Ode to daydreaming

The three things that come to mind with Miss Sklar’s 6th grade language arts class are Mike Neiman, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Miss Sklar herself.

Miss Sklar was kind and obese and had bold taste in perfume and lipstick. Her nose upturned almost to the degree of a pig snout, which is what Mike Neiman mostly focused on behind her back because he had the IQ of a farm animal himself.

Mike sat in front of me, so when he turned around to show those girlishly long lashes and oversized chiclet teeth, I smiled small and tight and held my breath. Sometimes he made fun of my nose. Other times he focused his laser wit on what I was wearing, like my sheep sweater (now who’s the farm animal?). Normally I hate to throw people under the bus, but his quiet ridicule of Miss Sklar took some of the heat off of me.

I hated myself for laughing at Mike laughing at her. Maybe that’s why The Secret Life of Walter Mitty struck home when we read it in Miss Sklar’s class. I identified with henpecked Walter and his helpless tendency to zone out and avoid.

For as long as I can remember, my progress reports at school always told the same story: Kristen has a tendency to daydream. Like it was a bad thing! Like reporting it to my parents would make them march off to the drugstore for a jar of Daydream Remedy. Some teachers moved my seat to the front of the class and one genius moved me to a far back corner, and not one of them gave me a pillow and set of colored pencils like I’d hoped. My grades never really suffered from daydreaming, nor did they improve regardless of where I sat.

What did I daydream about? I wish I could provide some Thurber worthy examples. Like maybe dazzling Amanda Johnson’s pool party, which I was not invited to in real life, by doing back handsprings off the diving board before saving a toddler who’d just fallen in. I think I probably daydreamed about boys a lot from 4th grade on. I think maybe I wished I wasn’t at school, but I doubt I dreamed about being home. Life was uncomfortable then, like it didn’t fit anywhere but in the quiet space inside my own head.

Let’s jump ahead to May 2012, ok? I know it seems a random, odd time, but my family and I were visiting New York City and happened across a film crew on 5th Avenue the first day of our trip and then again by Rockefeller Center the next day. From a distance, we saw Ben Stiller and another actor on a moving platform as they filmed a scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. For proof, I submit this terrible picture I took on my camera phone.


Here is a better picture someone else took that I grabbed from the internet.


Here is another picture that turned up when I googled ‘walter mitty stretch armstrong’ and one of many reasons why I will probably never break up with the internet. Even though it’s not always good to me, the internet just gets me.


Now let’s jump back or forward or whichever direction time travel goes to this past weekend, when my family went to go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at the movie theater. Movies sure take a long to come out, right? It was worth the wait, and we all enjoyed the movie a lot. I laughed…I cried in places I wouldn’t have if I’d just been watching at home…I thought ‘I am so going to blog about this.’ After we left the theater, I thought maybe I went a little overboard with the laughing and crying, but there is still something I want to share.

A recurring message in the movie is to live life fully by staying in the moment. Zoning out is but one of infinite ways to check out of the moment. Drinking is a big one. There is also food and sex and shopping or all three combined for the check-out trifecta.  There are newfangled smart phones and old fashioned standbys like sticking one’s nose in a book of Thurber short stories. One of my favorite ways to check out is to go to the movies. None of these are bad unless they’re bad, like drinking was for me. I think we know when they’re bad.

Just yesterday I read a line that trying to get all of one’s addictions under control is like trying to put an octopus to bed. You tuck in four tentacles on the one side and two more tug on your hair and tweak your nose. I’m not even going to tell you what the other two are doing. It reminds me of putting any kid under the age of 7 to bed, but the point is trying to control an octopus is exhausting and silly.

Listen to what the octopus is trying to tell you. Maybe it is thirsty and wants a Dixie cup of water. Maybe it wants one more story. Maybe it wants to tell you it loves you for the nineteenth time, and of course you should say it back because it may not be perfect, but it is your octopus. Maybe if you just listen and stay with it for a moment, your damn darling octopus will fall to sleep and give you some peace for the night.

28 thoughts on “Ode to daydreaming

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  1. I very much enjoyed this ode, for both the anecdotes wandering back through time, and the here and now images of that damnable but very dear octopus who is sometimes just too tired to go to sleep!


  2. Hi Kristen,

    I just want you to know that, before I started typing this comment, I zoned out for a few minutes, trying to imagine the trifecta you described (food, sex, shopping) all at once. Needless to say, it was highly entertaining, so thanks for those few minutes of levity!

    I did a Mommy/Daughter date over the holidays to see that movie, and it was delightful, glad you got a chance to see it!

    The analogy of the octopus is such a fantastic one, I am so glad I read this, because I have been guilty on any number of occasions of thinking I can put it to bed. The harder I try, the more tentacles pop out. So now I am going to just listen to it, and see what it needs.

    Thanks for this uplifting post!


    1. That kind of trifecta could be a lot of fun, though the order might be important. In triathlons, they do swimming first to reduce the chances of drowning. And I’m glad you liked the octopus thing. When I read that I felt this inward sigh of relief, like I’m never going to wrestle them all, and maybe that’s okay.


