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Escapism as a Lifestyle

Originally, this post was going to discuss the official launch of our final week here in Thailand. It was going to feature details of the fun stuff we’ve got planned for our last weekend, our trip prep activities over the coming week, and even a list of “10 things I miss about the U.S.” juxtaposed with a list of “10 things I’ll miss about Thailand.”

I’m not so sure, however, that I want to write that post anymore. Not just now. I’m feeling a bit more philosophical at the moment.

When exactly was it that my day went down the crapper and into the proverbial sewer system? I was having such a good day, you see, until late this evening. During breakfast today, I started things off with a glowing email from my friend Pooch, who apparently really liked the sneak preview I sent him of the story I’ve been working on. During the day I worked on my various tasks, encountered some work-related problems and found their solutions. This evening we bought our last week’s worth of groceries and treated Apple’s brother and his family to a little dinner at Hachiban Ramen. They’re leaving on a weeklong vacation on Sunday, after which we may not see them again this trip.

I was riding high on good feelings throughout all of it, which is why it was a bit of a downer to come home and read the news that, according to a company insider, General Motors is going to officially announce the closure of the Pontiac brand on Monday. It’s still unofficial at this point, but would anybody honestly be surprised if it were true? And furthermore, even as an utter and complete Pontiac fanboy extraordinaire, would I be lying if I said it wasn’t a good move for the cash-strapped GM to make? By my reckoning, a smaller GM is better than no GM. For instance, I’d rather be able to buy a Holden Commodore badged as a Chevy Impala, as they are in most of the world, as opposed to not having the car at all.

Still, as a man who’s been a literally lifelong fan of Pontiac’s style, history and legacy, and who has never parked anything other than a red arrowhead in his garage, this is like watching a friend die. A friend who was terminally ill, and whom you knew couldn’t last much longer, and whose every remaining day was torturous and agonizing. None of that makes it any easier when the end comes.

Back in 2001, when I eulogized the Pontiac Firebird — my favorite car, and one whose permanent discontinuation had just been announced by GM — I could never have imagined that, less than a decade later, I might be prepared to eulogize Pontiac as a brand. But, come what may, we all have little choice but to accept the reality that’s handed to us by forces beyond our control.

My mood didn’t improve again today, not since reading this news. Speaking of which, since I previously announced that I was removing myself from any and all news consumption, you’re probably wondering how I even came across Pontiac’s death warrant. Sadly, I read it on my favorite video game blog, Joystiq. Joystiq also owns Autoblog. And at the bottom of every Joystiq page are links to the latest articles on all of their affiliate sites, sooooo…you can imagine what happened. Sigh. Sometimes you can’t win for losing, y’know?

It didn’t help that some unexpected work stuff cropped up at 10 p.m., which required my immediate attention, and which wouldn’t have even been necessary if I hadn’t completely forgotten to do something earlier today. So yeah, there’s that. And then our Internet connection decided to suddenly become a bitch while I was trying to work, ensuring that my relatively simple task took an hour to complete when it should have taken 15 or 20 minutes. Magically, the Internet was fine again…once I got done. (I think the Internet is out to get me today, that’s what I think.)

But something was in the back of my mind the whole while, planted there by that unfortunate news bite that crossed my desk. Initially it was a growing fear that I don’t seem able to cope with life unless I am busy escaping from it. I’m happy as a clam while I’m working on my stories, my wiki, my audio recording and music remixes, reading a book, or yes, even doing my job. While work is sometimes annoying, depending on the task, I always feel personally fulfilled when I accomplish something new, or complete a task that required me to learn a new skill in the process. But I become the polar opposite as soon as I tune into the rest of the world.

