You’re the Tower
Yellow Flag Press / February 2016
In You’re the Tower, a collection of essays, Christopher Lowe analyzes his daughter’s childhood by first recalling his own. Video games were different back then. Nintendo games are archaic by today’s standards, but for Lowe and those of his generation, the pixelated heroes and barely scary monsters efficiently evaporated the doldrums of childhood. Lowe had an older brother, so he watched a lot of game play. Nothing establishes a pecking order like one controller and older brothers. Fucking barbarians.
Lowe points out that saving the princess in Super Mario Bros. is a recursive process, much like raising his daughter, Erin. That game is always left to right and parallel to real life: “Jump on enemies, hit bricks with your head, collect coins, avoid holes in the ground” (10). But there are multiple ways to save a princess, and different games provide different philosophies. Lowe testifies: “With its sprawling, open-world design, the game let me craft the story at my own pace…with Zelda, there is always retreat and return” (11).
In the essay, “A Brief Discourse on the Nature of Multiple Realities Inspired by My Two-Year Old,” Lowe describes his daughter’s fascination with mirrors. She finds comfort in them. Lowe struggles to remember her world. Who are these pseudo-Erins that visit his “daughter at odd times, who greet her as she greets them, who, on the other side of the glass, give soft kisses, share secret smiles, reassure her that there’s always a friendly, familiar face waiting to be found?” (14). At two years old the imagination is not a concept—it’s magic. These mirrors offer a “portal to the other Erin,” (15). These reflections are friends in her world. Bonuses. For some reason grownups tend to forfeit these extra players in order to sustain pulsating egos: Star Power.
A sober reality festers in the margins of this book. Lowe’s most precious thing is destined to leave. They all leave. More than likely, these Erins will become reckless, eager to make great big mistakes that will hurt father. Each princess must go in order to be saved. And saved again. Saved all the way until game over.
Lowe lacked confidence as a young man. He was interested in girls, but settled for gratuitous masturbation: “For five dollars, I bought a naked picture of Pamela Anderson printed from Jason’s computer in black ink. Every night in the bathroom, I masturbated to it, imagining the faces of Taren and Christina and all the other girls I knew superimposed on the impossibly curved body,” (23). Aside from touch, there is nothing more central to the act of masturbating than an active imagination.
I love lists--and Lowe provides them. “Small Lessons” are meant for Erin but applicable to all children. Really, the list is for him. This is Lowe at his best, giving advice about parenting that is a refreshing break from disingenuous boasting that saturates social media.
1. Don’t lean too far over the grill. Smoke will flood your eyes…
2. When drinking beer in your old truck, fold your empties in half, before tossing them into the bed…
3. Cheer louder than anyone else. There is no shame in cursing a bad play-call, or hollering at an official who needs new glasses, godammit. (33)
The collection also offers an essay like “Scars and Dirt,” which is Lowe’s take on Creative Writing Pedagogy. He believes “there is meaning in chaos if the chaos is organized well enough,” (27). Yes, it’s about three layers of meta. After paying tribute to his favorite authors, the section ends with scars. At this point in the collection, Lowe is coming to terms with the tenacity of a three-year old: “She’d jump from every high place, run her hands across each surface, step on each hard barb the world has to offer, if we let her,” (28). He does what he can to protect the princess, but Lowe knows the value of scars. Torn flesh reminds us the game is real. A body without them would tell no stories. Surviving is not enough.
Review by Dustin Hyman