Into The World But Not Of The World

Walter Mitty Cover Photo Credit: Cover for James Thurber’s story “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”, Penguin UK, 2013: manhhal/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

“Every person who is really an artist desires to create inside of himself another, deeper, more interesting life than the one that actually surrounds him.” – (Stanislavsky, Ch. 3, location 678)

Psychological reality, as I write it, comes from the dream tapestry. A tapestry of imagination, memory, daydreams, nightmares, perceptions, observations. While real life is an unavoidable influence, it is the transformation of real life into fiction that really interests me and guides my work.

For this reason, I, like many writers and artists, am a great daydreamer. I live in the world, but not always of the world. I may need the comfort of my routines but I often times feel like the quiet child who sits on the roof watching the parade roll by, fascinated, interested, not totally removed by what I see, hear, and feel but still happier inside of my own world.

I often think of my parents, with their mental disparities and deficiencies, to be like two blind children wandering around Times Square on New Year’s Eve clutching one another’s hand. This greatly affected how I was raised. I was taught at an early age that I was special but in an arrogant and delusional way that wasn’t in the least bit an accurate reflection of how I really was. I was insulated, kept cocooned by their anxieties and illusions and paranoid visions. The result was that I created stories in my imagination and lived inside of them. I think my stories came from a desire to self-sooth, find my own voice and my own identity. I created narratives within myself that often involved both live and imaginary people and carried that narrative as I moved through daily life like a mannequin. Living inside the narrative, I could feel, be, see. I could be an angel, a demon, a live woman, scream joy and pain. All that was disallowed to me, oppressed in me, in real life because negative emotions were put on the list of unmentionables in my family.

I am not the only one who prefers to live inside a narrative. Anais Nin speaks of the universality of Walter Mitty:

“We are all like Walter Mitty as described by Thurber, going about our daily lives while living a second, a third, a forth life simultaneously as heroes of amazing adventures.” (Nin, Ch. 7, location 3144; emphasis added)

The idea of life on several levels is what distinguishes the artist (and the sane person) from the madman. A truly mad person fades in and out of a world of imaginary illusions, believing in his visions like a prophet. I was once walking down a street in Berkeley when a man began to walk beside me. I turned to look at him and he raised his fist to my cheek, tapping it lightly. He did this twice before he veered off into an alleyway. It took a long time after this frightening experience for me to realize that the man might have been a schizophrenic who had meant no violence but had seen me as a figment of some demon in his imagination and when illusion clashed with reality, he stopped.

What the artist does the madman can’t do – walk the tightrope between illusion and reality, never losing sight of where the line falls. Art becomes a safe place for the Walter Mitty to play because danger lurks for the untrained tightrope walker:

“When we deny his [the Walter Mitty in us] existence, he takes his revenge in strange ways: We become unbearably bored with our masquerades, and unbearably lonely because our relationships are between masked selves and ultimately lack reality and warmth.” (Nin, Ch. 7, location 3144)

Sadly, many non-Walter Mittys or repressed Walter Mittys do not understand the way in which the imagination wraps around the senses so that toggling between psychological and actual realities, even for the artist, can be daunting. I was once accused by a former employer of being “unapproachable”. Living inside a narrative, for the artist, breathes life into the sometimes deadened reality of real life.

Works Cited

Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.

Stanislavsky, Constantin. An Actor Prepares. Aristophanes Press, 2015 (original publication date 1936). Kindle digital file.

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