I’m not sure about you, but my modern life is pretty strange. I get nostalgic about places and things I’ve never actually experienced. I have friends I’ve never met in real life. I see my reflection more often in the Snapchat interface than in an actual mirror. We might all experience variations of these things, but I haven’t always felt okay with them. In grappling with the reality I was born into, I came across an excellent human by the name of David Lynch. There is no interpretation of “modern” that I agree with more than his. Lynch, aside from having incredible hair, is most known for the films and programs he has directed. Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., Eraserhead—these are all household names for cult film/general “weirdness” enthusiasts. I find Lynch compelling because he identifies a strangeness unique to my experience as a Midwestern American.
In Lynch on Lynch, a book of interviews conducted by Chris Rodley, Lynch says: “My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out—some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath.”
It is a quote that has always resonated with me. Lynch describes idyllic vignettes of a Middle American childhood that I like to believe we shared, only to expose the creeping feeling of strangeness that often serves as the foundation for this surface beauty. This is not to say that the red ants of my life are more real or pressing than the beauty. Instead, maybe it is the realization that my memories of a Middle American childhood, often glossed to a level of Hollywood perfection, always had a strong undercurrent of otherness.
One particular year, around the month of April, I would take walks around the neighborhood. These were walks marked by a youthful purposelessness, but they were also opportunities to find clues. At the time, I was trying to define the word “Easter” in time for the holiday. At this point in my life, I knew it was a celebration of some sort, but I wanted to understand it beyond egg hunts and chocolate bunnies.
On these April days, I would stop in front of a tulip garden a few blocks from my house. The tulips grew between a rusted link fence and an unpleasant, cast stone bungalow. The flowers grew strong in spite of dogs that might pick at them on walks or the chunks of gravel that flew up and hit the pavement every time a car drove by. They reached taller than my childhood height, demonstrating resilience in the face of reality that was more exciting than anything I could find on a Hallmark card. But, thinking back, I also see the tulips through the panes of the bungalow’s only-story windows. Dusted, forgotten, baked by the sun. They were sad in this sense—not part of a rolling field of spring flowers, but rather a stupid, misplaced patch of hope on a dirty sidewalk. A few summers later, I went to my friend’s house in Michigan for a beach vacation. She lived in what felt like an average town right on the shore of the lake.
One afternoon, we went for a bike ride through her neighborhood. I remember having skid mark contests in the parking lot of the town’s church and daring each other to touch the porch of the haunted house down the road. I also remember, in passing, seeing a man watering a patch of plastic flowers near the edge of the woods. The flowers and their stems were so sickly green and shiny that I instantly knew. I felt like I was watching a secret—one that would stick in my mind, nagging at my visions of seashells and sunsets and ice cream on a hot day.
I would guess that only half of my childhood memories actually happened. The other half is made up of dreams and fantasies that I want to trust anyway. David Lynch helped me find the courage to embrace the weird, the unsure, and the made up. Part of growing up was noticing more and more red ants in an otherwise perfect landscape. But I don’t want to be afraid of them. I want to fall victim to the fever dreams of a 21st century life—the neon haze, the road trip misery, and the tweeting madness of it all. It’s easy to be upset with the imperfections of the world we live in, especially because it is one we have created for ourselves. But this has given me the opportunity to embrace what isn’t real or accepted. I am constantly looking for my red ants, and I am starting to accept them into my modern world.