Beyond the Red Room, Tape #3: Twin Peaks and the Psychological Value of Imaginary Tourism

Greetings, Diane.

The date is May 23, 2017. 1:37 PM. I am wearing a standard-issue US Air Force uniform. Many medals are pinned to my chest indicating I am a major and a highly decorated one at that.

In the civilian world the closest thing to airplane food is a frozen meal. I am having Saffron Road’s chicken biryani dinner. Biryani is a traditional South Asian meal of fabulously spiced rice and meat, usually chicken, lamb, or fish with its origins in Muslim communities in the region. Now I can get an authentic and delicious version for a few bucks at my local Publix. It’s high in sodium, but so is airplane food.

Unlike Major Garland Briggs, I am not comfortable with air travel of any kind. And especially not these days. Part of this is because I grew up on airplanes. That’s what happens when your mom works for the United Nations and you’re constantly moving around. Many of the people I grew up with were so-called military brats, and we are all known as Third Culture Kids now — people who spent their developmental years outside their parents’ home countries.

The older I’ve gotten, the more airplanes stress me out. In the wake of the horrific attack in NYC on September 11 air travel has become more and more unbearable. The last two times I flew I almost went full-on Bridesmaids. You know: “I NEED YOU TO LAND THIS PLANE RIGHT NOW!” And since the announcement of the proposed Muslim Ban air travel has reached peak awful. It’s not just that Muslims are affected, and all the refugees with nowhere to go. But brown people in general have been getting targeted in new ways, and especially those of us who were not born in the USA. My mother is a white American, and my father is from Sri Lanka. They met in Sri Lanka and that’s where I was born. I’ve only ever had an American passport. I don’t even have dual citizenship. But many American citizens like me have been detained for 24-48 hours at airports because of the Muslim Ban.

I haven’t enjoyed air travel for years because of the hassle, compounded by claustrophobia and turbulence. But now I’m legitimately scared to travel by air in case I get harassed or detained. I’m scared to leave America even for a holiday in the off chance that they won’t let me back in without a huge ruckus, as has happened with many others in the South Asian American community.

I mean, have you seen these newly regular stories of on-board violence? The man who got beaten up and dragged off the plane? The hysterical mother who was also forcibly removed? The people of color who are already boarded and being asked to leave because they’ve made white passengers uncomfortable? The girls being kicked off planes because of their leggings? All of it, Diane, is just absurd and horrible.

But travel has always been a part of my life. What, Diane, is a global nomad to do when she no longer feels safe leaving her own country? When her regular form of travel is more like a special circle of hell? Well, she visits Twin Peaks. That’s what.

Since January 2017 I’ve watched the first two seasons of Twin Peaks twice, and Fire Walk With Me four times. I’ve read David Lavery’s Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, Mark Frost’s The Secret History, and John Thorne’s Wrapped in Plastic. I read the devastating The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer for the second time. Next up is H. Perry Horton’s Between Two Worlds. I’ve joined Facebook groups about Twin Peaks that fill my feed with beautiful and awful escapism into my favorite town. I’ve been immersing myself in the art so much that I began this performative writing project. It seemed only “natural” that I would begin chatting with you in particular, Diane.

Imaginary tourism is helping me visit another place and get into the nitty gritty without leaving my home. And it’s necessary. I need mental breaks from real-life madness. Normally I would do that by visiting somewhere new, or revisiting somewhere I already know I love. It’s important to leave home every so often so you can remember how thankful you are to be back. And that’s what Twin Peaks has been and will be for the rest of this year.

Diane, I wonder how many years of escapism into Twin Peaks’s world we will have after the third season concludes in September? I’m guessing we have a good 20 more years of intellectual and artistic fodder to chew on. I’m imagining this will be a lifelong project for many of us. And even when it is safe to air travel again — or rather, when I feel safe enough — Twin Peaks will still be my favorite place to go. As it’s been for almost 20 years already, as sinister and disturbing a place as it might be.

Are there others who can’t travel for whatever reason who also use imaginary tourism as their escape? What are their stories? What are their fears? What kind of comfort does it bring them?

And in the wake of the horrific Manchester attack on young girls at Ariana Grande’s concert just last night, is there even anywhere safe to experience the art we love without putting ourselves in physical danger other than imaginary tourism?

Me, and until now, I’ve always been comforted by the idea that Twin Peaks will always be there and in many ways it will never change. It’s like a butterfly behind glass. We can study it from all the different angles and see new things from up close or afar, but there it will be.

As excited as I am about the new hours of Twin Peaks, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of melancholia that the immutable nature of the show will be upended for a time. And also untethered will be my psychological dependence on Twin Peaks as a place that has stayed exactly the same for the 20 years it’s been in my life. As someone who has had very little constant in the entirety of her existence, I am nervous — and a little bit scared — of what I will go through emotionally and mentally as we uncover the new truths of my favorite town in the world.

Already, I feel profoundly unsettled by the first two hours of Twin Peaks’s third season. So much so that I am in fact unable to process or verbalize my thoughts in a coherent manner. I feel a pervasive sense of dread to match the size of my gratitude that this place I love is becoming new to me again.

In many ways, the upcoming journey into where Twin Peaks stands now is far deeper and more challenging than any physical voyage I could take to an actual place, either known or unknown. I must admit, I am frightened. Maybe this imaginary tourism thing isn’t as safe as I thought it was, after all.

Until soon,

Zuzu Cooper

red room and statue

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