What is it with politics, the national mood, all this social negativity? It’s like lead in our shoes, a potato sack on each shoulder. It slows us down and kills dreams. Do not let it do that. Keep Dreaming.
I hear you. “Who’s he kidding? I have bills to pay, appointments, aches, and pains. Everybody wants part of me. Dream? I can barely get up, get out, get on with it.”
Yes, dream. It will keep you alive and always has kept Americans light on their feet. But before talking about whimsy, wonder, and why dreaming is good, just talk about facts.
Historically, America is all about dreamers – not just the “go West young man” or “all who wander are not lost” sort, not casual daydreamers, but doers. We are wild imaginers – and from that, inventors, writers, moviemakers, painters, and more.
Perhaps as interesting, Americans do not just dream when young but perpetually. We do not just envision as kids but at all ages. We tend to dream all our lives.
Factually, the median age of American inventors is 47, almost exactly as many creative inventions coming from those between 46 and 80 as between 16 and 46. Thomas Edison and Ben Franklin were both vigorously inventing into their 80s.
Didn’t guess that, huh? Thought only adolescents, social media mavens, meme makers, and code writers called the shots? Hardly. Dreamers come in all types and ages.
How about those who write? Would you believe half of all novelists debut after 37, many of the greatest hitting their stride later? J.R.R. Tolkien’s debut, The Hobbit, was at 45. American Lorna Page’s first novel, A Dangerous Weakness, came at 93.
Richard Adam’s debut of Watership Down hit store shelves at age 53. Marine Karl Marlantes’ novel Matterhorn, about Vietnam, arrived when he was in his 60’s. Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Cue was published at 71, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula at 51.
Anne Sewell brought Black Beauty to life at age 57, while Laura Ingalls Wilder penned Little House on the Prairie at 64, and Millard Kaufman, creator of Mr. Magoo, was at it in his 90s.
Epic dreamers of science fiction are similar. Frank Herbert (Dune), Isaac Asimov (Foundation Trilogy), Robert Heinlein (Door into Summer, Green Hills of Earth, Time Enough for Love), and Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End), never stopped dreaming, the last two writing into their 80s.
In the movie world, where do you begin? Frank Capra, famous for It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can’t Take it With You, and It Happened One Night, wrote his autobiography at 74 and was giving speeches into his late 80s. Clint Eastwood, actor and producer extraordinaire, is still producing at 93.
How many artists who dreamed big – did so later in life? Almost as many have made it young. Paul Cézanne did not get a first art show until 56. Claude Monet, one of the best impressionists ever, started his career past 70. At age 90, Georgia O’Keefe was still happily painting.
But dreaming is not just for known inventors, writers, filmmakers, and painters. It is for all of us. We cannot stop dreaming because just as we must envision to achieve, we must dream to live. Moreover, living is lengthened by dreaming.
George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel laureate, pushed admirers to push themselves, use their imaginations, and keep looking around corners, dreaming, and doing. “You see things and you say ‘why?’ But I dream things that never were, and say ‘why not?’” His pitch: “Life isn’t about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself.”
C.S. Lewis, creator of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, all of “Narnia,” writer, thinker, and prolific Christian of enormous depth, wrote: “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream.” More compelling, he noted the depths in all of us, plumbed by dreaming. “We meet no ordinary people in our lives.”
So, not to belabor the point, if you have ever dreamed, then keep dreaming. If you have ever wished, imagined, wondered, created, hoped, and taken one small step in that direction, do not let the world, work, or worry keep you from taking another.
The modern era, awash in hopelessness and cynicism, disorientation and disbelieving, does not know what it does not raise eyes to see, what it refuses to understand.
It hates dreamers and, in this way, does not understand that we – America – owe who we are to undeterred, unbowed, unbending, staunchly believing dreamers.
Most still refuse to be cynical, but that dark force is afoot. We resist it more when pushed to indulge in self-pity victimhood and wallow in distress, dependence, worry, and hate. We should. We know lightness is fed by creativity, life by dreams.
One last thing. To be a good dreamer, we must encourage others in theirs, however unwieldy, wild, or wonder-fed. As those before us knew, we are best when we dare. Goethe wrote: “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Nor our own. True of individuals and nations, we must ever dream.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.