Edition #116: Rediscovering Forgotten Dreams
Plus, eating alone in photos, what it takes to put our phones away, and a gay little film
A Note From the Editor
When I was a kid, my imagination was a darkened theatre stage, the world my unknowing audience. Every minuscule moment, every minor detail was fodder for a story—the chalkboard I got for Christmas transformed into a magical land where I could escape, a setting of my mind’s making. My post-dinner ritual of riding a Razor scooter around the cul-de-sac for an hour became an on-air interview in which I would speak to famous people I’d seen on TV. I pretended they lived in the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac. “How long did you think you would be able to live there without me finding out?”, I’d ask them and they would be amazed by my cleverness, my keen observations.
My little brother and I favored a game that explored the more grandiose folds of my imagination. The game had no formal name, but we played it often and it went like this: I had the power to change bodies with someone else, somewhere in a far-flung corner of the world. With a click of my tongue, I could transform into an entirely different person. I developed a full cast of characters—Billy, the original and most frequented, was a young boy from a poor country town. He had two brothers named Bob and Joe and all he got for Christmas was a pencil—even we were better off than him. There was Spike, a punk skater kid, and Tiffany, a bratty blonde girl from California. We played this game so often that my younger brother developed relationships with these characters. Once, he asked if Billy could sleep over, which required some finagling on my part, but we made it happen. Our suspense of disbelief could make even the bleakest of realities feel magical; mundane afternoons transfigured into dreamed-up fantasies where we got to become something different than what we were.
Day one: humbling. Do you know how to pop up? My instructor asked, and I scoffed. Of course, I knew how to pop up.
I did not know how to pop up.
White water was supposed to be easy. I was supposed to know how to balance—all that yoga, you know? I had sculpted my arms, lean and strong. It should be so easy, the pop up, followed by a smooth coast to shore where the beautiful people waited, watched. Instead, it was wipe out, wipe out, lower, slipping feet, lower, wipe out. We’ll try again tomorrow.
I don’t know whether adults are conscious of the ways in which we kill children’s imaginations. The death begins when we ask a three-year-old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Read: you will get older one day not too far from now, and you will need to become something. What will you be, what will you be, what will you be? The answers start off cute, imaginative: a butterfly, a unicorn. A doctor, a policeman; reflective of a child’s shifting understanding of what is possible, then what is acceptable. The one-dimensionality of adulthood—you can be this or that. A policeman or a doctor, all heroes. There are no white-collar workers in a child’s imagination.
Day three: sheer panic. A lesson on surrender. Your pop up is better, you’re getting stronger, he said, but you cannot fight with the ocean.
The ocean was relentless. Massive waves dragged my body beneath the water’s surface. Dive, dive, dive. My arms became jelly, useless against the pull of the current. The thrill of catching a wave—only two, over the course of an hour—was almost not worth the aftermath: pure struggle. Hopping on the board, padding, getting pummeled again and again. Breathe, he said, you need to learn to breathe. You can’t be afraid. Relax your body and dive under, then get back on and keep paddling.
You have to keep paddling. Keep paddling. A set that lasted three waves, four, five, six, me diving and diving and diving and diving. Trying to ward off rising panic, trying to stay calm, Failing.
Meet me on the shore, he said.
I can’t remember when we stopped playing the tongue click game. My brother began to ask for Billy less and less frequently. When he did, I got the feeling it was more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else. I’d say I was too tired to trade bodies with Billy, it required a lot of energy that I no longer had. My imagination was slowly, steadily seeping from my pores, oozing from the holes in my ears and my nose, being replaced by the cold pump of oxygen that is adulthood.
I began to think seriously about what I might want to do when I grow up. I wasn’t afraid of it, growing up. I craved the escape that I could no longer conjure with my imaginative mind. I made three different plans, one if I were to skip college—a dancer—one if I were to get an associate’s degree—a flight attendant—and one if I got a bachelor's—something in public relations, whatever that was. It required writing and relationship building, two things I knew I could do. Reality shifted once again, locking into place. Grounding itself in the now. There was no escape except the path forward, and so my imagination crawled off somewhere to die or to rest for the coming years.
There was no time for imagining. I had to do, do, do so that I could become someone, something, like they always told me I should.
Day ten. Glossy waves, stronger arms, a shorter board. The nerves never fully disappear while I’m on the shore, but the minute my legs begin to carry me into the swell, everything falls away. I am not afraid, I am capable. I am alert; there is only my strong body and this ocean. The same ocean where, a few days prior, a crocodile floated alongside us, ending my worst session ever early. I didn’t think I could surf this spot again. Here, the real surfers surround me. They don’t need a coach, they read the waves the way I read my books—confidently, lost in them.
Today I am ready. The sun is generous and the water is clear blue and the currents are strong but I am, too. I miss a few waves. I dive, dive, dive, but this time there is no panic. I know what to do, I hop back on the board and I paddle into the middle, just missing the break.
The first wave is the sweetest, I am low and in control. Beautiful people watch from the shore but I am no longer aware of them. My ego has died by way of gallons of swallowed salt water. After, I paddle back out and back out again. I catch a few, miss a few, I breathe hard. My arms ache and my brow is furrowed. I will get a wrinkle if I keep squinting like this, I think, but it will be worth it.
