Escaping into Ourselves

January 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I was little, I loved reading because I could ‘escape’ into the world of the book. Bullies at school, screaming fights at home and the loneliness weighing down my heart all disappeared, to be replaced by Harry Potter’s fight against evil or Matilda’s magical adventures. Whenever things got hard, I reached for a comfort book (just like my roommate now might reach for Ben and Jerry’s.) It wasn’t just when my life outside fell apart that I started thumbing through the volumes on my bookshelf. More than hiding from the world, I liked to hide from myself in a book. Completely concerned for the fate of the characters on the page, I was momentarily saved from examining the dark recesses of my mind. I became absorbed with their trials, their emotions, their pasts, so that I could run from my own.

In many ways, it was the same with my writing. Whatever was happening in my present ceased to exist as I became more deeply immersed in the story I was telling. I was creating a different world than this one, different lives, different situations, different struggles. The more I went into that new world, the more it felt like my actual one. Things in the world of my story were in my control. Things in my actual life often were not.

There has always been praise for this ‘escape’ aspect of reading and writing. Readers love taking that vacation, engaging in the journey of someone other than themselves. In a way, readers love meeting someone new through the main character, becoming so close they are allowed access to that character’s inner dialogue. Yes, books help us leave behind our worries and concerns or even just the monotony of everyday life. They take us somewhere entirely new.

But do they?

Whenever I read or write nowadays, I feel I am becoming closer to the core of my being, not farther away. I am developing a greater understanding of myself and my situation. Far from escaping, I am retreating into those recesses of my mind. This is not to suggest that books force me to think unwelcoming thoughts or in any way cause me pain, though they might. Rather, books make me think critically about who I am, how I feel, and what I do. Books help me get to know myself in intimate ways. They help things make sense. And this is because books are written by people trying to make sense of themselves and their worlds. And because books are read by people trying to figure out the same thing.

So if we are escaping, we are escaping into ourselves. Our imaginations may be traveling to far away places, but another part of us is examining ourselves in a whole new light. Guided by the author’s words, we feel the throbbing of our souls. We see ourselves. And we turn the page to find out what happens to us next. Hope and belief keep us glued to the page. What will we discover about ourselves? Will we learn The Answers?

There’s only one way to find out. And after that, there’s always another book.

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