Escaping Flatland

May 25, 2009

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I usually put more effort into coming up with titles, but this time I settled on what was nearer to hand (thanks to Edward Tufte). In a metaphorical sense, the idea of escaping flatland sums up much of what’s been on my mind lately: breaking free from the mundane “two-dimensional” aspects of daily life and experiencing the world in multiple dimensions. And by that I don’t mean the Michio Kaku sense of alternate realities, but by improving the here and now.

Flatland, to me, is marked by a largely functional existence — just getting by, day after day after day. In the context of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this applies to fulfilling the lowest 2 levels of needs: physiological and safety. I would venture a generalization that many people these days are worrying about and focusing more attention on these 2 levels than the other 3 (social needs, esteem needs, and self actualization needs).

From personal experience, work, finances, and other related matters have absorbed most of my attention for quite some time. The economic decline has caused quite a significant shift in priorities, leading to more frugality and thrift. Consequently, I’ve been visiting my local library more often, partly to curb my book-buying habit, but also to find a brief escape in works of fiction like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The same applies to listening to music, watching movies, and going to art exhibits — in bits and bites, they’re enjoyable, but momentary distractions nonetheless.

So how does one truly escape flatland — even in times like these?
(I’m still working on this, so bear with me.)

The first step for me was to identify the activities that are no longer taking place, or that ought to be part of everyday life but got pushed aside. What was missing for me were the things I enjoyed long before the “real world” took center stage: drawing, painting, playing music, cycling, travel, hiking, and many other pursuits that made life multi-dimensional (sorry if that sounds cheesy). They used to happen spontaneously, without too much thought or effort; several of those activities were once a regular part of my day. Now, many years later, I realize how important they were and seek to bring them back. While travel may have to wait a while because of cost, I’m looking into doing more art-making as well as more light hiking in nearby parks. If I can re-work my schedule to balance out all the pieces, I think it might work.


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