One of my favorite songs growing up was “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by The Mamas and Papas. The song came out in 1968, so that means that I was 7 when the song came out. I don’t know how long it was before it stuck in my mind as a favorite, but I always remember loving it and also loving to hear Cass Elliott sing it. As I rake my memory to find the relics of past connections, I’m sure that the romantic aspect of the song didn’t affect me until fifth grade or seventh. I always had crushes then, on boys and girls…not understanding that it wasn’t the accepted feelings of the Southern rural culture where I was raised.
This writing is not about the song, but about the dream and the dreamer. You see, I’ve always been a dreamer. Another vestige of song lyric responds “…and I’m not the only one.” (Imagine, John Lennon). In those formative years of life, I was all dreamer and dreamer lyrics, dreamer poetry even. Yes, I was one of the ones who daydreamed in class, in church, in every moment when I was awake really. Then, in the night, I dreamed vivid dreams. I’ve always been a vivid dreamer and started a dream journal in the seventh grade. I’ve kept a dream journal ever since.
I had big dreams of the opposite character as a kid. On one hand, I wanted to be a famous singer and tour the world making it better (the “it” was undefined then) for everyone with my songs and the stories in the songs. On the other hand, I wanted to be a missionary and make the world better by spreading peace and love. As I type this, perhaps the dream wasn’t so opposite after all. I simply wanted to share a message that inspired others. Even in the dream to be a missionary, it was as a musician.
As most adults know, keeping the dreams alive is the real difficulty in life. As a youth, I remember my mom talking about how she had dreams of being a famous pianist. She was excellent too. In those times, I always felt sad for her that she lost the dream…or did she? She always told me later, as I reached 18 that she had to give up her dreams to make a living. That happens to a lot of musicians and especially to women musicians pre-birth control era.
Now, in writing, I find myself lost in dreams again. Yes, I remember my mom talking about her lost dreams and living the reality of Southern life in the 60s. Though I was a 60s child, life has afforded me many more opportunities even as women’s rights continue to suffer setbacks. The dreams I remember were grand in many ways because I didn’t understand that not all musicians have everything needed to pay bills, buy groceries, go to doctors, and find housing. You know, the “real-life” stuff mama talked to me about as I decided to major in music.
Through auditions in my 20s with various bands and for agents, it didn’t take long until I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be famous. At the time, it seemed to be because I didn’t want to show off my body as the band leaders wanted or the agents said. My voice was fine and most liked my guitar work. It was always the same, wear short dresses and wear make-up. They wanted me to be someone I was not. Also, when Grandma Whitley was in the hospital, possibly dying, I was told I couldn’t go see her because it was a rehearsal night. No, that wasn’t going to happen. Then, it made sense to turn to and continue my work in church music.
That choice didn’t feel like the death of a dream or killing a dream but more a letting go of a dream that I saw as childish. I didn’t have what it took to live the life of a professional touring musician. There are things we lose in life that we can accept when we accept our limitations whether they are financial, physical, or emotional. The truth is, by the time I was forty, I could say that most of my life dreams had come true. I won’t list them because there were many. Some would call the dreams goals, but a dream is a goal and goals can be dreams. Some said that since I achieved all my dreams, that I needed to dream bigger.
Dreaming bigger wasn’t hard since I was no longer interested in fame. However, then I met a different kind of obstacle. These were the dream killers. Of course, there had been people who wanted to discourage me earlier in life but that only served to make me more determined. These dream killers were more sinister because they found ways to attack my spirit, my livelihood, and my personhood and sense of identity.
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
No, I’m not going to name names except for the one who was most dangerous and who was least expected – Me. Yesterday, my partner and I talked about dreams of travel. I was hesitant and anxious even though I love to travel. Throughout the night, I wondered why and at one point, realized that because of my health challenges and age, I had given up on dreams of travel.
Then this morning, Heather talked to me about how she didn’t want to stop dreaming because of her age. Suddenly, I could hear myself responding to my ex about disability by saying, “I’m not dead yet.” I wasn’t then, and I’m not now. Through this difficult talk with Heather and struggling with my own feelings, it became clear that in the past twenty years or so, the one who has been killing my dreams was and is me.
There’s more to it than self-sabotage because there were many great losses in the past 30 years. However, it is up to me to realize my dreams and no one else. Yes, I was disappointed in life and when dreams were squashed by others or unfulfilled because my health changed. However, that doesn’t mean I cannot dream new dreams.
During my counseling session earlier yesterday, my counselor noticed that I had gotten off-balance and was dwelling in a negative space even though at this time, my life is beautiful. I have new love and life. I have a wonderful home and good friends. This week, I get to travel again for the first time in 30+ years to a place that I’ve always wanted to go to, Canada. That is a dream that I gave up on. Now, in three days, my new sweetheart and I are making it a reality! That is a type of rebirth of my spirit.
“We keep our vibration higher by prayer,
by kindness, by taking care of what we were given to do,
by cleaning ourselves of negative thoughts that originate within or come from others,
by cleaning with water, by humility,
by being in the real world, away from concrete and square buildings,
by speaking only that which holds truth.”
~Joy Harjo in Poet Warrior
Truth is, I don’t know what to think, feel, or do about it. Perhaps the only thing I know right now is that I want to dream more and live more even if I’m 60 and going on 61. Because of this wonderful person in my life, I am being empowered to dream NEW dreams. The past is past. Yet, my dreaming heart and dreaming mind can still dream new dreams in this present. What a gift! Through my talk with my counselor and my beloved, I’m being encouraged to “dream a little dream of me” for myself.
I write now to say that I am up for the challenge. I am alive and love is vibrant in my life. I embrace the dream. How about you? How are you embracing new dreams? It is never too late to dream again.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
 Harjo, Joy. Poet Warrior: A Memoir. W. W. Norton & Company, 2022, pg. 116.