On Books, Escapism, Loneliness & Misfits

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Like the orphan who stands in the snow and looks through a glass-paned window at a family gathered around a Christmas tree by the light of a warm fireplace, I have in my years stood countless times on the sidelines watching others socialise, envy burning a hole in my gut, yearning seared into my eyes, even as my features molded themselves into an expression of indifference or disdain and I quietly took myself off to the library.

It wasn’t entirely their company I desired. I had tried talking to them once, in my shy and halting way, but found myself feeling even lonelier amongst their parrot-chatter and laughter than when on my own. No—what I yearned for was the warm feeling I imagined people got when around others who loved and supported and understood them, the sense of security that comes from being happily cocooned amongst other humans.

Other people had their communities; that was the gist of it, really. Other people had their people, their families, their friends, their church group or their workplace buddies, whereas for the entire course of my life my only friends, at least up until I discovered the Internet, were those who lived and breathed between the pages of books. As you can imagine, this can do strange things to a child. I never belonged anywhere or to anyone except the world in my imagination. To this day, fantasy, which I most likely submerged myself in to escape my loneliness, is the only realm I feel comfortable in. Over the years, due to those early experiences as an odd and silent child who spent almost every waking minute reading about and talking to imaginary people, I have become an inveterate escapist, a master at leaving my surroundings and whisking myself someplace else inside my mind. The world of the imagination is where I belong. Only when inhabiting it do I feel the most happy and alive. In essence, books are my mother and father, my brother and sister, my home and my pets, my world and my religion. I wake up each day and worship words, pray at the grand literary temple known as the library, a nun devoted to magic, wonder and creativity.

Nuns feel most at peace while they are in the convent, praying, whispering across darkened corridors. To leave the convent is often a chore, a distraction from one’s true calling and mission. It brings unhappiness and unrest. Likewise, I only feel at peace while reading or writing, or staring off into space and daydreaming. I would love nothing more than to have a little, solitary cottage perched on a hill somewhere crammed with books and cats to dream away the rest of my days. Each time I am forced out into the world, forced to face ugly reality and its streets and signposts and cars and doors and wheels that spin and spin for no purpose except to keep on spinning, I feel myself to be a stranger in a foreign land, its people aggressive and unwelcoming, the language not only incomprehensible but threatening. I feel buffeted, knocked aside by the hordes, unseen and unknown; and when I return to the sanctuary of my physical home, where all my little book-homes live, it is often with a weary sigh that reached down deep into my bones.

If you’re extremely introverted, you are stuck when it comes to finding human company. You get lonely like all human beings, but you get tired if you so much as talk to someone for longer than a minute, less than that if they’re an unfamiliar person, and most of the time you’d much rather watch and analyse the person than engage in conversation with them. So to satisfy your needs for companionship, you turn to your imagination, to fiction and characters. Mentally unhealthy as this might sound to some people—though what constitutes as “healthy”, eh?—I spend hours engaged with imaginary people, and their imaginary troubles, fulfilling my own desires for companionship through my characters. I laugh along with them, I feel their pain, their rejection, I get to know new characters with them and delight in their individuality and peculiarity.

Oftentimes the business of writing makes me feel as though I’m just a spectator, dropping in one someone else’s life for a little while and jotting down what they see and hear and read. There’s something so lovely about forgetting yourself, and your own life, and getting caught up in someone else’s. Everyone has some days when they’re just sick of being themselves, so they pick up a book, or they watch a film, to escape, and forget. That’s what writers do—except while most return to their lives after the book or film ends, we spend our lives escaping and forgetting, always hoping for a chunk of reality to end so we can return to our fantasy worlds.

I was born into this world a storyteller, and as with every role, there are sacrifices. I believe that the sacrifice my creativity demands is loneliness. In order to stay creative—and this might just be a fancy of mine, or it might not—isolation and seclusion is not only healthy but necessary, and the downside of this is excruciating loneliness. I will always be staring in through the window at people having fun and enjoying each other’s company. Yet my poison in some ways is also its own antidote, as only through writing, through sharing my thoughts and feelings and fancies through words, am I able to feel assuage my feelings of loneliness, and feel a connection to humanity.

Perhaps those who laugh raucously around the Christmas tree will not be the ones to truly understand or enjoy my words, but that does not matter, as I do not write for them. Instead, I write for the misfits, the introverts, the strange and the awkward, the imaginative and the sensitive; and if I can provide in my lifetime just a little comfort for these people through my books and my words, these people who understand me, who stand outside the window with me, ghostly echoes of past children, then my life, like all lives of all the misfits of the world throughout history who have shared their writing and films and music and art, will not have been lived in vain, and I can die happy standing in the cold and the dark and the snow.

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