Posts Tagged ‘Dreams’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

TaylorAmerica’s Got Talent was my guilty pleasure this summer and I was excited for Wednesday’s finale when my two favorite acts, Kenichi Ebina (dancer/performance artist) and Taylor Williamson (comedian), finished first and second respectively. I was rooting hardest for Taylor, because I thought he was hilarious and I’m more than a bit biased in favor of comedians.

During the finale, as the Top 6 was whittled down to the final two, each of the losing finalists shared the typical parting words of all reality TV contestants: “This has been an amazing journey,” and “This isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning,” and “This proves dreams do come true. Follow your dreams.”

Follow your dreams! Follow your dreams! FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

These soon-to-be-anonymous-again people have inspired me! I am immediately stepping away from teaching to simultaneously pursue basketball, stand-up comedy, and music. I’m doing a one-man show called “Dribble Funny Notes.” It’s going to be one-half Harlem Globetrotters, one-half Second City, and one-half of one-half of a dueling piano bar.

I can’t wait until I’m famous and trending on Twitter. I’m totally going to retweet the retweet of a tweet that pickles me tink.

This can’t fail. My dreams, mortgage, and fragile self-esteem depend on it.

Hmm. Is all of that risk worth it to get my face on the side of a bus next to Judge Mathis?

Okay, forget dreams. I’ll just continue to spend my nights eating peanut butter out of the jar with my fingers and then go to work in the morning smelling like I just did the walk of shame from Mr. Peanut’s house.

Mr. Peanut's ex, the Green M&M, told me he's nuts in the bedroom.

Mr. Peanut’s ex, the Green M&M, told me he’s nuts in the bedroom.

This “chase your dreams” stuff sounds great when it comes from people who succeeded. But I want to hear from the contestants who quit their jobs to audition, didn’t make it far on the show, and are now performing their acts on a street corner for loose change and the uneaten half of an Egg McMuffin.

Chasing a dream doesn’t guarantee success. If it did, I would already have Zooey Deschanel’s phone number, Matthew McConaughey’s six pack, and Spider-Man’s superpowers.

Zooey, raise your hand if you'd like to date a slightly overweight, moderately unattractive English professor.

Zooey, raise your hand if you’d like to date a slightly overweight, moderately unattractive English professor.

With no guarantee for success, it leads to the question of juggling reality with dreams. In college, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer – a successful, famous, rich writer who works during the day and throws raucous, sexy, Anchorman-style parties at night. All of my college English professors knew that’s what I wanted. Therefore, I’ll never forget the warning one of my favorite professors gave me when I decided to attend graduate school to pursue teaching: “Full-time teachers don’t make full-time writers.”

The message was both simple and obvious. Plug in any two professions and the message remains the same. We only have 100% to give, and when that 100% is rationed out to several jobs, goals, and dreams – and to the ample other responsibilities we have in our daily lives – something is bound to suffer.

If I give 50% to teaching and 50% to writing, will that be enough to sustain either? If I give 90% to teaching and 10% to writing, will anything ever get written? If I give 23% to teaching, 72% to writing, and 5% to studying statistics, will I be able to write more engaging mathematical examples?

Reality TV contestants tell me the solution is to pick one single dream and dump 100% effort into it. But, again, their perspectives are skewed, because they were on TV long enough to offer that opinion. The dude dancing for the McMuffin might tell you to stay in school and keep your job.

lets-make-a-deal-doorsIt’s the classic Let’s Make a Deal conundrum: take the modest prize in Monty Hall’s (or Wayne Brady’s) hand, or risk it all for what’s behind the door.

It’s great when there’s big cash or a fabulous vacation behind the door, but it’s not so fun when there’s a Zonk.

Thankfully, I love teaching. And I get to write stuff! I’ve made out with a little bit of the best of both worlds.

But, as Robert Morris University starts a new academic year, what advice would I give if a student asked me about pursuing their dream? What if the dream conflicts with their education? What if the dream seems unrealistic?

I really don’t know what to say.

The dreamer in me wants to say, “Go get’em!”

The realist in me wants to say, “Dreams don’t pay bills.”

And the kid in me still likes the frosted side.


iPhone 5-8-13 001

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

On Tuesday, I took advantage of the beautiful weather by going for a run to my local park. When I arrived, I took a break on the basketball court and took a picture of the hoop with the pond in the background.

And at this moment, I made a decision.

When I was 21, my dad and I would walk in the evening to the park where I spent countless days and nights playing basketball. We would shoot around and then I would spend the remaining daylight pursuing my goal:


I’m not exactly built to dunk. I’m 5’10”, over 200lbs, and I have the wingspan of a T-Rex. However, I was (and I suppose I still am) a deceptively good athlete, meaning people are surprised I have any athletic ability at all.

Explosive jumping ability was not born into me, but I was still very close to my goal. I could grab the rim, and I could get high enough to jam the ball into the rim, but not through it. I was mere inches away, but by my mid-20s, I declared myself “too old” to accomplish this feat and accepted that I would simply never dunk.

