I want it dirty and with all the feeling
I was planning to share this article on daydreaming in the regular way, because it’s just *chef’s kiss*, then last night along came Ask Molly aka Ask Polly aka Heather H and blew that idea out of the water when her latest newsletter landed. In it was a Q&A with the author of said daydreaming article, and there are so many amazing bits of conversation that they are both now required reading before we go any further.
This newsletter is peppered with quotes from both, and has become sort of an ode to these women and conversations and daydreaming itself.
We have things to discuss!
I’m a fully signed up member of the daydreamers club. From small person until now, I’ve entertained all kinds of worlds. When I was younger they were always about some odd sparkly version of my grown up self (I vividly remember the version of me strutting around London in a power skirt suit, high heels and breifcase which, absolute lol) and then as I got grown, they became mostly ‘me but with small tweak’ worlds. Slightly altered realities that divided at some point into something ‘same same but different.’
Over dinner one night—at the cusp of summer, six months into my separation—my friend Tara mused that perhaps people fall into two camps: they daydream about possible things, or impossible ones. We were at her apartment, sitting in her cluttered kitchen around a rough-hewn wooden table spread with bowls of lamb stew and saffron rice, hunks of beetroot bread and buffalo-milk cheese, a peach tart we’d all ravaged. It was a night of excess. Conversation without edges. My sobriety breathed the fumes of everyone else’s white-wine buzz.
I’d been telling Tara about my own daydreams—how they’d almost always been about romance, and the shame I felt at that, as if it testified to a certain poverty of imagination. When I asked her what she daydreamed about, she pointed at the ceiling above our heads, where her neighbor lived with a rabbit who had been rescued a few weeks earlier. “I don’t daydream about crushes. I daydream about the rabbit who lives upstairs,” Tara said. “I imagine what it would be like to be her.”
Once I started asking other people about their daydreams, I began to realize that daydreams are like pain: impossible to compare across the bodies of dreamers. Different in texture, different in intensity, different in constancy: all the time might mean once an hour to one person, once a minute to another. No Greenwich Mean Time for our inner fantasy lives. One person might say “Google stalk” and mean glancing at a Wikipedia page, but to me it means getting to the bottom of the fourth page of search results, or the ninth, to the article someone’s mother once published in a neighborhood newspaper recounting her childhood vacations to an island off the coast of Maine.
There are so many ways this kind of activity makes sense for me, but I’d never really looked at how it served me. As Leslie and Heather touch on, there’s a weird subtle shame around daydreaming - perhaps it’s framed as stepping out of the moment or wanting something else, not being in the life you have. But that’s never how it’s felt for me. It never detracted from the life I’m in, it only made it richer. I guess it’s akin to the people who will tell you to ‘build a life you don’t need a vacation from’- not realising that a vacation isn’t always escape, it can be just another experience that enables depth and play to the life you already have.
In his theory of daydreaming, Sigmund Freud links the imaginary play of childhood not only to adult daydreaming but also to an artist’s work:
“Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, rearranges the things of this world in a new way which pleases him? It would be wrong to think he does not take that world seriously; on the contrary, he takes his play very seriously and he expends large amounts of emotion on it. The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real.”
A few weeks ago, me and my husband lived out one of our vacation daydreams. After months of postponement and a last minute change of destination, we went to play alternate versions of ourselves. In Barcelona we became childless, jobless, a little bit swankier and way more day drunk versions of our regular selves. The time and attention we paid each other was intense and honest, and we were vulnerable and romantic in all the ways our regular life sometimes doesn’t have space for. Also? We were gluttons! For food and art and drink and conversation and each other. Which, look, isn’t a million miles away from our home life at all (same same but different), but far enough away that we would look at each other and giggle at the magnificence of the space we created for it and got to mess around in whilst in that lush Spanish city.
We had daydreamed that vacation (look I’m British and should say holiday but we’ve made it this far so forgive me) for a long time. Originally I planned it as a surprise, scheming to myself about where we would go and who we would be, but eventually I told him and got that experience of daydreaming alongside someone instead. It’s really damn fun, and we’re very good at it.
One of the very first things we co-daydreamed about was living by the sea. What started out as a whimsical fantasy for two people who had only just met, became a canvas we painted with richer and more vivid colours over the years. That daydream eventually became the route out of a job and a city we didn’t want any more, and it took 8 years and leaving salaried job security behind and using all our savings to do it - but we did it! One of the best daydreams we ever made reality.
Maybe relationships and daydreams do related work, in different ways — get us out of our particular angles of vision on our own lives, give us a different way of seeing our own existences, what might be possible within them.
On the second night in Barcelona we stumbled out of a tiny Spanish restaurant, my husband having just tried on being a version of himself that enjoys a plate of octopus, to much success, into a cobbled, rainy street. We kissed in the dark and I whispered in to his neck that I need to always be someone who kisses in cobbled, rainy, Spanish streets.
