The Great Escape

I don’t remember being read to and I don’t remember learning to read but I do remember, vividly, the moment that reading grabbed me…I was in my big brass bed, with the purple bed spread (of course) with a mound of pillows propped and stuffed under my head and neck (still my position of choice) and I think I was about 8 years old, and I was reading a hardcover book called The Secret Garden. It was my first “big girl book” with chapters…I got to the lines about the “mysterious moaning in the night” AND I WAS HOOKED. I can’t remember what I thought, but I absolutely remember what I felt…my heart rate was up and my fingers were tense as I held that book to my nose and I would not want to stop reading until I found out what the sound was and from where it was coming…AND later, the moment when Mary is out in the yard and feels through the vines and flowers and realizes that she is standing at a door, not a wall, and turns the knob to discover the garden!!! I still get goosebumps when I think about it (and I read it again in college and the excitement was still there) maybe it was my first realization that magic did exist and that I had found it in a book. I discovered at a young age (maybe I was 7? maybe my mom will know?) that READING IS THE GREAT ESCAPE!

The total number of nights of my life that I have not read before bed could probably easily be counted by a toddler learning to count. It is a very VERY rare occurrence for me to not read at night. Reading at bed time is the best form of sleep-aid that could ever be invented, in my ever so humble opinion, but there is a method to it; the moment the sensation of sleep hits you, you must put the book down and turn off the light, for if you try to push through it, because you want to keep reading, your sleep will neither be restorative nor deep. I know this to be true and have plenty of data to support this theory! When you are reading you can’t think about the snarky comment your boss made to you at work yesterday, when you are reading you can’t think about the jerky lady in line Sunday at Target who turned out to be parked right next to you, crookedly no less, and then did not put her cart back, when you are reading you can’t think about the fact that your property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and car insurance are all due in February which is your poorest month of the year, and when you are reading you can’t think about your marriage, your aging parents, your kids, your finances, or ANYTHING AT ALL…your eyes look at the letters and your brain joins the letters into words and those words make sentences and tell you a story, a tale, and weave a web of wonderment right in front of your face, in real time. It’s absolutely a form of magic. If fiction is not appealing to you, there are plenty of books where the words make sentences that tell you about a person, a place, an event, or a thing.

There is a quote by James Michener that I adore, “I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions” and I sometimes wonder, how people can LIVE if they don’t read??!! I don’t mean the great tragedy of illiteracy, but I mean people who do not like to read but can, and I feel like they probably think of me “well how can she not like to water ski?!” the way that I wonder how can they not enjoy the pleasure of reading! I know, I know, everybody is different, some people like Wonder Bread and Breyers vanilla, and some people have their sourdough rounds shipped from Boudin Bakery in San Francisco and only eat Jeni’s small batch ice cream…we all have tastes, desires, and habits that are different from each other, but here is part of what makes reading magically universal…when a story is extraordinary and you are talking to somebody who has also read the same book, the excitement of discussing the events that took place feel like YOU EXPERIENCED all of it…reading brings you into a world, a place, a time period, and a sensation of being not where you are in your life, if that makes sense??!!

In the winter of 1992 I read a book that was the greatest escape of my life and remains one of my favorite books I have ever read. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon took me away from my life for three days…I was a single working mom and a college student. I had a charming little cedar house to rent and a charming little crooked toothed daughter to raise and was going to community college at nights after work so I could transfer to a four-year-school, and I worked at a fantastic gallery filled with beautiful objects and I had a wonderful life, but it was not an easy life…that winter my boss decided to close for a few weeks and I had an unexpected paid vacation so to speak…six weeks where I could be a stay at home mom/get her off the bus mom/make her dinner and eat with her at the dining room table every night mom/a joyfully cleaned all day mom/a do something fun on the weekend mom because I was able to collect unemployment for those six weeks that winter when the gallery closed…and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon arrived for me at the library and I started it, and then I read and read and read until it was finished…I found myself NOT in my little cedar house and I found myself NOT in the throes of new semester assignments and I found myself NOT a single mom hoping to finally someday, somehow, meet a handsome and interesting man to color my world…this story sucked me into one of the greatest escapes of my life…I could see the highlands of Scotland and I could feel the cold damp wind on my skin and I could see Jamie as clear as day…in my mind’s eye I imagined every inch of him and his voice and his skin and his hands and I could feel the wool on my fingers if I closed my eyes…I have since told every person I ever talked reading with about those glorious hours of reading, and that glorious magical love story of fiction, and an author who completely invited me to escape my life, for many hours over three days…

In the winter, or during times of unease, there is nothing wrong with escaping your life, and unlike alcohol or drugs, THIS kind of behavior is good for your brain. I’ll leave you with this message on this cold January morning; if seasonal blues have got you feeling bluer than usual, if after Christmas finances have you more worried than usual, if sickness and diagnoses or infirmity of any sort has got you feeling bewildered or empty or uneasy, I promise you, pick up a book tonight at bedtime and start reading…you will escape from your disquiet and discontent, whatever vexes you, just sort of disappears when you have your nose in a book and you let yourself GO IN…I believe that it’s better than any sleep medication or anti-depressant ever invented through science…I promise, you’ll thank me and then once you experience the magic, you’ll thank yourself…Once Upon A Time

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