It seems that in conversation I find myself at a loss for words more often than I used to. Maybe it’s just part of the aging of the mind, or a greater concern about making my meaning clear, but I think it’s more likely because our world speeds past at an ever accelerating rate. There is no time to search for exactly the right word for a discussion, because by the time it is found, the conversation is light years ahead, subjects changed and forgotten.
I ran across a marvelous article on Danse Macabre, an online literary journal, that represents an exquisite antidote to our “modern dilemma.” I warn you it is not short; it breaks the rules that this blog established, but I live to break rules. And you will be glad if you read it.
We have come to a grim impasse, my friends. We are far, far too busy, so busy that many of us no longer remember how to daydream.
Our wretched American busyness is in part due to three-plus decades of bizarre political choices, a sort of Puritanical mass-mania that has allowed us to vote against our own best interests time and time again. Many of us now work two jobs or more to keep the creditors at bay. Mothers no longer stay home with their children, and the widespread expectation of comfortable retirement, it is now clear, was a historical aberration; the best investment you can make today is a down-payment on those titanium hips and nickel-plated knees you’ll be needing mid-century. Take care of your feet, too. You will be on them for a long, long time to come.
Economic factors are only one slice of this nasty pie. We are driven as a culture by unexamined values of busyness and positivism that have us crazed and exhausted half our lives, upbeat and grinning and foaming like blown horses even in those few moments when we’ve somehow slipped the harness. We have allowed ourselves to become so busy that those efficiency experts masquerading as self-help gurus, the ones who tell us how to maximize our time and our ambitions and the fearful greed pooling in the inky depths of our acquisitive, thieving, monkey-dark hearts, yes, even they tell us it’s time to slow down.
Do not be fooled. Their euphemisms for rest are “taking the machine offline” or “downtime” or “sharpening the saw,” noxious phrases that reveal our ultimate roles as units of production, personnel assets to be managed properly (read: worked not quite to death). They don’t want us to use this putative “downtime” to daydream, to imagine, to immerse ourselves in the wonder of this glorious life. Of course not. They want us to “cocoon” for the weekend in order to increase our productivity Monday morning.
Don’t blame them because it’s not their fault; it’s ours. They are merely opportunists grasping for bandwidth in the flood of infogarbage in which we willingly drown ourselves day in and day out. This is what we have done to ourselves, and it’s perhaps the most insidious part of our busyness; the time we could be spending in communion with our innermost selves and the rest of the cosmos is filled to the brim with ephemera that not only wastes our precious time but deadens our wits such that we can’t simply daydream. Unless there’s a damned app for it. I’m waiting for the app that kills the smartphone and the user himself upon detection of the death of the soul. KA-BOOM!
It’s all brave talk, but it’s all nonsense because we won’t act upon it. We know we won’t. We mustn’t let them catch us being dreamy. Whatever we do, we mustn’t buck this lockstep parade, this ruthless tooth-and-nail fight to the middle. Some of us do this maddened dance in paisley and turquoise, and some of us pretend we don’t care about money and fame, but “above-it-all” is perhaps the most self-revelatory imposture of all; mind well the poet who says she doesn’t care about wealth or recognition because she will chew her own arm off — or yours — for status in the critical semicircle.
The rest of us keep the idiot grins, put Bluetooth devices in our ears, and never admit that deep in our hearts, despite telling others that our true passion is our abstracted devotion to ideals of truth, justice, and equity in human relations, we really live for beauty (we must never say that out loud) and that we still live for our childhood dreams. No matter what, we do not get that faraway look, nor do we allow ourselves to appear unproductive or melancholy. If we do, they will convince us to medicate ourselves to within an inch of our lives.
We’ve known the dangers of being caught daydreaming since grammar school. We learned to hide our hearts by the time the adults finally convinced us to sit up straight and to hug our frightening and malodorous older relatives. We learned how to get along by watching performing chimps get gold stars. We observed that adults considered melancholia a foul, pernicious disease, perhaps the root of sloth and masturbation, and that melancholia, dreaminess, moping, mooniness — all such antisocial and counterproductive behavior had to be eradicated. In fear, in deeply intuitive and well-justified fear, we learned to imitate the ideal of perky, punctual realists, bright-eyed pragmatists armed with malleable ideals and a voracious capacity to accrue more than our neighbors in a world of constantly diminishing returns.
We’ve done it too well, my friends. Now, no one can show us the way back to our daydreams.
Getting off the grid does not ensure wonder, and simply opting out of the rat race does not quiet the mind enough to let it wander, to let it drift, to let it daydream. Distracting ourselves with writerly-workshoppe/retreat busyness hasn't helped, either, even though scribbling responses to “juxtaposition prompts” has prepared us to write submissions for those ¼-cent-per-word themed flash anthologies.
There’s always a silver lining. Now, get cracking on that.
Not even the French can tell us how to get back to our daydreaming. They’ve started to gather data on ennui as part of their annual labor stats because they understand that the creativity they want from their workers is born of a profound and beautiful boredom, a bel ennui. Even the French had to wait till Steve Jobs built a special room for daydreaming to admit the contradictory truth that boredom, sloth, doing nothing, being slightly empty, is the only way to become full.This is our wonder, the bel ennui that heralds wars in Heaven and exquisite ironies in Hell, all accompanied by the golden peal of trumpets here on earth, all while you’re standing there in a somnambulistic daze with fabric softener in one hand and a dustpan in the other, thinking: Jesus, that’s a good line. I’d better write that down…
That’s the grand reward, liebchen: emptying the mind such that something not quite you makes itself heard. If you’re like us, you live for those moments.
The French have been stymied in their research by Google’s refusal to give them stats on searches for terms like “nihilism,” so we shouldn’t wait for Sarkozy’s ennui squad to draw us a map.
Nor can we draw you a map to bel ennui, but at least here at DM, you’re free for a few hours of each month to be dreamy, to be hungry, to be somber, somnolent, or even melancholy. We encourage it, and we love you for it. We can’t draw the map, but month after month, we humbly present the works of those who have been there, and we hope their work will free your dreams and inspire you to seek bel ennui, the satiation that breeds appetite, the emptiness that fulfills, the gateway to the only state of grace we know.
An Online Literary Magazine™