What Do You Believe Your Dreams Should Cost?

I was sad when the writers of Grey’s Anatomy discontinued their blog last year. Partly because it was nice seeing a major media company using social media to good effect, but mostly because as a writer, I love hearing about other writers’ process. Even if I disagreed with their reasoning or final decision, I learned a lot about story mechanics. Even if you find medical soap operas formulaic, you need to understand the formula for a dramatic story before you can go screwing around with it. It was interesting to go back after a particularly enjoyable (or sometimes even a not enjoyable episode), and learn why certain  decisions were made.

My great personal failing is that I am always asking “Why?” Especially about things that won’t ever have a clear-cut answer to that question. Shonda and Betsy and the gang can tell me, unequivocally and in great detail, why a character in their universe got shot, or cheated on, or cancer. I spend a lot of my Bible-reading time stuck in the Book of Job, just so I can feel like God is personally telling me “You’re not getting an explanation. Deal with it.”

One thing that has stuck with me after reading the Grey’s Anatomy blog is Shonda Rhimes’ concept of “The Bill.”

“…It is also what I refer to as the bill. You eat a delicious meal at a delicious restaurant, you get a bill. You buy the expensive bag online, the bill comes due.  You want in, you gotta pay.  Same with life (or at least life as it plays out in my head). The scales have to be balanced.  It’s the hideous game of fate our characters always play. … The bill was due. And the collection agents came calling. I hate it but it’s the only way I know to do it – let the universe hand Mer a shiny pony and then kick Mer in the face. You don’t get to have everything. There’s always a price.”

If you read that, and you are one of the few people who know me well, you understand that that’s exactly how, deep down, I believe life works. Or maybe, that’s my most persistent and consistent fear about how life works. That’s my interpretation of the vast, echoey, Job-like silence in response to my incessant “Why?”

Because the bill was due, Katina. The collection agents came calling. I got my shiny pony; time to get kicked in the face.

The thing that is finally, possibly, soaking into my stubborn psyche is that while the concept of “the bill” may be a fabulous tool for writing gripping melodramatic serial fiction, it’s an incredibly shitty way of looking at your real life.

I’ve had some amazing blessings in the last few years, and in this year particularly. But every good thing that comes my way, I can’t relax and simply enjoy. I accept it with a wince. Because I’m mentally trying to calculate what the bill might be.

This excerpt from last week’s reading in The Artist’s Way smacked me in the face like a misjudged door frame.

“Stripped to their essence, our multiple negative beliefs reveal a central negative belief: we must trade one good, beloved dream for another. In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag for it that strikes you as unpayable.”

Well, damn. That sure explains a lot. Like why people have been telling me I should write more stories since I was five, but I was almost forty before I got a book publishing contract. Or actually submitted anything to a publisher…

I wasn’t supposed to be married, or have kids. According to my family, I was supposed to grow up to be the stereotypical crazy maiden aunt with ten cats. Somewhere along the line, I probably appended “and wrote awesome fairy tales” to the cats and the crazy. So when I ended up married to a moderately sane, down-to-earth guy with two awesome low-maintenance kids, I probably did think the trade-off was that I couldn’t be a writer.

Of course, I still am the crazy aunt, despite having a husband and kids of my own (just ask my nieces and nephews), and Rocky probably sheds the equivalent of ten cats, so maybe I actually am due the writing thing, even if that were a true philosophy.

I am also not without several traumatic life experiences that supported the whole “if your life doesn’t suck right now, it’s just because you’re being set up for an even more spectacular tragedy later.” But my more analytically-minded friends would remind me “the plural of anecdote is not data.

So since I’m trying to make my blog posts not be all about me (which is tough, because I’m clearly a narcissist), I’m going to ask, does the concept of “the bill” resonate with anyone else? Or if you don’t believe in “the bill,” do you have any weird beliefs about the cost of being creative that give you pause?

If you’re a Christian, how does that jive with the idea of a God who may be inscrutable, but “works all things to the good for those who are called according to His purpose”?  I know my own skeevy little justifications (“Getting kicked in the face is good for you in the long run. Maybe.”) but I’m finally admitting it’s a pretty meanspirited view of the Almighty.


  1. ·

    I thought the same thing for a long time, and still do to a degree. At one point it was a source of paralysis and angst and I’m not sure when or how I turned the corner. I don’t even think about the quid pro quo perspective anymore, I just do what I need to in order to make myself happy. It includes some selfish things, like playing video games and inedible cooking experiments, but it also includes volunteering, hosting dinner parties, and actively seeking out friends who need help. I think the balance is what helps me accept that I can have what I want, because I’m already paying my internal piper.

  2. Kat French

    Interesting. Instead of “devising a cost that strikes you as unpayable” you’re devising a cost that strikes you as reasonable, maybe? Will ponder that a bit, along with some other things people offline have thrown into my mental stew pot.


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