Since I was a mere impressionable infant Ive heard this rumor. It seems that a dream is a wish your heart makes, la la la, and if you have faith, la la la, a rainbow will come smiling through and presto voila the dream that you wish for will come true, la la la.
Even as an impressionable infant something deep within my brain, perhaps my persecuted-through-the-ages-including-running-from-raping-Cossacks-female-Jew genes, responded to this sunny rumor with "Oh, give me a fucking break."
But I note with pity and sorrow that many others do not share my clear-sighted skepticism. Others, you know who you are, fully believe that the dream you wish for will come true.
This belief is rotting our country at its very core.
There was once the pioneer spirit. There was once a fellow named Horatio Alger. There were Wobblies, I think. There was the New Deal. There was "Ask not what your country can do..." and "We shall overcome." Ideas, thoughts, philosophies. Some wrongheaded, some adorable. But now the land of opportunity is the land of lamebrains who fully believe they must "follow their dreams".
What does this even mean? Should I follow my recurring dream, go to school to take a test on a subject Ive never heard of, run frantically through the halls looking for the right room, then look down and notice with blood-freezing horror that I am naked?
I dont think so. I believe that what the running-shoe, AMEX, and long-distance telephone people mean when they tell us in their commercials to follow our dreams is that any harebrained notion we dream up we should be allowed to have. Or else.
What havoc this wreaks.
Aspiring actors follow their dreams straight to starvation. Aspiring filmmakers with dreams spend all their days behind the counter of their parents dry-cleaning business, confused, self-hating, no good to anybody.
These people are sad enough, but even worse are the dream-addled - those imbued with a strong, proud, inane sense of entitlement.
A guy, say, dreams of being, say, the next Hemingway. Does he go out and try to drum up business at the local pennysaver writing fire-department news? Does he wake up every morning and resolutely put one word in front of another even when hes convinced his writing is inert filler?
No. He buys himself a safari jacket, hitches down to Key West, gets drunk, and waits. Maybe he scribbles a few random words together when hes in his grandiose phase of inebriation. These he immediately sends to Tina Brown.
When Tina doesnt effusively cable him a first-class airplane ticket, our guy feels cheated. The world owes him his dream, goddammit! Pretty soon he trades in his safari jacket for a biker jacket and plants himself in his local coffee shop, exuding palpable soured bitterness, smoking Gauloises, drinking latte, and festering.
But to hell with this guy. Hes a jerk. Weve all met him and too many unfortunate girls have fallen into his trampoline lap. (Lest I seem sexist, let me mention that this syndrome also exists in women. Sure it does. I mean, a woman can have an overinflated sense of entitlement, right? I dont know any, but probably you do.)
Lets care about the fact that this sort of grandiose thinking has saturated Americas class system.
I used to wonder why so many countries have a progressive socialist-minded working class. Workers pride, tenants unions, even actual commies abound elsewhere.
Not here. Here the second you are born you are told that anybody can be president, anybody can be a millionaire, anybody can be anything they damned well please. This is what we call "The American Dream."
And this is of course a big old lie. The odds against becoming a working-class hero are so great (see Hoop Dreams) that winning the lottery, by comparison, is a sure thing. But that tiny elusive carrot is what keeps our working class from having pride or organizing power. Everybody thinks hes special, because everybody is special. But in America we have been taught were not special unless were on TV. So a perfectly wonderful construction worker hates himself because he hasnt made it. What does he do with his hatred? Maybe he sits around, drowning it in Big Macs, maybe he sublimates it and decides to hate his neighbor, or Puerto Ricans, or women, or anybody else society lets him hate. Just not his bosses. He loves those rich guys for making it.
There is another phrase- "Follow your bliss." If you take this phrase away from its smarmy little connotations it’s a fine little phrase. It means keep sniffing in the right direction, keep on keeping on. It doesn’t imply the insane magic of the dread "dream" word.
Work slow and steady, win your race. Follow your dream, ruin your life.
Cynthia Heimel, Village Voice, May 9, 1995 Reprinted without permission. Buy her books (she has like seven or something), rub her feet; she is amazing.