Summer Vacation Dementia July 22, 2015
“How can the public be so blind? This is the most important decision the Congress has ever had to make, and no one is paying attention!” The man gesticulating through fury stutters as he looks from the conservative talking heads barking at each other on the television and my seated absorption in the computer screen. “Did you listen to the President’s statement? Did you even read the news today?”
Good question. Like most of the public, I am more enthralled with downtime, the urge to the beach, shopping and my teenage daughter’s schedule. For two months a year, I turn off the political brain with its intellectual angst and focus on rest. The disruption of the dismal morning and evening news does not fit into seeking solitude, my small online universe of pretty pictures and the plethora of words that I smother during the working part of the year. The expansion of the mind during this yearly downtime called “summer vacation” rejuvenates more than I can credit it. At the beginning of every June, the stretch before the next academic year gleams with promise. I stop listening to the morning news shows, fail to read the news servers, and listen to music instead of my favorite public radio whining about the tragedies of the day. I don’t care about interviews, book releases, political machinations or the other wiles of the real world.
One summer on a whim, I methodically rewrote Beauty and the Beast. The reinvention of the beautiful woman as a psychologically twisted beast was diverting and simply accomplished for my personal enjoyment. I cannot open that document without wondering what spirit inhabited my brain that summer. I wonder what galloping mess Congress snared the country inside while my Beauty escaped the castle garden and found the wilderness inside herself. George W. Bush was the president that season, but he does not figure in the mystery or the romance of the novel. Nothing outside my own psyche intrudes on that landscape of tortured creatures, wild landscapes and magical women. However, in perfectly adjusted hindsight, I admit that the Beast’s garden was a good place to hide as the housing market collapsed, the foolish choices we made came crashing down on us, and our child rebelled in slow increments. In the end of my Beauty, the girl must face her own self-loathing and battle it. She rejects the sins of her father’s abuse and embraces her true nature—strong, magical and compassionate. The Beast is at first a dupe who gets into her way, but he grows into a man who invades her space and then demands her rebirth as his equal. I enjoy the struggle between them. She demands that he snap out of his enchantment and catch up with the real world while he demands that she treat herself to a dose of self-respect. Tall order that.
Which reminds me of the dementia created by the absorption in summer that I fall into lemming-like every year. When I blink awake in late August, or focus on the news story blaring at me from the television, I hope I have enough self-confidence to listen critically, squash the hysteria and move back into the real world.
J D Cooper
Author of the Lilac Hill series, The Portia Journal, other novels and countless short stories