History is littered with aspirational guidance. Aspirations are essential only if you want to get somewhere other than where you are, literally or figuratively. Otherwise, who cares?
There are some who prefer to stay in one place. For example, Marilyn Monroe was quoted as having said, “Dreaming about being an actress is more exciting than being one.” Maybe that says something about her fate. She finally found her way back to a serene complacency—a womb that reality couldn’t pierce; death can be a safe haven for dreams.
Although, aren’t dreams typically associated with aspirations? Each dream germinates a seed for future realizations. I’ve been nurturing one of those seeds for decades. My strongest aspiration came to me when I was fifteen. It was the summer of 1967. The forecast was for hot and muggy, a typical day in late July for Michigan. It was mid-week, and I was counting down the remaining days of summer vacation.
I decided to get the backyard pool maintenance out of the way early. Our pool was sixteen feet in diameter and above ground. It wasn’t luxurious, but it was the perfect place to keep cool during the day and hide from mosquitoes at night. I made quick work of recharging the pool filter’s potbelly drum; and didn’t waste time replenishing the chemical mix; but I took my time when it came to vacuuming.
My gaze followed the lazy slide of the brush-head across the pool’s lumpy royal blue bottom as I drifted from one daydream to the next. My thoughts were random, but never pointless. I happily studied the refracted aluminum pole guiding the vacuum brush, its skinny shadow rippling through the surface. Any hope of using what I had learned in geometry to calculate the converging angles was out of the question, so I simply pondered the seductive imagery.
Vacuuming the pool became my safe haven for dreaming. I had to go slow to avoid kicking up the sand that had drifted to the bottom. Each time the debris swirled upward I made a mental note to revisit the spot. Sure enough, on my return I’d find a lonely patch of grit settled into a depression. My dad and uncle had prepared the sandbox base for the pool several summers earlier. It had started out free of impressions, but eventually turned into a vinyl lunar landscape of heel and toe shaped craters.
The meditative ritual of scrubbing the floor of the family pool was a time for teenage contemplation. No matter what floated through my mind, I eventually looked to the future. This day was like most others. The sky had started out without a cloud only to slowing decay into a hazy baby blue. I had finished my chores and was setting up the chaise lounge when the notion of being twenty-five came to mind. What would I be doing? More specifically, what did I want to be doing?
I wanted adventure. I wanted to be traveling the world, sitting in smoked-filled cafes, scribbling my thoughts for future reference—for future publication. I wanted a Hemingway life. That’s what drew me to San Francisco at the age of twenty-three. Ferlinghetti’s poetry sent me in search of my own kind of Coney Island. It took several tries before I planted myself firmly, but by the time I turned twenty-five, I was comfortably roaming the cafes and bars of North Beach.
As I approach double-sixes, the bohemian still resides within despite having lived a life of quiet desperation; a life of having put aside a teenage aspiration. Who needs aspirations? Everyone—that is if you want to go somewhere other than where you are or where you have been. As I settled into the checkered red and white webbing of the chaise that day, I thought, “I’m going to be a writer.” Now that I’m done dreaming, I’ll get on with being one.