To my advantage or detriment, I am an extreme fantasist. For me, it is not enough just to observe; some images inspire me to become part of the scene. Over the years, I have perfected the practice of designing experiences that remove me from the mundane and transport me out of my condition. Finding inspiration in unconventional places, I look to my favorite characters, real and manufactured, and crave ways to share their experiences. I make a plan, address the details, and once there, I insert myself into the setting. Since travel is often required, it’s an expensive hobby that is safe, fun, and habit forming; the material for my adventures is as close as my television or a People magazine. With a little imagination and creativity, I make fantasy a reality.
Take the case of me and the British Royal Family: I am an expert. Rabid for all things Windsor and beyond, I buy every magazine that alludes to a story within that will release another royal secret, with the knowledge gleaned enhancing my status as a Royal insider. Royal weddings especially are my passion, having taken personal days off from work for one woman viewing parties that begin at three a.m. As an official nod to the nuptials, I completed the Kate and William celebration by hosting a Royal Wedding party for family and friends complete with Pims and sausage rolls. Years later, I was beyond grateful when Harry and Meghan chose to marry on a Saturday since I didn’t miss any work on their behalf. Even better, I left my house at 5:30 a.m. that day with my entourage of likeminded friends in tow to attend a Royal Wedding Party at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. In my mind, my nifty fascinator, made of feathers and satin that matched my coat and dress perfectly and fancy enough for a stroll up the drive at Windsor Castle to the chapel, made me one with my “people”. I supped on a “Full English”, sipped champers, enjoyed a slice of wedding cake, and viewed the event remotely on the big screen in the ballroom. The experience transported me to a place in my imagination where I was myself a Royal, or at least an American version, thereof.
In addition to my Royal preoccupation, it is common knowledge in my circle of friends that I obsess over British and Irish television. Once again, my interest tips into the blurred lines of fantasy and reality. More peculiarly, I watch a daily British soap opera called Emmerdale. While the show has been on the air since the early 70’s, I became a fan in 2005 during a trip to Ireland. At 7 o’clock every evening (or 1900hrs, to the locals), ITV airs this iconic serial drama. The Emmerdale theme transports me to the countryside near York and Leeds in the north of England. In truth, I have designed entire vacations so that I can visit the sets where the show is filmed, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. Watching a foreign show in the U.S. can be a challenging affair and I keep abreast of the storylines with frequent trips to the U.K and Ireland, spoilers from Facebook groups, YouTube clips, and now with Britbox (there were a few other means by which to view shows, but since the legality is questionable, I will refrain). Having brought my husband, Tim, into the Emmerdale flock, we often find ourselves chatting about the fate of a favorite character over dinner. Occasionally, the conversation begins with reference to a character’s name and, I, not ready for a foray into “fantasy” mode, have no idea to whom he is referring. His response, “You know, David’s Alisha!”, jolts me into the “make-believe” and I contribute my opinions, hopes, and dreams for the storyline and the poor, unfortunate Alisha. Escapism comes in many forms, and, for us, often it has a British accent.
On our destination “Emmerdale” vacations, we strolled the streets of the town, taking pictures in front of the local, the Woolpack. We pulled pints behind the bar and took a seat in Rhona’s living room. We stepped inside St. Mary’s, the generic, non-denominational church that is the center of the community. We paid our respects at the graveyard where many of the more unfortunate characters (those who are totally written out of the show) are buried. We posed in front of the sign, “Emmerdale”, at the town limits, solidifying our belonging to the community at large, despite our American accents. Duly noted by the young man at the concession (as we bought up the entire catalog of mugs, pens, magnets, and tote bags), he admitted that he doesn’t see many Americans at the attraction. Tim, eager to spill the beans on our furtive viewing habits, spewed a few of our secrets until I kicked him vigorously, abruptly ending his confession.
Vacations to “Emmerdale” provide only one example of my fascination with manufactured reality requiring international travel. A few years ago, on another trip to England and Wales, I designed a tour that focused solely on the locales of favorite, more accessible, television shows – that is, those on Netflix and Hulu. Our visit to Wales, designed solely to ‘become one’ with our favorite Brit television characters, netted experiences that edged on the surreal. Tim and I recreated scenes from Gavin and Stacey in Barry Island, with a local sitting on the beach offering to help us recreate the final series episode by taking a photo of us sitting on the wall in front of the arcade where Nessa worked. And in spite of looking foolish, we took turns taking pictures of each other on the sidewalks in front of Gwen, Bryn, and Doris’ row houses. Back in Cardiff, we were surrounded by Weeping Angels and Daleks, and took a spin on the Tardis at the Doctor Who Experience. Moving on to Cornwall to the south, we walked in the footsteps of Doc Martin and Louisa on the Cornish streets of Port Wenn (Port Issac in reality). More fun than we ever anticipated, the next year we were sure to visit the Cotswolds and the world of Midsomer Murders. Walking the deserted streets lined with houses donning thatched roofs and secreting budding crime, I could hear the mysteriously haunting theme music in my ears. I imagined the possibility of running into Barnaby and Troy on the case, or worse, the increased risk of being murdered at the hand of a cricket bat wielding lunatic. In any case, another box was ticked on my list of real life “pretend” experiences.
Not limited to things Brit, occasionally the depth of my immersion into my fantasy life even surprises me. In a writing class not long ago, we were discussing writers, their styles, and their voice. I presented Carrie Bradshaw as my choice of a writer who had a particular style as she posed a question early on in her pieces, which became the catalyst of her musings. A pall came over the class, with my teacher explaining gently to me that Carrie Bradshaw was not a real person. Shocked on some weird level, I took the news badly. While she may be the main character in the show, Sex and the City, in my mind, Carrie is a friend, of sorts. She certainly is my “go-to” when I am looking for mindless entertainment. More than occasionally, my six-season boxed set, along with the two movies of the same title, provide a respite from a stressful day or the background noise to a day of housework. To me, Carrie is very real, as well as an inspiration, and a survivor. And I follow her, or SJP, on Twitter – how much more real does it get?
While possibly perceived as foolish and trivial, my silly hobby offers an escape mechanism that requires a measure of creativity, detail orientation, and belief in a reality based in fiction. Perhaps I take all of this imaginary reality too seriously; yet, each of these adventures and connections fuels my memories and are as accessible as closing my eyes, transporting and inserting me into a reality that suppresses the residue, distractions, and defeats of the day to day grind. I am temporarily free of worries, immersing myself fully in the shallow waters of fantasy. This distraction feeds my soul. My quirky passion, harmless and consuming, entertains me. And as I plan my next vacation or afternoon of housework, I will look to my collection of the unreal for inspiration. Thankfully, the repertoire is as endless as my access to Hulu, Netflix, and the BBC, and as close as my imagination.