Discover more from Building a Real Life with Emily Adair
Did you forget how to daydream?
They’re not just childhood fancies — they’re how we get our hope back
Am I the only one who can’t remember the last time they had a daydream?
There are vague memories of them from childhood and even my twenties, those fleeting moments where you’re lost in thoughts of something that might be. That could be.
The sense of possibility you get from imagining something different and new.
I realized this month that I don’t remember the last time I had a daydream.
My days are filled with task lists and must-dos. I wake at 5:30 and work until 8:30 and feed children and do laundry and love on my partner and then I pass out and do it all again.
(When I say daydream, to be clear, I’m talking about the pleasant kind, where you imagine something that hasn’t happened yet, whether it’s fantastical or humble. Definitely not the kind where you just sit and replay a bad event or conversation over and over again wondering what you’ve done wrong. That’s called depressive rumination, and it’s not the same thing at all.)
The most I can remember imagining in the past five years, in fact, is the day when I can stop working so much. Even that dream’s a little faded around the edges, from long use and a million abandoned plans to get there.
I don’t imagine trips abroad. I don’t imagine date nights. I don’t imagine house projects I can’t afford, or new clothes I’ll never buy, or skydiving finally, or what it would feel like to have a book published.
I can barely imagine the look on my kid’s face when I’ve saved enough money for the gaming laptop they want for their 18th birthday. All I can see is the work, the grind to get to there. All the while, I can feel the limited time I have left with them passing like it’s a physical thing, like every day that passes is something I could reach out and hold close if only there weren’t so much to do.
I wonder if that’s one reason why all of us are so nihilistic and hopeless these days; our lives don’t allow us to play in our own imaginations. When you can’t imagine something different, what are you even doing with all that busyness?
When you can’t see what you’re building, are you really building anything at all?
Or are you just marking time until you die?
Trying to be present and mindful is all well and good, and it’s served me well these past few months as I learn to find more balance in work — now, and not someday, and not “when I’ve done that thing.”
But mindfulness can only take you so far; it turns out, daydreaming is actually really important. (If you’re one of those delightful folks who daydreams too much and gets yelled at for it, like my friend Arun, I’m sorry people don’t support you more. Please, keep daydreaming.)
In your brain, there are “two key systems: An analytic part that helps us make reasoned decisions, and an empathetic part that allows us to relate to others.”
When you have to do a cognitive task —which, let’s face it, is pretty much always now, when you can’t buy eggs without pricing the rest of your groceries in your head — your brain actually turns off the empathetic part of your mind.
No wonder we’re all having such a hard time relating to each other; our empathy’s been turned off so we can get more shit done in jobs we don’t like for people we don’t respect.
But. But! When you daydream, your brain allows both sides of your brain — analytic, and empathetic — to work with each other, to trade ideas back and forth, to turn the other side off for a while.
When you daydream, you give yourself the ability to get comfortable with something new.
You’re experiencing something you’ve never experienced — but you get the practice and ease of learning how to do it, to get comfortable with the idea of it, when you use your mind to imagine yourself there.
Just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean we should stop daydreaming; in fact, I think it’s probably the most important thing we can do.
Imagine something different for a while. You might be rusty; I know I am. The first time I tried this it took 4.5 minutes to get the grocery list out of my head. But those last thirty seconds? Dreaming about rewarding myself with a month-long trip to Italy? Priceless.
If you stick with it, you’ll see: there’s all kinds of big magic in remembering to visualize the future that you want — not the one you’re locked into right now. My five-minute calendar reminder has, over ten days, brought back tiny slivers of light and hope, even in this dark world.
I had the most beautiful vision of myself in Greece, the curvy, ungraceful definition of anti-influencer in Santorini and the happiest I’d ever been, my toes in the clear blue water and cups of coffee on small tables. I built an entire she-shed in my head with my own two hands and I could see how it would come together in the real world, how it felt to create something that had never existed until I dreamed it.
I brought myself to tears in between two zoom meetings trying to imagine the feeling of finishing a book. Not even publishing it, but finishing it; long months of commitment worked in around the seventy-million other things in my life. Printing it out on my crappy home computer and holding it in my hands, showing myself that I could do a thing that I wanted just because I wanted it so badly.
Try it. Revive your capacity to feel like there’s a future you want to be in.
Revitalize the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing, and see if it changes the way you show up.
After every one of my five-minute escapes, I went back to work like I knew what I was working for…which is the whole point of a daydream, for us grownups, I think.
🥃Reasons to drink
Yes, I know we just got through dry January, and yes, I know drinking is bad for you. (Honestly, the older I get, the less I can drink anyway — it’s just not worth the pain.)
But this one, well, it’s worth calling out:
“America is unique in taxing women’s underwear more heavily than men’s,” Gresser wrote, although the US tariff rates as a whole fall roughly in line with international counterparts…Most international tariff systems have flat rates applying to all underwear, regardless of gender. In Japan and the European Union, women are actually taxed at a lower rate…
When people discuss the “pink tax,” they’re usually talking about markups on products like razors and shampoos targeted to women, not an actual tax. This is a more literal example of systematic gender disparity.
The tariff problem extends beyond underwear. A study from the US International Trade Commission found that across all apparel products, two-thirds of the total tariff burden comes from women’s apparel products.
Read more here.
⭐ Try something new, it might surprise you
One small new thing, implemented well
This month I’m trying to rewild my playlists.
It’s really hard to find new music when you don’t have a ton of time. I listen to a lot of lofi when I’m working, because it helps me focus. When I do remember and have time to put something else on — when I’m cooking, or driving, or working out — it’s usually a quick open-the-app-and-click-the-thing-Spotify-knows-I-like.
So instead of just clicking a playlist or a Spotify mix made for me, I’ve been hitting the albums tab and scrolling until I randomly stop and pick something. You can do this with artists or genres too.
Ngl, at first it’s sort of weird. You can’t zone out when there’s new music; you have to be present, because a new audio routine requires you to focus to take it in, and it won’t slide by your ears the way your recurring playlists do.
This is a good thing. Stay uncomfortable.
💖 Words to try living by
A downloadable and shareable reminder, every issue
Many thanks to Kate, Arun, and Manish for feedback on this one — y’all are the best writers’ group a girl could ask for. <3
That’s it for this week. See you soon!