I’ve always been a daydreamer. In school, I was a quiet, bookish girl who spent much of her time staring out the window, doodling, or scribbling fragments of poems and short stories in a secret notebook. (How many other young writers kept secret notebooks—the ones you covertly slipped into your real notebook, so you could give the appearance of doing classwork while you were really working on your next literary masterpiece?) Fast forward to the present and in the workplace, I’ll admit, not much has changed. Except I’ve gotten better at concealing my flights of fancy from those who would take offense. But, I can’t help it, really. While fantasizing is often, for me, a reflexive response to boredom, it also seems to form a critical part of the way I think. The way I make sense of the world. And of the way I keep myself balanced during periods of stress, emotional upheaval, or disorder.
Here are some thoughts on the value of fantasy, on the power of make-believe, and the benefits of being a perpetual daydreamer:
Fantasy is an extraordinary mechanism for coping with reality.
When I look within myself, I observe that the propensity for daydreaming, for plunging into a world of make-believe, is often greatest when I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by information. By environmental stressors or stimuli. By my emotional response to distressing events. It is, in fact, most natural for me to create when I am experiencing any kind overwhelm or upheaval. And not just to create, but to plunge into a dynamic, colorful, fantastical reality. To inhabit an alternate world for awhile.
So I stop and ask myself: is this no more than an enlightened form of escapism? Because the desire for escape here should be obvious. Though I’ve found that purely escapist behaviors are rarely valuable, productive, innately satisfying, healing, or enriching (think: getting drunk, doing drugs, etc.). And there’s surely more to having a rich fantasy life than that.
Indeed, I generally come out of such flights of fancy feeling soothed and invigorated. As if I’ve made some sense of my distress. Reoriented myself. Put my emotions in their proper place. And I’ve created some fresh, meaningful poetry. Often of the most soulful kind. Which leads me to my next point…
Fantasy is integral to the creation of myths and symbols.
Creatives who make productive use of their daydreams by transforming them into art are tapping into an extraordinary primal capacity for storytelling, for myth-making, for the creation of new symbols, of meaning.
Myths go back to the primitive storyteller and his dreams, to men moved by the stirring of their fantasies. These people were not very different from those whom later generations have called poets or philosophers. – C. G. Jung
When I examine my own work—poems like Seven Road, especially—I find the most fanciful are often loaded with the most meaning. As an artist, I know instinctively when a poem needs elements of fantasy. When the elucidation of certain concepts, to my mind, would be incomplete, mundane, or otherwise lacking without the infusion of symbols. The missing dimension. And that which, I imagine, gives me the feeling of tapping into something greater—something almost otherworldly, or beyond—when I’m creating.
I must stop myself for a moment because it occurs to me that I began addressing this topic in a post from last December. I posed the question: do many artists begin with an enhanced ability to access the unconscious? I imagine the answer is yes. And that there are probably myriad ways in which the unconscious intervenes in our perception (some of which I discuss in that post), resulting in a more holistic, more primitive way of seeing:
For in our daily experience, we need to state things as accurately as possible, and we have learned to discard the trimmings of fantasy both in our language and in our thoughts—thus losing a quality that is still characteristic of the primitive mind. Most of us have consigned to the unconscious all the fantastic psychic associations that every object or idea possesses. The primitive, on the other hand, is still aware of these psychic properties; he endows animals, plants, or stones with powers that we find strange and unacceptable. – C. G. Jung
Indeed, there is a dimension of human experience that can only expressed in the language of fantasy. The images we need to make reality whole.
Fantasy is healing.
In Jung’s words, our fantasies “transcend the differences of time and space and express themes that are universal.” Which, to my mind, is also what great artists do. Harness the powers of imagination that are intrinsically unifying and that aid in crafting the elements of a uniquely human mystery (also an important function of religion).
It follows, then, that the healing powers of the imagination lie largely in the stuff of fantasy. The images, associations, and stories that remind us who we are. That retain a sense of the miraculous, that remind us of our own capacity for awe, for wonder, and a sense of our very own possibility.