Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. A good story, whether fiction or not, takes us to new worlds. It introduces us to characters who are interesting, either because we can relate to them, or because they are so different from us, or a combination of the two at times. A good story invites us to go along for the ride as those characters do unbelievable things and are faced with incredible situations. Whether it is told to us verbally, read in a book, or seen on a screen, a good story will temporarily remove us from our own reality.
Although many lessons can be learned from stories and histories, and be remembered through them, it is the benefit of escape that seems most powerful for the stories I’ve encountered lately. Our family of 10 always has a lot going on between homeschooling, our goats, and the family business, but add in the annual Spring gardening, and a major construction project and there are even more decisions to be made than usual. We have all been happy to take a step back from the reality of those pressures for a few hours each week and enjoy a good book, or watch a movie.
I think that’s not only OK, but possibly even healthy. Sometimes, especially when our realities are stressful, I think a brief escape is good. Sixteen hours of high-intensity reality every day is probably too much reality to be good. Assuming there is value in taking some time away from the pressures of life, I wonder though; how far can one go in the other direction before overdoing it?
Perhaps a better question is, “How much is too much fiction?”
Of course, I’m thrilled that my children love to read. They read more than any other kids I’ve ever known. The only person who can rival their appetite for books is my wife. There are even times when we have to enforce “fiction fasting” to make sure some things get accomplished. I’m wondering if this is one of those times. Yesterday in the Beast, the kids were all talking about a character in The Westing Game*, which many of them have read. I only overheard bits and pieces of the conversation, but I clearly heard Colter ask, “Yeah, what’s her real name?”
“Did you just ask what was the real name of a fictional character?” I interjected. They confirmed that I had heard correctly, and then continued on in their conversation as if my point was irrelevant. “You really just asked about the REAL name of a FICTIONAL character,” I interrupted. They continued to explain how the character is known by a nickname throughout most of the book, but that the character’s “real” name is also used occasionally, so Colter‘s question made total sense to them. Having satisfactorily explained their position, they continued their conversation. I went back to driving… and wondering if my children are spending too much time in alternate universes.
I am certainly in favor of childhood being about play and imagination, fantasy and make-believe, and yes, even escape from reality. I am also a huge proponent of reading, and even movies to a certain degree, and I’m thrilled that my children talk about the stories to each other as well. On the other hand, if you know much of anything about my family, you also know that the realities of hard work and ongoing attention to detail define how we live our lives, so we are not always to be found with our noses in books or our heads in the clouds. Do we spend too much time distracted by good stories, or is it just enough to keep us from being overwhelmed by our reality?
It’s not an easy balancing act to be sure. How does your family strike that balance? Do you find yourself escaping more when the realities in your life are more pressing? How do you know when it is getting out of hand?