Remember the role fantasy used to play in your life?

A child lying in the grass can see many images in the clouds.

A child lying in the grass can see many images in the clouds.

Perhaps you bit your eraser in school and looked out the window, . . .

taking yourself back to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, listening to the debates surrounding the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. . .

Or to Victorian England, becoming Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy.

Maybe your fantasies moved from other lives and eras to your own.

What would it be like to stand in front of a classroom like Mrs. Lochner is doing now?

What would it be like to fall in love?

Reader, I married him.

Reader, I married him.

For many people, middle age ends fantasy. The day-to-day pressures of work, family, and finance replace the dreamy carefree stages of youth. Did that happen to you without your realizing it?

Here is Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity,

in her book A Long Bright Future

Imagine what it might be like to live to a healthy, happy one hundred. Start daydreaming about the autumn of your life as much as you daydreamed about finding your perfect love when you were a teenager. . . . imagine in vivid detail what you’ll want to do once your principal obligations in life to your family and employers are behind you, and your time is truly your own.

As I turn from looking at childhood in my memoir to looking to the future in my Jubilación posts, I’m at the stage of doing my homework.

Let me know if you want to ride along on this journey, and please offer your own dreams and companions on the way — books you love, people you admire.

Let’s start with this challenge. Assuming you will live to be 100 (or 90 or 80, the number is less important than the idea), what do you most want? Do you have an image of yourself? If not, why not? When and why did you stop dreaming?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Richard Gilbert on January 27, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    What an interesting and inspiring post, Shirley. I have come to admire those who weren’t daydreamers like I was, but this shows how that bent can be put to good use. Dreams are fuel!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 27, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks, Richard, for starting a conversation here — and in such an interesting way. You suggest, I think, that for some it might be wise to stop focusing too much on dreaming. Also, that we who dream can learn a lot from those who either dream less or hold dreams more lightly. Those close to the ground instead of in those clouds. Am I reading you correctly?

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on January 27, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    When I graduated from high school I remember distinctly that I had two dreams, both of which I doubted would be fulfilled. They were:
    1) Go to university and study to become a teacher (I didn’t have my high school maths, and took bookkeeping instead.)
    2) Get married (the boy I dreamed about, didn’t dream about me!)
    My dreams were both fulfilled, the second one five years after high school graduation and the first one when I was 50. So I have proof that what seem like impossible dreams can become reality!
    I dreamed of having a retirement home and we have found exactly the place we love. Now I dream of writing my memoir. I hope it will happen soon.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Elfrieda, you dared to dream beyond the limits of your known world. And both dreams came true. I am so glad for you! It sounds like you have continued to dream in part because you know that what Richard said above is true: “dreams are fuel.”

      Do you find that the more clearly you envision (say your retirement home) in sensory detail, the more likely you are to find it?

      I know that you will complete your memoir, just like you completed all your dreams mentioned. It will happen in its own time.

  3. Marian Beaman on January 27, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    You are blessed with wonderful memories and images that capture that instant of ecstasy and anticipation after your wedding.

    Of course I am happy to ride along on a similar journey your life has taken, and if God gives me strength, plan for another 20+ years. Right now we are both sorting and recycling stuff with plans to move from this homestead to another house more manageable. I won’t call it a retirement home because I’m sure art and writing projects will be strewn about. Of course, I hope to see my memoir published and inspiring others as yours has done. And I hope more travel is in the cards too before we reach our dotage. Hope = Dream

    The cloud picture reminds me of the Mother Abbess singing “Follow every rainbow till you find your dream.” I’ve noticed that new rainbows keep appearing and you/we keep following them.

    Your secret: You were dreamers back then, and your are still dreaming. What a life!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 27, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      That instant was captured by Russo and Russo, two excellent photographers in Lancaster. One of the best investments we made at our wedding. And they were kind enough to give two college kids discounts.

      I didn’t know you were heading for a retirement home. You already chose a nice location for retirement, but it’s good to pare down if we can. And organize! Some dreams are not exactly fun, but they are rewarding. As is writing a memoir.

      You too have been a dreamer, a rainbow follower,. Not only that, you are a great model and encourager of others. What a life to share!

      • Marian Beaman on January 27, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        Just to clarify, we may be moving but not to a retirement home per se. I visualize something a little smaller and with less, much less, yard work.

        • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 8:53 am

          That’s the image I had in my mind. Funny how the two words go together and create another picture.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on January 27, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Shirley — Count me IN as one of the riders along on this journey!

    One of the things that means a great deal to me during this wonderful life I’ve been gifted is to be a good steward of the physical package I reside in. With that in mind, I intentionally take good care of myself, no only for me, but for Len and our son’s sake. My goal is to never have to be the recipient of elder-care. But if for some reason out of my control I do find myself on that end of the stick, I will make certain to be pleasant and gracious to my caregivers.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 9:05 am

      Laurie, when I go on a new adventure, I love having enthusiasts by my side. You fit the bill!

      I love the clarity in your image of your own body, well cared for by you and those you love, entering the next stage of life without need for special care. I also love Plan B. Wonderful illustration of Carstensen’s admonition to create a dream for old age.

      Keep moving, stretching, and eating well. The rest of us will try to keep up. 🙂

  5. melodie davis on January 28, 2016 at 6:28 am

    Love your use of the Jane Eyre quote under your wedding picture. Just great!

    And thanks for this call to remember to dream, even in our 60s or whenever. I dream of places I want to travel mostly, books I want to write, parties I’d like to throw, and an organized basement and garage!! You’e set my mind in a new track.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 9:10 am

      Thanks, Melodie. I can tell that the Carstensen quote had a similar effect on you as it had on me. I think we exchange dreams for to-do lists at some point. It’s good to penetrate the list and ask what the larger goals are. And to re-kindle the kind of all-in enthusiasm we had in youth. The good news? If it was there once, it’s still there. The embers can burst into flame.

  6. Joan Z. Rough on January 28, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Oh what wonderful questions, Shirley. When I was eight or nine I dreamed of being an olympic figure skater. Then I wanted to be a trapeze artist in the circus. Those were the adventures I longed for and even though I’m not a skater or swing from a trapeze, I am those things in my soul. I hang everyday from a hook in the sky and make decisions based on how the air feels and which way the wind is blowing. And I often spin on ice wondering when the spinning will stop and where I’ll be when it ends.

    These days I don’t so much dream of things. Instead I put them out into the universe to see what will happen. I never dreamed of writing and publishing a memoir until I dared to begin the process. The adventure it turned into has been a fabulous ride.

    What I want most is to keep daring myself to take risks and to continue being grateful for where ever I land.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Wow, Joan. That question about your early dreams brought out the poet in you! “I hang everyday from a hook in the sky and make decisions based on how the air feels and which way the wind is blowing. And I often spin on ice wondering when the spinning will stop and where I’ll be when it ends.” Your words remind me of a famous quote from Edith Wharton: “Life is always either a feather bed or a tight rope. Give me the tight rope.”

      Also this one from Goethe: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

      I can edit your comment and will do. Thanks for these daring thoughts.

  7. Tina Barbour on January 28, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Shirley, I will be a happy participant and follower of your journey! You inspire me with your enthusiasm and joy. I first had a dream of being a writer when I was a little girl, and I’ve never let go of that dream, though other things overshadowed it over the years. Now my dream is more refined. My dream of writing has become melded with a love of animals that gradually became a part of me. It surprises even me that I’m an animal person, specifically a cat person! I dream of making people smile and have fun and think with my stories. I dream of caring for kitties and having a positive influence on how our culture views them. I dream of many more years with Larry and of travel. And my dream (hope) is to be able to take care of myself until the end.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 11:42 am

      Tina, thanks for climbing on to the new mission here. Like you, I am evolving from one dream to the next.

      You mention that you have surprised yourself, and I hear the energy of surprise in your written voice. Go deep into that surprise and help your reader feel it too. In fact, here is advice from Colette: “To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly.”

      Keep us informed as you continue to construct your astonishing dreams.

