According to the dictionary, a pipe dream is an unattainable or fanciful hope or scheme; a fantastic but vain aspiration. It’s not a phrase I come across often, but when aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) used it in reference to her acting career in the movie La La Land, I froze. I paused the movie and stared out the window of the plane, thinking about those two words for a while. They brought to the surface a niggling feeling I’d had over the past fortnight. Did this phrase describe my fledgling writing career? Is this just a pipe dream?
At 45 years of age, I am realistic about career options left open to me. I will never become an airline pilot, investment banker or a high school principal. Okay, I was never going to become one of those things anyway, but that’s not my point. What I am is an unqualified, middle-aged woman with no recent work experience. And when I say ‘recent’, even I hate admitting to myself actual dates involved. Decisions made a long time ago (joint ones – I left my career as a 27 year old newlywed so that my husband could follow his) have influenced where I’m at today. I found employment that was fulfilling during our initial expat stint, but when it was time to relocate again, another joint decision was made. We decided to have children, and that I would raise them full time.
I was very fortunate to have had the freedom to make that decision. But being honest with myself, it came at a cost. In mid-life I found myself unable to compete with peers for a child-friendly, intellectually stimulating job. I had experience working on various volunteer projects, but that’s not the same as ‘gainful employment’. I realised writing was something I was good at. Studying the craft can take all manner of forms – a university degree was not a pre-requisite, and the working hours would be perfect. All I had to do was write a few books and get them published – and therein lies the pipe dream.
The niggles I had on the plane came from not being able to find enough time to write while I was away for the two weeks. I had downloaded Scrivener on my phone before we left Perth, so I had no excuse. The documents were accessible at the swipe of a screen – even without wifi access. I used it to start a new WIP for a few days, guilted by all the advice that a writer writes – no matter what. If you want to be published, then you take any opportunity you can to work on your manuscript. Ten minutes here, 15 minutes there. But my best intentions didn’t last long. I sat on the balcony with my husband, sharing beers and watching the crowds mill around the monument below. I gazed at the landscape almost the entire time of a three hour train trip through Tuscany. I enjoyed walking with my family through the empty streets of Venice late at night. My husband works extremely hard to provide these opportunities for us. I wasn’t about to excuse myself from his company so that I could get another 500 words down. Nor did I want to. Does that mean I’m not serious enough about a career in writing?
To tell the truth, I don’t really care what anyone else thinks anymore. I haven’t been writing creatively for very long, but I’ve already tasted success. Little, seemingly inconsequential amounts of success, but big milestones for me. I may not have a published novel – and maybe I never will – but I am writing. It could take me anywhere. Down paths that may not lead to a publishing deal, but to something else entirely. It’s not a pipe dream. I am living the writing life – this blog post is small evidence of that.