I had a dream the other night that a man was talking to me. I don’t remember his face, but I know it must be a face I’ve seen in real life. The man told me, his voice full of scorn, that I was one of the worst abusers of the comma that he’d ever had the misfortune to come across. I was a sham, a mockery, and I should never write again.
I’ve had my fair share of dreams. Almost every night in fact. Most of my journal entries begin with re-tellings of my most recent dream, and many a short story has found its way to life through the portal of my sleeping mind.
But this dream jabbed at me.
It may be because I’ve never been a great grammarian. Shocking, perhaps, but I’ve always seen language as a moving target, a growing and evolving being full of its own comings and goings. I have never loved to keep my language confined, always wanted to let it flow beyond the strictures of form.
Although I love sonnets.
It is more likely, though, that this dream stuck with me not because of any external chastisement, but because it so perfectly encapsulates my internal monologue.
I have great expectations for myself. (Yes, this is a Dickens reference.) I don’t just want to be the best writer I can be, I want to be the best writer that has ever lived. I don’t just want to write short stories, I want to write life-changing, earth-shattering revelations of the human spirit.
Which might be a bit much to ask of a twenty-four year old.
But my expectations have never been rational.
When I was a child, I took piano lessons for a few years. Every day when I sat down to practice piano I would tell myself a story.
“If I play this piece perfectly,” I would say, “then all my hopes and dreams will come true. I’ll get an A on the test tomorrow. My parents will be happy. Everyone will stay healthy, and I’ll get to eat my favorite food for dinner.”
Kind of sweet, right? Except that right after that I’d tell myself another story.
“And,” I’d remind myself, “if I make a single mistake then everything will be ruined. People will mock me. My family will suffer horribly. My cat will choke on a fish bone and die, and it will be all my fault.”
Not surprisingly I very frequently made mistakes.
I’d like to tell you that I’m a different person now. That my expectations have been tempered by my increased understanding of reality. That I am driven now only by the willingness to do the work.
And certainly this is true… to an extant.
But the shadow voice remains, dogging my steps and haunting my dreams.
Is there a balance to be found? A nexus of ambition and reality? Or this simply another quest for unsustainable perfection?
Perhaps the answer lies in the medium of the dream itself. The awareness that the brain is constantly learning and changing even during sleep. Perhaps my mind, like language itself, is a moving target.
And perhaps allowing myself the room to make mistakes, to misplace, commas, to fail miserably, is simply another step on my way towards fulfilling my dream.