On Wildest Dreams, Living Sadness, and the Wisdom of Flowers

Today, after a lovely meeting with the Social Security office (successful, and the people there are kind and patient) (not a joke), I got to go to lunch at a Chamber of Commerce event and hear about the new theme/adventure park coming to Utah County in the next couple of years. A place called Evermore. Heard of it? You’ll want to. They had a huge presence at ComicCon FanX earlier this year, and I think they have hold of a concept that will positively print money, and make the entertainment scene here wonderfully upgraded. I’m actually more psyched about this idea than I would be about relocating Disneyland to Utah.

And at the same time kind of sad.

Why? Because I’ve never done anything like what Ken Bretschneider and the brilliant team there are doing. It’s not a failure of ideas. It’s not a failure of imagination. It’s a failure of execution and drive, which I recognize and am a little ashamed of.

About thirteen years ago, I had a year of insanity. I was bought out of a management position at a tech company for a really ridiculous amount – on paper, I was a millionaire for an afternoon one day – and I had more or less retired. My brother had an idea for a haunted house concept that was different from the run-of-the-mill, something that Dark Towerrequired real acting, a lot of space, and a willingness to think differently about how the Halloween concept could be worked. I thought it was great, and we played around with some ideas, one of them involving the old ore assaying plant in Midvale, right off the freeway, a place we still call the Dark Tower. Nice, huh? You like that? You definitely would have, but we never had the money for even an appreciable fraction of what it would have cost.

Anyway, refusing to let the idea die, we engaged a different building, right next to Seven Peaks in Provo. Zoning being what it is there (and, to be fair, in a lot of places), we modified the concept, keeping the haunted environment for Halloween but changing the entire experience for every major holiday, and we called it the American Holiday Museum. At Halloween it would have great scares from haunted houses from across the country. At Christmas it would have exhibits from It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, the Christmas Story, etc. We’d do Valentine’s Day, Veterans’ Day, V-E and V-J Days, all sorts of things, even one-offs for Peanut Butter Day and National Doughnut Day. Everyone that heard about it agreed it was a cool concept.

During its heyday, we held a fundraising event called Twelfth Night (which became an annual event for a decade), at which we had 40s-era jazz and dancing. Supremely fun, raised very little, but also gave me a larger idea that grabbed me with both hands and wouldn’t let go.

Geneva SteelRight about this time, Geneva Steel (image credit Rachel Lowry and the Utah Historical Society) was going under, leaving a huge tract of land right by the lake that was empty and derelict. The idea was that we would recreate a town there – a town like, oh, Bedford Falls, entirely in period gear. The entire town would be right out of the 1940s. We’d have old tanks you could drive, a small airfield that would house B-52s, Messerschmitts, P-52 Mustangs, Spitfires and such. We’d have Rick’s American Cafe, with a 40s band, dancing, even a Friday and Saturday-night radio broadcast (and fake gambling going on, about which we would be shocked, every night) (and yes I know that mixes movies, so sue me). We’d have houses and schools and people actually LIVING in the town, just like a real town, and you could take your family there for a week and live there, just like the 1940s, except for the much more ubiquitous air conditioning (wi-fi wasn’t a thing when I was planning this out, but I suspect it would have found a way to be included). Newspapers delivered to your rental Bedford Fallshouse, dated 1945. Nothing in the town to indicate (overtly) that this wasn’t seventy years ago. A whole experience – wargames, museums, boat and plane and tank and car rides, history, all sorts of things.

None of it happened. We lasted until just after Christmas, and had to close. There were lots of reasons. One was indisputably the city of Provo, which at the time was…antagonistic…to the concept of the Museum, and shut it down at a critical moment, costing us about $20,000 and making the difference between being able to continue and having to let everyone go. Another was severe underfunding of the entire operation. My million turned into just less than $45,000 by the time I was able to liquidate it (the tech market crash was painful for a lot of people). We never really had the cash to even start entertaining the idea of buying $50 million of property along Utah Lake. But the biggest reason? Well, that would be me.

