“Home” Movies refers to videos that center on moments and key events/experiences in my family’s life. Ironically, many of these movies focus on vacations, when we’re away from home.
I’m experimenting with undisciplined and troubling ways of documenting those experiences. For example, in my video, “Stories from the UP,” I attempt to deconstruct the traditional family vacation narrative and its romanticizing of the trip. In addition to vacation videos, I’m including holiday home movies in this section.
I want to spend some more time exploring the genre of “home movies.” I think I’ll start by reading through this In Media Res project on The Second Lives of Home Movies.
Transcript for Driving
This year for spring break, Scott, Fletcher, Rosie and I went to Utah and the Grand Canyon for, as Fletcher might say, an “epic” family vacation. We drove. From Minneapolis. 4000 miles round trip. Our mission: to introduce the kids (who turned 7 and 10 on the first day of the trip) to the West and to create some family memories.
When I was a kid, my family–my dad, mom, two older sisters and me–frequently went on excruciatingly long car trips. But the primary aim of these trips wasn’t forging family memories or seeing new places; it was work. We traveled for my dad’s job or to fulfill family obligations by visiting relatives.
I only remember one “vacation” as a kid. It was to Myrtle Beach and it didn’t generate any great family-bonding memories. The only thing that I remember from that trip was that we had a kitchenette in our motel room and the spaghetti that we made using the local water was pretty gross.
To be fair, my lack of memories has a lot to do with my easy willingness to forget my past, and my hanging onto that, and only that, particular spaghetti memory, has much to do with the trauma that “bad spaghetti” would have generated for such a picky eater as myself.
Did we take other vacations? Perhaps, but my general sense of childhood was that we didn’t take those kinds of trips, where you travel to see the country, do some sight-seeing, create family memories, or, god forbid, relax and take a break from work.
The closest we got were the frequent trips to Disney World, Epcot and Flagler Beach that we took while visiting my grandparents in Deltona, Florida. Even though I have fond, yet vague, memories of these trips, I know that our visits were always framed by tension and the complicated and damaged relationship that my mom had with her parents. And they were always in the context of connecting with family as a difficult obligation to endure, not as a welcome pleasure to enjoy.
Aside from my spaghetti and Florida memories, perhaps the things that I remember most from childhood trips were the drives. From North Carolina up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Or Southern Virginia down to Florida. Or D.C to Chicago.They were long and boring and cramped. For many of these trips, I sat in the middle of the back seat, between my two sisters in a mint-green pontiac sedan. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them.
We rarely stopped. Now, for my son, with his impressive bladder-of-steel, this wouldn’t be a problem. I can’t remember him ever needing to go to the bathroom on our most recent trip. Seriously, on more than one occasion, he lasted the entire 9 hour car trip without ever going to the bathroom. Who does that? Not me! For my wimpy bladder, not stopping a lot as a kid was traumatic. Sadly, I’m still haunted by those painful and frantic moments (which felt like hours or days) when I just HAD to go to the bathroom and we couldn’t or wouldn’t stop.
The family vacations that I take now as an adult are, by design, very different from those I took as a kid. This is especially true in terms of how and where we drive. When we drive, we stop a lot to go to the bathroom. And, unlike my trips as a kid, the drive is not merely a painful but necessary way to get to our destination. The drive is part of the trip. Scott loves to drive. Well, not as much as he used to before the soul-sucking commute in Atlanta nearly destroyed him in the early 2000s. And I have, through our years together, learned to enjoy riding and exploring new roads and landscapes.
As a kid, I would never have imagined my dad breaking our tight schedule by taking a scenic yet terrifying drive through hell’s backbone in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante or completely rethinking the final part of our trip in order to see Mount Rushmore or Wall Drug or Mitchell’s tourist-trap, the Corn Palace. But, these are all things that we did on our recent trip. What a glorious refusal to be efficient and practical and task-oriented!
It was a ridiculous amount of driving. 4000 miles in 9 days. Except for a single day when we didn’t use the car at all, we drove at least 4 hours each day. By the end, we were all ready to not be in the car. And, judging by the incredible mess that the kids had made in the back seat, the car was ready for us to be out of it too. But, it was beautiful and inspiring to witness the changing landscape. And I’m glad we drove.
Are the kids? I think so. But, what traumatic memories will they carry with them into their adulthood? Who knows. Hopefully those memories can serve as useful material for their own meaningful constructions of “family” and “vacation.”
Transcripts for Stories from the UP
Last summer, for the second year in a row, Scott, Fletcher, Rosie and I took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was born in the Upper Peninsula, Houghton to be exact. And although I haven’t lived there since I was 4 and a half, I still consider it to be one of my most important home spaces.
We remember our trips to the UP with great fondness and nostalgia, as we look through Scott’s beautiful stylized instagram photos, but I know that even as these trips are deeply important and fulfilling, they aren’t always…fun or easy or relaxing. Bugs, over-excited yet easily-bored kids, too much togetherness, bugs, too cold water, lots of driving, did I mention bugs?, and the difficult and ongoing negotiations of 4 different, all strong, personalities living together as a family makes any trip messy…and exhausting….and a lot of work. But joyful, nonetheless.
I want to craft and share stories that reflect a more troubling understanding of our trips to the UP, that convey the joy and difficulties, our fulfillment and exhaustion…
I like messy stories; stories that don’t always erase our conflicts, that allow us to put our sometimes contradictory experiences beside each other.
I like character stories; stories that describe who we are, more than what we do…that expose our quirks and flaws and that represent us as human, not heroic.
Rosie, who acts first and then (sometimes) suffers the consequences later.
Fletcher: the skeptical one…who is very cautious in expressing or experiencing joy.
Scott: the nervous one…who has a (maybe not irrational) fear that Rosie always wants to hurl herself into any body of water.
And, Sara: the too trusting one who sometimes trusts the kids too much, like with her iPhone camera.
I like reverent stories; stories that allow me to express an ongoing love for a place that grounds me, that nurtures me, that inspires me and that reminds me of who I am always in the process of becoming (?).
I like small stories; stories that represent our everyday experiences and that help to reflect who we are in our habits. Not stories of grand or epic adventures, but everyday events, when we’re just hanging out and where the exciting ending is not reaching the top of a high mountain, but going to have mackinac island fudge ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop, The Berry Patch.