It Would Appear So

I grew up in a very matriarchal household.  My mother was, shall we say, of a very strong character.  She was blunt and loud and had very little filter between the brain and the mouth.  Very much a child of the 60s (Mom was barely 17 when I arrived in December of 1962) she was uninhibited in many ways, but she also had some oddly conservative views when it came to my behavior (although she’d done a complete 180 by the time my youngest sister, ten years my junior, became a teenager).  She could cuss like a sailor when she was angry, but I was not allowed to and the word “Fuck” was absolutely verboten, even in her vocabulary.  She was honest and forthright when asked about sex, but when she found out that I was sleeping with my boyfriend at the age of 18, she was not at ALL pleased.  She had to work, and work hard, all of her life but I spent my teenage years listening to a litany of “find a good man to take care of you.”

(One of my biggest regrets in life is that my mother never met Beloved…I don’t know if they’d have adored each other or spent all of their time trying to bitch-slap each other into next week.  Either way, it would have been extremely amusing to watch.)

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my love of all things Anne Taintor is because her stuff reminds me of Mom.  As far as she was concerned, you could – and should – think what you want, but you better be goddamn careful how you express those thoughts and even more careful about the appearance you presented the world (sometimes I wonder why Mom and The Ex didn’t get along better).  Not that she was the kind of woman that wouldn’t leave the house without makeup or perfect hair – she wasn’t sloppy or slovenly, but pearls and heels definitely weren’t her thing – for Mom, appearances were all about the kind of person you were and the kind of life you led.

Or, considering she the fact that she liked nothing better than toking up in the evenings after work (in the bedroom, so we wouldn’t know what she was doing – yeah, right), it was all about the appearance we presented to society.

It’s really no secret where the idea that appearances mattered came from.  My mother grew up in a very matriarchal household, too.  My grandmother was the epitome of the Genteel Proper Southern Lady, but my grandfather personified the Strong, Silent Man Who Left the Child Rearing to His Wife.  And although my mother had been Rebellious Growing Up, she absorbed a great many of my grandmother’s values which, like so many of her generation, centered around “What would the neighbors think?”

Oh, how things have changed.

Every week, my immediate family has two questions for me:  Are you doing a Random Tuesday Thoughts post and What’s the Spin Cycle about? This week, I’ve been laid up with a fairly nasty bug (as of this writing, Wednesday evening, I’m feeling a little better, but still pretty crappy), that has pretty much hindered the progress of this post.  Because trust me, I begin thinking about it the minute Jen hands out the next week’s assignment every Friday morning.  This week when The Young One asked me what the subject of the Spin Cycle was and I told him “Appearances” he naturally asked (he is, after all, a teenager), “You mean how you look?”

“Sure,” I said.  “In fact, some of the bloggers who are participating have written excellent posts along those lines.  But I think mine is going to be more about how the world perceives us.”

He looked a bit confused, so I said, “When my mother was growing up, and even more so when my grandmother was growing up, it was very common for people to worry about what other people thought of them.  If something bad happened to them or their families, they often didn’t talk about it – sometimes they went to great lengths to hide it.”

I regarded the incredulous look on his 15-year-old face, and considered the fact that he is living in the age of Jerry Springer and YouTube and 24-hour news channels that seem obsessed with what is going on in the lives of Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock and apologies being issued by the Vatican.  In a world according to Nancy Grace, nothing is private.

Some very ugly and traumatic things have happened to me and those close to me in the 47 years I’ve been on this earth, and I don’t for a minute excuse the way some members of my family have glossed over and out-and-out ignored those ugly and traumatic things, but I also strenuously object to how every detail of our lives has the potential to become public property.  Does it all have to be on the evening news and/or splashed all over the internet?  Aren’t we allowed to say “Yes, we’re human with all the faults and foibles that humans possess, but we should be allowed to work this out in private, with some sort of dignity?”

What do YOU think?

