Darlings and dreams (The Story Series #2)

The other day I was reading this (because I'm still on a huge Wicked high and I want to find out every behind-the-scenes detail I can get my hands on), and I was struck by something that Stephen Schwartz, mastermind composer, wrote to a fan:

...the last few months of putting on a new Broadway musical are extremely stressful -- there is so much pressure, what with so much at stake financially for so many people, so many reputations on the line, and the relatively hostile environment that is Broadway these days. And this is of course coupled with the reality that a production of a show, no matter how well achieved, can never really be what the authors had in their heads, so there are all sorts of emotional adjustments to be made.

I'm familiar with this, though not for the reasons that Schwartz is. He had to make circumstantial adjustments—some songs didn't fit the actors, others made the show too long, that sort of thing. I, on the other hand, experience this out of a sheer lack of skill. When I do visual art, I can never get things to turn out on paper (or the computer screen) they way I envision them in my head. My hands start improvising with complete disregard to the thoughts in my brain. Sometimes, the result is better than I could have imagined; other times, I resign myself to the reality that it's as good as it'll ever get, and pretend I made it that way on purpose.

It's okay, though. Art is just a hobby, so if something doesn't quite work out, I can just throw it away and go read a book. But when other things in my life don't turn out as planned... well, Stephen was right—there's an emotional adjustment to be made. Sure, I can know that God is in control. I can recognize that the dreams I'd held dear were never really meant to be mine. I can figure out why things happened the way they did. I can even accept that my present reality is much better than my wildest imaginings could have foretold… but all the logic in the world can't substitute for contentment.

I was in grade school when I first came across (in some writing-advice book that undoubtedly went over my head) the phrase, "kill your darlings." Those sentences and turns of phrase that thrill you when you think about them, the ones that make you smug if you read over them a dozen times, the ones without which you just know your piece would shrivel up and die? "Kill them," William Faulkner said.

I thought this was a throwaway cliche until I signed up for a creative writing course this summer. As I write, I become really fond of certain ideas and phrases, and they provide the surge of excitement that makes my fingers fly across the keyboard double-time. The prose takes on a life of its own, surges and swells through unexpected twists, becomes almost unrecognizable… and ultimately, it outgrows those beloved darlings that had given me enough hope to keep writing. Much as I love them, they stick out like sore thumbs, and I regretfully snap them off because I know that the piece is better off without.

I think life is a bit like that, too. At any given moment, you have certain dreams that mean the world to you. They compel you to make choices that you'd never dare make otherwise and spur you on when the going gets tough. They're like scaffolding that supports your life as it blossoms and unwinds, but sometimes, it grows too big for them. Somehow, those darlings of yours give rise to something greater than themselves, something you barely recognize, and you realize that they were only seasons. They leave their mark and drift away.

How do you react when you've put years (and all of your heart) into loving someone before realizing that they're not the one with whom you're meant to spend the rest of your life?

How do you react when you have to trade in your dream of being a dancer—a dream that cost you 10 hours at the studio each week, 52 weeks a year—for an office job?

How do you react when you racked up debt and grey hairs in law school only to find that being a stay-at-home mom is your true calling?

I've never had to deal with anything this drastic, though I'm sure I'll have my fair share of these moments someday, considering how idealistic and impractical some of my dreams are. How will I react? I hope I won't cling to the past or wallow in regrets. I hope I'll have the courage to admit it when my darlings don't fit the story any more… the courage to face them and mourn them and let them go. I hope I'll be able to thank those dreams for setting my life onto a new trajectory, a narrative arc more beautiful than any I could have imagined. And I hope I'll never be afraid to jump with both feet into new adventures just because they "might come to nothing."

They will never come to nothing.

Faulkner was wrong; you can't exterminate your darlings—they leave an indelible mark on your art, your story, your life. And you let go; you adjust; you learn to love it all… the beautiful, unexpected final product, the countless transformations that came before, and all the false starts and fancies that arose along the way.


Emily Freeman wrote a good post on this topic a while ago that stuck with me for months... For when your future keeps changing: "Why must we always insist that the destination is the most important measure of success? We put so many worry hours into our future only to discover that it keeps changing."



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I'm Oksana—Communication major, shutterbug, occasional blogger, incessant doodler, graphic design geek, and writer of sentimental prose. I am quite content to spend an afternoon with a pencil, a few blank Moleskine pages, and a playlist of indie folk. I love musical theatre, black-&-white movies, and Eastern European illustration. Conversations with strangers make my day. When it rains, I make a beeline for my mug of green tea and stack of 19th-century fiction. I'm vegetarian about 98% of the time. I'm extremely awkward and rather nerdy. I love the sea. My name means 'hosanna' and I'm having the time of my life living to praise the One who set me free.

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