“You and your wife shall have good fortune in your journey together in life,” read the fortune from the cookie. I knew it was a sign, and, while the very small rational part of my brain kept insisting the fortune was merely confirming my wisdom in deciding to get take out on a week night, the party of my brain that runs the fantasy department had decided that this message was a directive. On the reverse side of the little paper slip were a set of lucky numbers, and the message so clearly meant that this particular set should be played. The big jackpot wasn’t a record breaker last night, but, deciding that the Big Guy and I would be happy to settle with only $40 million, I plunked down my $2 and bought an evening of fantasy. The problem is, the cost of the tickets has inflated, but the fantasy has not only not kept pace with inflation, over the last few years or so it’s deflated.
Once upon a time, I’d indulge in my $2 fantasy whenever the jackpot reached record-breaking status and come home for a few hours of ‘what would I do’. The obvious paying off of any bills and not worrying about how to pay future debts and college were up first on the list. Even, when we were too poor to be gambling, I’d still gamble, dreaming about the house we’d build and the clothes I would buy (and somehow magically look better in because the winning lottery ticket also bestows the winner with instant weight loss). I’d dream about the cars we’d buy for our family and the fleet we’d own – a different vehicle for every purpose – and the traveling we’d do.
The fantasies reached their height when I was still paying off a mountain of medical bills and trying to find a job with better health insurance. Then, a few years ago, I hit the job jackpot. I found a job at a place that not only offered the one benefit I really needed, but let me work at home and do something I was already doing for a lot of friends and family for free (tech support – get your minds out of the gutter).
I came for the regular paycheck and the insurance, but I had only been at the company a week before I realized there was a hidden benefit that had not been mentioned at the interviews. My coworkers and I all work remotely, but during the day, we congregate in a private chatroom. The chatroom is primarily for sharing advices, but, as anyone who’s worked with computer geeks can attest, the Monty Python and Tolkien references also fly thick. I’ve always marched to my own beat, and I quickly learned that most of my coworkers had each brought their own rhythm section to our band of tech rep. For one of the few times in my life, I felt like I really fit in, and my $2 fantasy suddenly got a little smaller – I might be able to work part time, but I could never leave this group for good (we all feel that way, btw).
One of the side effects of keeping your own beat in your head is that your not always in sync with what’s in style. For me that’s just about never, and the shrinking of my fortune fantasy accelerated as each session began another realization. The problem became that not only do we live in the perfect house – for us – but, as unmatched and unkempt as most of our furniture is, almost every piece has some memory attached to it. So, I had to scratch the multi-million dollar, un-earth-sheltered McMansion from my fantasy. Suddenly these tickets seemed more expensive.
I’ve been scribbling in little notebooks for most of my life. And, while the fortune fantasy requires a ticket infusion to get going each time, my once-secret and sustaining fantasy was to be a real, published author. The ridiculous end of this fantasy is somewhere in J.K. Rowling territory, but the more usual one is to be living in an off-beat, off-grid house in Vermont, making enough money and having enough legitimacy to keep scribbling away. For many years the ‘any money’ part was fantasy.
However, as I began writing more as part of a group and then found a writing workshop that made a writing life seem possible, the potential realization of my $2 fantasy – however remote a possibility – began to seem like even less of a blessing. After all, hitting a multimillion dollar jackpot might get you a spot on the Today show, but it does not make you a better writer.
So Saturday, as I went to play our lucky numbers, the little voice called to me from behind the mostly-locked iron door at the back of my brain was still, trying to lure me back to my world of fantasy. But as I stood in line ticking off the things I would do if we won, I realized the list had grown depressingly short. We’d still pay off the bills and future college graduates. We’d still buy a couple of veggie-vehicles, fulfilling our longtime fantasy of converting a car to run on waste vegetable oil (the Big Guy also has his own rhythm section). But that’s it. I really couldn’t think of anything we’d do.
I still bought the ticket of course – no one will ever accuse me of being too rational. But instead of thinking about all the problems it would magically solve, I walked out thinking about the things that I really want from life and how even a winning number could never give me most of them. It occurred to me that the problem with the deflating $2 fantasy was that I’ve become the author and fulfiller of my own fantasy over the last few years. And it’s still the one that sustains me.