PSA: I realize there are several issues with La La Land which I plan on addressing on my other site. However, I did want to address some points about dreaming and giving up which have resonated with me each time I’ve seen this film. “I’ve been working at it for 6 years, and what if it’s all just a pipe dream?” This line from La La Land with the symphony really hit home last night. For many of the dreams I’m pursuing, I’m hitting around the 6th or 7th year. Particularly in lindy hop (if you don’t know, it’s a Harlem-born, African-American accredited improv social dance), I’m in my 6th year of pursuing and practicing the idea of simply embodying a rhythm. I feel frustrated because of this: Who actually is judging and how are they judging? Someone told me recently that judges in swing dancing don’t have a set criteria. They place you based on how they think the dance would feel to them, how you look, and…in all honestly, it feels really subjective. It makes me tired. I don’t think I want to compete anymore. Are you judging me for musicality or hearsay from other dancers? Are you judging based on what I wore that night, how the audience responded, or I don’t know, the smell of my breath? My terrible posture? Maybe I’m ill-suited to the climate right now of criticism, maybe I’m just “too sensitive” as people have tried to insist my entire life, or maybe people are just too damn satisfied with themselves. Who knows? I surely don’t…or at least, that’s what my scores would tell you. I can’t help thinking that people want me to quit. “Too awkward.” It’s this stinging criticism I can never seem to shake.
My other dreams, particularly of writing a novel, have sat on the back-burner for no other reason than the continued criticism I’ve heard. When I was young and impressionable, a few “well-to-do” people in the church fellowship I joined took the liberty to shut down many of my creative outlets. When I think back to those times, I can’t help asking: Who gave them the authority? What credentials did they even have? They were dancers, writers, and musicians…but for them they had “made it” on a college stage playing to a group of APIA Christians every Friday night and Sunday morning. So, I guess having a regular “gig” makes you more critical of those just trying to “make it” at all. I’m not sure, but I’m still attempting to remove all the salt from those old wounds. My words don’t flow as easily or as eloquently anymore. They feel a bit stilted from years of fighting off attack. “Your words don’t have any heart.” That was one of the worst ones, from a panel of purported God-loving Christians. I remember trying to hide the tears on the bus ride home. I remember feeling ashamed of dreaming and wanting.
In many ways, I wonder if I’ve given up. I’ve tried to quiet my movements, dancing and writing, smaller brush strokes…just blending in really. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling unworthy so my posture is terrible, and so it continues. I anticipate those critical eyes upon sharing a poem again, and the words stop on the page. I see the hundreds of people I’ve encountered tugging at their eyelids or making nonsense syllables, because for them, I’m nothing but a stereotype they’ve seen on the screen or in a cartoon.
THIS advice? “This is for the ones who dream, foolish as it may seem.” Don’t stop. Even if it’s just dancing one night a week or practicing on your own to videos you love. If you’re still scared of prying eyes…get out there. Write in journals, on toilet paper, on napkins, in bathroom stalls, and in blogs that no one ever reads. Dance because you don’t know any other joy. Write because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Dance because it connects with you with more people in more ways than you ever imagined. Write because you can create, destroy, and there is a great and terrible beauty in it. Dance because maybe you won’t ever be the best dancer on the dance floor, but you can be the oldest, the one who still dances at 90. I don’t have to be the first, I just want to be the last. The last one standing, the one who has outlasted the worries of work, the pulls of marriage, and the hecticness of family. I want to be that person dancing even if no one is watching. I want to write like I breathe – if I don’t, I’ll die and nothing can stop the action of in, out, in, and out.
I hope you dream. I hope you haven’t let others stopped you. And…I think I owe an apology as well. My own self-criticisms have stopped me from realizing the greatness of others, because I’m partial to a culture of self-deprecation. So, here’s my encouragement: Be great. Don’t settle for good or better. I always tell my students, “Do your best.” Whatever it takes. Late nights after work, after 120 papers and 7 hours of agonizing. Do your best. When even your best friends see you as less-than. Do your best. When you have to cry to get through the day, maybe more than once. Do your very best to not let your dreams fall by the wayside.
I read a cheesy book, one of those habits books, a while ago as volun-told reading…and this one fact stuck with me. To be a master at anything, you need to invest about 10,000 hours. Jamin Jackson, one of my dance heroes, also told a class this: “You can be a master.” What do I ask for my students? Mastery. One part about mastery is that you don’t have to “get” everything, you just have to pass. The best part of mastery? You get to drive how much you pass. Good, better, best.
Scrape your dignity off from the sidewalk. Yes, I’m crying like a baby, but I’m going to get up everyday and do some work not for any person. Just for the dreams.