On Tuesday, I changed my mind:

I am going to dunk.

Of course, I recognize how counterintuitive (ie: ridiculous) this sounds. If I couldn’t dunk during my “athletic prime” when  I played basketball constantly, then what chance do I have now, particularly since I was only able to hit the backboard on Tuesday?

I have a good chance, but I base my odds more on my mind than my body.

One of the charming aspects of teaching college is being around bright, enthusiastic young people who are pursuing their dreams. It is refreshing when students declare what they want and believe with every ounce of their being that things will turn out that way. I was one of those students at 21. I used to say I would be a rich and famous writer by the age of 25. Nothing made me believe otherwise, except for turning 26. (I’m kind of a famous writer now, though. How many ‘LIKES’ does the Flaneur’s Turtle have on Facebook?)

I was a fairly typical 21-year-old. I worked hard – I was going to school full-time during the day and working full-time during the night – but still, my concept of “hard work” was lackluster, and my concept of how to make dreams happen was clearly and lazily off the mark.

And my quest to dunk proves that.

Ten years later, I realize that some training (particularly plyometrics) would have gotten younger me over the rim to my goal in a few months, or even sooner. That’s how close I was. But I didn’t identify my goal, figure out the solution, and then dedicate myself to carrying out the plan.

At 21, a few inches seemed insurmountable. I had myself convinced that I was working hard at my goals and dreams, but if I couldn’t do something with relative ease, I either didn’t try or gave up.

At 31, an entire foot seems inevitable. If I’m far away from my goal, I’ll figure out how to achieve it, and the hard work will just make the payoff sweeter.

To achieve goals, to make dreams come true, to have something special in your life – it takes hard work, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. It takes figuring out how to make things work and then ACTUALLY trying to make them work.

If 21-year-old Paul had honestly bought into that philosophy, I would have dunked a decade ago. But now I have bought in, and that’s what gives me a shot to throw it down.


Chasing Natalie

Posted: February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

She opened the cab door and looked back at me. I wanted to stop her, pull her away from the curb. I thought maybe I could jump in the cab – or in front of it. Anything to keep her from leaving. But I was frozen in place.

Her face was reassuring and playful, yet desperate and sad. She had to leave, but wanted to be found. I had to find her. It was clear: she was the one.

Just before she got inside and drove away, she told me her name:

Natalie Endfall.

And then I woke up.

I had this dream over 15 years ago. I was just a high schooler at the time, but in my dream, I was an adult, which made it seem to me like a vision or prophecy. After all of these years, ImageI’ve never forgotten that dream. Or, more importantly, that name.

At my high school, there were no girls with that exact name, but that wasn’t surprising. The odd part was that I couldn’t even think of anyone named Natalie.

In the years since, I’ve never dated a Natalie. I’ve never been friends with a Natalie. I can’t even readily identify anyone named Natalie in my personal world.

The dream hasn’t always been at the forefront of my mind. In fact, it rarely is. But whenever I think of it, I wonder what it meant.

I’ve Googled the name. It doesn’t exist. At least not according to Google. (And, as we all know, if Google doesn’t know something, it ain’t real.)

I’ve even tried to puzzle out the name in a variety of ways. Maybe it’s an anagram for some phrase or thought? Nope. Maybe it’s an anagram of the name of someone I’ve dated? Nuh uh.

Now, before you tell me I’m taking this all too far, let me tell you the following:

I know I am.

It’s all ridiculous and absurd. I’m trying to invent a heart-shaped reality out of nothing.

Or maybe Natalie is out there waiting for me right now.

Or maybe I have already met the person Natalie was meant to represent.

It’s probably all nonsense, but I want to believe in it.

Normally, I don’t want to believe in fate, and even though I believe in God, I don’t want to believe God is a puppeteer controlling our every action. But when it comes to love, I want to believe there is something more. I want to believe in forces and fate and serendipity and soul mates. I want to. I want love to be the most powerful thing we have in this world – so powerful that it’s not even entirely of this world.

Yet, I can hear the brutish, killjoy, logical side of my mind saying, “It was just a dream, dummy.”

Maybe so, but if I can navigate the grey area between logic and fantasy, perhaps I can approach that dream from a different perspective. Maybe Natalie Endfall was a symbol, a metaphor. Maybe the message from my youthful, lovesick heart was that I will know “the one” when I meet her, and there won’t be any doubt about it. (How is that for a hyper-romanticized oversimplification of the maddening complexities of love?)

At its most basic level, I at least believe the dream carries a message for us all:

To everyone who has found their “Natalie”: Be thankful. Hold that person close and cherish them.

To everyone who has lost their “Natalie”: Make it right. Go get them.

To everyone who is still searching for “Natalie”: Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. And once Natalie arrives, don’t ever let her get in that cab.