Escapism In Bad Times

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-03-31 17:00:00-04:00 No comments

I have always had a very uneasy relationship with "escapism". As a young'un, I rarely ever wanted to just be where I was and make what I could of it. I resonated with the description Roger Ebert provided of Laura Dern's character type in the movie Smooth Talk: "You can look at them and almost literally see the need in their eyes. It is a need to be someone else, somewhere else." Anywhere but here, that was me.

After I grew up, and adulthood descended, I split the difference. I wasn't going to run from responsibility, but I reserved the right to run from the world being a pigheaded and foolish place. I reserved the right to make something of my own that wasn't pigheaded and foolish, and bring other people into it.

Then two things happened, one after the other. The first was 9/11 and the distinct sense that went with it that we had crossed some kind of Rubicon as a world. The world felt ever more like something to run from, something to reject — if only because the idea of embracing the suck and squeezing it to death so's to make it into something better seemed far beyond my power. It's more fulfilling to dream about something halfway within reach.

Second was the culmination over the next several years of anxiety so crippling I could barely function. I told almost no one about it, which made it worse. Eventually I got help, and that help led to my turning my scholarly curiosity about Zen into something real and sustained.

And then, from that, two other things happened. First was the creation, more or less, of Genji Press. I was looking for something to focus myself on, and that was it: making my own little escapes into things other people could benefit from.

But as I did all this, and as my escapes got more elaborate and better thought-out, I started to question the function of escape (that's thing #2). Not in the sense of "time to put away childish things", but more about how to appreciate what lay under the surface.

I know Joseph Campbell isn't in fashion these days, but his hero's journey had an important aspect to it: the fact that the hero returns home, transformed, with all his new experience and understanding.

The point of our escapes is not to leave for someplace better and stay there, because this here-and-now is all we have. Our escapes are always constrained by the here-and-now anyway. It's not about running away, but entering into something, and then coming away from it with something we can take back home.

You can see, I think, how this relates to what we face now.

Tags: fantasy science fiction storytelling these troubled times