Intro Perspective [Jared Kelley]
“Is that appropriate behavior?” I ask, turning to Adam in the deserted highway-side pub we’ve aimlessly driven to this Saturday afternoon. Rural Illinois is bright after a thunderstorm has rolled through - the air is cool and moist as the late afternoon sun hangs over endless pastoral farmland. We’re both staring at a little league team sitting at a kids table, their parents getting hammered the next table over. The kids each have large baskets of popcorn and are practicing tossing pieces up, heads back, mouths open.
“Like…they’re not being bad, but they’re getting popcorn everywhere. Is that ok?” I ask like someone who is learning how to be a child but as a distant observer. There is no urgency in my voice, just curiosity. “Is that ok?” is a quizzical refrain, and not a desire for permission to say something. I’m like Jane Goodall, but none of my subjects are covered in fur . They’re nine year old children animatedly, but not quite wildly, throwing popcorn around. They seem like wild animals, though - the way their parents aren’t reacting, the freedom that these children feel and the ease in which they just are.
Adam looks at them analytically and turns to me and smiles, “In this case, they probably shouldn’t make such a mess, but their parents shouldn’t yell at them either.” He’s calmly authoritative, like someone well-adjusted, someone who knows what is and isn’t a problem. Someone whose parents also looked at him analytically and calmly corrected him, instructed him, and helped him grow. I smile back, nod, and keep eating my salad as the popcorn continues to spill out, further and further. His words now bringing calm as I challenge the inclination to find anger at children just...being.
I have known unknowns, and I have unknown unknowns.
“Your parents were extremely intelligent in their isolation of you, almost diabolical,” my therapist tells me. Her eye contact is excellent, staring directly at me in this rare instance where I look her in the eyes as well. I meet her gaze, processing. I knew the beatings, the psychological torment, and the evangelical cult weren’t right. Those things I could intuit. I could challenge those things - but the awkwardness, the social isolation, the fear and mistrust of everyone else - I was given those things, too?
I’m back in that pub, looking at those children throwing popcorn. I am a scientist, observing them and looking at their behavior. They aren’t worried. They know how to talk to one another - they aren’t staring at their parents for approval and waiting for the unpredictable. They don’t seem to acknowledge that their parents exist at all - they are utterly engrossed in their social constructs of being kids. The alienation I feel from their experience strikes me.
I am in a meeting in 2013 describing a project and explaining it as “Characters having no context for humanity and learning how to be human. Like observers who desperately want to be human but keep misunderstanding how.” I laugh with the person I’m explaining it to. “Yes, this is a ridiculous premise,” I think, “yes, what fun characters - no context for humanity.”
Joan Crawford has started shouting and is beating her daughter with a wire coat hanger in the 1981 cult film, Mommie Dearest. “No more wire coat-hangers!” she screams. Around me there is laughter, comments about over- acting and poor direction. “Oh yes, how ridiculous,” I think. “She didn’t wait two weeks before exploding in seething rage - she did it right away.”
“What if you lived in a universe with no perspective?” I ask Adam, draped over our tiny couch, cuddling two cats in our humid first floor in a Chicago three-flat. “What if everything - objects, people, memories - was the same size, regardless of its distance.” Adam looks at me and shrugs.
I am in rural Illinois staring out of a patio with a glass garage door, looking at the maroon Volvo we arrived in and the crumbling buildings in this suburban strip mall built on mid-aughts optimism.
A waitress comes up to the table with the kids, laughs and says, “Now which one of you is going to help me sweep this up?” She puts her hands on her hips in mock-indignation. All of the parents shrug and laugh together.
The kids throw popcorn.
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