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Big Dreams
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Big Dreams

The time before an event is the best time. I don’t often buy a Lotto ticket, but when I do it’s only to enjoy the potential—until the actual drawing makes my daydreams null, void, and moot, I can imagine all the fun I’d have spending millions of dollars. I know that spending money, giving it away, and buying cool stuff is never as much fun as one imagines it would be—and I know that the astronomical odds of winning the lottery are leavened only by the knowledge that someone has to win, eventually.

So the best value to be gotten from a lottery ticket is that gap between purchase and drawing—that time, like Schr�dinger’s Cat, that encompasses both winning and losing. It allows for flights of fantasy that neither cash nor reality can match—because fantasies can focus on the fun parts and gloss over the mundane details and difficulties that even the super-wealthy have to deal with. Daydreaming is the everyman’s version of being an author, with the same sense that everything should follow the whims of the imagination: the unlikely coincidences, the perfect repartee, the omniscience and self-transformation—when we daydream we find ourselves using the same writers’ tricks to make an event both brief and successfully (or at least thrillingly) concluded.

And this is one of the easiest, most enjoyable aspects of life. Whenever I head towards a meeting with someone, or send something out for approval, or prepare for a voyage, the time before and the time of the event are both brushed aside and I concentrate on the ‘thousand and one nights’ version of how this impending resolution could lead to something wonderful.

You may call it escapism or denial—whatever—but for me, it is an important incentive to do things. So much of our efforts end in failure, exclusion, loss and worry; so many things invite us to surrender to fate without making an attempt at exaltation or even satisfaction; it is important to have a healthy interior life, full of hope and possibility and victory. Escapism, if it must be named so, becomes ever more important in a world that contains so many—the latest ‘head counts’ put us at approaching seven billion people on Earth—such competition can be daunting.

Plus, we have millennia of ‘back-story’—the opportunity to invent, discover, or create shrinks in direct proportion to the number of inventions, discoveries, and creative works and styles that have already been accomplished.

Today’s discoveries seem to concentrate in the rare, unexplored environments that push the boundaries of human capability: Deep-Sea exploration at depths that would crush the average submarine, Particle Accelerators that reproduce conditions similar to the first milliseconds after the Big Bang, Robot Space Probes that survey our solar system and Earth-Orbit Telescopes (such as Hubble) which are finding new features of our universe, unseen by the naked eye, or even our best surface telescopes. This is no doubt an exciting time for people who take part in those research teams—research so expensive it must be funded by the government and the big corporations. Today’s lone explorer is left with none but known destinations—accessible by tourist package and lead by experienced guides—they only discovery required by the modern voyager is where to find the spondoolicks for the tour package.

Today’s inventions suffer from a similar glut of previous successes—in a world with Velcro, ATMs, online MPGs, Pizza delivery, DVRs, and microwave ovens—the first problem is to come up with something useful that we don’t already have—then we have to work within the constraints of safety and environmental issues Henry Ford and Tom Edison never imagined. Gone are the days when a successful invention can ignore the standards of ‘unintended consequences’—something the technologies of Ford, Edison, etc. have made us all too aware of.

And creativity, the infinite realm of our imaginations—how can creativity become an overcrowded field? Well, let’s see—first, art and music and letters all began with religious and/or commercial purposes. Creativity broke those bonds, and the Renaissance found artists experimenting with non-sacred painting, sculpture and harmonic music. Then Expressionism broke down the wall between what we see and hear and how we see and hear. After that, the floodgates opened on abstract, atonal, cubist, twelve-tone and pop art and pop music— the only guidelines for which were to refuse to accept any guidelines (with the single exception of ‘getting paid’). The ‘frontiers’ of art are long gone—the challenge now is to find something intensely personal and make a public display of it.

The old icon of the ‘starving’ artist is replaced with today’s ‘traumatized’ artist—people whose creative urges stem from a lack of affection in their early years (or violence perpetrated on them during those years).

So thousands of years and billions of people later, we are expected to achieve the same kinds of competence our forebears displayed. It’s like trying to restore a pre-owned automobile to mint condition—it’s a lot of work just to create something that isn’t really original, merely washed and re-painted.

The ancient practices of walking, fetching, hunting, building, reading, writing, farming, cooking, going to market, and sewing—all of these things are gone, replaced by hybrid autos, cable TV, processed foods, Ikea and the A&P. The satisfactions of daily life, the frequent exertions, the view of the sky, the bread you baked yourself and the interaction of people actually working together (as opposed to working indoors in cubicles) were part of the human life—we surrender these things at a high price, though it may be hard to see it at first.

And my personally arrived-at adaptation to these times is to enjoy potential. While something is still possible, the myriad charms of ‘what could be’ should not be wasted. If our physical existence continues to be wrapped in artifice, we should free our minds to appreciate not only what is, but what was, and what could be. It may be the only elbow room twenty-first century civilization allows.


Street Talk

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