Alfonso Zapata

Over the holidays, I went to a panaderia to buy pan dulce for my in-laws. There’s a place by my parent’s house called El Volcan that has excellent conchas. Soft, fluffy, and topped with just the right amount of neon pink sugar.

I walked aimlessly around the store, a metal tray in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, grabbing anything that caught my eye. Cuernos, conchas, orejas, elotitos.

After a few minutes of doing my own sweet bread version of Supermarket Sweep, I stood in line holding a tray stacked with mountains of pan (dulce and otherwise). In front of me was a guy who looked like he was in his twenties and what I assumed to be his five-year old son. The child was what most people would describe as a “Chatty Cathy.” He spoke rapidly to the lady at the cash register, switching between English and Spanish the way a hummingbird changes direction mid-flight.

“And in la escuela, we’re learning how to write a lot of words in English-”

“¿Oh, si?”

“Yeah y puedo escribir cat and dog and house and my teacher nos esta leyendo un book to us-”

“¿De verdad?”

“Yeah and it’s about a cat and it has a hat and they go on adventures and have a lot of fun!”

The lady at the register smiled at him. The dad tussled his son’s hair.

“He wants to be a soccer player when he grows up,” his dad said.

“No dad not anymore, now I want to be an artist!”

“Oh, right, right, sorry. Artist.”

The lady rang them up and stared quietly as they walked out the door. When I put my tray of bread on the counter, she turned to me and spoke softly.

“Es bueno dejarlos soñar.”

It’s good to let them dream.

I’ve been thinking about dreams lately. Goals. Ambitions.

These last few years, my goal was simply do stand-up. Write. Rehearse. Perform.

I daydreamed about doing a tight-five on Conan. Getting into festivals and performing in places like Toronto and Sydney and Edinburgh. Opening for Birbiglia. Doing the voice of an animated character in a Dreamworks film.

I made it to this past October before I got burnt out. So I figured I’d take a week-long break, then get back into it. That week turned into two weeks, then into a month, then two months and now we’re here and I don’t have any desire to go back and perform.

For the first time in a long time, I am without a dream and I feel lost. I don’t know what to do with myself. It just feel like I’m wasting time. Simply existing. It makes me uncomfortable.

It makes me feel guilty.

I just stopped chasing my dream. Gave up. In America, that’s a cardinal sin. It goes against what it means to be American. Dreams are attainable to anyone if you just work hard enough, pursue them long enough. That’s the motto of this country. It is the land of opportunity.

Maybe I didn’t do enough. Maybe doing standup was too tough. So I quit.

There was the documentary on Vimeo I saw a few months ago. I tried to find it and link to it here, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. It followed a young teen in Detroit who just had to be in showbiz. He wanted to be a performer, an actor, an artist. So he went around town, trying to put on a show. The type of show that would make him a star. His confidence, his conviction, his zealous personality, it was all infectious. He was the embodiment of that American mantra.

If you just work hard enough, you’ll reach your dreams.

The documentary ended with his show being a spectacular failure. The kid ended up being arrested for petty theft and, at the time of the film’s release, was serving time in a juvenile detention facility.

For years, my dream was to be on SNL. I fell in love with it in college and moved to Chicago in 2010 to pursue improv at Second City and iO and the Annoyance. I took classes, went to hundreds of shows, spent countless hours talking about “yes and-ing” and establishing relationships and object work with overly enthusiastic improvisors in dimly lit bars.

The last time I went to an improv show was 2014. The last time I even did improv on stage was a few months after that.

I tried joining a troupe here in Kansas City. It was kinda fun. I enjoyed playing the games, creating scenes, but the rush of performing improv had faded. I stopped attending rehearsal a few weeks ago and today realized that I had been unceremoniously booted from the Facebook group. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out.

It was such a change from when I first moved to Chicago and considered getting a bentwood chair (the chair used on stage at iO and Second City) tattooed on my right forearm.

It’s hard to know when to move on. And why to move on. Is it because I’m bored? Because I haven’t reached my goal yet? Because I want to focus on other endeavors? Maybe all three.

But there’s always this nagging voice in the back of my head anytime I want to throw in the towel.

See? Not good enough.

Couldn’t hack it.


What do I have to show for the past few years?

Tangibly? A fairly funny ten-minute set.

But I’m also a better writer. A more confident performer. I’ve made some pretty close friends.

All good things. It’s just not performing in Edinburg. That dream remains unactualized.

Maybe dreams and goals have an ulterior motive. Maybe it’s not the actualization of the dream that’s the dream’s purpose. It’s the skills you build on the path to achieve it.

Although I stopped doing improv years ago, I still use those skills I cultivated. “Yes and-ing” my partner’s ideas, performing a script in front of clients, rolling with the punches of wildly disorganized internal meetings.

As I switch through goals and dreams and pursue them, I build skills that will come in handy later. Or I have fun chasing it. At least, I should.

Blindly pursuing a goal with no regards to anything else sucks the fun out any dream. Unfortunately, that’s what’s been fetishized in America. The hustle. The grind.

But if I were still pursuing the same dream I had in second grade, I’d be a very unhappy pediatrician today.

Maybe sometimes we just outgrow our dreams. Maybe there comes a time when you must let a dream die.

Is that sad? Yeah. A bit. But it’s not necessarily bad, I don’t think. It leaves room for new dreams to grow, to flourish. Something else will fill that space.

I’m just grappling with what that next dream will be.

Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about abandoning this one.

Who knows.

Whatever the case, something else will float into my head soon enough. And then I’ll go and chase that one.

Alfonso Zapata

Written by

I once ate two and a half Chipotle burritos. In one sitting.

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