Listen up, you daydreamers, you mind-wanderers,
you lazy slackers! It turns out tuning-out is a most excellent thing, cognitively speaking, and people do it all the time. Forty seven percent of our waking hours, to be precise. There are so many benefits to daydreaming. And most people do a ton of it, which comes as a relief to those of us who live mostly in a state of altered reality.
Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article is a must-read. Here he quotes Virginia Woolf on the mysterious process of mind wandering:
“Certainly she was losing consciousness of the outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, her mind kept throwing things up from its depths, scenes and names, sayings, memories, and ideas, like a fountain spurting.”
That’s how I would describe my daydreams: a throwing up of things from the depths. Last year I tried to share this altered state with my husband, an indulgent and patient man. I wrote him a quasi-autobiographical novella about someone who tells stories in her head. Me. I have all kinds of stuff – not only love stories – in various stages of fetal development. Their only invariable feature is that they will never see the light of day. So many times I’ve tried to imagine it but I can’t; my stories are in a permanent state of gestation and here is the troubling part: they would be probably be stillborn if I tried to deliver them.
It’s hard to explain what stories mean to me, but they shape my whole life and always have done. I love novels, of course, and authors certainly fuel my appetite. But it goes beyond that. Today’s particular story has been simmering in my head for a week or two along with, conservatively, another 5-10 stories I play around with – only a couple of which are ‘active’ at any given time – as well as various letters I write in my head to people who have bestowed annoyances or kindnesses on me, or don’t know I exist, or need something from me. I was a dreamy, introspective child but I’ve never really outgrown that longing I felt scrunched up in the window seat of the public library to make some version of myself (but not actually myself) the protagonist in an endless stream of fiction.
The question is why I’ve never had any serious interest in putting these narratives on paper. I kept journals for years which I finally burned on my 40th birthday out of sight of my aghast husband. He claims he would give a lot to have a fully documented inner life. But for me, the journals were just an assortment of ephemeral feelings that had served a purpose. I never felt I needed to curate the collection or put it on display. And even if I wanted to, I wonder if it would be possible: I believe that for certain people there is a realm of life that cannot be reduced to words.
This may sound crazy but I’m convinced, seeing the world in this way, that these imaginings or stories, or whatever you want to call them, can never truly be brought to light. They are unknowable. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are un-presentable. At any rate, I have never been willing to surrender mine.
It’s not a question of finding the right words; it’s more than an aesthetic challenge. I think there is a point at which it is impossible to say that an idea and the shadow of an idea are the same thing. Something beautiful may result from the latter, perhaps even something better than the idea itself. But they are not interchangeable. Mathematicians and painters may have figured out a way to represent three dimensions in two but I don’t think that’s possible for certain kinds of thoughts. I’m not sure there could ever be any way to communicate the stories swirling in my head.
For one thing, what I compose in my mind is cinematic, with little exposition or character development. Watching movies, I sometimes tell myself I could have written better dialogue, but that’s not precisely true. It’s incredibly hard to write convincing dialogue, and I don’t have the technical skill, or patience, to draft the essential pauses and gestures that make an authentic conversation. Even the limited writing I do is hard work, but the nit-picky slog of producing an actual manuscript – a story, with a beginning, a middle, and end – sounds like a sisyphean challenge to me. I guess what I’m saying is merely that I could have imagined better dialogue.
Every now and then I wonder if I could do something productive with my fictional world, like earn money with it, or at the very least share it with someone else. But this small pearl of an idea is really just a tiny grain of sand, an irritant. I rub it away before it goes anywhere. My stories are simply how I make meaning of the world. In its small way, it’s a talent. If I tried to direct these imaginary narratives to something concrete and tangible, like the thoughts I’m unspooling here, they would just evaporate, exactly the way a dream falls apart as you’re trying to describe it to someone.
But here are a few non-fictional things my mind has churned up in the last 60 seconds that I’m willing to share: I wonder if this post is a little TMI. I wonder if other readers live similarly. I wonder if I should take a fiction-writing class. I wonder if I’m going to hit the “publish now” button on my screen. I wonder if I should instead post a link to the “10 Most Annoying Gwyneth Paltrow Quotes of All Time.” However, that would require me to reveal how much I’m buying the whole maddening Gwyn shtick in spite of – no, because of – her staggering lack of insight and tact. I do so love Alpha women. Alpha men, too. I know the world would be a better place with a few more Betas. A few more Buddhist practitioners, a few more chill, low-key people. I just don’t want to daydream about them. Haha.
Sweet dreams, everyone.