The Dreamer Dreams

I was 26 and I had just finished the first draft of my first novel. I had finished plays, poems, short stories, screenplays – but never a draft of a novel and I was quite proud of the accomplishment. I knew a lot of people who had started novels, but not many who had finished even a draft of one. As it happens, I had also just become engaged, and decided to call Fred Kenower, my paternal grandfather, to spread the joy. “You working in journalism in Seattle?” he asked after I shared the glad news.

“No, I didn’t end up getting a degree in that.”

“Oh, too bad.  Now, weren’t you in Hollywood?  You have any success with that?”

“Not really.  I didn’t care for screenwriting.”

“Oh, too bad.”

“But I just finished a draft of this novel.”

“Have you sold it?”

“No, I just finished a draft of it.”

“Oh, too bad.  And too bad about that journalism.  I think you really could have had success there.”

I called my father immediately after I hung up.  I told him I had just spoken to Grandpa and it was the most depressing conversation of my life. I felt like a failure for a whole new set of reasons.

“Now you know!” cried my father with glee. My father had been telling me for years how he’d spent his life trying and failing to gain his father’s approval. Now did I understand why he’d been so angry with his father? I said I did, and I never spoke to Grandpa again.

But a few years later my father told me a story about Grandpa. When Dad was a boy the family was driving somewhere and Grandpa began sharing about a plan he’d been turning over. He sold ads for the Kansas City Star, but his real dream was to start his own newspaper.

As my father tells it, Grandma and the children shared a look of quiet dread. God help them all if he should follow through with this plan. What ruin would befall them if Grandpa left the comfortable job at which he had already proven he was so very competent.

The dream, at least for Fred, apparently ended on that car ride. Too bad. Too bad he hadn’t learned that all dreams sound farfetched in the dreaming to everyone but the dreamer. Too bad he hadn’t learned to believe in the reality he could see but couldn’t touch. That, after all, is how newspaper and novels and sons are born.

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