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ESSAY
Enter the Black Lodge
Joseph S. Pete

A few years back, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Arts threw open its doors overnight for a 24-hour slumber party to screen the pioneering Twin Peaks in its entirety, encouraging visitors to bring sleeping bags and salty snacks.

Though other contemporary arts museums across the country had splashier exhibitions, more-buzzed-about curators and glistening dollops of drizzled olive oil in Wolfgang Puck-branded in-house restaurants, iMoca’s “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” told me everything I needed to know about the show, a cult classic that was before my time.

My previous relationship with David Lynch was mixed. I appreciated Mulholland Drive on an aesthetic level, and adored Blue Velvet as an edgy cult classic. I still shouted out “Pabst Blue Ribbon” from time to time and was partly inspired by Dennis Hopper's performance when I placed second in the poetry category of a national PBR arts contest. But Eraserhead was an unbearable squall of incoherent screaming that perplexed my admittedly out-there artistic sensibilities and taxed my good will.

Still, prompted by the imprimatur of an art museum I respected, I sampled Lynch’s early 1980s TV show, which lulled me into acceptance with its trippy take on the Pacific Northwest, where I had been stationed for a few years. The mossy pine tree-laden backdrop felt familiar yet alien, as Lynch had doubtless intended.

It was weird. I was weird, as any of my classmates would have attested. Everything was weird, if you thought about it long and deeply enough. 

But Twin Peaks was also familiar with its Greek diners, Formica tabletops, hokey mannerisms, law-and-order television tropes and relentless appreciation of mediocre diner coffee served in white porcelain mugs.

Darkness lurked behind the mundane; insanity bristled under the humdrum.

Spc. Agent Dale Cooper was a stand-in not only for the viewer on a journey into a surreal Oz-like backdrop, but an embodiment of the alienated loner who glommed onto outre shows like this. He crushed stimulants, was rail-thin, accepted Eastern ways of thought and showed his creative side by recording his thoughts on a tape recorder like a weepy, woebegone teenaged poet filling up a blank Moleskine.

The show was a fugue, a meditation, a seeming impossibility in an age of generic, focus-grouped pap for the masses. Twin Peaks was not just an outlier, but a reputation-shaping ouvre that celebrated eccentrics, the weirdos and wights, the lusty and the log ladies, and painted a remote tree-shaded corner of the country as a mysterious idyll. Twin Peaks taught me that everyone might not get it in the end, but that wasn't important.

Critics be damned, you didn’t need to be able to make sense of the Red Room in the Black Lodge, zigzag patterns, gibberish, murmured mysteries, freighted symbolism, all that.

As the electrically creative first season segued into the creatively exhausted second season, as the hype mounted over the prophesied and long-awaited return, as the long-delayed third season delighted iconoclasts who rejected Game of Thrones’ crowd-pleasing plotting and wanton nudity, it occurred to me you could make art for yourself alone and hope someone, somewhere would appreciate it. If at the end of the misbegotten day you can't create art for yourself and yourself alone, everything's as black as midnight on a moonless night, as Agent Cooper so memorably put it.


Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, a photographer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio in Merrillville. He is a 2017 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee who was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary work and photography have appeared or are forthcoming in Spirits, Dogzplot, Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Offbeat, Oddball Magazine, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Chicago Literati, Bull Men's Fiction, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, The Rat's Ass Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, Vending Machine Press and elsewhere. His work frequently appears in Google Docs.