Escape from reality

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By Craig Nudelman

It’s been a hard year. From COVID and lockdown, to the S189(A) at Herzlia and the personal implications of this for me, 2020 will be a year to forget. 

However, one has to get through things in one’s own way. Sometimes the most obvious choice is alcohol, although this isn’t something on which one wants to get too reliant! So what else is there? There’s exercise, yes, but sometimes motivation is hard. The real way that I escape (besides from being with my amazing family) is through books and Netflix. Over the past few months, I have read a lot of fiction, including, but not exclusive to: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon; The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (I watched the series too); and Dune by Frank Herbert (and I am very excited to watch the new film coming out in December!). 

What is really interesting about these book choices is that they are all about either dystopian or alternate historical fiction. It feels like every time we turn on the news these days we’re facing some sort of dystopian nightmare, so how can reading these kinds of books feel like a break from the normal? I guess it all boils down, once again, to escapism. There are different forms of escapism and these days people are more likely to find sanctuary being anti-social with friends and family than out in the real world. Many people, according Joshua Wilder in Psychology Today, are more concerned with their virtual worlds they have created online than real, face-to-face relationships. He gives the example that some people go so far as to become more concerned about their fictional characters than themselves, stating that they, “put more effort into slaying a dragon than learning math, and be more concerned with what their character eats than what they themselves eat”. This has caused many to become more homebound and less likely to go out into the real world. But COVID has created a similar environment.

Due to extraneous factors, we have become less able to go outside and be social. Hundreds of millions of people are unable to participate in their usual day-to-day activities and have been forced to stay at home. We also have had to adapt to having terrible news flung at us constantly, which can create a very negative environment for ourselves and others in our households. Our own self-isolation has created the perfect storm for reading and escapism. According to Hugo Selzer, the president of the International Publishers Association, books have become a way to escape the realities of COVID. He says, ““Books and reading are the ideal way of escaping our four walls, but also to understand what is happening around us, how to overcome this and how to make our lives better in the future”. 

We have now been tasked with trying to re-gain a sense of normality (something I wrote about last month) and to feel as though we can control our lives, inasmuch as we can. One of the ways in which people have tried to do so is by being involved in something called ‘Cottagecore’. Cottagecore, according to Wikipedia (don’t tell my pupils I’m using Wikipedia as a source!) is “an Internet aesthetic that celebrates a return to traditional skills and crafts such as foraging, baking, and pottery (…)”. One can see this on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Tumblr. We have become a people who are now going back to basics and trying to use our own skills to escape, rather than rely on other people and our industrialised worldview. 

Escaping from reality may seem like a negative, but it has allowed us to adapt and adjust to a world which is topsy-turvy. From our crises in South Africa (where we face not only Lockdown but loadshedding and corruption on a grand scale) to the US (where wearing a mask has now become a political statement) we have to look inward to find how we can best manage ourselves. We have to control what we can in whatever means possible. If we don’t, we may find that we will spiral out of control thinking about all the disasters befalling the world.

Although my wife and daughters are amazing and have been a source of joy and light, I have found another way to escape from the world in which we live. When I read about dystopian realities or the science fiction/fantasy worlds, I’m actively trying to have a way of seeking the structured model of a novel: a beginning, middle, and an end. By doing this I can control just one aspect of my life, through the difficulties I am facing, and create a sense of order and balance. I hope that you, too, have been able to find balance, control, and a sense of stability in these tough times. 

May the force be with you!

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