To say that I have always loved reading would be a slight understatement. From the moment I entered the realm of literature, books have been my primary passion, the very air that I breathe. Coming from a family who always encouraged but never truly understood my reverence for the written word, I always felt like I was a bit of an oddity. The magnetic allure of other worlds, however, was too strong for me to care much about my difference in this one.
Of course, the older and more educated I became, the more like-minded people I met- people who had grown up on a diet of Narnia and the Famous Five, consuming stories of adventure as if they were Smarties. Like me, the world that they most enjoyed inhabiting was the one contained in their imagination. Whilst this fantastical sanctuary proved to be a source of wonder and comfort to us all as children and teenagers, it didn’t always prove to be the best preparation for the often mundane reality of adult existence.
In Neil Gaiman’s recent lecture on libraries, books and daydreaming, published in The Guardian, one sentence particularly resonated with me. Speaking of the virtues of reading, Gaiman expressed an idea that I’ve often thought:
‘Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in.’
The fact is, in our fast-paced and ever-changing real world, discontentment is rife. In the last few years alone, the relentless doom and gloom resulting from the recession has dominated our TV screens, causing widespread disenchantment. Unfortunately, as we are only too aware, life in the real world doesn’t automatically result in a clear-cut denouement- the ‘happy ever after’ we romanticised as children. There are no magical cures lovingly administered by beautiful maidens (the service provided by the NHS, needless to say, doesn’t count); doorways to other lands don’t exist (at least not literally); and Mr Darcy failed to materialise at any party I’ve ever been to (to my great and utter dismay). Life is tough. And often pretty boring. But, the truth is, it doesn’t have to be.
Although my love of reading may have caused me to become a bit of a dreamer, it has also provided me with a yearning for adventure that is only satiated by actually doing exciting things. A few years ago, for example, having just spit up with my boyfriend and feeling dissatisfied with my job, I made the decision to go inter-railing for two weeks… alone. Some people might not think this is a particularly adventurous thing to do, yet it was certainly something quite liberating for me, and helped me to feel as though I was regaining some kind of control over my existence during a negative period of my life.
More recently, I made the brave/stupid (*delete as applicable) decision to quit my job in education in pursuit of a more creatively fulfilling career. Whilst my job wasn’t particularly mentally demanding, I felt perpetually devoid of energy and creativity, and knew I had to take action in order to avoid slipping into a work-induced coma for the rest of my days. With the guidance and support of a few lovely individuals, and a lot of determination and foresight on my part, I have managed to make an exciting transition from fed-up full-timer to proactive pursuer. Having already had another poem published; volunteered at a literature festival; started a blog; and been offered an unpaid internship at a theatre, I finally feel as though my life is starting to resemble the adventure I always pictured myself having.
I appreciate that not everyone has the opportunity to do such things. People with the financial responsibilities of children, mortgages, and forthcoming weddings, like many people of my generation, aren’t at liberty to quit their jobs in search of the life they want to lead. This is not what I am trying to say, however. The point that I’m making is that, regardless of circumstance, everyone has the power to alter their life to some extent; to break up the monotony of working life by indulging in something they enjoy, or following a long-held dream.
Whether you decide to take up a new hobby, plan an amazing holiday, or donate some of your time to helping others, we are all capable of taking charge of our own existence, and, ultimately, enhancing our own happiness. Life may not be always be quite as interesting outside the margins of a book, but we can at least try to live a fulfilling existence. Sometimes we just need a little imagination to make our small fantasies tangible. After all, as Einstein famously said, ‘Logic will get you from A- Z. Imagination will get you everywhere.’.