Saying Goodbye to the Old Blog Name
by Norma Hopcraft
My mother once introduced herself at a little talk she gave as a person who had lived the American Dream. My father and she made it happen together.
My father started his career right out of high school, lower than the secretaries, he told me, adding columns of numbers in the insurance business. After years of struggle and setbacks, he rose through the ranks. He retired from a corner office at the top of a skyscraper in New York City's Financial District, with a view of the East River, where in summer he sailed his 36-foot sailboat.
My mother's role in all this was to be a helpmeet. She started out as a motherless child, raised by a great aunt and uncle in the Depression, collecting eggs from the chickens in the backyard. She worked as a secretary for a few years and was forced to quit when she got pregnant, which is how all companies operated in the 1950s--not that long ago. She took care of the kids, cooked, cleaned, and ironed Dad's shirts for 20 years, even in the height of summer, making the shirts crisper than a professional laundry, until Mom and Dad could afford to pay someone to do it. They never ate out for the first 20 years of their married life because it wasn't in the budget.
But Dad rose, and his dreams of being in charge of lots of people, saying to them, "It's time to jump," and the people saying "How high?" came true. He loved it, he told me. And he had his boat.
If all this sounds like high success on my parents' part, I'm only telling you the surface. You'll have to read my memoir, coming out in about a year, to know the truth.
But right now we're talking about the American Dream.
So along comes me, who decided 30 years ago to be a writer and to risk investing tons of time and energy in it to make my fortune. My American Dream was to write such great stuff that people would tell their friends about it, and sales would soar. I would retire early from my corporate career (such as it was -- marketing writers are not very high on the food chain) to write full time in the capitals of Europe, since I'd be able to afford lots of travel.
I still believed in it 12 years ago, when I started this blog as I traveled around the U.S. -- on a shoestring budget, taking the bus and staying in hostels, sleeping 12 or 24 people to a room. And I couldn't even afford that. I put it on a credit card and spent the next 8 years paying it off.
I wrote some great books, in my opinion, and got some great reviews, but the books didn't catch fire the way I hoped.
Now I'm restarting my blog after a one-year hiatus, and I had to take a long, hard look at the name. I'm wondering if I still believe in the American Dream. My American Dream died a painful death over the last five years as I faced the reality that my books had not outperformed the other 33 million books on Amazon. I resolved -- to be honest, I resigned myself -- that I would write just for excellence, just for the glory of God (as did my favorite composer, J.S. Bach), just to make my own small contribution to the culture of the world. I expunged fame and fortune from my hopes and dreams.
But is that really what I want?
I've always believed in having a BHAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, as one of the writers on corporate excellence puts it. My BHAG was to give readers something fun, funny, interesting, thought-provoking to read. And I wanted my work to lead to a full-time writing life. My dream didn't come true the way I envisioned it. I didn't get to retire at 55, but I'll retire eventually, in my late 60s, to write fulltime. So in a way my dream of retiring to write fulltime is coming true, just not the way I'd hoped.
I'm glad to report I have 3 books out there and 3 books nearing completion. I think they're fun, funny, interesting, and might provoke some thought.
But I had wanted that financial piece.
For years I drew lots of energy from my American Dream of making money, energy that's vital to a long, protracted apprenticeship in writing. To be honest, I don't get that same surge of energy from dreaming solely about excellence. But would dreaming once again of fame and fortune make a dupe out of me? Dreaming of it gives energy, but it's not a good reason to write, according to writers who have written acclaimed books. Maybe it could still happen, though I'll be too old to do much more with it than pass it on to the younger generation -- and it might not be good for them.
The important thing is to serve people, to serve my readers, to serve my Higher Power (whom I call Emmanuel), with excellence in every undertaking.
What are your thoughts? Is the American Dream still alive? Do only a very few, exceptionally educated, talented and lucky people get to make theirs come true anymore? To do what my father did these days, you'd have to have an MBA from Harvard. But why are immigrants still coming to our country believing in the American Dream more vividly than any native-born American?
I'm still in search of my dream, refining and revising it as I go.
What's your opinion on all this? What do you think of the American Dream?
Please comment below!