22 thoughts on “It Would Appear So”

  1. I grew up in a southern household too (as you know.) My grandmother was absolutely RESOLUTE about keeping the family’s image pristine. One of the sayings that got pounded into my head as a young girl was, “You don’t air your dirty laundry in public!”

    When she was 95, my youngest son wrote an extraordinarily touching tribute to her for his college public speaking class. I was thrilled, and took it over to her apartment to read it to her. After she had heard the speech, which praised her for being such a tough, strong woman who had endured many obstacles, one of which was raising three children alone because her husband was an alcoholic, she looked troubled.

    Finally she said, “I think it’s very nice, but I hope he didn’t really talk about Bill being an alcoholic. There might be someone in his family still living, and that wouldn’t sound too good.”
    .-= Ginger´s last blog ..Our Harrowing Drive to Raleigh, Being Chased by a Dragon =-.

  2. My parents could sometimes annoy the hell out of me by being all about appearances. I hate the concept of glossing over problems, but like you I don’t get the way kids seem to have not a care in the world about privacy these days. Sometimes it seems the families that LOOKED the most perfect had the worst skeletons in the closet and I know plenty of people still that care about showing a certain image to the world. While I don’t care so much about that, I still don’t want all my business out there for everyone to gape at.
    Very interesting Spin Jan! Your mom always sounds like such a feisty character. And the apple doesn’t fall far, huh my friend?
    .-= Maureen@IslandRoar´s last blog ..Spin Cycle: Appearance =-.

  3. You are completely right and I never even considered it! The world as a whole has done a 180 in regards to TMI and such. My father had an aunt who was all about appearances and how the family “looked” to others. It drove us crazy to the point that we would avoid her at gatherings, knowing she would nitpick over everything from how my sister and I were dressed to why my father wasn’t making more money.
    I can see a lot of you in the way you describe your mom. It sounds like you got the best of her. 🙂
    You’re linked!
    Hi, Young One!
    .-= Sprite’s Keeper´s last blog ..HASAY: Handing in my resignation. =-.

  4. The Internet, blogs, Facebooking, and technology in general is making privacy more and more difficult. Maybe our skins are getting thicker because they have to. Gone are the days of being able to pretend those skeletons don’t exist. However, you know that in small communities they were gossip fodder behind one’s back. Good post. And I am not the least bit suprised at YO’s reaction – after all he hasn’t looked in the mirror to comb his hair in over a decade.

  5. I think absolutely. I think that there is way too much over-sharing these days. It is not my business if Sandra’s hubby is steppin’ out on her or that Tiger is playing fast and loose with soiled doves or what is going on behind closed doors in Orange county. Don’t we all have enough on our plates then to worry about other peoples crap. And explain to me why Congress needs to get involved with major league baseball.
    .-= Michele´s last blog ..Lantern Slides of Russian Life, 1917 =-.

  6. What do you think all this publicly aired laundry is doing to us, though? That’s what worries me. I agree with you that keeping everything a secret isn’t the way to go (I have a few relatives who would have been so much better off with a hug and a “it’ll all work out” than the stony silence they received). But what worries me is that as we hear more about the horrible things people do, and horrible things that happen to people, we’re becoming immune to the horror. Kids today hear about adultery all the time, when will it start to seem ok? Like something everyone does? Not some thing that’s so horrible you should only speak about it in a whisper.

    We need a middle ground, and Nancy Grace isn’t giving it up any time soon. Dangerous world we live in.
    .-= Mama Badger´s last blog ..The Spin Cycle- Appearances =-.

  7. I think some transparency is good, but when paparazzi/reporters/stalkers go so far that they are destroying someone’s relationship or life, that is just plain wrong. But I guess it makes money. Why else would TMZ, gossip mags and Nancy Grace be all over the place?

    My grandmother (age 80) gets caught up in appearances all too often. It may have something to do with her early onset Alzheimers (or maybe just her generation) and her trying to cover it up by coming off polished on the outside. She changes her clothes several times a day and always puts on a fresh coat of lipstick before leaving the house. Also she loves to gossip so maybe she’s trying to keep herself out of the senior gossip by way of looking ‘normal.’ Seems like an awful lot of work to me.

