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Waking From A Dream


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031421-HH-Picnic-Table-Small-version-525I had another post written for today. But something didn’t feel right about it. I consider the essay an acceptable effort, and I may share it another day, but I shelved it. I think my subconscious needed to release something else. But here’s the rub: up till this past weekend, I still didn’t know what that something else was. It finally hit me on our chilly but sunny walk this past Saturday morning. My wife said something about the fast-approaching spring solstice. That in combination with the recent reminder of the one year anniversary of the pandemic being declared made me think of my March post from a year ago today, titled: It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And Writing Feels Fine).

I don’t know if I’ve ever had an essay title that’s had its meaning so enhanced by the ensuing year. Damn, turns out it really was the end of the world as we knew it, wasn’t it? And my work as a writer feels like it’s evolved to something beyond fine.

During the strange and often painful past year, perhaps more than during any other, writing has become more than just a sanctuary. This past year my writing journey has continued to reveal who I am, where I came from, and who I’m meant to be.

Waking From A Real-Life Nightmare

Heaven knows the prior year has wrought a tragic toll. Beyond the truly staggering death toll, hospitals are still overcrowded. Case counts are down, but they’re still frightfully persistent. Beyond the shock of failed insurrection, the rise of conspiracy-based authoritarianism and white nationalism remains a very real threat. Democracy remains fragile. Beyond the turbulence in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, there is still no justice for him or for Brionna Taylor, among far too many others. We’ve barely begun the effort to dismantle systematic racism. Unemployment numbers remain high, and far too many still wonder if they’re going to be able to pay their rent or mortgage, or even put food on the table for their family.

And yet, it feels like we’re slowly awakening. Last Friday a record 2.9 million vaccinations were administered in the US. The week set a record for shots in arms, too—including one in the arm of yours truly. Congress finally passed a record-setting relief bill. The economy continues to show signs of resiliency, with hopeful indicators for a strong recovery.

They’re small changes in the scheme of things, but—for me—they add to a dawning optimism that the world is finally managing to awaken from its pandemic-induced slumber.

Waking From A Ghostly Communion

As it was with last year’s post, the current circumstance has inspired reflection, on my writing journey and the path forward. Last year I compared the atmosphere to that of the aftermath of 9/11. Last year I wrote about how The Lord of the Rings movies prodded me to awaken to the power of storytelling, and how that changed my life-course. Tolkien’s storytelling remains a mighty force in my life, and I’m eternally grateful for the aligning of the universe that led me here.

Coincidentally, I recently had a vivid memory of another dreamlike occurrence that furthered my awakening. This one also came in the wake of 9/11. It started with the HBO series Band of Brothers. I’m not sure how many of you will remember that the first episode of Band of Brothers debuted just a couple of days prior to 9/11. In hindsight, I think it’s sort of spooky how this immersive, epic story, about how people persisted through some of the most terrifying and tragic days in recent history, happened to appear during the months following another terrifying and tragic event. I doubt I was alone in finding that this often gut-wrenching and heart-breaking series provided solace for the times. Band_of_Brothers.jpg

I’ve mentioned my father before here on WU, including an essay devoted to the subject. It’s a testament to the impact our relationship has had on my writing journey. Because my dad was a WW2 vet, I was instantly drawn to Band of Brothers. Due to the show’s intensity and its graphic depiction of the war, my wife opted out early. This was before On-Demand viewing existed, and since I had to find opportunities to watch it alone, I ended up getting the boxed set on DVD when it came out sometime in late 2002.

In the early spring of 2003, my chance to watch the show arose. We were still at our business in Illinois, but by then we were taking every opportunity to get away to Michigan. My wife had a weekend business trip that didn’t include me. I’m not sure of the month, but it was still quite cold and the trees were still bare, so likely March or April. I packed my box set of DVDs and our black lab Belle and I headed to the Mighty Mitten. In a time before binge-watching was a thing, that is exactly what I did.

I was incredibly moved by the show. By Sunday afternoon, I was a wreck. I clearly recall watching the last disc: a documentary episode that highlights interviews with the living members of the 506th Paratroopers, titled, We Stand Alone Together. If you’ve never seen it (and even if you don’t think you’re up to watching the series), I highly recommend the documentary.

