What Are Your Highest Aspirations?

This past week I hosted one of my Bursts of Brilliance® Art Salons at our local museum of art. Our discussion topic for the evening centered around the fantasies that pull us into our art careers and keep us going when things get tough.

I brought up this quote by Louisa May Alcott: “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

I came across that quote as a teenager and had it taped to my mirror for the next thirty years as I worked my way toward my highest aspirations as a writer.

I wonder, truthfully, if any of us would pursue a life in the arts if it weren’t for the fantasies that propel us forward. My fantasy was not uncommon for writers; I wanted to write the next Great American Novel, become a household name, maybe have a movie made from one of my books. I wasn’t willing to move to New York to make that happen, but I was willing to work extra hard and to hang in there through years of rejections. I’m pretty sure most artists would give up this crazy life much earlier were it not for our fantasies.

But at a certain point in our careers, we all let go of the fantasies. For some of us, the dream dies hard over many years. For others, it comes as a practical realization early in our journeys. For all of us, though, it’s partly in giving up the fantasies that we discover who we really are as artists.

For some people (we call them “the lucky ones”) the fantasies appear to come true. They achieve their highest aspirations – maybe fame, maybe fortune, maybe both – only to realize the fantasy wasn’t everything they dreamed of. If they can resist the trappings, they, too, begin to release the fantasies and settle into their true artist selves.

One of the artists in our discussion summed it up so beautifully. She said she wished we let new artists know early on they don’t have to be either wildly successful or a total failure; there is this whole glorious middle ground, and most of us will find our best selves there.

Long ago, I started moving away from my teenage fantasy, finding my way toward my definition of success. I reserve the right, though, to still embrace a fantasy now and then. The other day, I was listening to an NPR story about a play that had been written about a real woman and a film producer who’d seen the play and turned it into a movie. On the eve of the launch of our new play based on my book, Wave Me Good-Bye, I had the thought, “That’s gonna happen to us!”

And in that moment, my highest aspirations were right there shimmering in the sunlight and I could believe in them fully. Whether that fantasy comes true or not doesn’t really matter. Because in that moment, my energy rose, my joy soared, and anything and everything seemed possible. And that’s why fantasies will always matter, because in those rare moments when we can almost touch them, our highest aspirations become our art.

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