The summer camp where I’ve been working asks kids to write and create their own short plays.

My colleague Sarah directed this one that I watched last night. The basic premise: a teenaged writer is belittled by his overbearing mother for his dream of becoming a writer. “You’ll never do it!” she cries, throwing the notebooks in the trash. “Become a doctor and make us proud.”

It mostly follows the script for an adorable kids’ play: little nuggets, in matching t-shirts, doing and saying adorable kid stuff. And let’s face it, this is not new territory: underdog defeating the odds to follow their dreams to the stars is the basic premise of, you know, every inspirational story ever.

Here’s where it took the turn for me: I’m sitting in the back of this auditorium, sleep-deprived and distracted, worried about my own little nuggets about to perform, watching what is for all purposes an adorable if forgettable little play made by little kids.

And then that song “Demons” starts to play.

Silently, the kid playing the writer takes the notebook out of the trash and frantically begins to scribble. The other twelve kids slowly walk into the light and position themselves in such a way that with their bodies they’ve created a giant, fire-breathing monster, alive and writhing, kids on shoulders and kids underfoot. The author writes and writes and the overbearing mother backs slowly down, the giant monster rising, kids raising their arms, stretching out towards the sky. He writes. The monster crumbles and falls apart, suddenly just a pile of kids again. He writes. He looks up at the audience, right at my face. The lights go out.

Cue the waterworks. I’m gushing big gnarly snotty tears down my face.

Some of those kids are eight years old and they get it. Some of those kids are fifteen years old and they get it. I’m twenty-seven years old and, oh, oh, do I get it.

You expect demons from the places we’ve always been taught to expect them. Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink too much. Don’t fall in love too fast. You expect to find demons with your parents, with your family, with your religion, with your friends.

You don’t always expect them from, say, making a phone call to your student loan provider to ask what your options are when you simply cannot make a payment this month. Or next month. Or in all likelihood the month after that. Because you followed your dream all the way to your reasonably successful career in the arts, which at the present moment is allowing you to keep a roof over your head desperately hoping your car doesn’t break down on the side of the highway.

You don’t expect them when you start to resent all your friends for getting married. Not because you are that bitter cliché of a single girl bemoaning her own relationship woes. Because you love them so dearly and you have to choose between attending their wedding or making this month’s health insurance payment.

You don’t expect to find them when you snap at a kid for dumb kid shit, only to remember too late how awful it felt when you were that dumb kid. You don’t expect them in the millisecond afterwards where you think I would be a terrible mother.

You don’t expect to find them bleary-eyed in the drive-through lane at the Dunkin Donuts, where you feel like a failure forking over that $2.60 because you know you could have just woken up a few minutes earlier and made that coffee at home. And you do it again the next morning, and the morning after that, thinking about the coins slipping from your hands. If only I didn’t have to eat, you think, maybe things would be easier.

We all love that underdog story. We were raised on that underdog story. It’s Rudy and Rocky and Billy Elliot and Amelie. It’s The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars and Harry Potter, too. Follow your dreams. Somewhere over the rainbow, something else, something better, will happen. Go to college. Follow your heart. Reach for the stars.

Here’s the messy thing. I still believe in all of that. I have to. I think we all sort of do. How else would we keep going, even on the days when “follow your dreams” feels like the cruelest hoax since Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny?

I guess we write. And we breathe.

And we keep going.

25 thoughts on “Demons.

  1. Wow. Just wow.

    I’d started to close out of my inbox when I noticed that your latest post had arrived and glanced at the title. “Demons.”

    Yeah. Didn’t close out of my inbox.

    And as a fellow twenty-something who’s at the end of the college road looking desperately into the “real world” and wondering where the hell those “dreams” I was supposed to have worked my way towards are (or, you know, at least that employability I was supposed to have garnered), I understand. I understand the hours spent staring down my computer screen, searching hopelessly through job posts and wanting nothing more than to bang my head against the desk until it vomits out a bill-paying writer position in pity. I understand the doubts and the what-if-I’d-done-this-differently and the longing to know when I’ll finally be able to lord myself over my own inner critics.

    I understand those demons.

    Thanks for the reminder that I’m not fighting them alone.

    And for the reminder that in the end, with no assurances given, it’s still worth it to keep fighting them. If only because of something you believed when you were an eight year old and put on a play.

  2. All I can tell you, as a random person on the internet, is things do eventually get better. You will hit your stride and start getting things going the way they need to. I was there in my early twenties terrified that I wouldn’t make it to the next month. 10 years later, I haven’t exactly made it, but I am a hell of a lot more comfortable than I was then.

    Oh and I still hate finding demons in the places I thought I’d cleared out. Those mofos keeps coming back. Just means we have to step up the eradication process. 🙂

    So tl:dr – Hang in there, it gets better.

  3. At 3 times older than you, I can say…If you DON’T follow your dreams, you may be able to pay the bills. But the demons will still be there. It’s following the dream that keeps the real demons at bay. So, keep fighting them, and keep living the dream….and thank you for sharing the fight with us!

  4. From another 60-something:
    I’m so proud of you. As I am of my own daughter (32) who struggles to make a living from her authentic self. We’re out here, and we’re with you. Keep on keepin’ on. The world needs all of us.

    (PS: quit my safe corporate job 12 years ago to start my own business. Haven’t looked back. It isn’t easy sometimes – the money part – but so satisfying!!)

  5. It’s comforting to know that somebody else gets choked up like that. I went to the junior high “Broadway Showcase” and saw such talent and beauty in kids that weren’t even teenagers yet! I hope and pray life doesn’t get in the way of their star quality.

  6. I love your post. As a 40-something I can tell you that it gets better, and worse in ways. That when you are my age, you’ll look back at your 20’s and remember how great it was, despite your struggles, to be young and single and messy and, yes, even broke.

  7. We write… and write and write. If you wrote a “harry potter”-esque story about a 20 something year old college grad following their dreams and making it… that would be my life. I’m enormously fortunate. And still the story goes on. Getting the perfect job is still just the begining of the story. You are amazing for capturing that emotion, for giving us, not-quite-adults, a voice… on both sides of the story… great piece!!

  8. Reblogged this on The Fight In Me and commented:
    Absolute magic for the not-quite-adults in this world!!! Keep fighting those demons!! Its the fight that counts… life is the fight. THE FIGHT IN ME.

  9. Girl, I love you so hard. I really needed this today. This new gig of mine is so big and so scary and so hard and I’m so afraid of failing. But something about our theater training makes us run towards this kind of stuff instead of away from it, you know?

    I’m so proud of you, and so proud to call you my friend. Also, let’s hang out soon in real life.

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