Heroes, Inspiration and Big Questions

Lately, I feel like people are thinking, “Oh Geez, here come those complaining Kellys again. Never happy.”

If you follow our Facebook or Twitter accounts, read my husband’s or my blogs or keep up with us in any way, you will have seen a lot of up and down commentary from us over the last good while. Job frustrations, money woes, loneliness, homesickness for Ireland, challenges with the kids, and certainly a lot of anxiety since our home intrusion back in April. But mostly, I think, our admitted dissatisfaction comes from a passionate and unquenchable desire to be something more. To hold on to our dreams, and work hard for them. To leave a mark. To mean something. And the knowledge that we are not “getting anywhere” at the moment.

Me, full of dreams, back in 2009.

I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions lately. Does everyone dream big, but only a few achieve? Why do some people never “get there?” Is it a matter of work, or belief, or opportunity, or luck? If God puts talents and desires into each of us, shouldn’t we fight for them, and try our best to see them through?

I know, when looking at famous examples throughout history, a lot of dreamers had to sacrifice things like family, friends, even health and certainly money, in order to follow their hearts. Some of these people were selfishly obsessed with money or fame. Some were simply driven by belief in what they had to offer. I’d like to think that Frank and I are part of the latter group. We both, and together, have deep, sincere, heart-felt, nearly primal dreams we dream every day. They don’t really involve celebrity, power, or fortune, but rather a better life for our kids and a greater feeling of satisfaction and some pride in what we’ve been able to give back to the world.

We are, both of us, story tellers.

Frank, full of dreams, back in 2010.
Frank, full of dreams, back in 2008.

Yet, it seems unpopular in our world today for anyone past the age of, oh, say 25, to dream. That’s kid stuff. If you haven’t taken a risk or made your mark by then, you need to give it up. It’s selfish and foolhardy to pursue personal ambitions past 30, much less 40! And when you have kids? Don’t even think about it.

It’s like we’re perpetuating a myth, generation after generation of us, raising children with hope and encouragement, only to squelch our own ambitions before they can fly if they don’t succeed within an accepted time frame. We watch our parents and grandparents give up, and we dream for a little while, and then give up, too. We tell our kids to dream, and then watch them close the door when their own little ones come. And unless you’re extremely driven, or lucky, or cut-throat about it, you won’t break free.

I find this ideology incredibly frustrating. And I feel like I can’t sincerely tell my daughter and son to aim high and reach for the stars if I won’t allow myself, or Frank, to do it as well.

Little ones, so full of hope and wonder.
Little ones, so full of hope and wonder.

Another question I keep asking is, are some people just happier in simple lives? Are some people really and truly content with the primary purpose of their existence revolving around buying a home, living close to family, and watching the cars go by? I’m truly not judging here – I think that is wonderful, if that’s what you want to do. I sometimes wish a white picket fence was the extent of my dreams. But I don’t. And I wonder if most people settle, or if they simply have an entirely opposing outlook to my own.

Life is scary and complicated. And short. And I know I should take more time to admire and appreciate the little things. I still love reading Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide To A Happy Life” and I agree with taking time to be thankful for what we have.  I adore my babies and my husband. I am eternally grateful for our health and love for each other.

But I want more. I’ll be totally honest. These past years, living in Ireland but unable to travel much or pursue my career, then moving here and watching Frank struggle and facing a whole new set of challenges as an individual and a family… I feel like I’m all shrivelled inside. I feel like the potential my life used to hold is tapping out, and if I don’t do something to restore it soon, let it know I still believe, it will disappear all together. And I know Frank feels this, too, perhaps even more than I do.

Life holds no guarantees, and success in doing what you love is perhaps the biggest risk of all. We’ve all seen the reality talent shows where someone comes out on stage, full of passion and confidence that they’re the next big someone – and then they open their mouths to sing or they display their talents and they flop. They fail! Their “gifts” are appallingly bad. When I used to work as the Film & Research Coordinator at Heartland, I saw hundreds of films every year that were made by aspiring filmmakers the world around… and most of them were horrible, no matter how much you tried to rationalise their good intent. This is the hard truth.

