Last year, I abandoned a 50-hour working week and expensive British lifestyle, and engineered a life of pleasant Bohemia in Montreal.
When planning for the escape, I had to wise up. If I was going to quit my job forever and elope to another country, I had to get serious about it.
For about nine months, everything I did was geared toward the escape. I would:
– work hard at generating money through my day job and other means;
– concoct new measures of frugality so that I could save as much as possible for the income-free months ahead;
– use my job to learn new skills, ensuring that I’d be re-employable should things fall apart;
– maintain a bare minimum of material possessions so that I could exit swiftly when the opportunity finally arose;
– work hard at accumulating the expensive and difficult-to-obtain documents required for my visa application.
In the pub and at parties, friends would ask how the escape was coming along and I’d entertain them with my enthusiasm. Most nights, however, I’d eschew the pub all together, choosing instead to go directly home from work (literally running home on occasion), drawing the curtains against the Glaswegian dusk and concentrating on my project.
I’d often be unable to sleep at night, exhillerated by the prospect of making a break for it and planning the best ways to exploit the next day’s resources to further the endeavor. I don’t think I have ever been so driven. Escape is one hell of an ‘upper’, as Emily Dickinson wrote:
I never hear the word ‘Escape’
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation —
A flying attitude!
I doubt I conveyed this excitment in An Escapologist’s Diary as it was happening. I may have been embarrassed by my enthusiasm and reluctant to talk about something so personally important in a public forum. Now that it’s all over and the mission is accomplished, I’m more inclined to talk about it and to help others who want to make similar escapes.
So let me tell you about the Escapologist’s curse. Abandon hope all ye, etcetera.
Today, my greatest fear is of being unable to end this way of thinking: to curb the ambition, the excited flightiness. I’m doing my level best to ignore this: to spend plenty time reading in the park (Paul Auster’s Leviathan this week) but even when I’m relaxing, there’s an impatient sinapse firing somewhere in my brain, telling me that things are somehow not moving fast enough, even though there is no longer anything I need to accelerate. I want to return to the easy-going state I occupied before I formulated the escape plan.
Sometimes, an escape-the-rat-race guru will write about ‘filling the void’. There’s the idea that, once wage slavery is removed from life, people struggle to fill their day. For me, the challenge is not in finding activities on which to spend the new-found time, but in changing the habits I had to foster in order to win this new-found time.
The funny thing is, ‘the curse’ was anticipated. I first became aware of its affect last October. One of my library assistants (I was a librarian) asked if I had any plans for Halloween. It seemed an absurd suggestion: why would a person like me do anything special for Halloween? Yet only a couple of years previously, I had been exactly the sort of person to concoct elaborate Halloween plans! I had once built a functioning robotic arm for a Borg costume at a Star Trek theme party. Something in me had changed.
So I was aware of the dangers. I kept telling myself that things would be different when I reached Montreal: there would be time to relax and to have fun once I got there. But even then I was aware that this strange and frightening new drive would be hard to shake. Even prior knowledge of this condition didn’t help, or maybe ‘the curse’ is of my own invention and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad of my new life and I’m having a great deal of fun. There’s just a weird comedown to be aware of, after the ‘upper’ of the escape itself.
Let this strange condition be known to all aspiring Escapologists. When you make it to the other side, don’t forget why you did it. Once you’ve escaped (and while you’re escaping), you need to enjoy the sunshine. Otherwise, there’s no point.
Perhaps it is best to install a kind of ‘crumple zone’ in advance: a sort of buffer at the end of the track upon which you’ve been running so fast. I suggest a lengthy vacation – perhaps of a couple of months – followed by a pre-defined new project. It’s best to concoct this project – something creative such as writing a book or building a cottage industry – in advance, so that you know the buffer/crumple zone awaits.