An AmbitionLess Life
There was a time when I blogged quite a lot. Even before the internet was what it has become; before the word blog existed, before Facebook and Twitter gave us all a chance to share the inspirations and mundanities of our lives with strangers whose active presence we had never enjoyed, I was writing down the stories of my life and emailing them to my friends, like some private newsletter through which I could share the details of my life, the adventures I experienced, the travails over which I had triumphed, the lessons I had learned. Then came the world of social media, photo sharing and blogging and I had an open platform – one which I would discover very few people were reading.
So I stopped.
I believed that I was learning life lessons from which others could benefit. Perhaps I was right; maybe not – that is not for me to say. That decision is to be made, only, by each person who opts to read something that I write and, possibly, take away something from the words.
Tonight I had a thought that I cannot call a life lesson because it is something that I already knew, only forgotten I knew, and that thought needed to be shared – I knew that, absolutely. And so I find myself, once more, at a keyboard, opting to share, rather than hide, the personal details of my life and thoughts in my head.
I watch a lot of television. Sometimes it is tv programming and, others, films on dvd or Netflix. When I was younger, I read a great deal; and though I still read, it is less often than the frequency with which I watch television. TV just takes less time and time is a valuable commodity in my life, these days. Right now my life is all about work. I have a family to support and it consumes me. For that reason, I am very stingy with my time. Most often, when I watching television, I do so while in some act of exertion. If I can achieve three simultaneous accomplishments, I can congratulate myself, truly, on a satisfactory hour. I realized today, while watching something on television, that there is an aspect of the entertainment industry that has become a danger to me. Nearly everything that I see when watching some filmmaker’s work, when reading some scribe’s words, is a story of someone pursuing a dream. Perhaps the character(s) in the story see their dreams through to fruition and maybe not but the truth is that we watch and read the stories of people who are actively working toward a goal, a dream that is close to their hearts.
This is a danger for me to witness on a daily basis because I no longer have dreams, a fact that can cause some pain.
When I was a child, growing up in a family of people who had worked in show business at some point (my grandparents worked in the Hollywood Studio System and my parents were in the Circus), I heard myself announce to my Grandmother that I wanted to be a movie star. As I grew, I found myself interested in music, dance, fashion and acting, none of which I was ever able to achieve any success at because I lacked the discipline of study. I wanted it but did not work at it and all of the dreams became ether until I lighted on the art of photography. I worked hard, studied, practiced and went from unskilled photographer to expert. I had a dream to make a book that would feature the faces of celebrities and that would help others (my other dream). When that book came out, so few people bought it that I was able to buy 200 copies at $2.50 because the publisher needed, desperately, to unload them and make some money back. This failure in publishing came on the heels of years of potential clients passing me over in favour of other photographers, leading to the decision, finally, to put my cameras away. I had a two year hiatus from photography, during which time the world went digital. When I was ready to go back to work, I discovered the world of my craft had passed me by. The dream that I had had was no more. Nevertheless, I worked when I could – on film – to make money and, eventually, learned digital photography, only to find that the one thing that didn’t change, that would never change, is loyalty – or, rather, lack of it. My closest friends were hiring other photographers to do their photos – only now I had the pleasure of seeing their photos, the ones they didn’t hire me to make, posted on that wonderful invention called the social network. Again, I was finding, I was not good enough. At least, that was the perception that I was being given by this sad state of affairs that was my dream.
I found a new dream.
After a casual conversation at a party that included a suggestion from a friend, my husband and I embarked on an activity that was both art and activism: we would be a part of a documentary film promoting marriage equality. It took a year to make and that year would turn out to be the happiest year of our lives. We were in love and spending our time in the pursuit of love and the pursuit of equality; in the process, we were in the pursuit of the creation of art. The film, titled Married..And Counting, did alright. It did not do well. It played some nice film festivals and it played for a week in New York and a week in Los Angeles. I would learn that, while people did go see it, the numbers were not what we would have liked. Our distributor was unable to land the film on any network or even on Netflix, while other films on similar topics were enormously successful in the theaters, at the festivals and on television. We and our other two producers on the film have never been anything but proud and delirious over this creation; but Pat and I have felt cripplingly saddened by the lack of response – after all, it is our faces on the screen and nobody else’s. I even have a close friend who has said to me, this year, “I’ve never seen your movie” even after I had, expressly, given her a dvd to watch.
