Commentary

Being Goofy at Disney

Disneyland is one of the few places on earth where you can wear whatever you like. There, you’ll see a large-biceped bodybuilder sporting a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and standing comfortably next to a glamour model with sequined Minnie ears. The sprawling assemblage of teenagers posing together in matching orange shirts emblazoned with the words Johnson Family Vacation. The 20-something collegian wearing a fanny pack to hold her tickets and water. These people are dorks — for a day, at least. And no one at Disneyland cares.

As much as I haven’t understood why full-grown adults squeal at the thought of meeting Cinderella (or, rather, the person dressed as Cinderella) or registered the thrill in collecting all the collectibles, I appreciate that Disneyland is a place where adults…don’t have to be.

Our culture emphasizes growing up, whether we’re ready to or not. Yet we bask in escapist entertainment, from video games and movies to alcohol. Our free time allows us to roleplay, to imagine, to take on buried personalities. Disneyland takes it a step further. It allows us to imagine a world where we don’t have to mask our inner selves at all — the selves that are just kids who really just want to spin around on the teacups in a Pluto t-shirt.

Commentary

The Memory of Dreams

Memory, scientific research tells us, is not necessarily fact. Researchers have shown how it is possible to implant false memories in subjects. For this reason, eyewitness testimony is not always so reliable. The “tall man with dark hair” may have, in fact, been a 5’6″ blondie.

Yet, if I’m being presumptuous, I’d wager that most of us have trouble seeing how our memories could fail us. They are like video cameras, recording the truth and keeping it there, at least for a while. Sure, the picture gets fuzzy over time, and some events get erased over, but it’s not like our minds would create scenes and details that were never there.

Except, our minds do. And if you need a reminder of this, look to dreams.

I recently had a dream in which someone asked me when I had lived in Ireland. “1998,” I told her. (It was 2002.) She asked where I had lived, and I provided a description of a location that does not exist in a town that does not exist. (I lived on the outskirts of Galway.) Every step of the way, I believed with absolute certainty that what I was saying was correct. Only upon waking did I realize that the dream details were incorrect.

I think a lot of people have had that experience but take comfort that when they awake their minds are able to differentiate between true and false memories, as I did when I awoke. Yet that’s a false sense of security. After all, the central player in the creation of both types of memory is the brain. It’s hard to say, “I trust the brain when I’m awake but not when I’m asleep.” Certainly, some of the same mechanisms are at play during both times.

I’m not asking you to rethink the nature of reality à la Kant or even à la Total Recall. But I would suggest that our memories, which form the basis for our decisions and judgments, are fallible. Even yours. That was what your crazy dream was about.

Commentary

Dog Poop and Personal Rituals

My dog has his favorite spots to poop. It all looks like grass to me, but not to him. This can be frustrating when I need to get somewhere quickly and he’s waiting for just the perfect opportunity to loosen his bowels. Just get comfortable already, I want to say.

I should be more patient. We all have instances in which we need things a particular way and can’t totally explain why. The blinds should be flipped up but the toilet paper roll must face down. We want a big spoon for ice cream but can only eat cereal with a little spoon. Before we take a free throw, we have to blow a kiss to our family; after a goal, we must point up to the sky.

These are all little things that make us comfortable. Without them, things just don’t feel right. And regardless of their intrinsic value, they are important because people feel they are.

So, pick your spot, buddy. I’ll wait.

Commentary

Drivers in That State Are the Worst

Something magical happens as soon as we cross state lines: The drivers become horrible. It doesn’t matter where you’re going or why, but that other state always has worse drivers. When I was a kid coming up from California into Portland, it was the Oregonians. “They drive live maniacs in the rain,” relayed my white-knuckled parents from the front seat.

Moving to Nevada, it was the opposite. “They don’t know how to drive in the rain,” earnest Californians told me. (Meaning Nevadans actually slow down when Mother Nature asks them to.)

Californians themselves do not escape notice. My wife, no stranger to the gas pedal, told me with some awe that she had been mercilessly tailed by semis and school busses alike on a recent trip to the Central Valley. At one point, she only evaded being rear-ended by doing her best Steve McQueen impersonation and taking a left-hand turn at 50 MPH.

Yet, however much those of us in the western US may disparage the driving of our neighbors, the debate is ultimately unwinnable. After all, we all know which state truly has the worst drivers: Florida.

Commentary

I Miss All the Crying

For the last month, I’ve had to travel extensively for work, coming home only for the weekends. Inevitably, in the security line or at the gate or inside the plane, there will be a family with a child about the same age as mine. The child will be crying or on the verge of tears — flying, after all, can be scary. The parents try desperately to shush the child. All those emotions are fine, the say, but can you please express them quieter?

I don’t mind the crying. I used to, pre-parenthood, but not anymore. I see those kids and I just miss my own. Usually in life when we miss something, our brains conveniently edit out the most uncomfortable or negative sides of them. It’s why we keep drinking one glass of beer too many, forgetting the hangover that follows. It’s why we keep getting back together with the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who’s no good for us.

So, it’s a powerful thing when we can see one of the toughest aspects of parenting — comforting a child who can’t be comforted — and say, “I miss that.” That’s real love.