So, what’s the use in trying? If we haven’t done it by now, why should we keep setting ourselves up for disappointment? It’s painful, and makes us unhappy. Why can’t we settle down in a little corner of the Midwest, save up and buy a house, and make our dreams become our hobbies. Our memories. Plenty of people do this, and seem OK.

But it just doesn’t feel right to us. To me. To him. Not even a little bit. Our very souls are fighting it from the inside out.

However – and maybe this is my increasing insecurity playing with me – it feels like some people are getting tired of us. They’re losing hope in us, and wishing we’d just stop complaining and stop trying to do so much. I feel like everyone is looking, saying, “We all want to do our own thing, too, but we have to be grown ups first. We can’t all get what we want. What makes you so special?” And I feel lonely, and a bit sorry, and a bit embarrassed, for dreaming so hard.

Don’t get me wrong – we have been blown away by the level of generosity and encouragement we’ve received from friends, family and perfect strangers since we landed in the USA last September.  It went above and beyond our expectations and brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  I just… feel like at this point, some people are raising their eyebrows at us, frustrated that we’re not entirely happy with our lives at at the moment or, as Frank once speculated, “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Isn’t this what you wanted?'”  Anyone who has emigrated will tell you it takes a good year, often more, to shake the dust off and find your way towards “normal.”  It’s REALLY HARD.  And then, there’s a big part of me, too, that aches to be in a position to help others out, to say thank you and pay it forward.  Part of me feels too proud to accept (much less ask for) any more help.

One of my favourite authors is also one of my biggest inspirations – JK Rowling. She was living an incredibly hard life, a single mum, poor, rejected, out of work. She was very common, in that respect. And yet, she wrote some of the most incredible fiction this century has seen. I actually can’t even comprehend having an imagination so rich, much less being so adept at putting it all out on paper for the rest of us to enjoy. She was an unlikely dreamer, but she prevailed, and she won.

One of my favourite musicians is Jamie Cullum. A young jazz pianist, he’s one of those who people either love or hate. He sings about living the dreamer’s life, money troubles, regret, unrequited love, homesickness, and why does God let things happen the way they do. But he also sings about joy, fun, romance, honesty and hope. I remember seeing him when he was doing a tour of the US and stopped off in Indianapolis in October 2006. Though he was well known in England, the crowd at the Egyptian Room was pretty green, and fairly boisterous and rude. He took it well and played an amazing show. But he doesn’t tour as much these days. He doesn’t release an album a year. He’s not on the list of Top 10 Pop Icons. But he’s still a sublime musician. He’s still producing phenomenal art. In some ways, he’s even more popular than ever, within his own niche. But he’s done it on his terms, and has pursued his love of music, learning and integrating and adapting all kinds of styles and genres into his own pieces. He’s married to one of my favourite cookbook authors, Sophie Dahl who traveled the world as a model and is the granddaughter of the late Roald Dahl. Sometimes I want their life, or what I imagine their life to be – him pursuing his art with integrity, her pursuing writing and cooking, both of them travelling and looking after their two little girls. They live in London. Sometimes part of me wishes we were all friends, frequenting the same coffee shops and play groups, discussing current affairs or recent films or what fish goes best with fresh heirloom tomatoes.

These are only a few examples of individuals who inspire me.  I could list many others, some well-known, some more quiet heroes.  But, if I’ve learned anything in the last 32 years, it is that we have to be ourselves. We can’t live someone else’s life, nor can we go back and recreate a life we might have lived before. We have to keep moving, keep living, keep trying. Even when we feel like giving up, which happens a lot more than we’d like to admit.

And that is why, even when we’re discouraged, Frank and I are going to keep dreaming, even when we feel alone in it, even when no one but the two of us (and our cheering section, Evelyn and Shea) believe that it will be worth it one day.  Because, in the end, that’s what I believe I was created to do.

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