Are you a private person? How did you come to be that way?
The other day, I was sitting at a communal table in a coffee shop, writing (soooo Carrie Bradshaw OMG LOLOLOL ROFL), and a mother and daughter duo sat down across from me.
“He was driving me crazy — he shouldn’t have talked to me like that.”
“But Mom, that’s how you talk to me.”
“–because then he got into this whole thing about going to the hospital–”
“Yes, you. need. to. think. about. how. you. talk. to. people. Served you right.”
“I don’t talk to anyone like that, but Rodney was saying that — ”
“Mom, you seem very agitated. You need to calm down.”
“–well of course, because Rodney–”
The dialogue went on and on, with the daughter scolding her mother and the mother barreling along obliviously with her own narrative, steamrolling over her daughter’s snarky comments and half-hearted entreaties, in turn leading the daughter to heave loud sighs and troll the room for someone with whom to lock eyes in a moment of understanding. I fastidiously kept my eyes averted, though it was impossible to tune out the fracas. When her mother a few minutes later accidentally referred to the biopsy she’d just had (why do I know this) as “an autopsy,” her daughter let out a sound midway between a shriek and a gasp and then burst into laughter.
“Lord help me,” she said, to no one and everyone at the same time.
The entire exchange was stressful and irritating and dark and I almost packed up and left 34 times, uncomfortable with the tenor of the conversation and of their relationship more generally and unable to get any work done in the midst of it. The exchange stayed with me for two days, though, percolating around, provoking self-reflection and, well, the writing of this post.
So Nora Ephron proves herself right once again: everything is copy.
Why was the exchange so troubling? Setting aside the unkind conversation between the mother and daughter and the mother’s richly disturbing Freudian slip, I realized it was entirely foreign to me to imagine having such a personal conversation in such a public place. In college, a French professor of mine made the point that architecture and the use of space more generally can be expressive of cultural norms, and that the French tend to build houses and public buildings with gates, fences, shutters, and other physical barriers that serve to partition and separate, which he saw to be indicative of the “closed off” and “private” nature of the French. In America, on the other hand, we tend to favor open floor plans and big windows and glass facades — reflective, he contended, of the more open, friendly style of the American. If that is true, I thought, after observing this exchange, I was born in the wrong country: I am French through and through. But then, I thought, though I consider myself rather private IRL, shielding my emotions carefully and shying away from any kind of communal display, this blog enables a rather public airing of my innermost thoughts and whimsies. Then again, this is a different space, with the advantage of a smaller audience of like-minded women who opt to be here (rather than the general public in a restaurant who were unwitting accomplices to a familial disturbance) and the revisionist kindnesses of the editorial process, which is often a prophylactic against foot-in-mouth disease, from which I am known to suffer from time to time. (Though the frequency of grammatical errors on this blog may suggest otherwise (#grimace), I do routinely take a few days between writing and publishing a post in case I get cold feet. Which has happened.)
My point is this, though: the conversation led me to reflect rather intensively on my perception of private vs. public matters, and why and how I’ve cultivated those perceptions. Would this exchange have stood out to you, I wonder? Or am I partial to inheritances of my own on this front, having adopted my family’s WASP-y tendency toward dealing with private matters privately. We’re talking about a family of introverts who routinely need “quiet time” apart from one another over the course of a day together. And then there are my parents, who travel exclusively by quiet car on Amtrak and built a backyard oasis with a tall fence, a canopy of trees, and a running water feature to drown out the noise in order to sequester themselves from an already rather serene, sparsely populated, and arborous neighborhood in D.C. And then there’s Mr. Magpie, who would sooner die than have someone tune into a private conversation of ours.
“We’ll talk at home,” he’ll say with a definitive nod if we’re out to drinks and he thinks someone else is within earshot, even if we’re only discussing the banalities of deciding on a nanny or switching doctors. Part of this stems from a gentlemanly concern for the comfort of those around him (he’s the type of guy who will make space for you on the subway), but most of it relates to his fiercely private nature. You should see him when we have housekeepers or repairmen at home while he’s around; he turns into Ricky Bobby in front of the camera: “I don’t know what to do with my hands.” But he’s like that with his whole body, awkwardly maneuvering around — “I’m a hostage in my own home!”
So, yes. We are private people, and we come by it earnestly. And the very public display of rather intimate relationship nuances left me itchily uncomfortable.
What say you? Am I unearthing a New Englander streak I never knew I had? Are these preferences inherited? Cultivated? What bearing, if any, do they have on personality?
+Oh heiiii — the sunglasses I raved about all last summer that sold out are now back in stock! Under $70, and they look like a million bucks. Well — maybe not a million, but certainly the cost of higher-end designer shades!
+I love the pearl trim on this elegant dress — on sale, plus an extra 20% off! I walk by a Sandro on my way to Church every Sunday, and I’m obsessed with everything they have on display.
+These chic sandals are a dead-ringer for the Hermes Oran sandals I live in all summer long.
+I love stripes.
+My desire for organization is getting a little out of control — it’s next level ever since I moved to New York, where every spare inch of space is so precious. Therefore, I currently have this in my cart as a solution to our under-sink area, where foil/saran/parchment are currently living in a chaotic bundle. Or maybe this one (good reviews!), but I don’t think the dimensions will work well for us. If you’re in a similarly petite home, check out my top picks for small apartment gear.
+I’ve written about this too much, but mini received the most darling Maileg mouse set when she was born and she loves playing with it right now. I think I’m going to give her a new Maileg mouse every birthday — which one should I get her for her first?!
P.S. More lessons learned from keeping my ears and eyes open. And, possibly, my favorite lesson learned from this method. (<<This last story makes me cry for some reason.)
P.P.S. What have you learned recently?