There’s a lot in that newsletter and generally online these days about romantizing your own life. From your work to your relationships to your hobbies - it’s all up for grabs. And daydreaming and romantizing go hand in hand - the perfect play mates. Because why shouldn’t you imagine a version, or versions of self and life that make this one more fulfilling? Where and how else can it be done in such a fool proof way? It’s like playing a computer game with unlimited lives. How would being with that person feel when I imagine sharing a home with them? How does that job actually work around my values when I try to envisage my days around it? Would living by the sea change my life in such a way that not doing it would be a betrayal to my core and most longed for self?
Or - can I actually not imagine any of this working out and need to alt quit out of the entire daydream? No problem, let’s reboot and start again!
A: It's a great question. That's so much of the central tension I'm trying to explore in the essay: How and when is daydreaming liberating and expansive, and how and when does it become corrosive? For me, daydreaming feels corrosive when it's really static — when the dreams are just endless loops that I'm playing over and over again, almost like a comfort food I'm eating without tasting, just shoveling it into my mouth, and they don't have much relationship to my everyday life, when they're so committed to being something other than what I'm living that they feel mainly like a way to confirm my own happiness. When they can't tell me anything about how I might live differently. When I feel antsy or restless or irritated by having to come back from these dreams into reality.
But I think even just asking that question “What is this dream telling me about how I might live differently?” is already a useful way of trying to turn it from an enemy into a collaborator. What feeling am I seeking — the electricity of getting to know a new person, the adrenaline rush of a beautiful thing or place — that I might find some other way than how I'm finding it in this dream?
I’m thinking more and more about how daydreaming is informing my work right now. I’ve been telling friends that I’m entering my surrealist phase, a joke totally, and not a joke at all, and this is mostly because for the first time in a long time my personal work is deeply engaging with that part of myself that plays and daydreams and knows that life is fucking ridiculous! This bit in Heather's got me :
But I think daydreaming has really transformed my writing and made it more exciting and satisfying for me. I love to create a kind of world and enter it and make it vibrate and shine. My writing used to feel more like an exercise in LOOK HOW SMART I CAN BE. Now I mostly want to capture a feeling or celebrate some dimension of how it feels to connect with someone who needs you. You know, friends need each other so much, and we’re so bad at embracing that and enjoying it and believing in that energy. I love a friendship where that’s stated from the start: I see you clearly, we match in certain ways, and I want to collaborate and conspire and share ideas and bring out something exciting and magical in you.
There has definitely been an element of my work which was always - LOOK HOW TECHNICALLY GOOD I AM. Or some version of that. And in Barcalona I was talking to my Husband about how all the artists I love had their technically compotent stages, which were vital foundations no doubt, before throwing out the rule books and fucking shit up. We walked through the Picasso Museum and I was desperate to leave the beautiful, classical paintings, literal masterpieces, and get to the nitty gritty of him. I want to fuck shit up, ya know? I can make technically beautiful and competent photographs all day long. For my clients, I always will. But for me, personally right now? I want to go beyond the realms of that. I’m not interested in making something beautiful. It’s all fucking beautiful anyway ? ANd it was only in writing this that I can see so clearly how I have my foundations all sorted. Now? I want it dirty and with all the feeling and as nonsensical as possible and daydreaming helps me get there.
(I would be absolutely doing myself a disservice to not write here - ‘that’s what she said’.)
I daydream about a lot of things. The art I want to create, days I want to have, the people I love and want to experience things with. I talk to friends about the imagined realities we want for ourselves and our society. I daydream alone and I daydream with a few very favourite people and our worlds are richer for it.
And look there are definitely the exciting, little bit illicit daydreams, but also? There are the downright middle aged, too. One of the things I’ve been daydreaming about most these past weeks is my allotment. I realised after spending some time there that I’d been working all my plans to what’s already there - not what could be. I had been daydreaming without enough emphasis on the dreaming. I was forgetting that there were no rules, that the current layout means nothing, really. It’s a foundation, a canvas and whilst I could totally build on what’s already there, I could also tear up the painting and start again. Which look I’m probably not going to! but also I might? That massive bed at the back that doesn’t quite work for me and what would something circular look like? It should probably become something new. I’d like to create a little seating area that looks down towards the sea. I want more curves, less lines, more wildness, less uniformity, all of the trial and error because nothing is final. Whilst writing this it just occurred to me that I could make some crazy fuck off sculpture if I wanted because anything is possible! Life is ridiculous!
While we often long for narrative resolution, when the story is us, that kind of closure means psychic or literal death. Daydreams fight this closure by prolonging the narrative. They keep it unresolved. Imagining a life in which I don’t daydream means imagining the death of a part of myself that I hate—but it’s also a part of me that keeps me alive. A pulse of wondering. The nerve endings of alternatives. If daydreams are constantly forestalling the end of the story—constantly insisting, This life is not done—then how do you daydream the end of the story?
I don’t know how any of this is possible. But that’s what daydreaming is all about - an internal landscape with no real end in sight, for messing around and inviting in a little magic and seeing where we land next.