    Great post Jan!
    .-= Aliceson´s last blog ..Not Necessary, Mother Nature =-.

  8. We’ve become a society hooked on voyeurism and we’re fueling the fire the more we watch that reality crap on tv that really isn’t all that real. It’s bits and pieces of real life taken and spliced into a nice juicy piece that keeps us coming back for more drama and I’m so sick of it I could scream. Every person and their dog is getting their own “reality” show and the more drama the higher the ratings. What does that say about us? It says we’re a sad lot of folks with apparently nothing better to focus on in our own lives and as for me, I’m stopping the cycle and refusing to watch anything to do with “reality” or the people who have become “infamous” because of those shows.

  9. I agree that there is a fine line. My mother’s family was all about covering things up. My maternal grandfather was a monstrous alcoholic who abused my mom, her siblings and their mom horrifically. Yet, no one ever talks about it. I don’t necessarily think they should unload all that crap on us, but at the same time, it’s a little creepy how one or two of my relatives act like my grandfather was normal and a good dad. Sadly, I think this attitude has spilled over to other areas. There are so many times where my mom is obsessed with “what the neighbors think” and it saddens me.

    On the other hand, some things are meant to be private. Definitely need a balance.
    .-= Patty´s last blog ..autism, appearances, and awareness =-.

  10. Salute!

    As to what I think: I think a lot of people love to dish it out, but are horrified at having to take it. A case of “it’s okay as long as it is done to/happens to someone else”.

    I don’t believe in letting it all hang out, but I don’t believe in hiding the truth, either. These days, we all have to be our own film editors…and some of us are better than others at doing it.
    .-= Irish Gumbo´s last blog ..Hunger, Thwarted, Does Not Let Go =-.

  11. If I wrote this spin, it would have been linked to my mom and appearances, but after reading this, I’m thinking it might be a generational thing. I think our generation has achieved a decent balance of what to share and what to give a shit about in terms of what people are thinking of us…
    but in the context of 24/7 information overload and hyper reality (that is broadcast everywhere and as accessible as a pocket cellphone), I think our children are immune to drama. They are already desensitized to outrageous behavior (says the behavior teacher) and there is no new ‘normal’ out there…
    Oh Jan, I hope you feel better. My head still hurts and maybe even a little more thinking on this very interesting topic. xo
    .-= Erin´s last blog’s a small, small world =-.

  12. What an excellent post Jan. It’s 6 Pm over here and I only just got home from work and was going to spin, but I think you wrote along the lines I was thinking and said it better. My mom was and is a parodox on appearance. Not sure if I am up to delving iinto that tonight.
    .-= Pseudo´s last blog ..Oahu Coffee Beat: Traveling Thursday =-.

  13. Wonderful spin!!! I remember how it was in the 60s and 70s. Things we “just didn’t talk about” Like my adopted cousin who really IS my blood cousin because my aunt messed around with a married man, got knocked up and gave the baby up for adoption to her brother who couldn’t have kids. THAT was quite a surprise when it all came out!
    My grandmother was so quick to let everyone know if some poor girl got pregnant, and yet, both of her daughters “had to get married” (see adoptions story above…. she almost immediately got pregnant again by another fellow but married him) Yeah, I like these days much better.
    .-= Joanie M´s last blog ..Ok, so I’m a thief… but I’m giving the fellow credit =-.

  14. I admire the balance you achieve between privacy and spilling the beans. For me, you get it just right — I don’t know how your family perceives it, but they seem at worst resigned to the blog and at best all out fans. So I guess you are doing a pretty good job.

    I have always had trouble overcoming my reserve. I took up blogging to try to cure that and did pretty well, at first, when I told no one. Now I know my children, my mother, my ex husband and various stalkers might read it I am the rabbit in the headlights.
    .-= Duchess´s last blog ..Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? =-.

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