Sunday, December 22, 2013

Productive daydreaming

I can't tell you how many times I got in trouble for daydreaming in class when I was a kid. (Really, I can't. There were too many incidents to count.) Honestly, I liked most of my grade school teachers, so I wasn't deliberately trying to slack off or be rude. It's just that the stuff that went on in my head was so much more interesting than learning the capital of Zimbabwe or memorizing the multiplication tables.

When I got caught daydreaming, I was usually chastised for it, but I couldn't be made to understand why daydreaming was bad. All right, I realized it was rude to ignore your teacher's best efforts at teaching in favor of flying with Superman, but what was wrong with mentally wandering off when I wasn't required to pay attention? Well, it was a waste of time. Really? So what about reading fiction or watching movies? They were just a means of enjoying somebody else's daydreams; were they also a waste of time? No, entertainment was different. Well then, how was it different? As far as I was concerned, a good daydream was far better than any movie, with flawless visuals, immersive special effects and a storyline tailored precisely to my preferences, acted out by any characters I desired. And best of all, it was free.

Since I never received an articulate response explaining why daydreaming wasn't a valid form of entertainment, I never developed much of a prejudice against it as an adult. In fact, I believe occasional daydreaming can contribute to better physical and mental health, and that too many adults get sick and overly stressed because they don't allow themselves time to daydream every day. Still, Americans live in a society obsessed with productivity, and daydreaming is still widely perceived as the most time-wasting, unproductive activity you can engage in. For this reason, if you want to daydream as an adult, you'll probably have to keep it covert; fortunately, this isn't too difficult. It's easy to stealth-daydream while commuting to and from work, especially if you're riding public transit. Likewise, you'll almost never get caught if you daydream in the shower -- well, assuming you're not in there too long. But the best cover for daydreaming is monotonous work that doesn't require you to use much brainpower.  I call this "productive daydreaming" -- any repetitive activity that allows your body to create something useful or beautiful while your brain is at play.

My latest cover story
When Captain Midnight had his atrial fibrillation incident a few years ago, I realized that the near-automatic quality of creating very simple needlework, such as knitting and crocheting, helped keep me calm as I waited for more news about his health. Since then I've discovered that needlework is also an excellent cover for daydreaming in public. So-called idiot knitting -- following a very basic, repetitive pattern using only one stitch -- is ideal for this sort of thing. You can set your needles going and they'll practically continue on their own as you let your mind wander anywhere it chooses to go. And no one will give you grief for staring off into space, because hey, you're making a scarf!

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