Last June I watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with friends. Here was a man, like me, who daydreamed excessively. I wish I could say that Hollywood made a laughable exaggeration of how epic daydreams could be, but I'm afraid they were fairly comparable to mine. Although I don't drift away into a reverie in the middle of conversations or when on the job, I do drift away—far, far away beyond the restraints of this mortal world or time.
The original short story portrayed Mitty as a noble Everyman who fought the banality of his life with the only weapon he had on hand: his imagination. It celebrated his struggle to rise above subservience and become a leader even if only within his mind. The movie featuring Ben Stiller took a different approach. Like the short story, Mitty here was a subservient man with only his daydreams to give his life a semblance of meaning. The effect over all, however, was pathetic, not noble. Going places and doing things were activities that other people did. Mitty's life was empty, and he seemed ruled by fear and indecisiveness. I related with this man so intensely, and they depicted his failures so completely, that I would have stopped watching if I hadn't invited friends over to watch the movie with me. Fortunately, I gritted my teeth and stayed seated. By the time the credits rolled I was ultimately delighted with the movie. The message of the movie lingered with me for days. Even today it still haunts me.
Aside from daydreaming, Mitty and I shared something else in common: We seemed to be waiting for life to happen. Obviously, Mitty is a fictional character, whereas I have real life children to raise, money to earn, books to write, and a life to live. Also, no business would place a man with that fractured an attention span at the head of his department. Still the same, I feel as if Mitty is a kindred spirit who knows the pain of being trapped in a loop of waiting for life to begin, but escaping from the loop only within the mind.
Unlike Mitty, I don't have a small life savings to suddenly spend on an impulsive trip to the volatile extremes of Iceland or to exchange desserts with Afghanistan warlords in the bitter, windy recluses of mountainsides in search for a photographer's missing slide, but one fateful day, when his world was crumbling around him, Mitty stopped daydreaming about success and began to live it. He took a leap of faith. This symbolic action resonated with me.
When I get the urge to LEAP, I am reminded of the chains that hold me securely attached to the ground. They yank me back to reality the same way a dog reaching the end of its leash is rudely stopped short. Like the dog, I have been trained by life to approach the end of my leash timidly and with great caution. The death of Mitty's father snuffed out the flame of life in his heart. The death of my marriage doused mine. Is it any wonder that like Mitty I have turned to daydreaming to escape?
Yet what a waste of time daydreaming is! I spend time imagining success instead of building it. This is why I have been making it a goal this year to stop that infernal pastime. With ADHD and my random impulses, this has proved to be a very difficult goal to achieve, but I am determined. Daydreaming is not just a waste of precious time, but also induces depression whenever I return to reality. Also, I discovered that excessive daydreaming produced a stupor that exacerbated my ADHD. As I detailed before, daydreaming is something that I have long been concerned about. It is an escape that harms.
Despite several false starts, today marks the 62nd consecutive day that I have not allowed myself to drift away into a dreamlike stupor. Each day I live through without daydreaming, I add a paper link to a chain I hang on the wall. The chain became so long this last time that it reached the floor, so now I use a different color link to mark tens of days.
I make a distinction between catching myself daydreaming and choosing to daydream. I must control the latter before I can minimize the former. Still, I give myself a three strikes rule. If I slip into a daydream more than three times in one day, I am not doing enough to prevent it and therefore destroy the chain and begin anew.
I have “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to thank for this recent success—a success that has helped me become so much more productive. The greatest result this Summer is the progress I am making on my book on overcoming suicide. The final draft revisions have a new clarity that the book didn't have before. I may not have caught a flight to Greenland and got the girl of my dreams like Walter Mitty, but I feel as if I have stopped waiting for the first time in years. Daydreams are fun, but living the dream is better.
I have not watched the Danny Kaye version all the way through, but in saw enough to know from where Stiller's movie likely took it's creative lead. ↩
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