I had remembered that when I was in graduate school at the aforementioned Ivy League University, I only allowed myself to read magazines during the school semester. I saved all of my novels for breaks because there was so much work I had to do for school—hundreds of pages a week—and it was just too hard to put down a novel (assuming it was good) and do the work I was supposed to do. I would either fall behind in my schoolwork or fall behind in my sleep from staying up too late reading fiction. Either way, I was behind in something vital, leaving me scrambling to catch up, which sucked.
Therefore, as virtuously, and sanctimoniously as only an Ivy League student can, I sacrificed my beloved books on the altar of scholastic achievement. This was a lesson I remembered recently as I noticed that I was spending quite a bit of time reading smut as opposed to living my life. And I was forced to ask myself, why am I spending so much time escaping my reality, if, in fact, that was what I was doing?
My reality is pretty sweet. I have a husband who loves me completely and who is my best friend and extremely compatible life partner. We have two exceptional 14-year-old twin boys who are healthy and happy. We have considerable abundance in our lives to the point where we rarely have to make significant financial trade-offs. I am finally healthy after years of debilitating and depressing illness, and I do work that changes people’s lives for the better and makes a significant contribution to national security. This is really not to brag, but rather to acknowledge my many blessings and to own my gifts and talents (more about that process in another post).
So, why was I spending so much time escaping a reality that would constitute so many others’ fantasies? My first thought was that this was my addictive nature rearing its ugly head (I consider myself a food addict after almost two decades of suffering with an extreme eating disorder, which is currently quiet, thankfully). In my view, once an addict, always an addict, and what is addiction, really, except escape from reality, as the Queen song says (and I’m guessing those boys knew a thing or two about addiction)?
Anyway, back to my efforts to classify my reading hobby as a destructive habit that needed to be overcome. I was influenced in this thought by Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (one of my favorite books of all time, and one I highly commend to anyone who feels stuck or unfulfilled). She recommends, among many other things, that we take a week off reading and watching TV, just to see what comes up. I had gone through the entire Artist’s Way process some time ago, but had decided to skip that part—not because I didn’t think it had value, but because I absolutely dreaded giving up my books.
I clearly needed to pay attention to that dread. It was pointing to an important truth, although it wasn’t the truth I thought it was. I had a work trip coming up to Las Vegas (yes, I know, rough life when my work travel takes me to Sin City). I knew that usually I didn’t have a lot of down time in Vegas, given my work schedule, so I thought it would be a good time to abstain. Instead of reading smut, I decided to spend my time journaling and doing the exercises in my newest favorite motivational workbook, The Fire Starter Sessions (which I highly, highly recommend, by the way). Danielle Laporte, the genius author of the book, asks, what would your life be like if you only did what was easy? Very interesting question. She also asks what we think about all the time and what we could stay up all night talking about.
And do you know what came to mind when contemplating those questions (I’m guessing you may have a fairly good idea by this point, am I right?)? What came to me is that I am passionate about my smut—but not because I use it to escape my reality (OK—not only because it sometimes serves as a release from the stresses of daily life), but because these books make me think—they make me ponder, they inspire me to see the world and specific situations with new eyes. These fantasies expand my perceptions of reality and open my mind and my heart (and occasionally even my body) to new possibilities. And that is the opposite of escapism—it’s embracing reality, diving in headfirst, learning, exploring, understanding, growing, and progressing.
These books excite my enthusiasm and my passion. They motivate and stimulate. They are an integral part of my destiny—but because my destiny didn’t look like I expected, I didn’t recognize it. So you’ve gotta ask yourself, what else doesn’t look like you expected? A soul mate, who may be blond when you always go for dark hair? The greatness of your kids, because they never voluntarily pick up a book and reading is your passion (guilty as charged here!)? Your dream job, because how can managing an office be anyone’s dream-come-true?
I’m sure there are lots of examples of failure to recognize something important because it didn’t look like we thought it should. Maybe our fantasies can help illuminate our true reality, not just the ones we think we should want. Maybe Billy Joel was right all along, and sometimes a fantasy is all you need.