The Vulnerability Of Big, Crazy Dreams
If you build it, they will come. Which is easier said than done
There are a lot of moments in Field of Dreams that make me fall in love with main character Ray Kinsella. The boyish way he scampers to the mound to pitch to Shoeless Joe that first time. The tenderness with which he treats young Archie Graham. Of course — of course — the sweet, trembling lilt of his voice when he asks his dad to have a catch.
(There’s also a particular shot of him in in the cornfield in faded Levi’s and a blue button-up shirt that really does it for me, although that’s neither here nor there.)
But there’s a moment about a quarter of the way through the movie that I think about a lot. It’s this scene more than any other that makes me want to wrap Ray up in a comforting embrace and never let him go.
It’s early evening. Ray has plowed under his crop to build a baseball field at the behest of a voice insisting, “If you build it, he will come.” He’s now regularly hosting ghost baseball practice, but he’s the town laughingstock, and he’s in serious financial trouble. Still, Ray and his wife Annie have found a kind of tenuous peace in all the uncertainty his field of dreams has caused: coasting on magic and hoping things work out.
Then the voice comes back. “Ease his pain,” it whispers.
And Ray is pissed.
“What the hell does that mean, ‘ease his pain’?” he sputters. “What pain? Whose pain?” Finally, he snarls, “Thanks a lot” and flings a baseball toward the backstop.
I love Ray Kinsella because this is a moment we don’t see very often, in movies and in real life: the terrifying, disorienting, infuriating vulnerability that comes with following a crazy dream.
America is a country-sized Pinterest board of misattributed inspirational quotes about giving up everything to follow your dreams.
“Quit your job. Buy the ticket. Take the leap. Don’t look back.” -William Shakespeare
“We only regret the chances we didn’t take.” -Grigori Rasputin
“You only live once. That’s the motto: YOLO. ” -Buddha
Our culture loves to fetishize the big risk, the big dream, and the inevitable big, happy ending.
But like any fetish, this narrative had to be simplified and flattened out to meet our needs. No one wants a sexy nurse with sore feet and a complicated backstory or a leather daddy who’s going through some stuff and kind of needs to talk about it. We want cleavage and a stethoscope and a to-the-point whipping, thankyouverymuch.
We want the grainy photo of Steve Jobs in a garage with the payoff of his hard work spelled out in a text overlay. We want the arduous, twisting journey distilled into a listicle of lifehacks. We want the neat and tidy 500-word retrospective essay about how it all worked out perfectly in the end.
We don’t like to talk about the in-between — the part where we’ve taken the leap and the net hasn’t appeared yet. The part where the big change we need to make — the command we heard in the ether of our own proverbial cornfield — doesn’t feel like a dream at all but more like a nightmare. The part where we are being called to do something uncomfortable, to shatter the familiar cadence of our lives, to drain our savings accounts or disappoint someone we love. The part where we already made a massive change and we’re being asked to make an even bigger one.
Leaving a perfectly lovely relationship that we know, deep down, isn’t right for us. Moving to a new city because it feels right. Making a necessary but unglamorous career switch. Speaking a truth that might cost us everything even as it sets us free.
Sometimes being asked to build something requires tearing down something precious.
Sometimes destiny fucking sucks.
The vulnerability of the in-between is scary and painful and complicated. And like Ray Kinsella’s journey, more often than not, the happy ending looks a lot different than you thought it would.
I got to go to the real Field of Dreams a couple of months ago. I was driving between Dubuque and Iowa City with a friend and he said, “You know what’s out here, right? We can’t not go.” So we took the exit for Dyersville and drove a few miles of winding roads and there it was: the house, the field, the bleachers. Ray Kinsella’s big, crazy dream (which looked much smaller in person).
The corn was only a few feet high because it was early in the season, but up against a bright blue sky and low-hanging Iowa clouds, damn, it was magic. I wandered out to the right-center field to take in the view and an old man came up to me. He smiled and put a worn, dusty baseball in my palm, gently closing my hand around it. “This is for you,” he said and walked away.
I held that ball, standing at the edge of the cornfield, and I thought about that scene where Ray gets angry at the voice. I thought about the messy in-between.
I thought about the time I moved across the country to a city where I didn’t know anybody, for no reason other than I knew I needed to go. I thought about the hurt on my mom’s face when I left when I couldn’t explain to her why I was leaving. I thought about what a neat, tidy, inspiring story it is now, how easy it is to skip over the parts between when I jumped and when I landed: the self-doubt, the fear, the unrelenting loneliness.
I thought about the long line of headlights lining up to visit Ray’s field at the end of the movie. It’s a dramatic scene for sure, as the camera pulls out and reveals miles of cars in the darkness, but it’s also, as far as happy endings go, more of a whisper than a bellow of victory. We don’t see the Kinsellas counting stacks of money from their influx of tourists. We don’t see them remodeling the kitchen of the farmhouse they got to keep. We don’t even see Ray playing catch with his dad — the man for whom he unknowingly built the field — for more than a few seconds.
What we do see, though, is a glimpse of light in the darkness. A moment of clarity cutting through the confusion. A hint of a soft landing after a free fall. The pain of following a big dream, eased.