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Step 1: Dream Big
Imagine Little Simone with two high pig tails and dressed in original, fantasy gowns made by her mother using the sewing machine in the kitchen of the single-wide trailer. She practiced the graceful walks of Vanna White and Kiki Shepard. Little Simone held a hair brush to her mouth like a microphone singing along to Mariah Carey on the radio. She was convinced that she could out-sing that 4th grader show-off who attempted the elusive chanteuse. Vision of Love? More like Waste.Of.My.Recess.Time.
There was not a doubt in the world that my future career would be in anything other than the arts.
It took me going to high school to learn that not all dreamers with stars in their eyes were created equally or equitably. I realized that I was poor. Like, dirt poor. Like, pretty stereotypical Mississippi poor-poor. But, at the same time, I also realized that my quite a few of my classmates thought that I was rich. Like, lived in a brick house in the suburbs with a tacky bird bath in the front yard rich. Reflecting back, I know that both of these perspectives were filtered by my involvement in the arts. I was first chair flute, but I couldn't afford private lessons to fully understand what I was doing or playing. I practiced harder. I was in the musical every year, but had to save my Christmas money to participate. I loved to dance, but joining a dance academy was not going to happen. I snuck into the studios at Mississippi State to pick up aerobic steps or hip-hop classes. What folks saw were the product and assumed I was wealthy enough to get extra help. What no one saw was the process of doing whatever it took to get a foot in the door or to keep my position.
Gonna say it now: My story isn't unique. It may actually echo a lot of other marginalized individuals' stories who have tried to make it into the professional arts. When I realized that having a job in the arts meant having to play catch-up to more affluent or privileged peers in order to be seen or taken seriously, dreaming gave way to strategy. And strategy was for survival.
The very first exercise in the first chapter of The Artist's Guide asks the following questions to help guide the participant in creating the vision of what they want to achieve.
The first question was pretty easy to do. I've used strategy to get to the next level most of my career. Careful planning. Careful study. Step-by-step process. And some luck thrown in for good measure.
The other two questions? Eh. Maybe if you'd ask me this 5 months ago, it would have been easier. I probably would have done it with a smile on my face laughing about how the things I dreamed about in my personal life were finally happening. After I had put away the big, lofty dreams of becoming an entertainer, I then slowly started killing the dreams of anyone wanting to share a life with me. I had been called "too much," "not realistic", "a gold digger", "doesn't fit in", "too serious", "too wild"...the list went on. The words and phrases said by family, not-so-great friends, boyfriends, and one particular boyfriend's mother over years became the list in which I interpreted my self-worth. I let their words minimize me into a space where I felt that I wasn't deserving of good, strong, loving relationships.
It took meeting Cole to get me to start dreaming again and even that took awhile. Once we hard started to get more serious, Cole asked me to live with him and I said, "No." I needed to get other things done in my life first and I needed to wait for other things to fall into place. A month later, he would ask again. No, I said. Another list of things. Another ask. Another no. Then one weekend we were roaming around Kansas City at night (one of our favorite activities). We took turns taking a left or a right and intentionally get lost. On our walkabout, we saw one loft rental after the next and talked about what it would be like to live in these rentals. It was easy. That's how I knew that this was the man, the person, the human being that I could allow myself to dream with because we could make it happen. And we made lists. We loved lists.