Wednesday, November 27, 2019

My American Dream Is Only Half Come True

But My Search for My American Dream Has Given Me Unexpected Gifts

By Norma Hopcraft

Today I'm offering other people's links--selfless of me, I know. Actually, I do hope these links are highly useful for you as you plan your trip to Paris -- or dream of planning your trip, which is the foundational step to making it a reality.

I believe in dreaming big. As a kid who played piano diligently, thanks to my mother's influence, I one day decided, while watching an episode of the TV show The Name of the Game (glamorous sports cars, beautiful women, settings in the great capitals of Europe), that I wanted to live and work in Europe. The only means I had of making that dream a reality was my skill at the piano. So therefore I would study to be a concert pianist.

I practiced like crazy, four hours a day, for a year, and I mastered complex music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and many others. And then I changed my mind. But in that year I made huge strides as a pianist.

For the last 30 years, without changing my mind, I've been dreaming of being someone who is just about as rare as a concert pianist: an author who makes enough money on their books to quit their day job and just write. That's been my American Dream for three decades.

Another way to say it is my BHAG: a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The United States had a BHAG, writes Jim Collins, who invented the phrase, when we decided to put a man on the moon. A simple, clear, memorable, compelling, engaging BHAG that can be expressed in several ways.

My BHAG: Have the financial and artistic freedom to write lots of novels that grab people's hearts.

In other words, "to publish my writing to critical and popular acclaim." Even more succinctly: "great reviews and bestseller sales."

I've known for those three decades, each jam packed with writing, that I was taking a risk pursuing this dream. I put hundreds of thousands of hours into writing, knowing my dream might not come true. But hoping. Plugging away anyway. I felt like I just had to write.

I think what my dream was really about was to earn the chance to feel good: the feeling that my life and my art really mattered, that my self-discipline to sit down every day to write had paid off, as I deserved. That my fans loved me and therefore I could finally, finally love myself and feel fulfilled and satisfied and loved.

In addition to satisfaction and fulfillment, I wanted a financial payoff. I wanted my writing to  provide for my old age, and also to free me from the daily grind of supporting myself in order to devote big chunks of time to writing.

I've gotten half my dream. I've gotten terrific reviews.

The second half of my dream, acclaim from the populace as shown in bestseller sales, has not come true. There's a chance that word of mouth will take off, but I'm not counting on it. When I look at the funds I'll someday retire on, I don't add in one single dollar from book sales. The royalties I make I plough directly back into Amazon Ads. 

I'm telling you all this because I've really wrestled with my Higher Power over the financial half of my dream. I tell him I've worked diligently for 30 years, I've done the right thing by developing my gifts, and I've exercised the Protestant work ethic (he who hustles wins). Not only that, the American Dream that I've grown up steeped in says that hard work will pay off financially. And I haven't seen it.

Have you felt this way, too? I've gotten really upset over it at times in the last six months, to be honest.

But after wrestling for six months, I've come to believe that my Higher Power is trying to wean me away from finding my fulfillment in "success" as I defined it in these previous paragraphs. Instead, he's asking me to look to him to provide the love, life satisfaction, self-acceptance and appreciation that I crave. As I sit with him each morning with spiritual literature, I do Step 11 from the Twelve Steps ("
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out"). Most mornings I get enough of a sense of his love for me that I'm filled up enough to go out and be kind, even on the overcrowded and frustrating streets of New York City.

I still feel sad that the financial half of the dream hasn't come true because I want so dreadfully badly to write several more books before I die. Right now, while I work full-time and commute two hours a day, I only get 600 words written per day. That's on a good day. A large number of days I accomplish 0. I'm a frustrated artist. I want to write! I want all aspects of my BHAG to be true right now!

But good things besides financial rewards have come to me because I worked toward my BHAG:

  • I've lived more richly and fully as I've looked for insights and details about people, places, and things that I could use in my novels.
  • I studied two topics that fascinate me for 30 years--writing, and the human psychology behind storytelling--and I made huge strides, just as I did in piano when I applied myself diligently.
  • I delved into the world's greatest authors to deepen my own understanding and craft (and still do). 
  • I took a journey around America on a bus. Never would have done that if I hadn't been enamored of John Steinbeck's classic, Travels with Charley.
  • I finished a creative writing degree at New York University (magna cum laude, I might add).
  • I lived in Paris for a year and wrote a novel there.
  • I lived in Barcelona for three months and wrote several travel essays there.
  • I've been part of writer's circles where I've gotten to know amazing human beings very well.
  • Now, for my next novel, I'm interviewing amazing theater people and getting involved in productions. Fun!

None of that would have happened if I hadn't been dreaming my dream, pursuing my BHAG, developing the gifts my Higher Power gave me, and working diligently toward making my dreams a reality.

