A Sorta Fairytale: A Story of Unfulfilled Dreams

When I was younger, the last thing I thought I would be when I grew up was a writer. It wasn’t because I didn’t like to write, because creating stories from my imagination and getting them down on paper was always an outlet for me, but because I simply didn’t know it was a viable career. I never really thought about the writer behind the books I would read. They always just … existed.

I’m not sure if this is normal, but I took a lot for granted growing up and I never really stopped to question much. Everything in my world existed because, well, it did. End of story.

It was a wonderfully naïve period that I often wish I could go back to, especially when the world seems too dark, too cold, too mean to navigate. Now, every time I pick up a book, I can’t help but think about the writer’s story. How did they get here? What was their querying process like? How long did it take them from idea inception to store shelves? Did they ever suffer any creative set backs?

Where they always meant to be writers?

If you would have asked me at 15, I would have told you that my career trajectory had only one possible outcome: Animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation (now Walt Disney Animation Studios.)

I grew up idolizing brilliant Disney animators like Glen Keane — who was responsible for Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, and the title characters in Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Rapunzel from Tangled — and Andreas Deja, who animated Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Hercules from Hercules, and some of the company’s most prominent villains, like Scar from The Lion King, Jafar from Aladdin, and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. My favorite presents at Christmas were always “The Art Of…” books of whatever was that year’s newest Disney Classic.

My dream was the go to CalArts and I would be working on a new classic animated Disney film within my first year because I was young and stupid ambitious and 15, an age where anything was still possible.

Until sophomore year art class with Mr. Johnson.

I wasn’t one of the offbeat art kids. Probably because they were too unique and weird (read: real) and I was too far in the closet to be confronted with such realness on a daily basis. Not to mention I was entirely too caught up in the idea of popularity (not that I was popular…in fact, it was quite the opposite. I had two friends my sophomore year, and one of them was a foreign exchange student who I’m pretty sure hated me.) I wanted so badly to be accepted into the popular group that I went out of my way to stay away from the art kids.

Naturally, they progressed while I stayed in my room at home, without friends, and doodled and sketched and mapped out my own retelling of a classic fairytale that (then Disney CEO) Michael Eisner would discover once I got into CalArts and throw it into instant development because it was just too good.

Then, one day, during the Painting Unit in art class, I was having trouble painting my house, because for some reason, we had to paint our houses. Mr. Johnson never taught technique. He never taught us what brushes to use, how to mix paints, how to approach the canvas, treat the canvas, how to gain perspective on the canvas. All I remember was him walking around giving vague pointers and narrowing his eyebrows at those who couldn’t understand his hippie, judgy style of “teaching.”

I was getting particularly frustrated because I had never painted with acrylics before, let alone on a canvas, and my “house” looked more like a pee-colored blob against a blueish gray background.

I might have been a tad irate, and began to express my anger, how I didn’t know what I was doing.

“What are you doing in this class?” Mr. Johnson asked, his arms folded over his mid-life crisis-shaped beer belly.

“I want to build up my portfolio to apply to schools for animation,” I said, perhaps with a bit too much sass.

“Why?” His eyes were accusing. His grayish ponytail was draped on his shoulders and I wanted to take a pair of nearby scissors and stab him snip it off. “You suck. You’re not going anywhere. Art is not for you.”

I will never forget those words.

You never forget when a teacher, someone who is supposed to inspire and instill wisdom in you, tells you that you “suck.”

You might think I’m making this up, but those were his exact words: “You suck.”

A switch was flipped. I was crushed. I stopped drawing all together. I gave up hope that I would ever become an animator.

Because I sucked.

And so my lifelong dream died. I eventually decided to pursue a major in film and TV communications, and had all intentions of doing so once I started my freshman year at Ithaca College, but then I took two creative courses and I fell in love.

I could be abstract. I could get out all of my angsty feelings. And I could do it without competing with every other film major wannabe.

But I never stopped thinking about what could have been.

My life would have been completely different. Who knows what could have happened had I gone to California. All I know is that I’m happy with exactly how my life turned out, even though I wish I had taken art courses and pursued that passion on the side more than just the occasional sketch.

Recently, I was going through some of my old things that I had left at my mom’s house, I came across a sketch book that I had in college, that I would draw in every so often. I never gave up on my dream to create my own fairytale; maybe some day I’ll write a middle grade fairytale based on the characters I drew in that sketchbook.

