Escapist Doom

I just thought I should blog something.

The past week has been a struggle for productivity and discipline. One of my greatest personal failings, which I keep in my spiral tower of great personal failings, is my need for escapism. It comes in binges. I find comfort in being nothing but a vessel for an experience. Like other addictions, it is difficult to beat, results in long internal arguments and is a drain on my free time (and therefore the quality of my life.)

I've written in the past about those random bouts of wanderlust we all get, and I'm beginning to understand (or over-pathologize) my need to sink my time into something. Not necessarily something productive and healthy, like crafting a boat from raw wood, or painting a masterpiece. Mostly it takes the form of video games that take at least 25 hours, or television shows that I can consume by the season. Those are the places I get lost. Not by choice, but by yearning. It's an instant gratification of escapism.

I don't think I should do it. I would be better served reading all of these goddamn books, or editing any of my dozens of unfinished pieces, or making my life a nicer thing. Here's what happens instead: every few months I grow extremely bored and have nothing left to do but what I need to do. Even if it's something I like, or even love to do. The fact that I put it at the bottom of the to-do list works against it.

So I get hunger pangs of the escapist kind. I think, "hey I haven't bought a game in a while," or "Maybe I should turn on the old Netflix and see what I can lose myself in." It's a little deeper than simple procrastination. My escapist lust isn't just putting things off, it's about eating chunks of my life so I don't have to be present for it. Killing time is too gentle a phrase. It is a gruesome slaughter.

It always starts with a large burst. I will consume something for a week with a voracious, and seemingly endless appetite. Then, I will dial it down to comfortable, human levels of consumption. Instead of throwing a whole day into watching 10 episodes of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, I will maybe watch 1 or 2. This is the sweet spot of productivity. It's where I can function as some kind of normal, disciplined human being, with time divided between work and play. I can go to the gym in the morning, or clean my room from top to bottom, before I lose the rest of my latest escapist project.

The key could be many things. I think sometimes it's because I work best in unhealthy binges. Going for too long without a single productive bone, rotting away in lazy atrophy, will balance itself out as I kick myself (slowly) into overdrive guilt. Scales level out. I have created a burden of motivation, a fuel of self-disgust, and from that some true labor will spring forth in an attempt to redeem myself. Other times, I think it's because I know that I'm not in a dry spell of escapist entertainment. If I know that I've sunk hours into something that asked very little of my brain, I will feel comfortable using it for the real work.

Dan Harmon explained that the middling ratings of his TV show COMMUNITY is due to the fact that, in part, people don't really seek out the genre-challenging, metafictional texture of his show when they get home from work, or finish cooking dinner, or are just severely depressed. Psychology and the Neilsen ratings indicate that people look for the least objectionable option - something they've seen before, or at least plays off their familiar experiences, where they can just relax and turn off their brain.

I have to agree. Most of the time when I load up that chronovore Netflix, I know I see a dozen documentaries and a bunch of Kurosawa films in the instant queue. But man, I just want to stare at something as I eat this sandwich. I haven't seen STAR TREK in a while. I don't really have the dedicated intellectual capacity for a Terrence Malick movie right now. So it will go that I eat my sandwich and watch STAR TREK.

The college educated, ambitious, elitist in me thinks this is disgusting behavior and the reason I will never be happy. The undisciplined, friendless depressive in me is too lazy to argue, and so I accept it as truth. Escapism is a strange prison. I want to be better, but it takes a presence and proactivity in the real world that is difficult to muster during this season of my unemployment.

I don't really know what I'm escaping from. I've just been doing it for 24 years. Maybe this is just the way I have always been. Maybe the knowledge that I have to be better reminds me of my insecurities, which drives me to check out of my brain and lose my self. Or, more likely, I should stop worrying, do the work, and grow as a human being. But that's the answer to everything, isn't it?