Escaping to nowhere

Off the Beat

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For everyone who’s been uprooted from their college experience, living back home is weird. 

I forgot that curfew, bedtime and other ritualistic structures existed, leading to me butting heads with my mother, who was less than pleased to find my sleep schedule turned on its head. 

The same old structures left behind when I moved out reappeared, in chaotic tandem with new anxieties about my young adult life. But lately, I find myself returning to the childhood I left lodged away in my home: rereading “Harry Potter,” rewatching Studio Ghibli movies, gnawing on fruit snacks, hunting for the glimmering worlds I used to escape into as a kid.

I tend to cope with pressure by escaping, be it into a book, TV show, Reddit thread, spontaneous trip or really any otherworldly place free of reality-based stresses. 

Over the past few months, we’ve all felt like we’re drifting through the days, perhaps unironically throwing around  “time really do be a construct” to bear the lack of groundedness. 

It’s hard to always know where we’re going. Being a newly minted sophomore in college means firmly deciding and declaring my major at the end of this year. Securing a steady job or an advantageous internship is just one of the many subjects I need to think deeply and carefully about. 

But I haven’t been focused. Instead, I’ve been escaping. 

Simultaneously, I want all of the aforementioned dilemmas to be solved instantaneously, growing frustrated when I can’t think of ideas and answers overnight. And if progress is slow, I throw up my hands and escape.

Escapism often has an overwhelmingly negative connotation. Reality is where we are supposed to ground ourselves. Venturing into a world that isn’t concrete is, well, “childish.”

Yet, avoiding the real world and all of its overwhelming global issues is an escapist practice America loses itself in today. In response to the looming climate crisis, political upheaval and the endless, deeply rooted social issues, Americans exhibit ostrichlike behavior: sticking their heads in the sand and pretending the world is only as big as the hole they’ve retreated into. 

Realized in political indifference (only about half of Americans voted in the 2018 midterm elections), climate denial and ridiculous anti-social justice movements (pack it up, All Lives Matter), a national escapism seizes us, hindering growth.  

But while prolonged escapism in the long term is destructive, I can’t help but wonder if it’s inherently a bad thing on a smaller scale. What if escaping temporarily is necessary to process and eventually overcome our “real-life problems”? 

As much as I cringe to admit it, I’ve always wanted to take a John Green-type spontaneous midnight road trip to nowhere, to just drive into the night to no particular destination. Considering my immigrant parents, and the abundance of slippers at home, there are a few logistical obstacles — but that hasn’t stopped me from trying.

The closest I’ll come to my teenage Americana fantasy is midnight runs to Safeway with my sister. We, the scraggly Dream Team, peruse the aisles elbows linked, mumbling inside jokes to each other. We drag out our excursion, snaking our way around the produce section and along the frozen dinner aisle. Our conversations aren’t always profound or deep — we sometimes barely speak at all, just pointing at something and laughing together. 

So why escape? Maybe it’s the desire for control over our circumstances. Whether they’re immediate or exist on a larger scale, our problems prompt our creative escapes. Though we may not be able to control the fast-approaching deadlines or the competitive pressures of life, we can control time when we choose to repurpose it for less-than-ideal activities. Molding time in the palms of our hands, such as stretching it out in a grocery store, is using escape and procrastination to regain control over the passing minutes. 

This is just a long-winded way of telling you that reading the back of every cereal box in the breakfast aisle at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday is OK, and in fact (in a weird way) productive. 

When we escape, we romanticize the unexplored negative spaces in our lives. We relish in departure, wriggling away from weighty responsibilities, instead taking shelter in the margins of what’s “out there.” Though I do try to escape often, either from deciding my career or mundane class work, my escapes are boxed in by the eventual journey home: pulling into the driveway or opening the front door. 

So what’s the point of this “controlled drifting”? Why get lost if you know the way home already? 

Maybe it’s to remember what we already know. Getting lost temporarily is how we can center ourselves, tracing out the way back home to see where we have been and where we have not yet ventured. More importantly, we can begin to ask ourselves which worlds we care enough to stay in and change for the better. It’s necessary to make space for the pauses — to drift, ruminate, escape and ponder — but also to eventually circle back. 

Safeway looks a bit ominous, receding into the distance as we drive off with our midnight loot. As my sister passes me the mangled bag of Mott’s fruit snacks, some soft indie song floods the corners of the tiny car. The orange streetlights and the foggy night swirl into a fuzzy glow. We drive, and the road looks longer, the yellow dividers stretching into a vanishing point, the music never quite ending. We’re almost there. Not quite, but almost.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall’s semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.