  8. Betty on January 28, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    I love this topic, Shirley, and I want to ride along on your journey! I have found that putting my dreams down on paper opens up space for my thoughts to go in that direction and for the dream to become reality. I have begun creating passwords with the acronym for my dream which makes me say it over and over to myself as I am logging in on certain websites, emails, etc. I do not use the automatic sign in so that I have to use it every day. I used to think it took money to make my dreams become reality until I started dreaming creatively. Now here I am “living the dream” high in the Rocky Mountains, breathing in crisp mountain air, daily seeing sun-filled indescribably breathtaking blue skies, rosy sunrises in God’s natural cathedral. Life is good! Thanks for being my mentor in dream risk taking!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Betty, I’m not sure who mentored whom in our relationship. If I recall correctly, you celebrated your 50th birthday by climbing Pike’s Peak!

      I love the idea of creating a sentence about your dream and using that for your password!

      And I love your creativity in recognizing the many win-wins that don’t require lots of money. Volunteering in “God’s natural cathedral” is a perfect example.

      Please stay in touch and let us know what you’re learning as you continue to name and follow your dreams!

  9. Elaine Mansfield on January 28, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for helping me think about these big questions.
    I have never stopped dreaming, Shirley. That comes with a focus on the inner life. I hope my life will always have meaning, creative outlets, and purpose. I want to be of service as long as I can. There is also that aspect of inner joy and peace. And friendship and deep connection. I want to accept the limitations of growing older with equanimity and poise. That’s a lot of wanting, but let’s add acceptance of what is.
    After a lifetime of excellent health habits, I hoped to be healthier than I am. I try to think of Meniere’s Disease deafness and other symptoms as a way to focus on what I can do and let go of what I can’t.
    The service part of my life is overly demanding because of ill and aging family and friends. This is hard on the dreamer in me who wants more time to write and walk and imagine. Fortunately, my sleeping self creates exciting images.
    I won’t stop dreaming in that sense or in any sense. And I hope I’ll be able to write for a very long time.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      I smiled when I thought of how you might answer this question, Elaine. The fact that you dream consciously day and night makes this question seem strange to you, I imagine. You will never stop dreaming!

      I hope readers will read your posts about how you are dealing with Miniere’s Disease and with caregiving for your mother-in-law. They are beautifully written and illustrate that dreams don’t protect us from suffering. The word that turns suffering into joy goes through the path of service. Your writing goes so far beyond the personal and individual. It seeps into the hearts and minds of others. No matter what happens, good or bad, you turn it into service. I admire and applaud this gift in you, friend. The best dream does not depend on fortune or luck but rather on the determination to keep looking for a better story.

      • Elaine Mansfield on January 29, 2016 at 8:16 pm

        I forgot to say what a beautiful bride you were and how much I enjoyed looking at the mutual joy of bride and groom. You were a child bride. Were we really that young?

        • Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

          Thanks for coming back to offer this thought. I had just turned 21 years old two days before that picture was taken. Stuart was 23. These days, that does seem far too young. We thought we were quite grown up and ready, however. 🙂

  10. Marylin Warner on January 28, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Oh, Shirley, you look so young! When I was coaching high school drama, I had students in OUR TOWN’s wedding scene who looked older than you and your husband! Such a wonderful picture.
    I have had times throughout my life when I hesitated in my dreaming, but I never stopped completely. Which, for me, has been a saving grace.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      Marylin, we were “just kids” at the same time as Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith but we lived very different lives. I was 21 by three days on that picture. Stuart was 23.

      You are a dreamer even when the road ahead is a hard one. I’m learning a lot from your wisdom. Keep dreaming, friend.

  11. Kathleen Pooler on January 28, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Shirley, I will happily enjoy joining the gang in exploring our dreams. My reality has been fueled by my dreams in good and bad times. I hope that dream never stops. I can recount endless scenarios but I’ll mention a few here. One day while sitting in a nursing faculty meeting, I was daydreaming about pursuing a degree as a nurse practitioner. I was 48-years-old and itching to make a change. I doodled a picture of a sailboat on the margins of the faculty minutes and knew I would take action. I don’t know the significance of the sailboat but looking at it solidified my resolve. I went on to get my family nurse practitioner degree and enjoyed fifteen years of a career that fed my soul and nurtured my spirit. Positive visualization led to a dream coming true. Several months after receiving my nurse practitioner degree, I was diagnosed with Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which led to a whole series of dreams and positive visualizations that all came true. Yes, I am a dreamer and was reminded of another aspect of this when I saw this sign in front of an office building recently:”If you want your dreams to come true, you have to wake up.” Thank you for this thought-provoking series. I love your photo,too!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 28, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Kathy, I love this series of vignettes. Your memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead illustrates many ways in which you dreamed, were disappointed, but went on to find the answer to your prayers and dreams fulfilled.

