A Little Escape … Staying Present in the Power of Story

Old town Havana, Cuba

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.

Pharping, a small village in the Kathmandu Valley.

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.

wadi feynan

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?


22 Responses to A Little Escape … Staying Present in the Power of Story

  1. Escape Hunter September 16, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    Love those lush green foggy valleys :)

  2. MN Travelog January 10, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Never heard of it but yes a radio morning show is definitely a power boost for me also. Though its keep on changing from place to place :) . really well phrased.

    • Shannon O'Donnell January 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      Agreed on the morning shows, though with the beauty of Podcasts it’s easy to keep a favorite one anywhere on the road! :)

      • MN Travelog January 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

        I don’t know technology has really made things so easy. But still sometimes you just feel to be just as it is.. But Only Sometimes in Somethings. So same past will always be your present. :)

  3. Ashlie Woods October 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    Currently listening to A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Oh, what a great book! I keep looking for opportunities to start it up. Our stories are how we connect as humans and what could be more important than connection?

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 31, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

      Thanks for putting that book on my radar Ashlie! I hadn’t heard of it before but the synopsis looks great and it has amazing reviews on Goodreads. I’ll start it soon! :)

  4. Jeff October 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    Well put, detailed, informative and inspiring article.

  5. eyeandpen October 25, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Great read! This post is very inspiring!

  6. Tara October 23, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    This is a nice post, I too find my self getting caught in the everyday grind and often fall into the daily routine of things, especially when it comes to food. Recently, in New York, I stumbled upon these new “EatWith” events http://www.eatwith.com/ that let people dine with locals in their homes. Truly a unique experience, off the beaten path, may be an interesting experience for you! I am living in Tel Aviv now and will be trying this event tonight .

    Looking forward to listening to Escape, thank you!

  7. acruisingcouple October 21, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    What a great post! Just the motivation I needed to find another book to read, too. Normally I’m quite the avid reader, but lately I’ve been having difficulty finding something that really gets my imagination going. I think it’s too much stress and to-do lists blocking my creativity. Looking forward to reading the lecture and downloading Escape as well :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      I love podcasts and listening to things for exactly the reason you said — sometimes I just get stressed out and though I love reading, it takes a backseat. But listening (as opposed to vegging out with TV) still lights up the imagination of a good story but just fits better into my day sometimes. I hope you like it! Some friends rec’d this as well, which is Old Time radio horror shows, which isn’t my thing but might be yours! !-old-time-radio/id256493679

  8. Mike Sowden October 20, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    On the lovability (is that a word?) of libraries, I’m still besotted with this brilliantly evil publicity campaign: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw3zNNO5gX0

    I often think that with stories, the thing we most long to escape into is hope. Hope that there are things worth learning, people worth meeting, places worth seeing, experiences worth experiencing, that will make our lives more meaningful. The best stories speak the language of hope, but in deep, sometimes felt-rather-than-outright-understood ways. You can have a miserable situation filled with hope. Even Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ is about hope. And when I read something truly hopeless (many sensationalized news stories are like that – no attempt to make something, just to pull things apart) then I feel like I’m eating junk food. Life is too short to read something and take nothing constructive away from the experience.

    And I’m with you on RadioLab (which our mutual friend Pam Mandel introduced me to). That show turns me into a kid again, jaw open, saying “WOW!” every 5 minutes. Packed full of hope.

    Never listened to Escape. Downloading now. :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 20, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      I love that video! I hadn’t seen that campaign, love that they were able to save the library.

      Hope is a great thread for the escape, as you said, even when the stories have a darker side, through the catharsis of working through a situation, of coming out on the other side it is the hope that there is another side. That all is not lost.

      Radiolab=best thing ever. I am sadly coming up on the point where I will have listened to all of the back episodes and then I am not sure what I am going to do with myself. Also yes, I think you will get a kick out of Escape, it’s good storytelling with the hooks, arc, some mystery. Good fun. :)

  9. The Traveler Only October 18, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    This, and Gaiman’s article, are wonderful pleas for continuing to indulge the inner thought processes that go along with imagination and storytelling, whether you’re the teller or the tellee, so to speak. I work in museums and along the same lines, there’s been a vast transition across the board from not only being protectors of the past/culture/ideas but also to portraying stories that might not otherwise be heard to an audience that may or may not want to listen. The story, and how it’s told, is important, and we hope audiences receive it and continue to pass it along in their own ways.

    Thanks for making me think today, it helps to not be so nervous about my upcoming departure. 10 days!

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 20, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      What a wonderful way to frame the museum experience — like libraries they hold so much of our history, but more poetic in a way because we have to put many of the unknown pieces together in our own imaginations. To fill in the gaps when we are there.

      I think you’re down to 8 days now!! No stressing, take in that time with friends and family, and remember that you can buy things and figure things out once you arrive. I stressed myself out a lot in the days before I left, but the moment you step foot on that plane you’ll realize: you’ve got this. Safe travels! :)

  10. Lunaguava October 18, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    I’ve also read the Neil Gaiman article, being an old fan of his work in various genres. Libraries, particularly old dusty ones, like the Trinity College Library in Dublin or the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra, have always fascinated me. There’s something utterly romantic about them – they are places of both knowledge and escape, tied neatly into a bundle of story. They are also my favorite sanctuaries. Personally, I travel to unravel stories, not only mine but also of our shared humanity. Thank you for a lovely piece. Safe travels!

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 20, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      Yes! The Trinity College Library was incredible to walk through. It’s beautiful to walk into the old ones and feel surrounded by history and possibilities. Completely romantic, I agree. Thanks for sharing, hope your journey is going well! :)

    • Morgan Rhodes November 2, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      I love that comment, “travel to unravel stories.” It’s beautiful and so true – travel really does unravel a series of exciting stories before us!

  11. Heather October 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Great post! I’m currently working my way through all the Agatha Christie novels at my local library. I love her character development and the seemingly innocuous clues she throws out to confound the reader as to who actually committed the crime. Each story is also set in a different local which enhances the sense of adventure.

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 20, 2013 at 10:55 am #

      So many people over the years have said great things about Christie, I may just have to check one out myself. Usually crime ones make me anxious to read, but she seems like she is a master at her craft, so I’ll have to give it a try! :)

  12. Jessica Voigts October 17, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    I read that Neil Gaiman piece yesterday, too, and spent all day musing on it – while chopping herbs and vegetables, while washing dishes, while writing. I love YOUR piece, now, too.

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      I really love the emphasis he put on the libraries, I find myself constantly telling travelers to start their research there. Even though the internet is amazing, there’s just something magical about having piles of stories and possibilities spread on the floor around you. :)

Share your thoughts!

%d bloggers like this: