Before that my ambition was to be a professional gymnast. And after the spy phase, for a short time I nursed the fantasy of being a best-selling author.
In those fantasies, you never have to get there; you're just there. The grueling hours of practice, the injuries, the loneliness and head-banging pulling out chapters are not part of the fantasy. You skip straight to the gratifying part.
My kids are past the age of blurting out their fantasies of what they want to be when they grow up, but as young boys, they aimed high: Professional snowboarder, rock star, astronaut, President of the United States. As teenagers, they hold fantasies of their future selves quietly and work toward fulfilling reachable goals, but I know those uncensored, unadulterated dreams are still there, bubbling beneath the surface.
Approaching 50, I've discovered that shedding those fantasies eventually becomes natural.
It hasn't been easy. A late bloomer, I've clung to some of my favorite fantasies well past the stage of reasonability. Until I was 40, OK 45, I still courted the dream of being a performer (actor, singer, dancer) in spite of no training and no experience beyond being a high school thespian. Call it ego, self-centeredness, silliness -- for me, it was a way to wade through the sludge of everyday domestic life. It's the kind of dream you carry down the stairs with the laundry basket for the 20th time that week, when the washing machine has been emitting an annoying little leak and your socks get wet every time you turn it on. A Barbra Streisand or, better yet, a Kristin Scott Thomas fantasy will get you through those days when you can't afford to call the plumber and have to stuff a towel into the crack between the floor and that heaving, leaking vessel.
In yoga class, they talk all the time about letting go. In the middle of a frustrating forward bend, you're thinking "This should be getting easier," but in fact it's getting harder. The instructor quietly purrs, "Just let it go," and you think that's easy for her to say since she can touch her nose to the ground, but eventually you realize it's all a head game, that yoga teaches you to let go of expectations in class as well as in other aspects of your life.
Maybe it's because I've been learning yoga, maybe it's because of Sept. 11, maybe it's because I'm approaching 50 and am embarrassed by the fantasies I've been harboring, but lately I've been shedding them like nobody's business.
I've let go of the slightly crumbling villa in the south of France, the dream of winters in Italy. I've let go of sleek hair, the body of a dancer, the major motion picture option on my as-yet-unwritten novel. I've let go of the handsome, brilliant, unspoiled man who appears out of nowhere and wants nothing more than companionship.
And letting go, I've remembered Adam, my daughter's best friend when she was in first grade and we lived in Hawaii, in government housing way atop a green mountain. Adam was a dreamy kid who lived almost entirely in a fantasy state. It was the age of Star Wars and he was Luke Skywalker. More often than not, he dressed in a cape.
One evening, my daughter, Adam, his mother and I were lying on the sloping lawn at sunset, high above Honolulu, nursing our dreams. Adam's mom dreamed of travel in exotic places. I longed toward a certain kind of house -- high ceilings, a garden, spacious rooms -- a dream I eventually attained but which, I discovered, didn't guarantee happiness. My daughter imagined being a hula dancer, part of a troupe that danced for visiting dignitaries.
Adam stared silently at the rising stars, saying nothing. Finally, his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He smiled and dreamily murmured, "I want to be one of those guys with a pointed stick."
"You mean a knight?" she asked.
"No, one of those guys who work on the hill. You know, picking up trash with a pointed stick."
His dream was to be a maintenance man, and to stay in the same place forever.
Like Adam, my dreams now are closer to home. I carry with me the ongoing dream of dawn, turning the mountains' fuchsia and orange with each new morning, a dream sure not to disappoint. And I dream of the relief of the end of day, sleep that can take me to far away places -- maybe even to that slightly crumbling villa in the south of France, the air heavy with the scent of olives.
This piece was previously published Dec. 6, 2001.