I want to preface what came next by emphasizing that these men powerfully reminded me of my father, who’d passed away ten years prior to this day. Early that Sunday evening, after my binge-watching, and with the show’s gorgeously haunting theme music (by Michael Kamen) reverberating in my head, Belle and I headed to a nearby playground in the woods. We managed to get the wiggles out of the dog, but I was still brimming with emotion.

The nearby cottages were still closed up for the winter—dark, empty. I felt like I was the only one within a hundred miles. Waves roared in the distance and cold wind whispered in the empty branches and pine boughs. But there was something else in the air, too. I sat at the picnic table pictured above, just to breathe. Even Belle seemed to feel the weight of it, and plopped down on the mossy ground nearby, taking it in. The only way I can describe it is to say that I felt the generations who came before me imploring me to do something! But here’s the rub: I had no idea what. It felt like my dad and all of the other vets were beseeching me. “Go. Do,” they called. “Follow your passion. There’s something else inside you, something untapped. Find it. It’s what you’re meant to do. That’s what we fought for. Don’t let this feeling go to waste.”

I can recall that dreamlike sensation so perfectly. On that day, storytelling was still dancing on the periphery of my conscious thought, elusive. There was an unnamed longing. Resistance still insisted that I was crazy even to dream. But this was a dream that lingered, even after waking.

I still often say this gig is my calling. And I still feel it’s my dad and the others who first called.

Waking From a Career Dream

Another eight months passed before we sold our company and moved here. But along with my rereading of The Lord of the Rings the prior year, it was watching Band of Brothers and communing with my father’s generation at a picnic table on a chilly Sunday evening that set me on the road to writing.

This past year has brought me to a juncture in that road. Somewhere along the line I began to imagine that the road would take me to a certain sort of career as an author. I never really aspired to fame, and I certainly understood that writing very rarely leads to fortune. But I must admit, I did slip into a new sort of dream—one that included the trappings of a traditional pub deal. You know, hardbacks and interviews and endcaps in bookshops.

During the pandemic, I came find that the branch of the road that leads to that dream is closed to me. For now. Who can know? Maybe I’ll find another juncture that leads me back that way. But if I do, I trust it will come when I’m meant to find it.

Still, in spite of my occasional somnambulism, I’m sure I’ve been on the right road. I haven’t wasted a single step. The route that lies open to me feels like the right one.

Waking to the Road Ahead  

I wrote last year of how the pandemic emphasized the fragility of life, how it’s forced us to put things in perspective. Well, now we’ve had a whole year of that intensely magnified perspective. As I said above, in finding my way to maintaining my writing habit during the pandemic, I found a better understanding of my truth. By gaining a clearer vision of who I am as a writer, I’ve been able to let go of so much of the baggage I thought was needed for this journey.

In the past year I’ve grown enough to shed the superficial pride of a writer who desperately hopes his work is good enough to please others, and to march on with the confidence that my work is good enough not just to please me, but to lead to ongoing enlightenment.

The legacy of my father, and of the Greatest Generation, lives on within me. It called me out, and continues to fuel my growth. In the past year I’ve come to see that my own legacy as a writer is not mine to manufacture or direct. My job is to dig—to tap what’s deep inside me. It was there on that spring evening in ’03, and I’m still seeking and finding, learning and growing.

Whether my impact is destined to be great or small is not mine to know, either. For if that impact is to implore even one living soul, if it provides fuel to just one other person, how could I ever say it’s not enough?

On this spring day, 2021, I’m waking up to acceptance, to realizing that I’m already doing as I was implored. I haven’t let the feeling I had eighteen springs ago go to waste. I am doing what I am meant to do.

How are you, WU? Does this spring feel like a wakening? Have you passed any milestones that reveal who you were a year ago versus who you are today? Ever had a show summon ghosts to yell at you? Are you on the right road?

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About Vaughn Roycroft

Vaughn Roycroft's (he/him) teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit in the 6th grade, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.

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