Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Case For Undersharing




Mackenzie Phillips is in the news again, which is always cause for alarm. Miss Phillips, by the late Papa John out of Mama Michelle via pharmaceutical insemination, was recently quoted as saying: "I can't be the only one out there. I want to be the face of consensual incest." No, no, no, honey, aim higher. Take up clarinet, how about?

I miss taboo. If "taboo" is no longer operational, why is it still taking up all that space in the dictionary, right after "tabloid?" When I think of consensual incest and try to apply it in any meaningful way to my own family, my brain screen freezes and the cursor shoots out my ear. It's enough to give anyone an ambulance-worthy case of the willies.

We never used to talk about any of this. In my family we were expected to steer clear of a number of conversational potholes; they were well-flagged by the furrowed brow and the sudden uncomfortable silence, and they included anything disrespectful, anything crotchular, and anything involving fluids we produced ourselves. And whether or not I understood any of this, I learned to be a nimble navigator of the terrain at an early age. It worked for us. In fact, I have no recollection at all of ever having passed gas until I was at least sixteen. It wasn't done. Maybe in some other family, but not mine.

The facts of life were no doubt something my parents hoped I would scavenge out of the gutter on my own, but one day, Mom was clicking away on her typewriter, filling out my application for summer camp, tappety tappety tappety. And then she stopped abruptly. "Mary, do you know what menstruation is?" I did not. But something in her voice put me on alert. With a preternatural calm, she sketched out a clinically precise description of the imminent event, linked it implausibly to the ability to have children some day, and indicated this would go on for about forty years. This was disturbing not only in itself, but also because it so clearly seemed to fall into the category of things I'd thought we'd agreed, as a family, never to talk about. "Do you understand?" she finished up. I nodded quickly. The box on the form got filled in, tap tap tap. But I did not understand. The entire business sounded revolting and weird. I wondered what I needed to sign to opt out.

This apple thunked straight down from the tree. It took me years to begin to roll as far away as I have, but I still remember how nice it was in the shade.

When I first got to college, a bunch of us got together in someone's room and spun ourselves into a state of high hilarity by recalling all the dumb things we'd believed or done as kids. And then, surfing a wave of giddy nostalgia, Cindy blurted out, "remember when you were real little, and were in the bath, and you'd take a dump, and float it around the tub like a little sailboat?" The conversation skidded to a halt. You could hear the brakes squealing. Or maybe that was my roommate. There are things that, even if true, must never be said out loud.

So, no, Mackenzie. Your services as a poster child will not be required. And if we should need a face for anything, anything at all, it should be Lauren Bacall's.

14 comments:

  1. Oh, I so agree. We share too much information and no one needs to know certain things about our lives. I feel sad and sorry for the whole family of this woman who can even use the term "consensual" when it comes to incest!!! Talk about not facing facts and trying to put a nice face on something that, if true, should have been prosecuted...ugh....back to my shade tree where I will remain the rest of the day.

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  2. I must say, I disagree. Imagine that you had been suffering in silence most of you life, bathed in shame, and you had no idea this BAD THING had happened to anyone but you. You NEED someone to come out and break that silence. Maybe not on Oprah, but in some public forum. You would go crazy otherwise, or be in the depths of depression when there is help available. Knowing that others have experienced this BAD THING is the first step.

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  3. I figgered someone would point that out. I don't actually disagree, but of course that's not the sort of column I write.

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  4. Great commentary! Interesting...my dad was a pharmacist, and to educate his three daughters he brought home the pamphlet put out by one of the birth control companies, explaining womanly things and we all talked about it at... the dinner table no less! Life was never again quite the same!

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  5. Life wouldn't have been the same for us, either, because it would have meant we'd been transferred to different parents. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that my parents were WAY older than yours. (They would have been 96 and 101 by now.)

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  6. My mother would be 90, and Dad, going on 104, if they were still kickin', and although politics and religion were freely discussed, money and sex were most definitely not, and only vague references to body parts were uttered. In our family, "fanny" covered a lot of ground, from back to front. So did "-self," as in "Don't touch yourself." The first time I was in the bathroom with my mom when she changed her sanitary napkin, her explanation for its colorful state was "I cut myself." As a kid who specialized in improbable injuries -- hanging myself with my father's binoculars when I slipped off the top of the swing set was a particularly impressive one -- I bought it. The explanation, that is -- not the farm. Obviously.

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  7. I love you, Murr. What else is there to say? (And we're gonna come visit, as soon as Abject Poverty frees us from its grip. Any day now.) Thanks for making me laugh.

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  8. Agree totally: Lauren Bacall for President! How pretty the women in our mother's generation, non?

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  9. oops. I think I meant our mothers' generation. We are not actually biological sisters, just YaYas in the class of 70 sisters. ya.

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  10. My mother would be 90, and Dad, going on 104, if they were still kickin', and although politics and religion were freely discussed, money and sex were most definitely not, and only vague references to body parts were uttered. In our family, "fanny" covered a lot of ground, from back to front. So did "-self," as in "Don't touch yourself." The first time I was in the bathroom with my mom when she changed her sanitary napkin, her explanation for its colorful state was "I cut myself." As a kid who specialized in improbable injuries -- hanging myself with my father's binoculars when I slipped off the top of the swing set was a particularly impressive one -- I bought it. The explanation, that is -- not the farm. Obviously.

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  11. I figgered someone would point that out. I don't actually disagree, but of course that's not the sort of column I write.

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  12. I should've known you captured the Phillipsian record-needle-scritchhhhh first and better. I forgot to tie my reference into bathtub poop, though, so you win on several fronts.

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    Replies
    1. It's not a contest, darlin', it's a collaborative time-flexible melding of the similar minds. At least that's how I see it.

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