We moved all round at the behest of the US Air Force, my father was an attorney and made it to “full bird,” and was known amongst the son-in-laws as Col. Bob. My mother was a working-mother, in a career she loved and was very good at, running laboratories at military hospitals. They had us four kids – and maybe because they were busy or maybe because it was a different generation and philosophy of child-rearing, we were essentially left alone to entertain ourselves. I recall many a happy day wandering the woods near the air bases, especially in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy, where our house had a backyard that sloped into the foothills and wooded creeks. We invented entire towns and lives and built forts (and took down rivals’ forts). Stands of willows became magical medieval villages, we found “gold!!” (fools gold litters the ground thereabouts), we slept under the summer sky and it seemed like there were falling stars to wish on every night. We lived outside Fairbanks, Alaska before the pipeline, which most people know means it was wilder then. The childhood adventures there racheted up a notch and also became more life-threatening with ice fog, and deep snow banks, and truly large wild animals who would wander into your yard.
Our family vacations were entirely by car – we drove all over this country, meeting up with cousins and uncles and aunts, stopping at the roadside attractions like the giant brontosaurus you could walk inside, the trading posts, and mysterious caves. My sisters and I invented car games and fought and tussled in the backseat until Dad turned half around “Don’t make me stop this car!” We’d hum the McDonalds song hoping our parents got the hint (they didn’t like us to “beg”).
The hours we spent just staring into space through the car windows or sitting in some wild place just imagining a whole other life and time…It was so rich, I can still get to that place in my mind, it was a playground for my mind, spirit and heart to join forces and experiment with ideas. My daughter inherited the same rich imagination and I loved to come upon her when she was a little girl, completely lost in another world of her own invention. Today it occurred to me that this free-style imagining still lives in me – in a new-found love and desire to write stories and songs and music, and also to dream up ideas for how my life “might could” unfold.
It’s brainstorming with dreams. I dreamt of singing for so many years. I started singing very young, mostly in church and in school choirs and musicals. Oh it was a such a joy! Then for some reason, or many reasons, probably the slings and arrows of adolescence chief among them, I just went underground. Or rather my voice hid in the shower and the car, where I kept it secret for a long time. In any case, at age 45, I brought my dream out of hiding and I have been joyfully (and also in terror) walking a meandering path toward a new kind of life of self-expression.
I like to talk with people at my shows about how it is so important to follow your dreams, do what you love, try, it’s never too late. And this is a complex idea and suggestion, because clearly we can dream up a lot of things that are just not going to happen. We have to discover the uncharted territory of our lives…to imagine it and look toward it and try to make our way to the beauty and love and community and creativity that every human can be a part of. We walk alone much of the way and there are so many ways in which we can feel thwarted. The point for me, the practice of dreamstorming, is not to fix a hard point to get to, but to aim myself toward beauty and light in myself and in the world. That means that my dreams, my imagined futures, evolve and reveal themselves to me as I make my way. I have experienced some wonderful things in the several years since I came out of the closet as a singer but the real payoff has been in the joy of doing what I love. This is the tricky part to share with others who ask me about going from singing in my car to the great good fortune of singing on A Prairie Home Companion. Of course, I dreamt of singing on the radio – and even with my hero, that national treasure, Garrison Keillor – but the way it happened was that I worked on something I loved with people I loved and it turned out he loved it too. (My friend Cary Sheldon and I have been reviving the intricate and delightful yodeling of the DeZurik Sisters, a 1930s act from Minnesota.) Everyone else said I was nuts.
My dreams about working with bands went through so many changes. I eventually followed the path of working with people I really like and who share values and dreams with me. Where there is a muse that comes to life. I hope that a million people hear it and love it, as we do. But if they don’t I am so happy to be able to sing and write and perform with amazing people.
We can dream and be disappointed, we can change course and see disappointments and heartbreaks and failures as hints that maybe there is something very lovely ahead that we have not anticipated. I know that sounds Pollyanna. There is a young woman preacher at my church in Berkeley – and her sermon during a very dark day of Lent was so profound. A simple concept: out of loss comes new opportunities to build community.
Pursuing your dreams means being fluid, weathering disappointments, taking responsibility for yourself and not expecting the world to deliver your dreams to your doorstep. Good companions along the way ease the way. It’s tempting to blame others and count other people’s blessings rather than your own. Don’t do it. It takes a lot of courage to have faith in yourself and your ideas and imagination – whether others see it your way or not. We have this one precious life on earth, this gift and miracle of life, to do our best with, to live with a sense of joy and fulfillment and connection to others. It’s the essence of humanity to express ourselves, to dream and imagine.
Those hours and days as a girl, staring out the car window, wandering the wild woods and walking the creeks, doing nothing – that’s where my dreaming started. Adulthood woke me up with growing up, work and worries and marriage and children – and now middle-age has brought me back to dreaming.