Ever feel like you just gotta get the hell out of here? You wake up one day and look around and everything is just the same, fine and cozy and all that but that’s exactly the problem. It’s TOO quiet. You suddenly go “This ain’t it!” and start planning a trip to Morocco, or the Outer Hebrides. Buy that ticket. Blow the hatch. Get gone. Then you decide you can’t afford any of that and settle for mental escape. You put on your earbuds and tune in some nice ambient drift music. Repetitive. Oddly soothing.
But then that repetitive music reminds you of what caused the problem in the first place and you reach for the travel magazine, the one you got on a free promotion but never read because you know its full of those thousand dollar rooms on remote islands that are just so proto-discovered. Reading the copy squeezed around those glossy pictures of crisp white and aqua-blue dreamscapes tells you that the people who recently thought they had found a really cool undiscovered location are now the uncool hoard who spoiled it forever and don’t know what you know about another place.
You start thinking about distant islands of rock and shore out in the ocean that some developer saw across the bay from his luxury cabana and said, “Now that would make a great place for a remote unknown boutique spa resort that people could imagine they just discovered!”.
But we don’t need to worry about this process exhausting itself. There are lots of islands out there with no one on them that haven’t been swamped yet by the rising oceans. And anyway, attention and memory are limited and there’s always the place that we’ve overlooked for a time that appears to us as brand new.
Rapacious capitalists aside, we all understand this drive. The problem isn’t that we are escapists. The problem is we use that impulse to go after totally silly shit. OK, I take that back. One person’s silly shit is another person’s hobby. Some people like to scrapbook, or knit, or play video games, or pop off a few hundred rounds at the gun range. I like to sit and write mildly amusing stuff about the impulse to escape. I write about escape in order to escape. Maybe writing about getting rich works the same way.
The more I think about this the more it seems we are incessant escapists. The next thing always awaits. Wait a sec… that can’t be good. That’s starting to seem like obsession. Can’t we escape from the need to escape? What about contentment? Nope, contentment is an escape from perturbation. What about meditation? An escape from stress. What about passivity? An escape from life. It all comes back to escape.
My personal mode of escape usually takes the form of creativity and adventure. I get in the studio and make art. I sit at my desk (OK… maybe on the couch) and write. I travel with a purpose. Of course I alternate that with mindlessness because I don’t want to miss out on the fun everybody else is having. I watch baseball, nature shows, Antique’s Roadshow. I can pull up a chair on the lawn and watch Monarch butterflies for a solid hour.
So, there’s clearly two kinds of escape; a productive way (creativity, adventure) and plain old garden variety escapism. Of course the garden variety of working in the garden can be both. So three ways. There are three ways to escape.
Maybe the problem is “running away from” without a productive place to run to. If we don’t connect those two we run into trouble.
This brings up the difference between “escape to” and “escape from”? Well geez, let’s see… what would I like to run away from today? There’s certainly plenty to choose from. In fact the world often resembles a trip to the House of Horrors with every room offering up another shock. And running that gauntlet is just getting chased out of one room to flee to the next to get freaked all over again.
There are many truly harsh personal situations that need escaping from. Problems of abuse and poverty and drug addiction cry out for opportunities to emerge from them. We are wrong if we think of freedom as unrelated to justice and opportunity. The need to “get the hell out of here” is vital to this. It’s also the motive behind progressive politics, and self-transformation, and artistic creativity.
The “escape to” question is pretty important. If we don’t have some notion of that we will get mired in destructive escapism like sex and drug addiction. You know, stuff that used to seem like a good idea.
But I’m not I being fair to undirected play and leisure. Let me start again. Pure undirected play is one of the few avenues we have in life that allow us to….. damn, back to escape again.
It all comes back to that. Even life and death. Now if you say “death is an escape from life” it kind of drops like a thud and sits there morbidly inert, almost suicidal. Ah but “life is an escape from death”, now that turtle has trackshoes!
We all know that leisure is the escape from work, right? But isn’t there a little bit of both in each? Remind your boss of that next time she catches you loafing. Here’s a weird idea; what if we thought of work as an escape from leisure instead of the other way around? Of course that requires plenty of leisure time in order for that to work.
The more I travel, the more I realize that I really don’t enjoy it unless some of it is work. I’ve heard people complain about their vacation not being a vacation because they came home exhausted. As if that means they didn’t really enjoy it. Needing “a vacation from a vacation” is an ironic and often true observation but it actually tells me you probably had a really great time.
I can imagine that there is a subset of travelers listening that take issue with this and insist on doing absolutely nothing for days on end. I can spend about two hours max on the beach getting my brain toasted and staring at the surf. It’s great. Don’t get me wrong, I think part of vacation mode is shutting down the voice in your head that questions the lack of activity as morally bereft. But the real experience of travel is not the absence of an agenda but the absence of a mental agenda. Putting pre-arragened demands on what an event will provide turns travel into running a seminar.
And on it goes. It’s quite possible that the undiscovered in ourselves is what we seek. That sure would make all this escapism seem more therapeutic.
Love to talk but gotta go.