Gold foil illustration of stars


Feeling Torn Between the Life You Want and the Life You Have

Consider Dorothy, the orphan girl of Kansas, sitting up in her bed at the end of the movie. While the credits roll and the music swells, with the Land of Oz still fading from her eyes, she whispers to herself, “There’s no place like home.”

Eventually, of course, she knows she’ll have to get out of bed, put on a pair of ordinary black slippers, and carry on with her life on the farm. Counting the chicks, darning the stockings, pushing gray eggs around a cast-iron pan. She’ll play around with Toto, just as she did before. And when she opens the door, she’ll step out into a world of black and white, into a broad sweep of flat land that reaches the edge of the sky in all directions. And she’ll know that she’s not in Oz anymore. She had her rumspringa and chose to return, which means she is now a confirmed Kansan.

And yet, even as she makes her way to school the next morning, she now carries with her a certain unshakable awareness—that her gray gingham dress is secretly blue, that her charcoal hair is actually a rich auburn, that the sky catches fire when the sun goes down. She’ll try to blink the colors out of her eyes, but she’ll never be able to forget that there’s an entire dimension hidden inside things. Everything will now have a grainy reticence that feels intolerable to her. She knows that this humdrum workaday world can explode without warning, blooming with color and potential and chaos. She alone can sense the shimmer of gold on the gray gravel road, the lion’s roar hidden in a friend’s voice. She will feel a new dissatisfaction with surfaces and distances, feel the urge to yank open the curtains and rip into people’s hearts and set them on fire, just to get a sense of what they’re made of.

To her, Oz is more than a dream. It’s a sickness. A feverish desire that infected her mind, making normal life feel intolerable, when she had been doing just fine. But where does she go from here? How long will it be before she’s gazing over the rainbow once again? How long before she’s galloping across the fields like a storm chaser, beckoning her arms to the clouds like a toddler desperate to be picked up?

And even if she gets her wish, and wakes up back in Oz as if no time had passed—what then? How long before she’s clicking her heels on the sidewalks of Emerald City, trying to flag down a hot air balloon to take her back to the comfort and safety of home? If Oz is a dream that never leaves you, so is Kansas. Life is not a flat and barren outpost, and it’s not a bangarang wonderland either. Maybe they’re just two different ways of looking at some ambiguous middle place, where she actually lives. It’s just a question of perspective, which can shift wildly depending on how she chooses to see it.

Such is life. Some days you wake up in Kansas, and some days in Oz. Sometimes the world feels pretty much stuck in place, and you’ve made your peace with that. Why waste time on silly pipe dreams, when there are socks to darn and pigs to feed? At other times, you look around and see how exciting the world can be, how flexible and arbitrary things are, how easy it might be to cast aside your old life and get to work building the one you really want.

Eventually you have to decide what to do with this desire. Do you tamp it down in yourself, or do you chase after it? Should you quit your job to pursue your dream, or hang on to that steady paycheck? Stay in an okay relationship or find a better match? Do you plunge into a Technicolor riot of what might be, harsh and delirious and confusing? Or do you accept the humble beauty of ordinary life, where nothing ever changes, and everything is simple? Which will it be—Kansas or Oz? Life as it is or life as it could be?

Soon enough, life will offer you an answer. But for the moment, you are like Dorothy, sitting up in her bed, trying to decide which pair of slippers she wants to wear today. Black or ruby? Black or ruby? Until she decides, she’ll be caught in a maddening state of tension, trying to live in two worlds at once—padding around the farmhouse as it spins inside the twister, with rubies shining in her bloodstream, her auburn hair slowly turning gray.

Spare a thought for poor Dorothy, the orphan girl of Kansas, who dreams in color but lives in black and white.

From Oz + the prairie, with you caught somewhere in between. Pronounced “oz-you-ree” or “ozh-uh- ree.





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