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Feature February 2009

March 1st, 2009 · No Comments · Articles and News, Featured Musings, Home

Awakening the Dream—Claiming the “I” By Kerri Jean McManus

Let me begin by saying that I have a hard time with “I.”  It’s a strange statement to make, I know, but it’s true. Like many women, I’ve never been that comfortable holding center stage in most situations. I’ve seen my role as a supporting one, focusing my energy on the triumphs and struggles of my friends and family, so in telling a very personal story, I am learning to give the “I” a voice and in doing so I hope to offer a glimpse of light.

Many people are in the midst experiencing doubt and confusion in their lives. Due to change, uncertainty, and the inability to pay the bills, I was in overall survival mode a number of years ago and I’d like to share my experience of how I successfully made it to the other side.

Embrace the Artist Withinangel_flies

My heart was racing and felt as if it would leap out of my chest and onto the floor. In that moment, I thought to myself, “Do healthy 27 year-olds have heart attacks?” I thought I was dying. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t slow my heart down. I didn’t know what an anxiety attack was, but I soon came to understand that such an attack can occur to anyone under undue stress or anxiety and given the situation I found myself in, I guess it wasn’t all that surprising. The company I worked for had been paying all of the employees late over the last 6 weeks, but up to this point, we always got our money. On this particular Friday, the checks were already a week late and had been promised to us by noon, but instead we were told they would be delayed another 4-5 days. I wondered how I found myself in such a position.

I come from a long line of dreamers who believed that if you work hard enough, anything is possible. My parents were living examples of this philosophy. My dad hailed from a solid blue-collar third generation Irish Catholic family, growing up just outside of Boston. My grandfather had been the foreman at the Quincy shipyards and oversaw the welding of such battleships as the USS Massachusetts, which saw battle during WWII. His staunch work ethic allowed him to successfully support a wife and seven children. My dad inherited that work ethic and he had two separate paper routes by the time he was 13 years old. My mother started working as a chambermaid in a local hotel when she was 14 years old and moved on to waitressing by the time she was 16.

They were no strangers to hard work. When I was ten, they struck out on their own and made the risky decision to leave their respective jobs as a press operator and a function coordinator to go into business for themselves after nearly twenty years of working for other people. They hoped to open up a small printing company where they would set their own business standards and achieve financial autonomy.

This is not an uncommon scenario. My parents were my role models for the American Dream–that philosophy which seems to define the United States of America in a way unlike any other country and which citizens from all over the globe sometimes admire, envy, and aspire to themselves. A place where a blue color couple can try to better their lives and the lives of their children by building their own business, creating a safe and loving home for their family, and engaging as productive members of society.

Historian and writer James Truslow coined the phrase, “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America:

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

As a citizen, you can aspire to a better life and the attainment of your own goals through hard work and the freedom of choice that this country allows. You can pursue whatever dream you choose regardless of your station in life and create a life of your own design.

Do you have a childhood dream? Have you pursued it? Are you discovering a dream as an adult? What is your dream in life?

Some children dream of being firefighters, ballerinas, doctors, or astronauts. I didn’t have a dream as a child. I knew that I loved reading, art, and watching movies and I was always fascinated by creative people, but I never had a dream of what I would be when I grew up. As the millennium approached and I finished school, I decided to move from Boston across the country with little money and no specific plan, other than to search for a dream of my own.

My parents were living the great American working class dream. They, like most parents, were concerned for me, but supportive. I didn’t know exactly what I was searching for, but I knew that I wasn’t suited to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant or to live in a small town as my parents had chosen to do. Armed with an arts degree and an overwhelming abundance of artlessness, I set out to the city of dreams, Los Angeles, to start a new life and find my own dream.

Dreams are funny. You never know where they may take you and I wasn’t really sure if I was even searching in the right place. I woke up every day squinting into the strange, sunny, topsy-turvy chaos of a new city full of dreams. I lived in a three-bedroom apartment, with four other roommates, all transplants from other cities, and every few weeks we seemed to have a visitor or two sleeping on our couch. One of my roommates worked as personal assistant to a hush-hush, well-known young actor who had been nominated for his first Academy Award.

We had been invited to his latest film premiere, so my roommate and I began the search to find a suitable dress on Melrose Avenue in addition to picking up the three potential wardrobe choices for her boss at Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein. The day arrived. We scrambled to have our hair trimmed and give ourselves pedicures before the big night. We buffed and puffed ourselves as well as our budgets allowed. Outside the theatre on La Brea, the paparazzi bulbs flashed. We stepped to the side of the red carpet as Michael Keaton bounded out of a limo and into the theatre. We were surrounded by well-known actors and other industry folks as the lights went down. After viewing the film, we landed at the premiere party in the same room as actor Ben Stiller, Counting Crows singer, Adam Duritz, and model, Famke Janssen. My roommate and I were the only two girls at this reception delighting in the hors d’oeuvres. I saw the culinary selections floating on those silver serving trays as a welcome change to the pasta and red sauce or ramen noodles I was eating every night for dinner, while most of the performing artists in the vicinity shied away from anything edible, I realized that stars are generally very small people.

I ran into celebrities of all sorts in the most random of places—the local coffee shop, Blockbuster Video, outside a West Hollywood drycleaners–a very far cry from the small New England town where I grew up. I was in line behind actor Henry Thomas at a local movie theatre one day and thought to myself, “I’m now watching Eliot, the boy who saved E.T., order a small popcorn without butter.” Newman from Seinfeld would be pushing a shopping cart through the produce aisle of my local grocery store. And as actor George Segal lingered outside the dotcom production office where I was working, smoking his cigar, I stressed over not being paid on time.

The World of Illusion vs. Reality

At 27, I was artist adjacent, surrounded by people who appeared to have an immense amount of natural talent and who were able to parlay that talent into a successful career that brought them financial security as I struggled to pay my rent and to buy food. I began to wonder what I was doing with my life and why I had come to the city of dreams in the first place. What was I searching for? For me, it’s far easier to assist others in a supportive role than to sit with my own internal challenges. In fact, the idea of digging into those places I know need work can be downright uncomfortable, but what I’ve started to learn is that I can be supportive of the people I love and still tend to those areas I know need further development within myself. At this time, I began to question what success really means and what it means specifically for me.

What is success? How do you measure it? What does success mean for you?

Within three weeks of my first official panic attack, the dotcom production company I worked for closed its doors for good, owing back pay to the employees, back rent to the owner of the building, and countless creditors, our friends and family all chalked it up to another one of many dotcom fatalities. On one level, as employees, we understood this point-of-view, but for months after the building closed, we would get together over drinks and talk about what had happened. We all tried to make sense of it—tried to come to terms with this loss.

It was time to get back to basics. What brought me to the land of dreams? I realized that I came to LA because what I truly loved was a compelling story. Stories move people and make them think. As all art does, a great story can be a mirror of the human condition and the soul. It can teach us about ourselves. My dream began to materialize. I saw it beginning to take shape. And that is what I kept in mind as I moved through this difficult time.

I realized through the world of stories, the American dream isn’t just the American dream, it’s the dream that applies to the “I” in everyone around the world as it speaks to the soul of humanity and to Awakening the Dream of life.

Waking the Dream“, this valued E-book coming out later this March, is my personal story of how I came to terms with loss and the solutions I discovered in finding my own “querencia.” I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

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