At some point, ninety minutes pass. This will be my last wave of the day. My coach gives me tips about what I missed last time; I listen through one ear, the other clogged with saline. He repeats himself a lot, I’ve gotten used to this, so I begin to tune him out but his next sentence stops my heart. This is your dream, you know.? So I’m going to keep making you better.
This is your dream, you know?
I wanted to be a food critic first and then a veterinarian. Those were my fantasy professions as a child. But I had other dreams, too, and they weren’t related to how I would make a living. I dreamt of being a surfer.
In the summers on Long Island, I would wake up at 5 am and bike to the beach with my cousin. I would sit on the shore in the cold and watch the boys surf for hours. I would go every morning, always watching, never trying. Why didn’t I try? The ocean at that hour was so foreign to me, dark and moody looked like a death wish. Yet there I was, always watching. When the sweet summer would come to a close and I would unwillingly head back to Central Florida, I dreamt of being a cool surfer chick. After a hurricane destroyed our home, I got to pick out new bedroom furniture for the first time ever. I chose a surf theme for my room—a red comforter with cartoon surfers printed all over it, a sign from Ron Jon surf shop with my name on it.
In chat rooms, behind the newfound anonymity of AOL Instant Messenger, I would pose as a confident surfer. Longboard or short? I’d ask strangers. I’d be from California, tan and tall, starting off every day in the swell. Even my Build-A-Bear wore a puka shell necklace. Just under a decade later, when I found myself living in Maui for a period of time, I thought: this is it. I dated boys who offered to take me out in the water. I lasted only two lessons, neither of which I can remember. I bought a soft-top board and told myself every day I would go out and give it a try. One morning, I even strapped it onto my car, drove all the way to the beach, and then turned around. Every day I had a new excuse. I wasn’t ready. I was afraid of the unpredictability of the ocean. I was afraid of starting over, of not being good. Of beginning.
Get ready, he said. It’s a beautiful wave, it’s your wave. Chicken legs.
My left foot was bent at an angle, toes tucked, my right one straight out behind me. Two hands resting on either side of the board, weight evenly distributed so as to not lose balance. I squinted at the shore. Paddle, paddle, paddle, harder. Up, he yelled.
And I stood. For a moment, I was floating somewhere above the ocean, above the swell. I had become someone else, Billy or Spike or Tiffany or that anonymous surfer girl in the chat rooms. The nose of the board dropped far, so far, my heart lodged itself into my throat. Fuck. And there I was, on it. My wave, my gigantic wave. It was fast and terrifying and it carried me to the shore. And I had to swallow, a generous gulp, to get my heart back into its proper place in my chest. I crawled out of the ocean panting, smiling.
Cheers, my dears, and as always, thank you for reading. If you want to support another childhood dream of mine—being a writer!—consider opting for a paid subscription. For $7/ month, you can support the continuation of this newsletter.
I hope you continue to rediscover all of those long-forgotten dreams you once had. It really is something else.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
Replaying My Shame. I'd never heard of the Jimmy Kimmel / Gawker Stalker segment until reading this essay, and I'll forewarn you that it is painful and cringy, but still worth an examination. In a nutshell, a young, on the rise journalist (who is now a widely published author of books and essays) works from a small, gossip-type media site. This was the early 2000s before social media made broadcasting one's life a regular occurrence. The writer, at 25, gets invited to come on Jimmy Kimmel, and he berates her in a segment that she is not prepared for. I'd suggest reading the essay, then watching the segment, then reading the essay's comments for the full effect.
Going Solo: Eating Alone in Public – In Pictures. Do you ever eat alone? When you see people eating alone, do you feel sorry for them or curious about them? Perhaps both. I’m a big fan of doing things solo, especially dining, and anytime I do, I make it a point to try not to pull out my phone so that I’m forced to relish in my own company. I loved this collection of images of people dining solo, a commentary on togetherness and solitude.
What It Takes to Put Our Phones Away. The first time I read this essay, I felt the sort of panic I feel when I think about the inevitability of death—scary, out of my control—except the subject matter at hand is in my control. We've all heard about the scary pitfalls of social media and being glued to our phones, but those are realities I oft choose to ignore. This essay uses two similar, but varying philosophies—a productivity-centric digital detox book, and a book about why doing nothing is an important tool for social/societal rebellion—to examine the perils of the internet and how we might get better at resisting it. I'm struck, again, by how poisonous social media has proven to be, and yet how we collectively continue to ignore all the warning signs and keep using it anyway. Woof.
“And yet a mood of fidgety powerlessness continues to accumulate, like an acid snowfall on our collective mind.”
Perhaps You Should… Watch a Gay Little Film
This newsletter had a lot of queer history—it’s technically the place I came out at this time last year (woah!). And since it is Pride Month, what better time to recirculate this video, one of my favorite installments from a series a wrote and directed earlier this year. A sweet, queer story about repressing your sexuality and Otis Redding, Enjoy!
**Bonus Content** (Soothing Tiny Pottery)
I’ve never met something tiny I didn’t like, and this teeny, tiny pot is no exception. So delicate! So soothing!
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.