It’s true that I had no money. Lots of people don’t have money, and some of them find ways to get it. It’s true that I wasn’t connected to the kinds of people that do projects like this. Almost nobody is born with those connections, and some people get them anyway. Every time there’s a successful project like the one I was contemplating, someone didn’t have any of the resources necessary to pull it off, and then that someone went out and got them, and made the impossible happen. Lots of people with money fail to make their visions come to pass, and lots of people without money make them come to life in spite of that. What’s the difference?

I think it’s drive. I think it’s execution. It takes a relentless focus and a willingness to subsume all rationality and sense to the goal of bringing the image into being. Every big project is like this, whether it’s Comic Con or Disneyland or the creation of the world. First there’s an idea, and that idea in the head of someone that never, ever lets go of it, and then the thing happens.

If you’re thinking that you’ve had an idea like this, and despite your pursuit of it the dream remains unfulfilled, then I have a piece of knowledge for you: you haven’t worked on it hard enough or long enough. No matter what else is true of the process, that must be true. You may contend that you’ve worked very hard. I believe you. You may contend that you’ve worked on it every minute for years. I believe you. The fact remains that you haven’t worked long enough or hard enough, because if you had, the thing would be done.

You may be incapable of working long enough or hard enough to make it come true. In that case, you need help, either in the form of other people or in the form of machines to multiply your effort. But if you want it, you’re going to have to find out what you’re missing and plug it in, whether it’s time or energy or focus or dollars or whatever, because otherwise it won’t happen.

You may argue that you can’t do all that the creation demands. Fine. You won’t get the thing created. You may argue that others have done the same sort of thing with less effort or time. So? That changes nothing. You may argue that you shouldn’t have to work this hard to make your vision a reality. Unfortunately for you, there is no should. A thing costs what it costs, and until you have paid that price you will not get the thing. The price is different for everyone. For you it may be astronomical. The question remains: do you want the thing or not? If you want it, you’ll have to do what it takes to get it.

I know all these arguments so well, because I made them all. I think I was incapable of working hard enough for long enough to make Bedford Falls happen – and a hundred ideas since. I could have found the people that had the muscle to bring it about, but I didn’t. I have a lot of shortcomings, and some of them made me unwilling to pay the price, which for me is often painfully steep.

That impossible dream remains unrealized. I feel guilty, almost, that this is so, as if I owed that vision more than just a blog post twelve years on, as if by not measuring up to the challenge – and I absolutely did not – I’ve betrayed it. When I hear people talk about grand things they’re going to accomplish, I get a little twinge. I am sad, and I feel that I am so much less than I should be.

And then when I hear the Evermore people talk about their fantastic idea, the twinge is mighty enough to lock up my whole frame, because it’s so much the same as the one I had. But Ken is making it happen. My hat is off to him, and I’ll do whatever I can to help, little as that may be.

And today, I have other dreams. They’re a lot smaller, most of them, and some of them I believe to absolutely within my ability to bring about. Still, they’ll require something different than what I’ve given to them so far, else they would have already happened. To make them reality, I’ll have to do things I haven’t done, and I’ll have to stop doing things I’m doing now. My sadness, my shame, even, that I’ve not been willing to do some of that work in the past is a thing that works against me, and as wrong as it feels to let it go and focus only on what I can do right now, that’s what has to happen.

FlowersOn the way back to the office from the presentation, Jill and I passed a huge flower garden, filled with bright summer flowers in full bloom. We stopped, took pictures, admired the beautiful view. We had just been talking about how we were sad that we hadn’t been all we feel we could (and should) have been, that so many of our visions remained unrealized. Then the flowers said to me, “should we be sad that in May we did not look like what we do in August?”

I love being chastened by vegetation. Flowers are wise. Lamenting that my time past has been lost will not effectively use the time right now. I have a dream to chase. Let us see if I have the will to chase it.

And I’ll see you, opening night, at Evermore. That much I promise you.

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One Response to On Wildest Dreams, Living Sadness, and the Wisdom of Flowers

  1. Ed May says:

    Chris, Absolutely brilliant and inspiring essay. Love it.

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