“And then–I introduce them to Harvey. And he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And–when they leave, they leave impressed.”
“Ah–well, some people are blind. That’s very often brought to my attention.” -Elwood P. Dowd (in Mary Chase’s comedy Harvey, about an imaginary 6 foot high white rabbit)
I was about seven years-old and waking up Easter morning, wondering aloud if the Easter bunny had come overnight and my mother, standing by the window, said “There he goes.”
I rushed to the window hoping to catch a glimpse, but saw nothing. “What did he look like?”
“Oh he was brown and running very fast with a basket.”
No, it was not very hard to conjure up a corresponding image. But perhaps that’s just me in the long run. A dreamer. A romantic. An idealist. Wanting and preferring the dream. In that case, instead of the usual 50’s poverty and underlying, occasionally unstable home-life.
My dreams, my Harveys were never hard to imagine. As an only child, I often played by myself and had to make my own fun. Fortunately, I did not have a shortage of imagination. Whether I put a small piece dropped Christmas tree branch in the snow and pretended it was a forest, or ran about with an inverted hockey stick, making believe I was Leatherstocking in James Fenimore Cooper’s tales of a romantic, idealized American frontier past.
Everything else sort of fitted in whether it was the Classics Illustrated comics I collected or the dreamy love-songs on the 45s I began collecting about age 10. Not surprisingly, in high school, I later fell for the romance of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I slipped into music and played two leads in my final year of high school–in a play and an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. Sometimes, I’ve found, you get caught in dreams–sometimes your own, sometimes others’.
Along the long adult way, I’ve generated many of my own–leading and starting up a number of bands, writing a number of books, and through my teaching–often of many old romantic favorites–turning on unsuspecting new generations to the many possibilities of dream and romance itself. I even had a colleague once invite me into her class to explain to her students why and how Gatsby was great. For another colleague, I read Robert Frost’s poems, enthused about nature in the fall, and showed them pictures of various Frost places I had visited in New England.
Very late in my teaching career, around age 40, a new support staff member gushed to me one day suddenly, “Why you’re a dreamer!” And I thought to myself, I guess you’re right. and I thought of how there was absolutely nothing wrong about that and that she was the first person in my long life who had really spotted that and articulated that to me.
Dream has been and continues to be very necessary and core to my life. Last week I went to an excellent production of Shaw’s St. Joan–a play I had never seen performed. I still enjoy live theatre and the wonder of make-believe in whatever form of the arts. Anyway, this morning all over again, I realize why I identified with her character. A dreamer, an outsider, an idealist. Somewhat naive, of course, and destined for that recurring inevitability–the crash with reality, like Richard Stine’s cartoon of the romantic somewhat blindly and blithely about to fall into a reality pit of vicious-looking hungry beasts. That tenuous–the dreams and life of a dreamer, a romantic–capital R in my case.
Elsewhere in this blog, I have spoken about sensibility–a word close to others: senses, sensual, sensuous, and sensitive. (Romantic poet John Keats wrote “O for a life of sensations!” and e.e. cummings proclaimed “since feeling is first”. Indeed.) There are many practical, prosaic types who will always dump on dreams, illusions, ideals, romance, the naive, romantics, and dreamers. That is just the way this somewhat harsh, indifferent and intolerant world can often be. Ask St. Joan.
But in many ways, dream is the best that we can imagine and finally be or become. As much as that boy-of-old’s easily conjurable fantasy of an Easter bunny (or Santa Claus) who offers gifts of self and gives hopes to one and all, even to William Blake’s chimney sweeper and Dickens’ Tiny Tim.
Yes, that much dream. That much empathy and connection. And that much hope and belief in a happy-best-possible despite mean and often limited/limiting others.
Soon off to see the parks, gardens, blooming cherry blossoms, and shorelines of Vancouver. Turns out spring in the soul, spirit, and sensibility is always a physical reality somewhere…
Teach me half the gladness/That thy brain must know;/Such harmonious madness/From my lips would flow,/The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, “To a Skylark”