During this time, I have had to support our family; so I went to work in the world of catering. I became the best caterer waiter I could, possibly, become. I rose to a high point in the field, helping to plan and execute parties, leading a team of stellar servers through parties that guests praised. I was extremely happy until the owners of the company for which I worked made me so unhappy with their micro-managing, lies and thievery that it drove me to drink after a lifetime of alcoholism and a decade of sobriety. After two years of drinking, I left their employ and started over, again, this time at other catering companies, this time as a waiter, this time with a smaller hourly wage.
And this time with a new dream.
While still working for the evil company, I went back to school and became an ACE certified personal trainer; and a good one. When I left the heinous company, I began applying for training jobs and seeking out opportunities that would never come. Finally, after a year, I was able to take on a couple of private clients until I had seven private clients. With them and the catering and the occasional photo shoot, I was on my way back to feeling like I was on the right path.
Our dreams are never where we think they will be.
One by one, my training clients dwindled. People run out of money. People move away. People take jobs on the road. The reason is always legitimate; but it doesn’t stop you feeling like someone has walked out on you, a feeling nobody wants to experience; and it is impossible to feel it without feeling you have failed them and yourself. These feelings of inadequacy are magnified each time I log on to Facebook and see that close friends have had new photos done by other photographers after I had already done their photos free, at their request, because they are too broke to pay for them. So what happens then? One day you’re standing in a room full of wealthy people, a fifty one year old waiter, asking yourself “what is my purpose in this life?” and “wasn’t there something more that I was supposed to do?” or “Is this all I get?”
So I had a drink.
I had quit drinking. I am an alcoholic, full fledged, card carrying, in the club. I must never, ever, drink. The safety of everyone in my life is at risk when I drink. Saddened by the (perceived) failures of my life and loss of any kind of dream, I decided to get off the wagon, again. I didn’t fall off, I did a swan dive. I had enough drinks to wake up at five am, unaware of how I got home or what happened once I did. I had crossed that last finish line: I was, finally, at long last, a black out drunk who had lost an entire night of my life because of alcohol. I WAS the Lost Weekend.
In the days that followed, my husband and I talked, at length, about what it would take for me to get clean, get happy and get healthy. What would it take for me to live in the light? We began taking those steps, together, and today we are standing with the sun on our faces, with clear minds and a path that, while not entirely visible, is before us and in our eyesight. We stand, hand in hand, ready for what comes next; for, together, there is nothing we cannot do.
Tonight I was watching television, once again, after a long weekend filled with work and activity. Tonight I was not working: I was just watching. Every character in the story I followed onscreen wanted something. Everybody had a goal, a dream, a wish. This story, their story, was the story of people in active pursuit of their dreams; and though I was not working while watching, my mind was working… while I was watching. Would I begin to cry, as I have done in the past, watching fictional characters’ dreams come true while mine hadn’t? Would I grow angry and bitter, the way I have in the past, the next time I logged onto the social media, seeing my friends and families’ (perceived) successes and exceptional lives? How long would the emotional fallout from being a failure last this time? That is what I wanted to know.
There would come a moment in which I had my answer. It was only a moment and I knew, in that place where you know things, that it was my answer.
I have my dream.
It is true that I dream no longer – I dream no longer for myself. I want no dream for myself, I want no ambition: for I have what I have always wanted. I need no dreams, nor any ambition, for I have been dreaming of the wrong things.
Family is my dream. And, that, I have.
I am good friends with my parents, something not everyone can claim. I have best friends who see me clearly enough to know when I am worried, upset or sad; I have a best friend who recently cried and who held me and who said “I wish you could be happy”. I have a best friend who hugs me each time I have him check my breath to see that I have not been drinking. I have a best friend with whom I have a pact to never leave one another. I have children, godchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnephews and grandnieces who like to play with me. I have friends who come to New York with two goals: to be in New York and to be in Two-A. I have a husband who holds me when I am asleep, making me feel safe, who holds my hand when I am awake, making me feel safe. When a person has that, what more do they need?
Do I miss the excitement of working with the celebrities I photographed? Yes. Do I miss the excitement of going to class, learning new things with the prospect of making a better life for myself and my family? You bet. Do I miss feeling like I am somebody? Certainly. In fact, I don’t need it, though. I can live with being the best cater waiter I can be, as long as it supports my family and makes it possible for me to be there for them when they need me. They are my dream. Their happiness is my dream. It is what my mother taught me, by example: do anything, sacrifice anything for your family. And it is a good dream, one worth working for, one worth showing up for, one worth being sober for. I need no other dream, nor validation, for the rest of my life, because I have already achieved that for which I have dreamed and been taught to fight: my family. That and they are the thought that came to me, tonight, as I sat, once again, watching, watching, watching.
Without our family, we have nothing.