before I die
ARE YOU AFRAID of your dreams?
I’m not talking about your nightmares. I mean the good
ones—your hopes, your blue-sky aspirations. I know it sounds a little odd to be frightened of your own better future, but think about it. . . . There’s an internal critic in our heads that’s always terrified, always on the lookout for danger. I’m not saying it isn’t helpful or even a lifesaver at times. If you were going to do some- thing truly stupid it’d be the first to shout: “Hey, idiot, don’t stick your head in that bonfire!” But that same critic can hold you back. Wanting to be an opera singer or an anesthesiologist or wanting to run a marathon, or lose twenty pounds, or pilot a bathyscaphe or tell your mother you love her . . . these aren’t fires to be avoided— they’re flames you want to fan. So why does this protective voice regularly perceive these good dreams as threats and prevent you from pursuing them? Why is it that you’re so much better at put- ting the brakes on your creative ideas than you are at making them come true? And what if you could change that?
In the fall of 2011, artist Candy Chang found an abandoned building in New Orleans and turned it into a touchstone of hope, in part by using hearse-black paint and the word die. It’s hard to picture anything that grim eliciting optimism, but Chang’s idea was as profound as it was elegant. After painting the entire build- ing black, she stenciled this declaration on its side countless times, in white: