The Floating World

In the Japanese print world of ukiyo-e, a picture of reality is made by the artist that is a representation of reality, not necessarily that all art isn’t. But in this case, often those portrayed are part of an unreal, floating world: prostitutes, geisha, samurai. The landscape of Japan figures in the floating world is drawn in such a way that there is no confusing it with more realistic art styles.

This print is an image of Mt. Fuji. It looks like an exaggeration, but if you see Fuji, you can see how the artist managed to gain this image of it. Never mind that it is a distorted, abstract of Fuji. Somewhere in this picture is a kernel of truth about Fuji.


Last week I sat down and thought about madness. My family’s dysfunction means that they see the world through a dirty sort of window. The reality of what they see and what the world looks like is abstracted to them, sent through a strange filter that sometimes means that they try to bend the world into a version that fits their hopes and dreams, as well as one that avoids their pain and suffering.

Last week I remembered that my younger brother sees the world through that same dirty window. I forget that sometimes. Ken is the other kid who chose not to grow up to be an abuser in my family. But he still embraces family myths wholesale: Scott is the scapegoat, my parents were okay, we can cope with our abuse. So, when my mother has health difficulties, he leaves his life and goes to her side. It costs him emotionally to continue to do this, but he does.

I will talk to Ken. He should have someone to talk to about his strain, and while I am outside of the family, the least I can do is help him with the bureaucracies of navigating hospital systems and legal systems. He has yet to accept any help from me. I think that Ken doesn’t really want me involved and I’m okay with that. But I suspect that part of it is that I am a truth speaker, and part of looking through a different window is that I see a different version of Mt. Fuji.

For example, it turns out that my oldest brother is not in jail for battery. I found this out because my MIL noted he was written up in the paper in her part of the world for driving without a license. Ken was baffled by this. Scott did time in a county jail and was released. Ken told me he was going to jail for fifteen years. I should have been more careful and looked into the actual legal procedures for domestic abuse cases. Either Ken didn’t understand how the legal system worked and made assumptions (a distinct possibility) OR he was lying to me about it (perhaps to justify to himself that my mother may not have pressed charges in the case again?) I will never know. I can’t see the world through his eyes.

I’m also almost 90 percent certain that my mother’s recent hospital forays are faked, just for him. She is confused, but no doctor finds anything wrong with her. Ken is baffled and stressed. The obvious solution would be that she is malingering, a trick she often used in our youth to capture our attention. However, Ken can’t see that as a possibility. At any rate, if she really is sick, she’s in the hospital. The medical system errs on the side of caution, always.

So…what I learned last week when Ken told me about my brother angrily, and about how he felt the court system had failed the family and how he had to go get that sorted out, well, I knew that Ken was in a different reality than I was. I always have, but I had let myself forget that and had taken what he said as true regarding Mom and Scott’s conflict. Not sure why I did that.

On a much more minor note, my sister-in-law Deb always takes any illness and blows it up to the ultimate conclusion that the sick will die. This version of reality becomes more prevalent as she ages. I always take the time to fact check with Deb, and to talk to the doctors.

By excluding myself from my family’s lives, I forgo my ability to fact check the truth. That’s okay. I remember the constant frustration of being lied to, purposefully and otherwise, all my life. But I have to be cautious. Even in the case of the brother I identify with and love, I have to realize that his life is distorted like a fun house mirror.

Which means that there will be more distance between us. Our realities just don’t intersect. And I don’t particularly like how life looks in the fun house, since I had to claw a whole in the wall to get out.

Ah dysfunction! You get your claws in deep, don’t you?

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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