A Little Adrift

A Little Escape … Staying Present in the Power of Story

The streets of Old Town Havana in Cuba.

“Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you… Escape!

Cue dramatic music as a deep voice continues.

Escape! Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of high adventure!”

I haven’t lost my mind, this is the opening sequence of an adventure radio drama from the 1940s that aired for seven years and captivated the attention of the nation. Each show opened with a seemingly inescapable situation, and listeners tuned in to follow 30 minutes of high-stakes, story-led drama. I stumbled on this show through a recent Radiolab podcast (I am not a happy runner and through Radiolab I escape that reality each week). In an instant, the announcer’s crackling voice in Escape‘s opening lines triggered images of wooden radios surrounded by eager, post-war families sitting on a cozy sofa and preparing for a happy-go-lucky journey into the imagination. The show hooked me. My imaginary family is a bit idyllic, and looks suspiciously like the Cleavers, but the premise of the show, escaping ordinary life, is as relevant now as then.

We escape into stories throughout each day, week, and year.

Over lunches and Facebook chats we follow the through-line of life in our co-workers and friends.

Television shows allow a weekly escape into the antics and dramas unfolding in the characters we follow.

My nightstand holds a pile books offering alternate realities, journeys into different lives and cultures.

In these small acts each day, we escape.

Monasteries dot the hillside of Pharping, a small village in the Kathmandu Valley where I volunteered in 2009.

Yesterday, I read this lecture Neil Gaiman gave about the importance of reading and libraries. His eloquence on the subject of imagination speaks so clearly to what compelled me to download that radio drama, it’s the same reason I read a book a week, why I write: the escape into another world. He says,

“When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”

I have asked myself a time or two why people follow my story, this blog, and blogs in general. As my feet beat a steady pace on the trail last week, I knew: it’s the escape. The opening lines of that old-time radio show made me think, “I want in on that world, that story, and that journey.” The very distance from familiar is what creates a compelling story. The high drama in Escape is a bit out of my purview—though dangling from a sheer cliff-face would take the stories up a notch if it did happen!—but my four walls are different from many, the choices I have made incomprehensible to some, the lives and cultures I meet on the road a fascinating departure from the water-cooler chatter.

Abu Abdullah was quite the character as he taught us how to make traditional cardamom coffee in his tent near the Feynan Ecolodge in Wadi Feynan, Jordan

It’s these very elements that draw us into the stories surrounding us each day. This post is a bit of a meandering thought for me; it’s less about a particular instance on the road and more a reminder to look at the stories around us and how we consume them. I have filled my iPhone with episodes of this show, I am escaping each night into the life of Cheryl Strayed in her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (almost done!), and I am biding my time until I next leave for the new cultures and new stories on the road. We choose the stories we consume each day, and there are many options. From those opening notes of  Escape, it inspired me to share that presence of mind. To remind you, and me, to seek out the experiences, books, and stories that keep us growing and activate our imaginations.

If you’re keen to listen to Escape, it’s free and in the public domain on Archive.org. You can stream single episodes, or download in a bundle and add to your music player. It’s fun and makes a good soundtrack for a work commute or long flight!

And now, what are you reading or listening to that piques your interest and imagination?