I spent ten days out west in June. My father and I flew into an airport smaller than some McDonalds, in Santa Fe and drove to Phoenix over eight days with the primary goal of seeing The Grand Canyon. We wanted to spend the first two and half days in New Mexico before the first real leg of driving, a four-hour stint to the town of Holbrooke, Arizona; a town just outside of Petrified Forrest National Park, we planned to visit the following day.
My father Robert was taking a moment to explain how Oliver North worked with Reagan’s administration (ed. note: on Iran-Contra), and the long-standing secret government within the intelligence community, which ultimately made him lose all faith in our government starting from Watergate. He drove as he lectured, and I stuck my face quietly against the glass of my window watching the rugged conjunction of yellow and black sand roll into red rock.
My father’s general advice was not to screw people over in ways that required national scale cover-ups. “That’s shitty.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard this explanation, I recognized bits of it in passing when my father drove me to high school almost a decade ago. It was nice to finally get it. Although it would be several hours later when I brought it up again at the bar that I realized why he had told me about that particular scandal. Not as a slam against the government, but as an example of selfishness. My father’s general advice was not to screw people over in ways that required national cover-ups; “That’s shitty.”
I thought about the other times my father had lectured me from his driver’s seat, and I remembered the early morning trips he would make to drive me to work when I got my first job at our local movie theatre. He would warn me about the fragility of my strained sibling relationships, but I wasn’t particularly interested then. Now in Arizona, my father began to delve into the creation of Super PACs and the corruption of campaign financing, but the window still held the majority of my attention for the drive.
What inspired the lecture-driven trip was a series of commitments that backloaded my summer projects and provided a rare gap in my schedule. I had spoken before about making a trip out to the American Southwest with my father a few years earlier. An idea inspired by watching Breaking Bad reruns together during my equally uncommon appearances at home during college. I was gearing up to directing a play, I put together the first draft of my own play in June, and I was continuing work with the same collaborators on season three of The Grayscale. I was beginning to secure the internal paranoia that social media provides… that all of your not-close friends and barely acquaintances are part of a secret, fun-having society that you missed out on. I was feeling the pressure of my own ambitions and fears built a mountain I would have to climb over. So, like many deterred children, I retreated and sought the company of my parent.
After several hours of driving past the Mesas and ridges that filled the park, we adjourn for a late dinner. The two of us are sat at a bright yellow table for six in the only Mexican restaurant open after 9 PM. During the meal, we follow up with the supporting characters of each other’s lives. I ask about my cousins who have met less than five times, and pass on another invitation to change that. I hear about high school friends who never left the area, and feel a twinge of embarrassment for burning the carpet of a used Honda from dropping a blunt almost 10 years ago now. By the end of our enchiladas, I feel fully up to date about the changes in a community I was once a part of, and I feel different. Heavier. Suddenly these people feel back in my life; occupying emotional space.
The play I am directing now and was prepping for then, is Critical Point Theatre’s production of JERK, the second tape play by my now two-time roommate Andrew Terrance Kaberline. I’ve read the play, and its multiple iterations dozens of times through his rewrites. My own discoveries of interpretation have forged deep connections with its themes: the fear of missing out in social potential, the desire for something greater and most sincerely this nostalgic comfort. One character, James, speech touches on his realization of self-serving sentimentality as an awareness of failure. The existence of glory days means the best is behind him, but only with through the lens of reflection.
The metaphor the play crafts of tape as memory has always been what caught my interest the most with this script because it plays so well into the issue of nostalgia. As we rewind and replay the situations as a viewer instead of a participant we begin to wear it out and stretch it. It warps and becomes a fractured reality that stutters and loops endlessly. We cling to the comfort of the past because we have already conquered it. We know it cannot kill us because it hasn’t, while the other direction is a dark twist into the random chaos of discovery. The past is easy, it feels that way. That’s why I was disappointed when I did not find some life-altering peace after a little over a week with my father. That is why characters in our lives like James in JERK idolize their past sexual conquest and put memories on pedestals. It means the hard part would be over.
On the Saturday of our trip, my father and I wake up at 4:30am to get ready and make it into Grand Canyon Park for sunrise. We don’t exchange many words; we soak in the golden illumination beginning to creep over the crest of our horizon. Again, I find myself leaving the present moment of experience with my father and cringing over a memory of our previous selves. I think about the pocket door of my teenage bedroom flying open every few Saturdays, as I would lie in a pile of clothes and fast food wrappers strewn across my bed. It would be my father, telling me I had to accompany him on an errand of some kind. We would pick up a piece he needed to work on a car or walk around the flea market as he looked for a lighting fixture he liked; I would plug in my cheap Zune knock-off and avoid conversation. I would drag my feet and hope he would get tired of inviting me, but he never did. I wanted to go back to sleep. That was still true in the majestic magenta streaks of sunrise. I wanted to go back and yell at a person I used to be for being so self-involved, for not recognizing the opportunity to know my father that I missed, I want to record over ever stupid mistake that I’ve lived through when I suddenly remember – I was a kid then.
That at some point, I have to just let it go and focus on the next choice. It would have been nice to have been wiser younger, to have learned quicker, but I guess I didn’t. I’m trying to catch up now, and at that exact second the only option I was left with was to sit and look at the sunrise with my dad at the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon. And just listen.
Dylan James Amick is theatre maker from southwest Virginia. Trained as a designer and director, Dylan believes in multidiscipline storytelling to explore perspectives and practices. After graduating from Virginia Tech, he moved to New York City and worked for several years as a freelance electrician, designer, and video programmer in the tri-state area. Dylan now works full time with the electrics department at the Juilliard School and continues to freelance as a designer and director. Most recently, he directed Jamie and Duncan’s Glorious Suicide at the End of the World at the Capital Fringe Festival with ensemble members Julia Katz producing, and Matt Schott performing. In 2017, Dylan will be directing JERK (Or, The Stimulation of Self) at The Hive.