Walter Mitty

(This is the 1947 film- there’s a newer version of the movie coming next year with Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty)

In Grade 9, I was in Mr. Batchelor’s English class in Ontario, where we read James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (it was made into a movie too). To this chubby, barely pubescent 14 year-old lad he was sooooo cool; the main character Walter Mitty lived a vivid and exciting imaginary life inside his head as an escape from his everyday, mundane existence. And even Mr. Batchelor was kind of a “Mitty-like” character himself- he was eccentric and also kind of groovy (that’s ’70’s speak!) in an odd sort of way. I liked him a lot!

The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreporte...

I don’t think that Walter Mitty had the same secrets in his head that Bill Clinton dreamed about!

As I age, I’m finding Walter Mitty rising to the surface in myself…I spend a lot of time inside my head daydreaming and thinking, and just generally becoming more distracted from real life. I’m not withdrawing from the world in any substantial way. It’s not an anti-social sort of event, so long as you don’t think that saying, “talk to the hand” a lot is anti-social!

It’s probably a reflection of how immensely boring I really am, but when I talk to people, I can often see their eyes glaze over. They retreat within their head to their own imaginary “Walter Mitty” world that has nothing to do with what I’m saying. Maybe they’re saving the earth from nuclear annihilation or environmental catastrophe. I can’t tell. Of course, in today’s tech-heavy world, much of what used to be internal thought and reflection has morphed into texting and online interaction that distracts folks from the here and now.

(Sometimes, the ideas flow through my head like a fountain)

We all have obstacles that surface daily and often struggle for a solution that works for us and hopefully for others too (what we like to call a win-win situation). I enjoy being on my own and just letting my thoughts flow in all directions … sometimes it’s productive or creative imagining or  “what will I do about the challenge I have to deal with tomorrow” stuff.

The subconscious is an absolutely AMAZING entity that solves problems and brings up creative ideas. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sought a fix or an idea that just won’t come to me consciously, and then, as if by magic, when I let it go and allow my subconscious to ply away in the hazy recesses of my frontal cortex, VOILA, the answer surfaces, sometimes in 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 5 days! I have great faith in the brain as a computer that works in the background even when we’re not aware.

(Just as an aside…using the term subconscious is frowned upon by the academic psychology crowd, who prefer the term unconscious. I personally prefer subconscious because unconscious implies a coma-like state to me. So bear with my use of subconscious, OK?)

But daydreams are like night dreams that you have when you’re sleeping- they dissolve quickly and can be lost forever, or at least for a long time, so I always try to write the helpful ideas and thoughts down as soon as I can. I’ve found that sending an e-mail note to myself from an iPad (iPhone or any other device would work just as well) works great day or night.

Other times, my daydreams are far more airy-fairy. I just time travel into scenes from my past and people I’ve known. Fortunately, I don’t seem to dwell on any of the negative experiences, but indulge in the fun and pleasurable moments. There’s a lot of joy for me in recounting driving my newly purchased  ’67 Rambler car when I was 16 (at least when it didn’t need repairs!), or inadvertently blocking the exits to the gym while kissing a lovely young thing at a Grade 10 dance. Being smooched on by my Aunt Nina has just a little less appeal, but it’s all part of a life, right?

I’m not completely like Walter Mitty; my daydreams don’t revolve around self-aggrandization…I don’t pilot jet fighters or do brain surgery in my imaginings…Oh alright…I might admit to sometimes seeing myself as a woman-pleasing, wonderful Latin Lover but that just might be TMI for you to handle.

(This could have been me at the Grade 10 dance…it was the only time we kissed)

I think all of us live another life inside our heads to varying degrees. It’s an escape and respite when we’re worn down and need a break. It’s a way to resolve our issues and problems that nag at us. It’s a route to accessing our inner creativity.  How much of a Walter Mitty are you and what does life look like inside your head?

(“Walter Mitty” is the ice below the surface)