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Break Free from the Prison of Reality Like I Did

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Some days, don't you get weary of being yourself? Wouldn't you love to assume another identity, at least for a breather?

Recently, I changed my "outdoor" name to Hal after building the first thing in my life -- a homemade fort in my backyard where I can retreat to a newfound world of majestic deer, fearsome brush wolves and a riveting chat with myself while stoking a campfire.

Until now, no one in my family has seen the "Hal" in me. The everyday me is a writer, a cyber space inhabitant, and, under recently, a pencil pusher from the city.

Then we moved to the country, just outside a town of 30,000, and I decided I needed a break from society, from myself.

On and off, I lived in the small fort at the edge of the woods, fashioned from branches of ash and pine trees and Dollar Store twine, with a bedroom and a small fire. "Red Pines," as I call it, is a little crooked, with a dirt floor and a creaky gate, but it's mine. Hal made it just safe enough, letting nature breathe on me without consuming me, once removed from our bubble wrap society. Just safe enough -- what a deliciously-vulnerable feeling.

Like many of you, most of the time I swim in mainstream society like a robotic bass. I've worked since I was 19, been married for more than three decades to the same woman and raised two sons. More recently, like many others, I've contributed to the mountain of credit card debt. Raise your hand if you, too, want a break!

I got tired of being trapped in me, a tiny cog in a complex, three-quarters-invisible world which lives too much in its head, its cyberspace and its automobiles, while trying to cope with all that through doctors' prescriptions and tons of work.

Increasingly, my identity has been largely MPClarky@aol.com, prisoner of an office chair, carpal tunnel and his iPhone. Too often, MPClarky got tense and lost patience when he didn't get his email reply back in three minutes. When his computer crashed, he pounded the refresh button into submission.

Some say we are in the "Age of Communications," but in some ways it's simply the "Age of Fast," with everybody scrambling to keep pace with the chat rooms, the twittering, the Skype, the emailing, and who's on Facebook -- not to mention the pressure to get ahead. The computer has become the middleman for our experiences. I had hurriedly travelled along Google Earth to the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon, but had not visited my own back yard.

Building a fort was a real metamorphosis for me, the only one in my family who had never built anything. At first, I ratcheted up a $300 gazebo from Walmart, which I quickly discovered had the personal feel of a funeral tent.

Hal is the anti-MPClarky. In ball cap and sandals, he lies in a hammock and lets a southwest breeze tickle him. Around the fort, I feel part of the natural world, part of my deep roots, interacting with fawns and fauna, losing my fear of the night woods and its wildlife orchestra.

Bats have become my allies to eat mosquitos - I've fashioned a house for them in a tree, which they visit each summer as a seasonal, upside-down bed and breakfast.

As Hal, I've learned to download real life and open up all of my senses. I can look at life one frame at a time: watching rain tip-toe across a pond, touching things and having the touched returned, waiting for a tin-foiled spud to come out of my campfire and melt with butter in my mouth -- all the while telling time not by my wristwatch but the sun -- when it goes down, I'm done for the day.

The pines here are so pretty, when the blue skies frame the top of their green boughs, you can record it on film, but it never does it justice. Out in the wild, I'm not watching a picture, I'm part of it.

During a storm, I love going into the overhanging part of the fort and sitting as far back as I can against the wall, where the pellets from above can't quite find me, falling impotently onto the barked roof in a tantalizing plop-plop, pitter-patter, down the sloping roof onto the grass outside. If I move two feet, I'm soaked. Just safe enough.

If you can't build your own fort, what else could you do to fashion a new identity for a while?

It's difficult to become someone else because that means we have to change somewhat. Even though change is inevitable these days, growth is optional. As Hal, I must grow.

It could start by simply trying a new hobby, which could allow you to see the world in a different way, or have you behave slightly different. Actor Johnny Depp plays with dolls. President Obama is into pickup basketball. Actress Nicole Kidman escapes into Nintendo.

Why not let your son or daughter turn you into a super hero, complete with costume?

Forging an alternate identity may be more difficult for women, who often take on too many roles at home and work... but perhaps they can create one more role, simply for themselves.

Maybe, like me, you need solitude to find out who you are, or want to be.
Maybe you just need to be the real you and not an image for others. In the fort, I can slurp my drinks and sing off key at the top of my lungs. Mark Twain once said, "Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth."

Let this be your summer of escape.

mc

mc