I have found myself escaping into fiction a lot in the past few weeks. If I actually admitted to the number of novels I have read, people would start to wonder who is looking after my kids.
Once I realized I was using the word “escape” to describe my forays into someone’s else’s imaginary landscape, I started wondering what I was trying to get away from. It made me think the quote from George Eliot that I have on my FB page:
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
I first saw it as the epigraph in Carol Shield’s Unless, and it immediately struck a chord. I was going through a “bump” of post partum at the time, and I really felt that quote described the way I was feeling. Like it was all too much-so much easier to shut down, tune out.
I am not a scholar, but to me it seems Eliot was saying that we have immunized ourselves against the tiny episodes of life that are felt by the most minute elements of nature, and that if we could feel the pain of a blade of grass growing, or the simple beauty of a squirrel’s heart beat we would be overcome by the grandness of it all. If we just stopped to listen, we we would overhear something beautiful and horrible at the same time.
So in the past few weeks, we have had bad news on so many fronts: friends overwhelmed by issues of money, custody, depression…One student with a parent who is hospitalized for mental health issues, another parent showed up today and said she and her husband were having trouble, and may not make it. Everytime we turn around, it’s something else.
I spoke with a colleague who has a family member who suffers from mental illness. When she told me her story, I felt the same as I did when I heard all the others-the world presses in, and I have to push back or it will crush me. Everyone is so sad. They say they are happy with their stuff, and their kids, and their lives, but there is so much disaffectedness…
I tried to explain to my colleague that I kind of feel that people who suffer from depression, or mental illness are actually too much in touch with what is going on out there, that they have no filters-they can hear the grass grow, and the squirrel heart, and the mom who doesn’t have her kids, or the child who has to watch the ambulance and police come pick up his father-they hear the pain in all these things and cannot cover their ears.
I know that is how I felt when I had my post partum “issues” (I have a million euphemisms). I felt filter-less, like every single thing that happened was a flaming arrow, and there was little ol’ me, like a dork, without a shield. Luckily, now, after time and distance, and a round of filter-building Zoloft, and friends and family, I have a few defenses.
Even so, I can still catch whiffs of that crushing feeling, that overwhelmedness. And I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all were a little more in touch with this craziness, if we reacted to the shit head on, if things would be different. Imagine if instead of turning away from the difficulties others are facing, we really let ourselves feel.
I haven’t any answers (thus the baffled). But I do know that turning to a book (or four) by Paul Quarrington, or a lovely book set in Vancouver by Timothy Taylor, or an Annie Dillard or the odd Vanity Fair can make the real world recede a bit. How lucky for me, that I can escape.
Book of the Week – Stanley Park – Timothy Taylor
Song of the Week- Josh Radin/Patty Griffin – You Got Growin’ Up to Do.