Milestones

My commute into Philadelphia each day takes 45 minutes, and on the days I'm not fast asleep, I occupy myself during the train ride with comedy podcasts and loud music—anything to wake me up and get me in a good mood. On the mornings I forget my iPod or can't even muster the energy to listen to music, I get roundly mocked by my cheerful coworkers—worse than morning people, they're hospitality professionals—able to front a good morning game even if they're running on only 90 minutes of sleep. I, on the other hand, make a beeline each morning for our cafe. Door. Coffee. My brain can handle only so much before 10:00 a.m.

Most days I choose podcasts, but back in 2009 I went through a loud music phase, listening to American Idiot and Stadium Arcadium, while trying to convince myself my life was on the right track. A phrase from one song, "Make You Feel Better," stuck in my head:

"Dreams so wide like a country mile."

I grew up in rural Minnesota, near to my small town but far from a city. Any drive took us past farmers' fields; neighbors growing sweet corn that we'd pay for by leaving dollar bills in the on-your-honor coffee can. The song came up on my playlist each morning as the train pulled into Philly's 30th Street Station, but in my mind's eye I pictured a lonely stretch of County Road 39—the signal that I was almost home, to our little brown house on Clearwater Lake.

Those words, the opening to a peppy song about feeling better, made me profoundly sad. My dreams barely stretched the length of a Philly food cart, and could be summed up as, "Don't get fired. Move back to Minnesota as soon as possible."

The phrase stuck in my head, a sliver too thin and invisible to pull out. I listened to the song each morning until it was the only song, a playlist of one, and each morning I interrogated myself about potential dreams. Anything I conjured up was indistinct, fuzzy around the edges. They weren't real but merely what I thought my dreams ought to be. It took well over a month of daily musing before I found the answer. My dream: to have dreams as wide as a country mile.

I still remember the pale, gray morning sky peeking over the Market Street skyscrapers. It wasn't much, but it would do. My only dream was to have dreams. It was a beginning, and I instantly felt better.

***

I've spent a lot of time over the last month meditiating on the idea of permission. I envy people with the innate confidence to dream something and then do it, no stopping to see if anyone approves. I'm inherently a permission-seeker; a rule-following, people-pleasing Midwestern girl, always waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead on my ideas. I'm a sidekick rather than a hero.

In so many ways, you've given me permission to pursue my aspirations. Your friendship and feedback regarding the Accidental Creative and Nerdist columns mean so very much to me. From our silly Twitter conversations, posts like Scott's, and through requests for collaboration, you're teaching me that I can trust my instincts. That perhaps I don't need anyone's permission but my own.

My default, when I feel scared, is to wait for someone to validate my idea before I move forward. I've prepared myself by making this the cover of my 2012 planning notebook:

Permission granted.

***

Monday morning found me in an inordinately good mood. I'd spent the weekend building and writing, I'd had several good project collaborations, and I was wearing a kickass pair of black boots. The thought came in to my head as I pushed through the revolving door out on to Market: I had dreams. A lot of dreams—dreams for my writing and creating, dreams for the way I want to live my life, dreams for the people I want as a part of my life—dreams so wide, like a country mile.

I'm not where I want to be, but for the first time ever, I feel like I know where I'm headed. And that makes me feel better.