasn’t expecting anything.

Which is really liberating: going to an audition not just with nothing to loose, but also with almost certainly nothing to win. I know that this no stakes attitude toward auditions might not be possible when I’m out in the “real world” needing a job, so I’m really taking advantage of the luxury now while I’m in school.

photo

The audition itself was surprisingly fun. After waiting in a long line and warming up in the hallways, they took us in groups of 20 into the small studio to learn a piece of repertory from some company members. It was a very dancey, expansive, technical phrase with somewhat confusing timing–in 12s (which few people actually got right).

They taught it really fast at first, which gave me some momentary thoughts of “I won’t get this. Why am I here? Is it too late to leave?”, but once we started going in groups, I realized that everyone else was struggling just as much as I was, and I felt pretty comfortable with the material by the time we went into the larger studio to perform. (I think this is a good example of how easy to assume that everyone else is generally a more experienced, capable adult who has all their shit together, when this usually isn’t the case if you just look around).

So Paul Taylor watched us dance. I’m not someone who gets starstruck by famous people, dance or otherwise, but I think that’s still a pretty cool thing to say. Actually, first he watched us walk, one by one across the floor. I’m not really sure what he was looking for–I tried to go for confident but relaxed, but in retrospect I may have overdone the latter.

We then did the phrase in groups of four. After practicing in a tiny studio with the whole group, it felt great to get to take up the big, open space (the studio is huge and gorgeous) and just go for it.

One of the prettiest dance spaces in NYC

And then it was done. And I didn’t get a callback. And I left.

But I left feeling like I had belonged there, if just for that hour. And that if I can find joy and confidence in my dancing in any new and challenging situation, maybe the real world is a bit less scary than it seems.

*Or I guess now it’s “American Modern Dance.” I’m still trying to figure out what that means, considering that not all of the choreographers are American. Then again, I’m no longer really sure what it means for something to be “American,” “modern,” or “dance” so…