  3. Oh how lovely this is. What a beautiful flowing post. And a great sentiment. Sometimes the present moment is just too painful or boring (my big complaint and the reason I always said I drank.. because I was bored).. pain or boredom are words that might mean a million other things.. but without pausing and resting with the moment we will never learn what that is. Sending love to you dear BBB and Happy New Year! xxxx


    1. Kristen I thought your analogy of the octopus was great, and if I may use it from now I would be thankful. Maybe we all have an octopussian nature and it could be that the aces fall to a minority who work at a frantic pace and are lauded for their achievements. Or to mountain climbers risking it all, including friends and family, only to be knighted upon their conquering. It could be octopussian for the artist to stay late into the night chasing the dream of the perfect painting, all the while breathing the toxic fumes of cleaning fluids. It could be the driving of a motor car at top speed around a track and after the race have a laurel placed around their neck. All of these folk may really want to have a quiet life at home enjoying the family however I suspect that is not the case. The point is that an octopus was never meant to sleep in a bed. An octopus is at home in the sea, free and expressing its fabulous ability to adapt to surroundings by changing colour and living a life amongst like minded others.
      We all have an octopus, and we all want it to be subordinate. Some are fortunate that society applauds their un-controlled octopus and reward them handsomely. Most of us battle to control this expressive genius within us and it runs amuck. No-one can escape their inner octopus we can only understand it and exploit its wonders.
      Kristen you wrote a wonderful piece and made sense of a very difficult part of life thank you.


      1. Some really interesting points here. I like the word octopussian. I also would like to know how to become one of those handsomely rewarded types. Thanks for weighing in!


  4. My sponsor says it is like trying to squeeze a balloon – you squeeze at one end and in the middle and it shoots out the other end, you squeeze that in and the middle goes out then the other end … etc. etc. ad infinitum…

    But – to hell with that!!! I’m now despartely trying to work out how to combine food, sex and shopping all at once!! ;-0


    1. The internet could easily cross two of those off the lists. I don’t think we’ve invented virtual food yet. I also don’t think there are enough hands unless you’re an octopus?


  5. Hmmm – I was only going to use the internet for the shopping bit… but still thought that was cheating. So far I’ve bought the doughnuts and am in the changing rooms with some purchases… all I need now…


      1. haha although enticing ladies into the dressing room with doughnuts seems on the whole completely and utterly creepy beyond words!

        – just realised I’m having one of those Walter Mitty moments here aren’t I?…. Yes I am … (rhetorical question that)


  6. My own inner octopus would never attract those handsome rewards. I can only hope that driving badly, snorting when I laugh and showing un-willingness to share a packet of crisps; will one day become a recognised sport and be sponsored. Don’t hold your breath.


  7. I love how Dionysus-ian the comments section has gotten since the envisioned trifecta / octopus combination got mentioned…lol. Off thee all to a nunnery! ha ha. But ya know, is there anyone out there who isn’t possibly “addicted” to something, even in a mild way? My wife is ashamed to admit her attachment to trashy reality shows. And chips. Is that an addiction or a Mitty-esque zoning out? I don’t know if I know anyone who doesn’t escape reality now and then. I think we have to. It’s hard wired. Entertainment, art, etc. have an element of distancing ourselves from the banality of daily living. for us, of course, we took it too far and our reasons were out of whack and the physical nature of the beast took over. Talk about a trifecta. Ugliness ensues.

    I am ok with the octopus, actually. Just putting it’s PJ’s on is a bitch. But let the tentacles squirm a bit. it’s okay. I can only do what I can do. Controlling all of this is just another exercise in control and escapism. Kind of.

    Love this post. Have never read the book…maybe that will be something to investigate 🙂

    Love and light.



  8. I love, love, love this. I was thinking recently about how many ways we can fall off the wagon, not just with drinking and the octopus analogy is so fitting. It also makes perfect sense in regards to parenthood. I think I will forever think of my kids as octopuses (or is it octopi?).


  9. Oh I love this. Especially, as everyone else says, the octopus! The struggle is REAL. 🙂 But really, I feel like that’s most of my recovery is working with that sweet creature.
    In speaking to the zoning out part… I don’t have internet in my apartment, AND I don’t have a smart phone (doubly screwed). At first I thought this was healthy. Now that I don’t have school and homework to distract me, I feel like I’m with myself too much. I’m with someone else who talked in the comments about it being healthy sometimes to zone out. I think being with my own brain is sometimes what messes me up anyway. With alcohol I was always trying to transcend. I think sometimes I need to transcend even with a movie or mindless Facebook surfing. Sometimes now instead of using alcohol, I need to push further into my spirituality, or to help someone else. But I can’t do that all the time or I would lose myself. Balance…balance… again, the octopus.
    I have heard so many good things about this movie… gotta go see it here soon. 🙂


    1. I read the octopus analogy in a great book on writing called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. And yeah, balance is elusive. I tend to romanticize a world without internet distractions, but too much time in my own head sounds dangerous. Boredom is a tough one. Thanks for your comment!


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