And lightning may yet strike my books. They're quite worthy of it -- and you're free to understand that two ways : )

So I believe in setting a BHAG.

I believe it's never too late.

I believe in dreaming big dreams, overcoming obstacles, and running the race. Not that I'm perfect at it.

My daily, real life is different from the dream I nurtured for 30 years. I am free to write, actually--not because I've been able to shed the day job but because I get up at 5:30 a.m. to carve out an hour to write.

That isn't to say I haven't been deeply frustrated with this. I've kicked against the goads. But lately I've decided to just accept what is and to get on with my writing BHAG.

Now, if your BHAG includes exploring Paris, I can help.

Some terrific links about Paris have come to my attention, and I've saved them up for you. I highly recommend these links as you dream, as you set your BHAG to be in Paris by X date:

The 25 Most Beautiful Places in Paris, from Conde Naste Traveler.

The 7 Best Places in Paris for Literature Lovers, from Newsweek:

And for children, 5 Little Museums of Paris for Little Travelers, from the New York Times:

Au revoir, mes amies! Dream big! Comment below if you'd like a big dose of encouragement for your quest for a BHAG.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Life at the Water's Edge in Paris

By Norma Hopcraft

On my recent adventure to Paris this summer, I found myself gravitating toward the Seine.

To me, it's the most fascinating aspect of Paris--flowing through the city with its abundance of  péniches 

These are barges. Some are work barges--family businesses carting coal and many other products around the canals and rivers of France.  

Some were converted to pleasure craft. Families live on them and cruise the canals and rivers of France for fun. Or they tie up in Paris (with permission of the authorities) and live within walking distance of Le Louvre and the many other treasures of Paris.

The canals and rivers of France offer a pleasure-boater 5,000 kilometers to explore.  In France, it's known as the patrimoine fluvial, or the fluvial heritage--an incredible gift from past generations, who dug the canals and connected the rivers. You can wind past ancient stone villages, through cities, past quiet fields of wheat or cows. My friend Cris Hammond did this -- please see the link at the bottom.

The  péniches that are converted look absolutely delightful. I've been welcomed on board two of them, and that experience is part of my novel, The Paris Writers Circle.  I'll show you some incredible péniches, below.

in search of the American Dream
I couldn't get the whole boat into the picture! But you can see it has a gangplank (in the center; it's raised) and bikes on the deck. Under the deck -- cabins! I'd love to be living in one of them!

Here's the other end of the barge. It has seating on the bow.

in search of the American Dream
Here's the seating area -- curved wicker chairs. Can you imagine the wonderfulness of sitting out there, watching Seine boat traffic go by, or tied up on a river or canal in the countryside, watching the sun go down behind an ancient church?

Bikes ready to explore Paris. I biked in Paris--once! Nearly killed myself.
Look at all the wires, cables, pulleys, winches.

in search of the American Dream
The gangplank is raised, and iron bars hold the barge away from the embankment, meaning that this family and the things they have left on the deck are quite safe -- a floating island.

in search of the American Dream
The masts have to be lowered to pass under bridges. These are the mechanics for doing that.

in search of the American Dream
Here are the mast supports and stays (thin steel lines that run from the hull to the top of the mast).

in search of the American Dream
Not easy to manage all this equipment.

This is the cabin, in the stern, where the captain operates the barge.

The barge is held off of the stone embankment by iron bars. The waters of the Seine are choppy with all the boat traffic making wakes, and without these iron bars, the hull would be damaged by the stones.

in search of the American Dream
A view of the stern.

The gangway is huge! 

Pont Neuf, "New Bridge," is in the background. It is now the oldest across the Seine, but it was new when it was built in 1578-1607.

The bridge is lined with gargoyles. They are 400 years old. Think of the generations that have walked across this bridge!

The gargoyles.

in search of the American Dream
There's constant traffic under the bridge, not just boats but people walking and on bikes on the embankment.

in search of the American Dream
Near Pont Neuf is Notre Dame, now shrouded in scaffolding. A symbol of resilience (my specialty). If you read my novels, you'll see my characters in all kinds of trouble -- most of that is from my own life! 

in search of the American Dream
This is the bow of a working barge. The boat is extremely long -- you'll see that over the next four pictures.

in search of the American Dream
Here's more of the hull...

in search of the American Dream
Still more of the hull...

in search of the American Dream
Still more of the hull....

in search of the American Dream
Still more of the hull...

And the cabin in the stern. Please note that there are curtains on the windows and a small life raft on the cabin roof. Some barges have cars on the roof (and a boom to lift them and swing them onto land). How about you? Would you like to travel around France on a barge? You can experience it vicariously by reading my friend Cris Hammond's humorous, delightful book about his first year doing exactly that! Read the first 3 chapters here:  Cris and I didn't talk about this--it's a surprise!