By: Sheryl Leigh Robertson
I have been in love no less than 15 times. They were all passionate relationships with red-hot touches that both thrilled and terrified, summertime walks around DC’s monuments as the sky draped itself in purple at sunset, and winter dinners by fire, the crackle of orange flames filling in the pauses of our conversations. My feet have roamed narrow cobblestone streets and dusty village roads in more than half of the countries in this world. I have laid a blue, cotton blanket across lush green quadrangles on the campuses of 10 universities, legs crossed and laptop open as I pounded out short stories for my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
But that was all in my head, a kaleidoscope of dreams to match my heart’s desires.
In real life, I have only been in love twice and infatuated more times than I can count. The relationships were passionate, but they were also inconvenient with messy gray areas that made me apprehensive about love. We had some romantic moments in picturesque locations, but mostly unforgettable memories in regular settings. In real life, I can count the number of countries I have been to on two hands and the state of my bank account may suggests it will stay that way for a while. In real life, I received rejection letters from each of the 10 MFA programs I applied to five years ago and have not have written a single piece of fiction since.
After a string of dashed dreams, my first instinct was to abandon dreaming altogether. I vowed to deal only in reality, to stop fantasizing about a nonexistent world. No imagining my future, no more getting my hopes up.
However, I came to realize that I cannot abandon dreaming any more than I can peel off my black skin, step out of my womanhood, or walk away from God. Dreaming is a part of who I am. My brain prefers writing love stories with me as the star, picturing me next to world landmarks, and creating stories to tell. My mind is hardwired to dream and I would be denying a part of myself if I tried to override the system.
Once I was able to accept my dreaming nature, I knew that I had to find the courage to dream again. However, I also knew that in order to protect my heart and sanity, I had to take a different approach. I decided to dream in black and white, and live in color.
We are often told to dream in color so that our dreams will become real to us. If dreams are alive in our heads, we will believe it only a matter of time before they come to pass.
I agree that dreaming in color makes our dreams real – so real that I have sometimes attempted to live life in my head. I became so focused on the dream before me that I failed to live the life unfolding here and now. I was living in black and white, going through life on auto-pilot: driving without viewing the landscape, holding babies without inhaling their scent, eating without savoring the flavors, singing lyrics without hearing the music, greeting people without seeing them. As I learn to dream in black and white, I walk freely among the clouds, but the color of life pulls me down to reality when I am on the verge of being carried away. If the dreamer within me is going to be fulfilled, and the living, breathing person I am is going to be sane, I have to learn to walk the line between the real world and my imagined one.
There is another reason for dreaming in black and white and living in color: life’s inability to live up to my dreams. Because I had painted with painstaking detail the moments or people that would comprise my life, I expected real life to look exactly like the one I dreamed. Yet I have learned that since people and things outside of me help to create the world around me, real life will not unfold exactly as I pictured. My dream man might be 5’10” in real life rather than the 6’3” I imagined, my travel might be primarily domestic for now, and my first book might be a collection of poetry and personal essays rather than the novel I planned. The only way I can embrace my dreams when they appear in real time is if they are originally drawn in black and white, allowing situations and circumstances to color them in as God sees fit.
Tempting as it may be to live life in the clouds, they cannot hold the weight of my reality. When my dreams drop me – and life has taught me that they will drop me, I need a colorful life on which to fall. I need to have made a home among the trees covered in orange and gold leaves, among sun-kissed faces and bright smiles that venture off the script I’ve written. I need a life of color to remind me that in order to dream I must also be. I need to have prioritized life in such a way that everything I have and everything I need is right here, right now, in living color.
Sheryl Leigh Robertson is an author, blogger, and spoken word artist in the Washington, DC area. Her first book, Promises & Epiphanies: Life Revelations Through Poetry and Prose, was released in June 2014. She is the pen behind Sheryl‘s Pearls, a blog offering pearls of wisdom on life, love, and faith, and she is among the voices of the Christian poetry and spoken word movement True Voices DC. Her writing is available at sheryleigh.com.