I started acting in elementary school. It was my first serious dream, and I had it all figured out. I was going to go to high school, take acting classes, register for casting agencies, the whole ordeal. If none of that took off, there would always be the promise of theater school, bringing me back to the stage where it all began. In my little mind, this plan was sacred. There was no one telling me “no”. It was clear that I had achieved what was constantly expected of us children. I knew not just what I wanted to become, but how. Some would say I found a purpose, as I went on to star in school productions for the remainder of my elementary school career, preparing to chase my dream. I left feeling as ready as eleven years of age can allow you to, my favorite teacher embedded in my memory looking at me with an earnest smile, telling me how excited she was for my future. “Don’t forget me when you’re on that stage,” she said. I forgot about the stage, but never her.
As with many kids, I fell in love with an idea. As with many ideas, mine came and went. Now, after many years of self-discovery, I know why the stage resonated with me. But as with many stories, this one is best told through a complete journey: metaphors and all.
By the time I started high school, my eyes were set on a different stage. This time, the dream burrowing its way into my mind was made from pen, paper and rhythm. I had always been particularly fond of music, but when my brothers began to let me in on their love of hip-hop, I had found something altogether different. It was the boldness, the raw spirit that informed the culture surrounding it, that made me fall in love with the idea of songwriting. Through that process, of penning my thoughts, ambitions and conflicts, I learned not just about myself, but about the world around me. I became someone who observed, and then chronicled. Much of what I learned outside of this endeavor was positively supported by my intense involvement in the genre, which only grew as I continued to express myself creatively. I realized, years into this life-changing experience, that the way I wrote songs made a great fit for something else too, something that at that point was fresh and exciting. Now, I never saw myself as much of a poet, but my introduction to spoken word poetry helped spotlight the kind of diverse voices hip-hop couldn’t expose me to at the time. Those voices told stories, too. Different ones. Where I had mostly felt imposter’s syndrome working on my hip-hop music, spoken word taught me I had a story to tell as well. Because of this the medium was fresh but familiar, and most importantly, it was mine. My art. Something not a single soul could take away from me. So when my high school art teacher refused to reward my spoken word poem with an appropriate grade because it wasn’t “art”, I pushed back. Hard. Again, I didn’t know what I would come to know about the importance of my creative energy, but what I did know was that someone was calling into question my passion and my artistic integrity. I had something to prove then. I had something to protect. No one could take my art away from me. From that moment on, I was going to make sure no one would.
Having a dream is complicated. It is only a matter of time before it swallows everything in its path. The way I felt about songwriting and writing in general wasn’t just a feeling. It informed my entire being. I thought about it every single day. I wrote as much as I could, learning from incredible artists of old and new generations. All of these inspirations combined to form one, becoming the driving force behind my work. I paid close attention to the culture, because after finding spoken word, I felt I belonged there. Imposter’s syndrome would still haunt me occasionally for some time to come, but more and more, I pushed to get closer to something I believed would inject meaning into my life. It did. This dream of music and poetry turned into something I would risk everything for, a path I would fully commit to. And god, it felt powerful. The sheer act of trying felt powerful. Picking up that double-edged sword and swinging it the way I wanted to felt powerful. I was not going to let anyone swing it for me. No one was going to tell me “no”. After all, hip-hop taught me to go get it. Hip-hop taught me that the world is a complex place that won’t wait for you. I accepted all of those lessons. By the time high school came to an end, I was ready once again.
This time, I rejected institutional education. College, I thought, was a surefire way of wasting precious energy on things that ultimately wouldn’t matter. After all, I was ready to fend for myself. I was ready to work, invest and put myself in a position that made me feel purposeful. Well, I did. I chased my dream. I walked into an endless field of flowers and picked the pretty ones. All the others, the ones that represented compromise, or “failure”, or anything that tried to remind me what I did wasn’t art, I ignored. I went just short of a year picking only the flowers that embellished my bouquet. It lasted, but not long enough. Society has a way of making you doubt yourself and the flowers you like. To me, that meant all the more reason to reject the ugly flowers. The flowers that looked like all they had to offer was give or take four years of academic extravaganza. Not to say I thought I was better than that, but I totally did. Either way, my response was to continue to reject those flowers still. They weren’t real. They were designed to get in my way, I thought. They did, eventually. And I blamed them for it. I hated them for it.
Having a dream means you constantly find yourself standing in that field of flowers. You want to pick the pretty ones, the ones that look pretty precisely because they attract you. Because they resonate with your being. You ignore the flowers you don’t care for, because they are not pretty at all. You reject them on this basis. Why would you need them? You are here to pick the flowers you want to have. You pick them because you are in love with the idea of having them. You romanticize those flowers for however long it takes you to realize you only liked them because they were pretty. Eventually, you may lose them, because things don’t pan out and a flower you never wanted in the first place is forced upon you. But you can’t be without flowers altogether, so you end up with a bouquet of the shitty ones, and the thought of that, let alone the reality, is fucking terrible. I was convinced picking the flower that represented a college education was going to kill my creative spirit. But the pressure got to me, and soon enough I had flowers in my hand that I had always rejected. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Sometimes, you look at the hand you’ve been dealt, and see something you hadn’t before. Sometimes, the unwanted bouquet of flowers shows you something you could have never seen without them. When my elementary teacher told me not to forget her on the stage, she was preparing me for what I learned the hard way. I lied, of course. I did forget her. I forgot everyone who meant anything to me outside of music, because they were not a part of my pretty bouquet of flowers. But what I didn’t know then is that in order for those flowers to be pretty, people need to tend to them. A year into university, confused and conflicted, I allowed myself to see my new flowers for what they were. I allowed myself to learn from them, similar to how I learned from hip-hop. I quickly found that those flowers were still flowers, and if anything, they could help me understand why the flowers I like attract me. They gave me insight into the nature of my lost dream. They taught me why I loved acting, why I loved hip-hop and why I loved performing poetry. They taught me that it’s not about creating art, to be exhibited and praised, but that it is about storytelling. Everything I learned from the stages (literally and metaphorically) of my life, can be boiled down into the central most important thing about my creative spirit: my love for stories. Fast forward, the end of my bachelor’s in sight, I know that stories exist everywhere. The flowers I didn’t want to pick only made me a better storyteller. They only made having the pretty ones more worthwhile.
Pick the flowers you like. Take risks. Chase your dream. Or don’t, and pick a bit of both. The truth is that everyone makes different decisions when they’re in that field. Everyone learns different lessons, and I can’t tell you which ones to prioritize. From time to time, I look back and I miss my flowers. I miss the smell. Because while chasing my dream became an obsession that harmed my well-being, I miss having that dream. Maybe I’ll find it again. There are ones that keep me busy today, ones I cherish very much, but every once in a while, I think back. But I know I lost my pretty bouquet to find another, and if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s that you don’t know how pretty a flower can be until you pick the damn thing and let it show you what pretty really means.