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Productive Escapism

How forays can enrich your life

Mike Steele, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Mike Steele, Flickr, CC 2.0

Do you sometimes feel trapped? Perhaps in your thinking? In your life? Do you worry about something you can do nothing about? Or could you merely use a brief flight from mundanity?

Even the most practical, achievement-oriented person can benefit from brief escapes. They can not only rejuvenate but inspire us to fresh approaches to tasks, even enhance overall achievement. At minimum, such forays can expand us beyond the quotidian. The mind lives better when it makes room for more than our daily routine.

Do any of these escapist mind-expanders intrigue you?

Read. The fiction writer has license to toy with or even abandon reality, thus providing fertile ground for productive escapism. Because this is Psychology Today, here are some time-honored psychological novels: Crime and Punishment, Strangers on the Train, Lolita, Silence of the Lambs, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Want something shorter? Consider these psychologically rich short stories that have stood the test of time: The Monkey’s Paw, The Story of an Hour, and A Rose for Emily.

A top TV show. For starters, just watch a show’s first episode. Why? Not just because you want to start at a series' beginning. The creators, wanting a green light, tend to give their best stuff to their first episode. The following shows not only succeeded in that first effort, they sustained, with excellent reviews for years, some even becoming iconic. A few such shows that have a significant psychological component: Breaking Bad, Fargo, Fleabag, Sopranos, The Wire, Twilight Zone.

Movies. Try one or more of these: Black Swan, Silence of the Lambs, Shutter Island, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Art, in a museum, online, or what you have on your walls. Use each image or even part of an image to trigger your thoughts, practical, impractical, even fantastical. Good source material: The Persistence of Memory, Just Follow Your Dreams, and The Scream.

A drive, perhaps to people-watch. For example, drive to a town’s average-Joe bar, or to an up- or downscale shopping area. Look well at what you see and hear.

Play. George Saunders’ book and premier writing lesson, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, encourages writers to focus on their next sentence: considering being experimental, even playful. I’ve found that helpful in writing and especially in playing the piano. I had, for example, recorded my mother’s favorite song, Autumn Leaves, but after reading Saunders’ advice, I rerecorded it today. As I was improvising, I was thinking only of trying something fresh and possibly better with each next note or phrase. Here is that version.

Daydream. Should you allow yourself, say, ten minutes, one time, or even daily to just sit and let your mind wander? Pick a quiet place: in your home, by a stream, wherever. Should you do it in silence or accompanied by meditative or inspiring music?

The takeaway

I’m a fan of the practical but, for both hedonic and practical reasons, occasional escapism can be valuable. It distracts from useless worry, helps generate out-of-the-box ideas, and may even restore a sense of wonder. That's not bad for a practice that’s often disparaged.

Novelist Neil Gaiman said it better, “People talk about escapism as if it's a bad thing... Once you've escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn't have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.”

I read this aloud on YouTube.