These are some of the sketches for “The Other Princess,” the original fairytale I was writing — and sketching the characters for — in college, in 2006. They’re not much, but it reminds me of the dream I used to have…

I really tried to work on proportions with this, but without any real training, I just had to rely on my eye. Faulty, but she’s cute. She was the heroine of my fairytale:

Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

This is her again. Her look was based off of my cousin, Adriana. The hands are weird, though. So is her body position:

Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

This is a close up of her (extremely awkward, apparently) face. #ScaryEyes! #IDontKnowWhatIWasThinking:


Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

This was one of the villains of the fairytale. Her design was based on my friend Dinah:

Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

The main villain, through which all evil was dispensed. Very Maleficent-inspired. But also, WHAT is with her hands? I clearly couldn’t draw hands:


Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

THIS was my favorite. Probably because I enjoyed looking at him (yeah, I totes wasn’t #gay.) But really, this guy has no personality. He’s just a hottie:


Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

This was a grandmother figure, based off of my own grandma, G-Money. I called her “Nana Constance.” She’s totes adorable:

Copyright © Steven Shaw, 2013

Maybe, someday…

Do you all have unfulfilled dreams? Sound off in the comments below! Or tell me how much I suck, because…


  1. Loved it! 🙂 growing up I had a love for music from the tender age of 5. My dad took singing lessons before he met my mother he wanted to become a opera singer,(turned out singing at competitions for cash prizes). He stopped taking the lessons,,but continued playing the bango and Congo drums. So I grew up listening to him and his friends making music, playing music on the turn table and always singing to me. I only know and remember my love for music, any music and dancing, my dad’s aunt use to play the piano and I would dream of being a dancer, twirling and dancing,, as I grew up I use to ask my mother I want to play the violin, or I would tell her I want to be a ballerina. We didn’t have a lot of money and my parents struggled so her answer would always be a negative one for example” ballet dancers get ugly calves, woman who play the violin get tukey necks,, so I stuck to memorizing every song I heard, learning every word,,and I would sing to hearts content,,,later (age 12) I had to write a poem for afrikaans class and it turned out I inherited that talent from my dad aswell,, today I still write,, I still sing to hearts content. I wanted to be a singer, dancer and songwriter.

    I left a lot of dreams behind but one remained and always will. As it is such a big part of me… A part of my late father,

    My writing.

    Sent from my BlackBerry®

    1. What a beautiful story, Bernadette! Thank you for sharing!

      It’s important to hold onto dreams like these, dreams like the one I wrote about, because they allow us to remember a point in our lives when EVERYTHING and ANYTHING was possible. It’s these memories and dreams that fuel the more realistic ones we carry today.

      Keep writing!!!


  2. Life is for LIVING. ….until you take your last breath go for any dream you may have. I always thought you were great at art!!!! Who says you have to be in the same career forever….

    1. Thanks Missy!

      I’ll always follow my dreams. Sometimes dreams change. Art isn’t my dream anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t incorporate it into my writing 😉

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I TRULY believe that we are led exactly where we need to be in life, if we trust in the plan of the universe. To make this all about me for a moment, and you’ll recognize this from reading my memoir, if I hadn’t gone so balls-to-the-wall with my dream of writing songs, I’d have never moved to Nashville, and then I’d have never started Keychanges, and then I’d have never embarked upon the glorious journey of being a (regular) writer! And I totally see a similar theme with you. As a wise man once said, “We don’t choose writing. Writing chooses us.” Excellent post!

    1. Why does it not surprise me that you made it all about you? hahahaha

      I absolutely agree 100% with everything you said! Sometimes it takes going balls-to-the-walls with something else to make us realize our true path leads somewhere else.

  4. Wow, from the outside (and maybe some inside stuff lol) we’re so “different” but boy have we had some similarities! As much as I liked reading I always thought books were just “there” too, now I’m more interested in the writer as well. But more than that I used to draw all the time, and just recently started going through all art work and even sketching again too. You did not SUCK…that teacher probably had some issues. I mean even if you thought a student wasn’t up to par who in their right mind would say it in that way. But yeah I wasn’t popular in school either, but it didn’t bother me (too much at least) at the time…and I also went to film school later in life (ended up dropping out though, I love film but hated it)…

    Hope I’m not sounding crazy. I just think it’s cool connecting to people. We each have unique stories, but sometimes the similarities are what amaze me. Oh and my love fir Disney runs deep too lol.

    1. Ahhhh! Love connecting with people via the blog! It’s so wonderful how two people who’ve never met can be so similar. And really, life is all about making connections, and I’m so glad we were able to meet and connect via my blog!

  5. Oh and another thing, I think your drawings have character (no pun intended). I especially like Maleficent and you’re grandma for some reason. You’re encouraging me to show some of my old sketches. They’re not even this developed (in my eyes). Anyway, I just started looking at some YT videos from art teachers to get some more understanding of drawing in perspective. I’m more focused on writing than anything, but I feel like maybe these interests are apart of us for a reason. Like us, with writing, art, film etc. Sometimes I feel like writing will be the gateway to just being known as a creator…cause I like to create (though writing is my strongest). I want to develop the others, but I still want to have FUN with it. If that makes sense

    1. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE!!!! And I’m glad you liked my sketches…I LOVE them. They’re so…me. They’re not perfect by any stretch, but they remind me of who I was at that time in my life.

      I’m actually working right now on trying to incorporate my art into my writing. Who says any of our talents have to be mutually exclusive? I think marrying ideas and concepts and loves results in brilliant art, in any form!

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