Monday, January 27, 2014

Are You a Walter Mitty?

By Niki Turner

Just a few days before my oldest son headed off for professional over-the-road truck driving school (he passed with flying colors, and is, as I'm typing this, is hauling a load to New York in a 40-ton semi), we spent a lovely afternoon running errands, going out to dinner, and taking in a movie. We picked "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" for our evening's entertainment.

If you haven't seen it, in my opinion, it's worth the time and energy and ridiculous amount of money it takes to see it in the theater, and that's not a recommendation I give very often.

Suffice to say, I cried... not just at the theater, but for several days afterward. Not because the story has a sad ending, but because I recognized myself in Walter Mitty, and because I so want to encourage others to pursue their dreams and desires to the fullest.

When I got home, I decided I needed to find the movie's soundtrack... something to remind me of the film's message when I had a bout of "absent eaglet syndrome." (I can't have empty nest syndrome, because I still have one at home full-time, one at home part-time, and my oldest and her family with us in the same abode. But when one leaves the nest, it stings, regardless.) ANYWAY... I digress.

As it turns out, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was originally a short story, written by James Thurber and published in The New Yorker magazine in 1939.  (You can read the original version here.) Thurber was a peer of E.B. White, who wrote such classics as "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little," and was a co-author of "Strunk and White's Elements of Style." Yeah... THAT White, who knew?

Thurber's story was adapted for the stage several times, and a film loosely based on the story was made in 1947, starring Danny Kaye.

Walter Mitty's character, who daydreams about what he could be doing instead of actually DOING it, inspired slang terms. "Mittyesque" and "Walter Mitty" came to represent a person who is ineffectual because he or she spends more time fantasizing about life than actually living. In the military, the term denotes a person who intentionally tries to fake an impressive career.

The 2013 movie, in case you are growing concerned, has a happy ending. But it did make me think (besides the whole encouraging my children to "fly" thing)...
  • Am I spending more time daydreaming about being a writer, vicariously living through other writers, or imagining life as a writer, than I am actually WRITING?
  • In the original short story, and the recent film, Walter Mitty's potential is short-circuited by two things: his fear of failure and the unknown, and the pressure of everyday, mundane tasks and obligations that threaten to swamp our calendars, overwhelm our schedules, and wear us out mentally and physically. What am I allowing to short-circuit my dreams? 
  • What have I dreamed of doing as a writer that I've put on the proverbial back burner? Is it poetry? Literary fiction? Attempting a full novel? Stepping into a different genre than what I'm comfortable with? 
If you honestly examine yourself, are you playing a Mittyesque role with your dreams, or are you taking steps to achieve them?

It's not about being published or unpublished, it's about living out the God-given dreams that dwell in your soul. (Yeah, I know... OUCH.) That said, what are you going to DO about it? I'm working on answering that question myself.

Niki Turner is a writer, former pastor's wife, mother of four, and grandmother of three. She has thus far been unsuccessful at coming up with catchy taglines for her writing, her purpose in life, or what she hopes to achieve in the future. Suggestions are welcome.


  1. I can so relate, Niki! I loved the movie, too. But then I've seen myself as a Walter Mitty type ever since I ran across the Danny Kaye version on the movie on TV when I was a teenager! I so identified with his daydreaming, fearful self. I've become a little better over the years at following through with things but recently realized that I still do this to some extent. Thanks for your honest post. You are not alone.

    1. You are welcome, Anne. I figure if I can face my Mittyesqueness then maybe I can conquer it, a little bit at a time...

  2. I'm more intrigued by this movie than ever, Niki. I'm a dreamer for sure. :)

  3. Me, too. But the worst for me is letting little mundane things leech away all my time. Before I know it, it's one or two in the morning and I have to tell myself "Tomorrow you will get XYZ done . . ."

    Sadly, come tomorrow, it's lather, rinse, repeat. :(

  4. Ugh. Me too, DeAnna. I get swamped in things that just don't make any difference to anyone and then realize I've wasted entire hours, days, weeks... *sigh*

  5. I can relate to letting the day to day routine take up all of your time. I did that for years. Carve out time for your dreams. It pays off magnificently!

    1. Carving out time, that's such a good way to put it. Like a sculptor!

  6. Thanks, Niki. I hadn't planned on watching this one although I really get a kick out of Ben Stiller movies. But now I'd like to see it.

    I spend a lot of time daydreaming too. Usually during down time when I'm between things. Like watching for the school bus. Or sitting in the parking lot waiting for my son. And I can't tell you how many awards I've accepted while sitting on the 'throne'. (Coughs delicately)

    Someone once told me that you shouldn't dwell on things that will never happen. I looked her in the eye and asked... What kind of life do you have if you don't have dreams to strive for?

    Sadly, she didn't get it.

    1. No kidding, Anita! People who don't have any dreams scare me.

      I think for writers and other creative types, daydreaming can and should be part of our creative process, if we then turn those daydreams into characters and plots and stories! Then we are daydreaming our way into our dreams!

  7. I don't know where I fall in this anymore. When I think of all the years I've wanted to be a published author and the times I told myself it would happen 'this year', then I feel good about the fact I haven't actually given up and instead work harder than ever. I recall the original movie -who doesn't love Danny Kaye. This was the role I always identified him with (other than White Christmas, of course). I do have my one big dream and I'm working on it--mostly by dreaming. does that count?
    (Ps that's a month in the UK, by the way)
    I have all the intentions, just not the cash!
    someday I'll be posting from there, I promise.

    1. That's a whole 'nother discussion, isn't it? A lot of us feel like Walter Mittys, when really our only hangup is cash. I wish there was a simple solution for that!


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