Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I am Walter Mitty
Because I live mostly in an imaginary world...

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Composition: Originally a Facebook post, I polished it to fit this format.
Also, check out the date when I launch this (Late Dec 24 to Early Morning Dec 25), and note it for any edits. The point being: I made this before seeing the movie - before it even came out in theatres.

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Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens tomorrow. I did not get to see advanced screenings, as I have other films I have tried reviewing. I probably never will get a chance to do so until 2014. I also have not yet read the short story, nor the previous film incarnations.

So, this is not an actual review (unlike this, or this), but it is nonetheless related to this, my Existential Trip.

Yet, without having a prior background with the story, I must confess to having 'cheated' a bit by having read the Wikipedia entry on the original work many years ago. Admit it, you've done it too, perhaps on other works you haven't the time to read, yet hear referenced all the time in literary circles.

Not that I ever pretend to have read something that I haven't - I would just do this Wiki'cheating' to gain understanding of certain metaphors, clever references, literary imagery, and phraseology which come from some famous works that have now permeated popular culture. Like Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra! Or, almost like the same way you would check out Urban Dictionary for slang.

But I digress.

The point of this post is that I am Walter Mitty.

At least the Walter Mitty as originally described, and not the Walter Mitty as used in military slang. As Tim Jonze said in his article for The Guardian, "I am... definitely one of life's Walter Mitty types. For as long as


...for as long as I can remember I have tried to exist in the real world for as little time as possible."

Yep. Me too! This makes me so glad that Ben Stiller made this movie. Not only can the title character's original persona be reclaimed, I can now reply when asked to describe myself: "I feel like I am a lot like Walter Mitty. Ben Stiller's Walter Mitty". It'll be a very valuable shorthand, I predict. ...much like the now common metaphors and phraseology whose origins trace back to popular literary imagery, as I spoke of earlier.  

(Guillermo del Toro's Ofelia kind of fit the bill, but I'm kind of reluctant to draw parallels between me and a female character. Also, I'm not so pretentious as to think I live in anything as oppressive as Franco's Spain.)

But without yet having seen the Ben Stiller film, I'd like to predict that I'm not completely Walter Mitty
- or at least my life does not parallel his. At the beginning of the story, he'll probably be shown as self medicating via his fantasy world. Then, he will encounter something that will change his life. This would then cause him to embark on a journey, which will present him with challenges and obstacles which he must surmount. Ever increasing in difficulty, the obstacles will peak with a very major challenge, which he will at first seem to lose but eventually triumph over and surmount, and he'll get the girl in the end and win. And they will live happily ever after. 

The end. 

But unfortunately, life isn't like the movies.

I'd like to think I've taken some action, taken certain steps beyond daydreaming. But things always get in the way. Things I have no control over. And so, in the end, time and time again, reality proves itself always more disappointing. A big letdown instead of a climax. No beginning, middle, and end - quite unlike a good script. No strong compelling characters. And certainly no black and white heroes and villains.

It's all just one tiring slug fest waiting for the end. An episodic series, but with real consequences that carry from one day to the next. And not good consequences at that. It'd be nice if only the rewards carried through, but 'punishments' for your mistakes seem to have longer story arcs. 

Or at least it feels like it. 

In life, you win some, you lose some - I know that. But the perception just seems like the negative outcomes weigh more heavily than the positives. It's like a cash bonus that doesn't seem to last and a Visa bill that just won't go away.

And in this story of you... well, we all know how it'll end for everyone anyway.

This is why I daydream.

I can actually recall the time when I started my first elaborate imaginary dream world. I was 6  (well, maybe... I was in Kindergarten, that I'm sure, so the age seems right). I may have been sick, so sick I couldn't attend school. Couldn't play. Out of boredom I started imagining I'd invented a car powered by pee. That imaginary world took off, and in my mind I'd solved energy crisis after energy crisis by pee-powered vehicles. I never worked out the science - just how cool it would be. I just wanted to picture myself the hero inventor. (Nowadays though, the idea doesn't actually seem all that far off!)

While kid's play always involves an imaginary aspect - role playing, make believe, and 'pretend' - that "hero inventor" fantasy was unprecedented in that it did not involve a physical aspect. It was all in my mind.

From there it grew. Adolescence turned the fantasies into what is now commonly termed "male fantasy". Sometimes I'd be a James Bond super secret agent hero who defeats evil villains in their remote lairs. I'm a badass and I win the game, get the girl, save the day, and forever be the hero. Or a MacGyver type who solves problems with nothing but the barest of tools and his wits. Or a Marty McFly type, the kid who, after time travelling, literally changes history. Or a soldier who singlehandedly takes on rebels in the jungles, ala Rambo. Sometimes I'd have a robot friend I can teach cool phrases. Or that my dog could talk.

