Friday, November 2, 2012

The Joy of Daydreaming

by Scott Rhoades

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those
who dream only by night.”  -- Edgar Allan Poe

I recently spent part of an evening going through a Box Of Things My Mom Kept. The box included old newspaper articles, school assignments, autographs, and a few report cards. Much of what was in the box had to do with my boyhood fantasies--fortunately, mostly from when I was still too young for those fantasies--like my obsession with baseball (OK, some fantasy worlds linger). One parent/teacher conference report from Fifth Grade reminded me of something I heard over and over as a kid:

"Scott spends a lot of his time daydreaming."

As if that's a bad thing.

There is tangible evidence that I never stopped spending a lot of my time daydreaming. In my final high school yearbook, my girlfriend--who, by the way, I married 22 years later--said she wouldn't want to live in my head because it was a scary place.

According to Freudian psychologists, daydreams express repressed instincts like those that come out when sleeping. They say daydreams are often about wish-fulfillment, "based on infantile experiences and allowed to surface because of relaxed censorship."

Freud claimed that where nighttime dreams are often incoherent and confusing, we engage in "secondary revision" when daydreaming, making them more lucid and coherent.

I read somewhere that one of the reasons artists tend to have psychological issues is that the creative person has a less distinct barrier between the conscious and subconscious and is able to pull from the subconscious at will. Similarly, Freud called daydreams a state between sleeping and waking. This, they say, affects the psyche because it can lead to an inability to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Again, that's supposed to be a bad thing.

An adult, boring people say, accepts reality and does not indulge in fantasy. Imagination is a waste of time, unless it improves business and brings in more money.

If you're reading this blog, you know how ridiculous that is. That same parent/teacher conference paper that chided me for daydreaming also said "Scott writes entertaining stories."

To state the obvious, writing stories is nothing but daydreaming on paper. Those of us who write for young people might well be proving Freud to be correct. He claimed that dreams, whether sleeping or awake, have to do with some "infantile" mumbo jumbo whatever. I stopped reading the sentence. It might be right, but I don't care. I don't need to analyze it.

I like daydreaming. I like night dreaming. I love those moments when I'm blending the two. And I love that writing gives me a way to capture those daydreams. I worry sometimes that if one of my daydreams comes true, the one where I can quit my day job and write full time, I will slip into an adult world where my imagination becomes wholly acceptable because it's being used for the purpose of commerce.

Being an adult has already damaged my daydreams somewhat, by creating filters that are sometimes too prominent, barriers that direct my daydreams into (mostly) acceptable channels, reminding me that some lines of dreaming are pointless, dangerous, crazy, or otherwise unacceptable. That "scary place" my wife referred to so many years ago still exists, but I've learned that, in the adult world, I can't always reveal it like I did when I was younger.

Sometimes I hate that.

There are interesting stories in that scary place, fun little daydreams that are probably better left unshared. However, it's exactly that place that, when it surfaces, makes stories come to life, even if I'm not always aware that I'm letting those dreams surface. When I am aware that I'm delving into the darkest depths of my dream mine shaft, I polish the gems that surface so that they are no longer so raw and scary.

It's probably a good thing that writers and other artists learn to filter the parts of their dreamworld that they share with others. It's also a good thing for writers to dig into those uncomfortable places for certain story elements, although many of us are afraid to go there.

To me, it seems like drawing a line between daydreams and sleep dreams creates a wall that limits imagination. Treating imagination as a childish thing that should be let go unless it makes money is a crime against our own humanity.

So what if obscuring that division between conscious and subconscious can lead to insanity? It's an artificial barrier. Whether conscious or not, both sections of our mind are parts of who we are. There are lessons and stories in there. But lessons and stories are an adult way of looking at it. How about adventures and fun, scary places to explore?

So dream away. Recognize that the best dreams happen when you're supposed to be paying attention to something else, like work or church or school or some other bit of the grown-up world. Don't be afraid to let your dreams go where they want or need to go. Be smart about what you share, if you must, but let your dreams go where they want, like you did when you were a kid. Be yourself--all of your self--even in your own mind.

If your report card says you spend a lot of time daydreaming, consider it a successful report card. Enjoy that time. Here be dragons? Good! Bring them on!

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