I had a strange dream recently. In my dream, I was sorting through a bunch of boxes, just like I need to do one of these days in real life, except I was at my parents’ house. I decided to take a break and turn on the TV. ESPN was on, or maybe ESPN2 or ESPN8 or whatever, and they were showing water polo. Remember, my dreams are pretty weird sometimes. Problem #1 with this dream: I don’t follow water polo at any organized level, and I certainly don’t know why I was so interested in that game. It was a big game, though, like a championship or something like that. They were about to do the coin toss. Problem #2: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a coin toss in water polo. Anyway, the announcers gave the names of the water polo-related celebrities that would be calling heads or tails. Problem #3: Why are celebrities making the call instead of players? This makes no sense. This dream keeps getting more and more messed up. But as they were announcing the coin toss callers, much as they would announce who was singing the National Anthem, I thought, “Hey, Vega the Nice Ex played water polo. I wonder if she’s there?” Just as I had that thought, the announcer read her name; she was the second of the celebrity coin toss callers, having attained the status of water polo celebrity by virtue of having won a gold medal in water polo at the last Olympics. They read her full name, with the full version of her first name (she normally goes by a shortened version of her first name, or at least she did when I knew her) and a hyphenated last name (I don’t remember the other last name, except that it had three syllables), implying that she had gotten married since we last spoke.
Problem #4: To my knowledge, Vega the Nice Ex never played water polo. She may have at one time, and I may have just forgotten–we broke up in 2006, and I last spoke to her in 2011, and at that time it had been a few years–but she certainly didn’t win an Olympic gold medal in it. I would have known about that. For that matter, maybe it wasn’t the coin toss at all; maybe she was actually singing the National Anthem, and that’s why they were introducing her. That would make a lot more sense, since Vega is a classically trained soprano. But I know that in the world of this dream, Vega had played water polo in the Olympics. Nothing ever makes sense in my dreams, after all.
Vega being married is not a problem in this story, since she was in a serious relationship last time we talked. But I do remember feeling a spark of some awkward negative feeling go off in me when the announcer read her new last name. I felt like a failure. Even though in real life we broke up mutually and on good terms, I was presented with this clear picture that she was an Olympic gold medalist and had a husband now, and the whole episode made me feel like I would never be good enough to attract an accomplished and successful woman like that, or any woman for that matter. Then that got me thinking about something that someone else said to me a couple weeks ago, and how the contrast of these two settings would make a perfect topic to write about for Highway Pi.
Shortly after that thought, I woke up and realized that I had been dreaming. I found that kind of frustrating, because I couldn’t use my idea for what to write about if it wasn’t a true story. But then I got to thinking about how the fact that this dream was complete fiction actually ends up making the point I was going to write about even stronger.
All that crap about not being good enough, it’s all in my head. Just like the dream.
I mentioned above something that someone else said to me a couple weeks ago. She told me that she enjoyed reading my Facebook posts about my job and my students, because of how I have a career that I enjoy. With where she is right now, at a part time job that is not a direct stepping stone to her career, and having to take a lot of classes before she can start her master’s in a field completely different from her bachelor’s degree, it is nice to read about someone with an established career who enjoys his work. My gut reaction when she told me that–and now that I think about it, it was my out-loud reaction too–was that it felt kind of odd for someone to see me as an example of someone with his life together. I certainly don’t feel like I have my life together.
Now I’ll admit that getting this new job took away a significant part of the reason I tend to feel like I don’t have my life together. For the first time in a while, I actually have enough money at the end of the month to save something, and I’m finally making more money than I made in 2003, with actual opportunities for advancement. But I’m still 38 with no wife and no kids, and I’m probably farther from the wife-and-kids goal than I ever have been. I’m still confused about a lot of things, as well as what I want in the first place, when it comes to that. And my house is a mess.
But it’s all a matter of perspective, and my perspective when I see myself as a failure for these reasons is distorted. My perspective when I see myself as a success because I make more money now is just as distorted. All of that is in my head. It is based on false premises that a high paying job and a traditional wife and 2.3 kids living in the suburbs is a universal measure of success. It’s not. That is a flat-out lie, just like Vega’s gold medal in water polo was a flat-out lie. And even if I were to become acquainted with an attractive single Olympic gold medalist, why would that automatically disqualify me? Why should I feel less worthy, of less value as a human being, because I don’t have these great accomplishments? That goes against everything I believe and stand for. And yet it’s so hard to change those thought patterns. But it must be done. Those thoughts, those destructive lies, are completely counterproductive in every way, far more so than the actual counterproductivity values of having a low paying job, not being popular with the opposite sex, or not having a gold medal.
I am a beloved child of God. I have a pretty awesome job and great friends. And I refuse to let lies control me.