      That sailboat image intrigues me. It certainly suggests motion, perhaps at a time when you felt stuck? As opposed to a speed boat, it requires working with a force not under one’s control –the wind–which of course has spiritual meaning.

      I love that sign, Kathy. You are ever alert to literal signs that take on symbolic importance. May your work on your second memoir lead you and others to the kinds of awakenings that fulfill old dreams and create new ones!

    • Janet Givens on January 29, 2016 at 11:57 am

      “If you want your dreams to come true, you have to wake up.” thanks for that, Kathy. Reminded me of the old one about denial — “it’s like sleep; you never know you’re in it until you’re no longer in it.”

  12. Janet Givens on January 29, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Shirley, you’ve certainly gotten me thinking here. Dreams. I realize that for the past twenty + years I’ve tended to focus more on the nighttime ones — what the subconscious is trying to say — whether for me or for others. Daytime dreams, hopes, plans for the future … I read recently that those in “their autumn years” live a happier life when they can still envision a future for themselves. I also notice, in my work with hospice, so many in that “season” tend to focus on the past, whether romanticizing or regreting. That seems sad to me.

    I believed for so long that dreams were not within my power to fulfill. My more recent emphasis on the present moment has perhaps kept me from dreaming, from envisioning what the future, in all but one area: I find myself constantly curious as to the last few years of my life, whenever they may come: where I’ll be, how I’ll get around, who’ll be my support system, etc. Not worried, really; just unable to see it. When I lived in Philadelphia, (in those pre-Peace Corps years) I had those later years all laid out in front of me clearly. (Wo)man plans; God laughs.

    I’m also not certain I’m ready to claim these are my “autumn years.” I’m feeling more like I’m in “late summer.” And you know we’re the same age. Is that just denial? 🙂

    Thank you for a provocative post, once again.

  13. Shirley Showalter on January 29, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    You’re so welcome, Janet, and thank YOU for adding new takes on the imagery. Your word “curious” is a good one. It helps preserve mindfulness of the present moment as we imagine the future self we cannot see.

    I think there is value in dreaming without fixation. I am trying to take Carstensen’s challenge and dream about old age in ways that preserve feistiness (“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.) and style (Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey), intellect (Joan Didion, Toni Morrison), spirituality (Julian of Norwich), and body (Jane Fonda). Wouldn’t it be fun to make up composites? Maybe you have just inspired a new blog post.

    And maybe when you have gathered your writer friends in Chincoteague this year you can throw a “Come as your favorite dowager crone party.”

    As for which season we are in, you can stay in late summer if you are living in the tropics. But since you aren’t, buckle up for autumn and winter!

  14. Merril Smith on February 2, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Somehow I missed commenting on this post earlier. I will certainly ride along with you and the others on this journey. One great thing about waiting to comment is that I’ve been able to read all the wonderful comments above! I’m not sure what the future will bring, but like Laurie, I’m trying to take care of my body with exercise and good nutrition. At the same time, you only live once–so I WILL have a piece of the chocolate chip banana cake I baked! 🙂

    It’s funny but I mentioned a dream in my post this week and someone commented that they had had a dream about me.

  15. Shirley Showalter on February 3, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Love that you will not deny yourself cake, Merril.

    And clearly your words have seeped into a reader’s unconscious to create a dream. That’s a function of dreaming Elaine Mansfield, above, understands so well. I’ll have to see if I missed your post that mentions a dream. I’m curious. 🙂

  16. June on February 8, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I have been reflecting on your question about dreams and when they stop, why they stop.
    As I reflect on this, I think that there is one word that describes it, limit. Some time the limit is what we put on ourselves, we don’t think we have the ability to accomplish the desired outcome of our dream.
    Some time the limit is what others have spoken over us. How many times in our lives that we have aloud someone else to put limits on our dreams, told us we couldn’t accomplish what we dream.
    Is it the limit on our imagination? Often when we grow up, we are told you are to old to dream, to imagine. That dreams and imagination are for the young. Never give up on your dreams, never think that you are too old to dream, to imagine. Lift the limits, raise the roof.

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