Friday, February 28, 2014

Fife Lake: What I'm Secretly Glad I Still Remember

“This can’t be it. Is this it?” Dad was leaning over the steering wheel, straining for a better view through the windshield. My siblings were huddled in the back seats of the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup truck, respectfully silent, appalled. Mom, in the front passenger’s side with a stack of papers and books she had been reading, was checking the address. We were up north. We were near the coast of one of Michigan’s Great Lakes. We were near, but not on Lake Michigan. Fife Lake, to be accurate, wasn’t a lake at all. We had a pond in our backyard comparable to this.
“This is really the place?” Corrine asked after the long silence, sensing the devastating reality in the situation. Her crossed arms and cold, glossy-eyed expression were wordlessly judging the incompetence responsible for our circumstances.
“Let me see that address.” Dad said. He took the papers from Mom and got out of the truck. As soon as the door slammed shut we all talked at once.
“Is this the place, Mom?”
“Isn’t it next door?”
“Look at how nice and big those cabins are, all that space…” It was true, the cabins to the right of us were beautiful. Fat, perfectly round logs were notched and stacked, holding their natural coloring, with a luminous glaze-like finish. The doors were a warm, rustic green, with dainty grills on the windowpanes and curtains and even real shudders that opened and closed.
“I want to stay there, Mom.”
My mother, acknowledging our concerns, did her best to affirm that in fact we had booked the lovely cottages next door, that the “tiny,” “dumpy,” “ugly,” “poopy” shacks (that we so adamantly described) on this lot were not our home for the next week. Yet it was apparent she was as unsure as we were.  
Without a word, Dad came back. He turned the truck on and put it in reverse.
“This isn’t the place is it, Dad?” Corrine finally burst out.
My father, in an air of optimism and a hint indifference, cheerfully replied, “Yep. This is it.” He waited a moment to let the news sink in. “We’re over there on the left.”
We all immediately leaned over to the left side of the truck to see where Dad was pointing. Confirming our greatest fears, there sat the depleted remains of a cabin. It was hideous. Someone had painted it the color of vomit, an attempt to hide the decay of the logs underneath. Camping had never been a success for my family, and it wasn’t for lack of trying either. The first summer my dad brought home the pop-up camper straight off the lot commenced the beginning of some pretty terrible memories for all of us.
I can still remember the first morning I woke up in that trailer. We were at a state park in Michigan (we only went camping in Michigan). It had rained the night before, which wasn’t surprising. Dad used to joke that if there was ever severe drought in the area, we all needed to pile in the truck and go camping for the weekend. “One-hundred percent chance of rain!” He’d say, shaking his head. The night before, I had fallen asleep to the sound of rain pounding on our plastic roof. I felt afraid, and justifiably so. Either the plastic amplified the noise of the water to an incredible magnitude (which it did), or we were in the midst of a deluge (which we probably were). Either way, our poor shetland sheepdog had been left outside in its kennel. In the middle of the night I awoke to panic-stricken yelping. In a stroke of sleep-induced genius, my dad unfastened his side of the canvas-covered mattress to get outside and save the dog from the puddle of water filling up in its cage. Water that had piled on the top of the canvas flooded the camper. I still remember the image of my dad, soaked through, standing out in the mud with a flashlight in his whitey-tighties, fastening the side of the canvas back together. When I woke up, my pillow was wet and I could almost taste the stench of wet dog. Along with the pillow, my sleeping bag was damp, together with the pull-out mattress and the sides of the canvas. My clothes and hair clung to my body, sticking with this unfamiliar, all-intrusive wet adhesive. And it was still raining. In fact, it rained the entire weekend. I don’t remember how many games of Uno and Sorry we played, but it was enough to make us all a little more irritable.
Pop-up trailer camping and driving long distances were not the warmest of memories my family shared together, which was why we were all excited to try a rustic log cabin experience not too far from home. Mom was on the emailing list for the “Home School Connections,” a huge group of homeschoolers who collaborated together, buying and selling curriculum, organizing special events, and doing their best to provide social environments for their children. Mom came across a brochure advertising a log cabin in a quaint town in northern Michigan boasting “the best forth in the north.” The brochure had one photo of a bedroom and a brief description of the cabin and surrounding area. Mom showed Dad, contacted the lady, and the rest is history. Before the drive up, my parents did their best to pump us up for the occasion.
“We’re going on vacation!” Mom exclaimed to my two-year-old little sister, Brielle, lifting her up in the air.
“I want to go on vacation!” Brielle declared enthusiastically.
“Vacation!” We’d all echo together in the car. “Ye-e-eah! We’re going on vacation! We’re going on vacation!”
And here we were, appraising for the first time our one-stop vacation destination. Being eleven years old had taught me a lot about the world; pieces of adult reality were beginning to fit together like the underdeveloped neurons in my brain. I was starting to own my consciousness (for better or worse), and I was old enough to know we had just gotten incredibly ripped off.
After Dad put the truck in park, I got out with the rest of my family started unloading (we had packed an incredible amount of stuff). Dad unlocked the cabin’s front door and we followed him in. The first thing to hit me was the smell. Nathan dropped his duffle bag to cover his nose and I immediately followed suit. The stink was not of something dead or rotting, but of something living and growing: the unmistakable fetor of mildew. Even apart from the smell, the kitchen lacked any nostalgic, antiquated impression of bygone days. Not only was it old, it was old and cheap. The paint filming the walls looked like urine, the cupboards were made from tin pot thin plywood. Some of the hinges on the doors were loose, others were gone completely. There was an obvious bow in one corner of the ceiling with rodent feces on the floor directly beneath it. A collapsible design of dented metal served as the table, with only two chairs to match. 
In an attempt to ease the reality of the situation, Mom mechanically continued unloading our things, commenting about the details on the website, how the cabin wasn’t like anything she anticipated, and how, well, the quilt in the bedroom really was actually quite lovely. Unhindered by our half-joking (yet actually completely serious) complaints of the ridiculous condition of the cabin, Brielle wandered around the living room with her blanket over her nose stating repeatedly, “I want to go on vacation…” We all politely avoided her, making momentary eye contact with each other, sadly chuckling about the irony of her declaration. None of us had the heart to tell her that’s exactly where we were.
“That's the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they're suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour...That's why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember." - Ted Hughes 


