Once upon a time, I came across a statistic that only 3% of people really daydream. On a recent web search for that statistic, I can’t find any such reference. From what I can find now, everyone daydreams but I wonder if the statistic had to do with the number of people who would pass their time in a persistent daydream, a story that runs its course over several days. I suspect that the 3% figure would be appropriate if one limited it to, for lack of a better phrase, epic daydreams.
I find this interesting because I have always been an epic daydreamer, at least until the last five years or so. In high school, I had a weekend & summer job working in the kitchen of a 200 bed nursing home. That job taught me many things. One was that, working with people from the DC slums, I had really had a blessed life and that my co-workers who came from a different life had their own aspirations, even the 40-year-old alcoholic trying to make a living who was all-in-all, a decent guy with a lot less luck in how he had entered the world. Another thing that sank home was that scrubbing pots was no way to make a living. There’s one guy, about my age, named Napoleon that I still think about. He was more of a history buff than I am. He could give a short bio of every American president. I hope he has done well but I fear he hasn’t. I regret that I didn’t get to know him better. But when I look back at that job, what I really recall is the daydreams that kept me company as I pulled through a mindnumbingly boring job. The details are lost to the fog of decades but a few tatters remain: Diehard-like battles against terrorist in a high-rise (it was a tall nursing home); valiant, doomed-loves; dragons and demons and above all, every possible variant of the Lord of the Rings. All the over-ripe imaginings of a shy high school boy kept me company on that job.
Daydreams kept me company for many years. Over the years they tended to focus on fantasy-epics and could last a few days, sometimes a few weeks if I could find a theme that really appealed. Battling dragons, saving a world, unrequited love, and many other stories rolled through my head. They were particularly good companions for long drives where I could entertain myself for hundreds of miles.
But there came a time when the daydreams no longer spoke to me. I could no longer spin a story that didn’t quickly melt into a hundred other dreams I had already had. The mystery, the allure, had faded.
Why? I think it is simple: a daydream is an illicit little guilty pleasure, a confection of desires that can occupy for a while. Once, these confections could entrance for days or even weeks. But after so many daydreams, after so many permutations of my stable of desires, there was no longer enough life, enough mystery left to justify even a short daydream.
Somewhere (again, I can’t find the reference), I read that some researchers had found that eventually sexual daydreams petered out. Sooner or later, people stop contemplating sex. They weren’t willing to speculate as to why; they had only surveyed enough people to know that they gave out somewhere between ages 40 and 60. I know why. There comes a time where it no longer titillates. Just as with my fantasy daydreams, at some point the imagination gives out. There’s nothing new to capture the mind for a few minutes, hours, days. All that is worth dreaming has been dreamt. So what is left? Any empty life, echoing with stale hopes before death finally claims you?
There are the dreams of others; called fiction. Writers offer glimpses into other people’s daydreams and the seeds of new dreams. But there’s more: I came to realize that my dreams were not dead. It is true that trite daydreams of glory, love and sacrifice can no longer occupy me. But the complexity of a novel could entrance me, and not for days or even a few weeks, but for months.
Writing is better than idle daydreams that drift away into mist before you even know they’re over. Writing is a perpetual daydream that lingers in print long after I can forget the act of capturing it. Hopefully, someday my dreams will entrance readers but even if they don’t they now have enough weight to titillate me for the rest of my life.
My daydreams live once more, richer and fuller than they ever were. Daydreams are a wonderful thing.