We humans are so divergent in who we are, how we react and respond, in how our minds work and our ideas play out. It’s glorious.
I’m not talking ideologies or dogma or beliefs or rationalizations. That’s not quite as glorious. I’m talking about how we relate to our private selves, and to others around whom we feel at ease.
Take for example, daydreaming. Such a personal thing, and yet so recognizable; something familiar without having to be learned. And yet, daydreaming is not a rote cycle; it is as individual as taste. You know what I’m talking about: even though almost everyone loves chocolate (or so we are led to believe), some folks seem to love it more than others. Some folks swear they can’t go a day without it, whereas others could take it or leave it. Some prefer dark chocolate, some would choose milk chocolate, or hot chocolate or even chocolate covered espresso beans. Then again, many, many people don’t care what kind or caliber of chocolate it is, as long as it’s at least somewhat sweet and creamy and, well, chocolate.
For example, I don’t really daydream, at least not in what I perceive as the “typical” way. I don’t have fun and fantastical stories wafting across my imagination; no flights of fancy, no stargazing, no woolgathering. My daydreams would never blossom into tales or songs or poetry.
Instead, I tend to ponder. I can sit and muse on something to the point of deep and even isolating distraction. If I happen to conjure up real or imagined vistas then they will pass by unfocused, any sensate reveries will be perhaps deeply felt but also deeply muted. Instead, unbidden – or perhaps unbridled – ideas will jump in a profoundly convoluted relational line that often only I can follow. Ah, but daydreams are supposed to be intimately personal, are they not?
Still, I can’t but wonder if the way I daydream is a glimpse into how I write. After all, I’m not I writer of fiction, as much as I love it and wish I was blessed that way; I tend towards essays and reviews, opinion and observation. If I can be judged as anything, it would be as a wordsmith, meticulously obsessing over flow and tone, or as someone who can embellish upon a theme. As much as I might yearn for it, I am not someone who has unique idea after unique idea that can be dashed out on a page to either bloom fully upon expression or be nurtured and cultivated until time has come to gift it to the world. I don’t create memorable characters that strut and fret their way across a tale built specifically for them. I don’t carefully craft a few chosen ideas that cascade down into a coherent and complete story.
People who can do so amaze me. How someone can take standing in line at a grocery store checkout lane and have it pique their imagination to a degree so as to have a story take wing? How someone can craft a tale so intricate and huge so as to build entire worlds and cultures and religions and beliefs and experiences to boggle the mind? These folks must have daydreams – and dreams – that race and blaze and flare across their imaginations, right? Constantly moving, constantly taking flight.
I started thinking about different well known authors in the fantasy and science fiction genre, what their daydreams might be like. For instance, I imagined that Ann Leckie must have daydreams that might seem disjointed if examined but make a weird, choate sense if allowed to flow. I suspect that Neil Gaiman must have daydreams that are dark and specific, but which he knows have a deeper meaning to be discovered later, if he dares. China Miéville has got to have freekin’ intense daydreams (which many of us lesser mortals might consider waking nightmares). Kameron Hurley’s daydreams must be incredibly intricate, and Jacqueline Carey’s, unbelievably lush.
Of course I don’t know this. I don’t know if Jeff VanderMeer’s daydreams would be as cerebral as they are bizarre, if John Scalzi’s would be frenetic and playful, if Cherie Priest would have a different kind of daydream every time she allowed her mind to wander. Having never met any of these people, how could I ever hope to know? This was the effect of my own musing; this was the stuff of my own daydreaming.
But then I took it a step further, actually pulling the idea up and out of my daydreams. Wouldn’t it make for an interesting empirical study: interviewing successful authors and finding out if there was any correlation between how they daydream and their writing? Before last week, I had only “met” two major authors in the flesh: Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss. Neil Gaiman was giving a reading and answering questions to a packed cathedral audience; no chance of even a whiff of an interview there (even though he did read and respond to a question I had written on the card handed out beforehand, but my question had nothing to do with daydreams, alas). The time spent in a small Wisconsin library basement with Patrick Rothfuss and a handful of admirers (before Mr. Rothfuss had become the literary celebrity he deservedly is now) was a hoot, but at that time I hadn’t begun to entertain the idea of daydreams as a literary benchmark. What a great opportunity that would have been!
So when I attended a book signing by Wesley Chu last Sunday, I was determined to ask him about his daydreams. Mr. Chu (or “Wes” as I can call him now, right?) is the author of the Tao books (The Lives of Tao, The Deaths of Tao, The Rebirths of Tao) as well as the newly released novel Time Salvager (of which my review will be posted here in the near future). He is a highly accessible and extremely personable fellow, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything of his I’ve read, whether it be a novel, an essay, a blog post, or even a series of Facebook posts. From reading his books, I’d posited that he was an avid daydreamer, with stories and characters and worlds constantly flitting through his brain. His books are so wonderfully “in the moment” that I was confident that his imagination would follow suit.
Screwing my courage to the sticking place, when Wes opened my copy of Time Salvager to personalize it for me, I asked if I could pose a question, first. His eyes were quizzical, interested. “Sure!” he prompted. This was it – this was when I would get confirmation of the vitality of his daydreams. I hadn’t really thought out exactly what I was going to say (well, that’s a lie – I had daydreamed a heckuva lot about what I was going to say, but I also know that daydreams rarely reflect “real life”), so I blurted out, “Would you consider yourself a ‘daydreamer’? I mean, do you feel you daydream a lot?”
He looked at me, considering. And then he frowned a little bit, and said the one thing I hadn’t considered: “No, not really.”
No? Not really? Not really? REALLY??? So much for any claim at being astute I might have been able to luxuriate in!
Now, to be fair, Wes went on to talk about how he tends to be a conceptual writer; the “big idea” is generally where he starts when writing a new work, and then he builds down from there. It was incredibly interesting, that and the subsequent discussions that flowed from there, and any disappointment I may have had in having my theory blasted all to hell disappeared almost immediately. (He did start to say, “Well, when I was a kid…” but then someone else asked a question and I didn’t feel like I should monopolize his time when there were others with just as pressing questions and comments to make.)
So while Wesley Chu may have shattered my immediate hopes and dreams, he gave me valuable insight into daydreaming and reality, and unknowingly reiterated to me the danger of making assumptions. (And yes, I’m being highly – and hopefully somewhat humorously – melodramatic. I bear Wes absolutely no ill will, and hope if he reads this he will be chuckling as wryly as I am.)
I still think this potential link between daydreams and writing would be an interesting study to make, but it also deserves a bit more research, first, before I bluster out with it. Heck, someone might have already have done such a study! If not, I can still run with the idea, but it needs better groundwork, as it were, a more solid plan of action, more coherence and purpose, and a better delivery system. I have no idea how to go about doing such a thing, but, well….one can dream, right?
Or in my case, daydream. Because that’s how this word-smithy, essayist, gimbling me rolls. I might just go somewhere with this, sure, that could happen. If it does, you LitStackers will be at the front of the line to find out. But – I’m gonna enjoy daydreaming the heck out of it, first.
~ Sharon Browning