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Screwtape Letters: My Own Chapter

Dear Wormwood,

In your last letter I sensed concern for your patient’s new understanding of the human condition. You explained he is beginning to understand that the human nature is split; humans do not possess just one single will, but many at the same time. He is beginning to see that, while some people genuinely desire one thing, they also want and often do the opposite simultaneously.

His general knowledge of the conflicted nature of human beings is grave news, however, it may not be as serious as you think. You can still use it to your advantage. For instance, he is less willing to admit his own share in a double-nature. While he must recognize himself as a human being and therefore a person possessing a conflicted identity, he nonetheless distinguishes himself by other things, such as his external life and occupation, rather than his double-minded humanness; he is unable to truly and completely define himself. Your patient does not like acknowledging that he is in a state of conflicting natures, or that his very identity is in fact conflicted. He would rather state that something else, like his profession, is causing him to be two-faced or double in nature.

While he knows that he is a human, let him consider himself a more complicated exception to the rule, a “superhuman” of sorts. Even with all the ability and knowledge to perceive others and the world, it does not have to change how he sees himself, which you should suggest is somehow separate from everything and everyone else. Rather than owning to the double-nature he knows and even confesses to have, let him continue to assert himself above the idea. The result will be the development of an autonomous identity, which is a reaction of the “double” nature of the self; rather than accepting his anonymous place in society, he will begin attempting to become autonomous or independent. It’s a sort of coping mechanism. While he sincerely may not want to be in opposition or above others, in the same way he does not want to be independent from them, he nevertheless, at the same time, actually does; he is human and therefore caught in a relentless duality. He knows that he is and should want to remain anonymous, and yet, if handled properly, he will nevertheless assert himself in an attempt not to be. Whatever you do, do not let him discover that the “loss” of his conflicted, dual self, that is, becoming anonymous in a family of other selves, can only begin by accepting that both of his desires do in fact exist, both are sincere, and both are a part of his dual existence, which is perfectly normal. 

Within this perceived sovereignty and individuality, your patient has a need to both transcend and dominate over others by seeing himself as wholly separate and independent from them. Plant in him a fear of the truth that he is a lightweight, both thin and insubstantial to the continuation of a larger reality. A promising and predictable reaction will be for him to try to invert himself as autonomous, like I said, by attempting to dominate over through separating and distinguishing from others in his environment. Do not let him stop and consider how impossible this actually is. For example, the binaries in which he distinguishes himself as above and independent from are completely reliant on his specific environment. Even when he attempts to step back to assert himself as separate, the very concept of “separation” is wholly dependent on and connected to the environment in which he exists; your patient does not realize his environment or situation controls his perception of himself.

Make sure he does not realize that, in order to see himself as autonomous or independent and separate from everyone else, he needs other selves to self-identify. By self-identifying through the binary of self and other, he understands who he is only based on who he is not; he is unaware that his attempted dominance and “autonomy” or independence is completely reliant on the thing he is being dominant over and independent from for any real sense of meaning. In this way, he is not autonomous from the other, or religion, or the Enemy.

Do not allow him to accept both sides of his conflicted dual existence--that he wants to be autonomous and also does not want to be autonomous, that he is drawn to physical and mental diversions and at the same time not drawn to them--he must continue to act in defiance of them, which only perpetuates his actual reliance on all of them. Inherently, a human being needs submission in order to relinquish its conflicted, double self from its displaced autonomy. Since he lives in a subjective world based on the influence of his community, whether he chooses to or not, he is controlled by those who surround him, whether he considers himself above them or below them, it does not matter. He cannot know that asserting an autonomous identity is not only foolish, it is legitimately impossible. Let him think it is possible, let him think he is an independent soul. The sooner you can convince him to devalue and deny the need of his community and loved ones, the better.

Your affectionate uncle


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Three Things: Recent Fixations

O N E : A perfectly practical product. I have been in the market for looseleaf tea strainers and look what I came across! A travel looseleaf tea mug! I'm in love with it. It's perfect. 

T W O : An inspirational quote of the week. Like a lot of young people, I doubt myself and have a hard time making life-long, permanent decisions. I sincerely worry about things I'll laugh about ten years from now. There are opportunities coming up (along with imminent graduation) and I don't want to be afraid to chase them with all I'm worth. If there's one thing good about being young, it's that I'm not yet too practical to go after the long shot. 

T H R E E : A change. I want a tattoo like this one except on my right wrist. I need to wait at least a year though (okay, maybe six months), because I often change my mind. Excuse the crotch shot. Also, I really like this denim on denim. 



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Films to Watch This Year

While this list certainly isn't exhaustive and I may be adding more as time goes on, I haven't seen these films yet and would definitely like to.

The Breakfast Club


Coco Before Chanel

Wuthering Heights


The Reader


Blue Valentine 

Pulp Fiction 

Lost in Translation 

Here's to the Friday nights of 2014!