this too
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
  Escaping into fiction

As a child, my absolutely favourite thing was to curl up undisturbed with a good novel. This was still true well into adulthood, though losing myself in a powerful film began to run it a close second. I stoutly defended this choice against parental disapproval and later the equally scathing, if less moralistically motivated, disapproval of friends. I held it tenderly to myself in defiance of an intellectual boyfriend who admitted no merit in any narrative which didn’t subvert itself.

It served me well, I suppose, saved me many a time from terminal wretchedness or boredom. I’d still defend the capacity for total surrender to imagination as precious and life-enhancing and I hope I never completely lose the ability to disappear into fantasy-land.

At some point, though, it ceased to be the height of my desires. At some moment, I suppose, in my complicated and usually, but not quite always, futile grappling with life, I squeezed enough pleasure and satisfaction from the real – whatever that is - to thenceforth want that more.

I look back now and see my childish commitment to losing myself in fiction as, yes, the sign of a strong and vivid imagination, but also the sign of an unhappy family life from which I desperately needed to escape. If fiction no longer serves me quite as well, this is because my need to escape is no longer so consuming.

Still, it leaves me at a loss sometimes. It’s still my first instinct, when life is hard, to shut myself in for a whole evening – better still a whole day, a whole weekend – with a fat novel. It does still work on occasion. Just recently, I got through all of Trollope’s Palliser novels and thus through an exquisitely horrible time at work.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work at all; the chosen volume becomes identified with the purpose it didn’t serve and I know that’s one I’ll never finish.

More often, it works a bit, creates a blessed bit of space at least, by taking my mental and emotional energy elsewhere for a few hours. But blot out everything? Make me happy, really happy? No, it takes more than a story.

Meditation has played a part here, I think. Once you’ve tasted being a bit more present, absence doesn’t have the same appeal.
As a fellow escapee, I know the feeling. Thanks for expressing it so well. The last sentence is especially fine.

I've been enjoying your blog lately, led there by Tamar. I like the cow memory too.
Richard, I'm glad you like my blog. I know you know what I mean about absence and presence - I read, and delighted in, the meditation riff you wrote a while ago.
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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