It was all really dependent on what movie of the week I saw, comic I read, or TV show I viewed recently. Escapist, juvenile, and entirely narcissistic.

When I grew up, so did my daydreams. 

Sort of. 

At least they started to be more about the here and now, instead of some far off and far away place.

I still daydream because I can right the wrong things I say. Or maybe say it better, with more panache, confidence, or in a tone more appropriate for the occasion. The comebacks I think up of days later are re-scripted to snappy retorts, and I subsequently win the argument I had lost earlier. I can edit and re-edit, rework the narrative of my life's chapters, come up with multiple alternate endings. My punchlines, funnier. My anecdotes, more compelling. And my come-ons, waaaay more successful.

But that is my daydreaming at its mildest. At its most extreme, it's still quite expansive. Like so many Hollywood clich
és, I even rewrite the laws of physics. I stretch what's possible, fantasize on the highly unlikely, and picture the best outcome. Quite literally, my imaginary worlds are whole new Universes in themselves - Multiverses!
That said: Doesn't that worry the shit out of you?

Because it does trouble me so!      And not in the way you might think of...

Here we are, the Walter Mittys of the world (which I'm sure, EVERYONE is, in some ways), carrying around what amount to different realities - WHOLE UNIVERSES(!) - right in our brain, yet we don't have a backup for it? You die, and poof! 

That's it.          Gone.        Forever.

It's one thing to lose the lifetime of experience and knowledge, but at least if you've shared that with someone, if you've managed to produce valuable work, or works of art, or managed to express your thoughts, feelings, and opinions into something - anything - tangible, then at least you leave something in this world.

But what about the hidden part of you? 

I have a feeling that's why they call the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Every alternate reality I create is a big secret for a reason. It's equal parts embarrassing and too personal. 

And I never let it cross over into the real world - I am not insane.

Perhaps in some ways, it's better that no one will ever really get to see that hidden part of you. Worse than the skeletons in your closet, this is the part of you untarnished by whatever hand fate has dealt you. These are your deepest fantasies, prejudices, fears, hopes, dreams. These are things you cannot blame on anyone or anything else because... well it's YOUR Universe. You made it.

And because YOU are in total control, could the imaginary you be the real YOU? 

We are often judged by the work we do, the products we come up with, so long as it is anything tangible - even the ones meant to immerse someone else into our Universe: Movies, Books, Paintings, and Pictures. But people who have worked with those mediums know, even those aren't entirely representative of what its creator had in mind. Sometimes your vision has to make compromises - time, budget, and ability all have a way of placing limits on everything. We've all been there: "I would have so totally made it differently, given more time, bigger budget, and without technical limitations." 

And even if you could make something entirely and exactly like how you imagined it, would your audience read into it accurately? Would they "get" it? 

Would they "get" you?

Doesn't that then make us truly alone?

Not only can the unseen, private recesses of your consciousness be lost so easily (your whole consciousness can be lost so easily, period), but there's no way for it to have been accessible to anyone else but yourself in the first place. The Inception machine does not exist, so you can never really see into my hopes, dreams, visions, and aspirations (and neither can I to yours). 

It is as private as it gets, whether we like it or not. 
A whole universe! All made by me. Yet all to myself. 

But you at least gotta try...   Or I have to try. And I can start by inviting other people into it...

I am suddenly reminded, this is so why I write. Or at least.. that's why I wrote.. or started writing all this.

“...Because most times, your life isn’t funny the first time through. Most times, you can hardly stand it... That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. And writing makes you look back. Because since you can’t control life, at least you can control your version.”
Chuck Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction

If it is because of an imperfect and uncertain world why I fantasize and daydream, it too is the reason why I write.

Not to say that I'll make shit up about this trip. NEVER! Walter Mitty was a daydreamer, not a fibber nor a bullshitter.

In fact, I feel that I don't have to embellish. This trip was one of the few rare occasions I really paid attention to what was going on around me. It was a time when I really experienced and absorbed everything that was happening, instead of retreating into the inner sanctuary of my imagination. A time when I didn't have to make up something better because... well, it was as good as it got. A time when I really was there. A time when I really was able to stand my life and my reality.

And it just gets better with every passing moment.
It's kind of sad that I'm closing in on SEVEN years since I came back from this trip, and this blog still sits semi-abandoned. I haven't really continued telling the story. Mostly because I was afraid.  

...afraid that this trip was the last best thing that ever happened to me.
"You Only Live Twice, or so it seems. One life for yourself, and one for your dreams."
-Sung by Nancy Sinatra, Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, Music by John Barry

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