I recently read Matt Giles’s March 2019 piece on Longreads, “Is It Ever Too Late to Pursue a Dream?” The piece focuses on a forty-something Canadian college basketball player, Dan Stoddard, and his efforts to make a professional athletic career for himself after decades in the regular workforce. In the engaging read, Giles makes a sympathetic portrait of his subject, using him to illustrate the idea that even remote dreams can be pursued at most any age–albeit not without cost. In all, the piece comes off as valedictory of Stoddard–and those whom Stoddard represents.
There are problems in the piece, to be sure. Stoddard is presented as a synecdoche for the presumed readership of the piece (which is done well, I think–I expect I’m part of that presumed readership, and I found myself carried along), and there is some tension in that. There’s also some tension in the notion that a middle-aged white guy can come into a field whose other participants have been training for most of their lives to enter; even the leading image from the article, which I use to help link mine to it, points out the difference. Stoddard has clearly worked hard to participate, but it is still not the most comfortable image in the current sociopolitical climate.
There is a large part of me that wants to identify the general hopefulness of the article as a problem, as well. Stoddard makes great progress towards his goal, though he does so with no small effort and with no small strain on himself and his family. But he is in a position to be supported as he does so, which is not something that many or most can count on having. For the great many who are still in the position Stoddard had previously occupied–and, again, I am not contesting that he is working exceptionally hard to undertake his goal, nor yet that Giles presents the struggle compellingly–are not necessarily as lucky; they do not have such support, or they lack the luxury of using that support for themselves. The hope presented, then, is not one that most can act upon; it is not available to them. And that is not much hope at all.
I know I should not be quite so cynical as all that. For many people, there is hope that sufficient drive and action upon that drive can offer what appears to be an honest shot at a goal. Even now, I might make an attempt to return to academe, and I might be lucky enough to find my way back in in a serious fashion, rather than the tangential relationship with it that I currently have (and enjoy; I’m not about to make the attempt). But I cannot shake from my mind that I would do so at costs I am not willing to pay, costs that I would not be alone in bearing. And I think that is where there is some falsehood in the hope. Who of us would be alone in taking such a risk?