I have a confession to make.
Granted, I realize that many of you avid readers out there could pretty much make a similar confession, but I'm going to make it anyway. Here goes: Many times, I use books as an escape mechanism. There is nothing (or, at least, little) better after a long, hard, overall bad day at work than coming home and wrapping oneself in a warm, cozy blanket with a cup of good coffee/tea and a good book that makes you smile and maybe even laugh and forget and let go of the stress of the day. Books are a way of escaping to another world, of putting yourself in another person's shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. Books are enlightening; they teach us about other peoples and other cultures and other life situations that we could never experience otherwise.
But there is more than just the other that makes some books magical. Often, it is the sameness that hits us over the head as we read. A truly good author knows how to write a character in such a way that you recognize a certain part of yourself in him or her. Maybe it's a characteristic you've always known was there. Maybe it's one you don't have, but wish secretly that you did, or at least that you were a little bit better at mastering. Maybe it's one you see in yourself that you don't like. And sometimes, sometimes you see something of yourself there in print that you had never realized was a part of you. It may even just be a phrase or two in a story that opens up a part of your soul that was either hiding from you, or that you were hiding from yourself without even knowing it.
This last one is a phenomenon I experienced with a book I've read in the last week or so. I'm not going to tell you what book; frankly, I'm not comfortable with baring that much personal vulnerability for all the internetted world to see. But it happened. I connected with a character in a way I hadn't before, concerning a part of me that I'm not really so good at opening up about with other people. And in a very small way, it's changed me. In the safety of my own room, I was able to wake up to these thoughts and ideas that subconsciously float around in my head and affect the way I deal with other people on a semi-regular basis. I don't have it all figured out, but because it was spelled out for me so well there in print, I'm now able to put certain feelings into words, to give them a name and to recognize them for what they are.
This isn't the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. And to be honest, my experience is that movies can have the same effect on a person. One of my favorite movies is Runaway Bride, which I saw for the first time in a very long time over the weekend. (Incidentally, this movie was the first movie I ever watched in a theater, but that's neither here nor there as far as this conversation is concerned.) I don't think I picked up on this the first time I saw the movie (sometimes these revelations take awhile to really get), but I remember seeing this movie one of those first times and frankly being a little uncomfortable with parts of it, even as much as I loved the movie. I saw some of myself in the character, parts of me that at the time I didn't like. I related to Maggie's inability to know some things about herself (even as simple as how she liked her eggs) because I spent a lot of time taking the easy way and doing what everyone else wanted, never wanting to cause conflict or to ruffle anyone's feathers. I, too, was good at making myself into whatever my current company would prefer me to be. Through the movie, I was able to recognize this tendency in myself in a way I never had, and since I was then cognizant of these personal issues, I was able to work on them over the years. Frankly, living on my own for so long has been one of the best things that could have happened to me concerning this issue - I've had to learn what I want, how I want it, and what to do about it. I think I've pretty much mastered this one, but I think this is a perfect example of what I've been talking about. Books, stories, otherness, help us see the sameness, too.
Sometimes this can be uncomfortable. But it's life-changing, and almost always in a good way. I'll let you know in a few years how this one turns out.