It’s not hard to see why, given that just about any news you hear from the rest of the world is bad news. In our local paper, there’s yet another story of a hedge fund manager — this one local to our town — who’s being investigated by the SEC for millions of dollars of fraudulent activity. Out of my hometown in Michigan, there’s a story about an 81-year-old woman who was brutally beaten and robbed in the parking lot of a nice fruit market that my own grandmother routinely visits, in a part of town that I had no reason to believe was especially dangerous. From the “surveillance society” file comes word that red-light cameras are going to be installed throughout the city where we live, and will be used to enforce minor traffic statutes as well as egregious red light runners, pushing the once-enjoyable act of driving further into the gutter of mindless worry and frustration. Frankly, from what I can see, there’s not a whole lot to be happy about.

But then, I started to think, maybe that’s exactly the problem. Nobody’s happy, because we’re all spending too much time soaking up all the bad news that’s fit to print, none of which we can do a damn thing about, and then lamenting that the world is ending. I felt guilty for being an escapist, but maybe that’s exactly what we need: to downsize our lives. Go back to focusing on our individual jobs, on being the best at our careers that we can be, about taking our purpose in life seriously. In the off hours, find fulfilling things that engage us and inspire us, like my reading and writing and artwork inspires me, and revel in them. Learn new things about living, about health, about philosophy, conservation, or anything else — and then use what we’ve learned to form our own opinions on matters of the day, rather than watch the talking heads and get swept up by one side or the other.

And with that new knowledge comes a more refined and balanced perspective on civic matters, which could even lead people to want to make more informed choices at the ballot box. Maybe they might even learn to start supporting and voting for candidates who believe in their own ideals, regardless of party, instead of casting a strategic vote to prevent “the other guy” from getting in.

The current economic times are ripe for such an adjustment in attitudes. People will be looking for ways to spend less money on material things and appreciate pleasures like family, personal pursuits and fulfilling activities. Things which, in some cases, may have been neglected for too long, or in other cases, may not be around for us to enjoy for very much longer.

It’s not hard to understand why life today would be especially frustrating for anybody of my political stripe. Inevitably, the candidates from both of America’s two major parties are equally distasteful to me, making the choice between either such a toss-up that I usually vote for a third party — where my ideals actually lie. Consistently, year after year, the “Internet famous” OK Cupid Politics Test has placed me in the Libertarian quadrant. My latest test is no different:

Politics Test Results
Politics Test Results

While the upper-left quadrant folks and the lower-right quadrant folks have their epic, never-ending pissing match, I basically just sit there and sigh like I’ve missed the punchline of some cosmic joke. Maybe I have, and the joke’s on me. Or maybe it’s on all of them, and they just haven’t realized it yet.

Either way, I don’t feel sorry at all for being an escapist. I think that pulling back from the mainstream morass and doing some self-examining is what we could all use a little more of. And this isn’t mindless escapism; I’m not sitting around downing beers and watching wrestling on TV. It’s intellectual escapism. Something which is required, I believe, for people to form original thoughts and rational opinions.

Anyway, I’m not all heavy-handed philosophy here. I still intend to do that post I talked about in my opening paragraph. Maybe even fairly soon — I can feel my energy coming back with a vengeance, now that I’ve gotten this socio-political topic off my chest. And combined with another one of those amazing Thai massages tomorrow, I imagine I’ll be ready to tackle just about anything in 24 hours’ time.

Hopefully “anything” will be the next chapter of my story.

One thought to “Escapism as a Lifestyle”

  1. Wow, there’s a lot of good stuff here.

    You know I’m all about escaping into my little niche of activity – music and writing and books – and (trying at least!) to tune out all the horrible, no good, very bad news that keeps bombarding us every day. I think the plethora of information being thrown in our faces discourages us from thinking our own thoughts and forming our own opinions. I like the idea of turning inward and focusing on improving our mental, emotional, and physical health. People who have a clear concept of their own values and beliefs are the ones who can ultimately affect the most change in the world.

    Of course, my other “big thing” is balance in life- in this case, finding the “sweet spot” between total immersion in one’s own little world and being able to be interact with society in some meaningful way. An eternal quest…

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