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AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein

...Closed Mouth

I originally planned to write a follow up column to last monthís rant, and then by the time it was on line I wanted to write about anything else, but here I am and here it is.  First, let me start with another unrelated personal anecdote to set the tone.

During my time in an intentional community in Arizona I made quite a remarkable friend.  His name was Nathan, he was certifiably a genius, and a very gentle and decent human being.  He was only 15 when I met him, home schooled, a vegetarian for nine years, and a fascinating blend of cleverness, insight, wonder, and inexperience.  Not only did we squander many a late night together, he was an integral part of my emerging sane and reasonably functional from that whole adventure.

Nathan and I stayed in touch when I moved back home and he visited me more than once over the next few years, until one day he arrived with a lady friend - Nathan had finally lost his virginity, and here was my chance to meet the lucky girl, with whom he was apparently living.  Naturally I was curious, although I warned him that if she wasn't good enough for him we'd have to kill her, this being something of a running joke in our circle of friends.  I tried very hard to like her.  A pretty, obviously clever and slightly acerbic woman, she held court at our dinner table as if it weren't actually me who played host and prepared the meal, and over three late nights I heard tales of her life.  As a polyamourist (someone with multiple active sexual partners), she apparently resolved social issues between her lovers by ranking them: if lover #2 clashed with lover #5, #2 was always right.  In one of her stories, she had moved to a cabin with two guys and one day she just decided she'd had enough and left, no note, nothing.  I was appalled, and baffled that Nathan had become so clearly smitten.  Finally, the moment of truth came: their train was pulling into the station, and it was time for goodbyes.  I told Nathan I loved him and gave him a big hug.  She turned to me and said, with a big smile, "Well, I'm still alive, so I guess I must be good enough for him."  I shook her hand and tried to summon something nice to say.

"Actually, you're not good enough for him, but that's okay because I don't think
you're going to keep him."

I swear, it just popped out.  I was as surprised as they were.  Well, maybe not quite.  I'm sure it gave them plenty to talk about on the trip.  Nathan never spoke to me, answered any emails, or in any other way acknowledged my existence again.  I just couldn't help myself.  He was my friend and I couldn't lie to him, couldn't pretend all was sweetness and light and I foresaw a beautiful future for them together. I've never been terribly proficient at keeping my mouth shut, but I accomplished nothing but alienating someone I liked.  Nathan, if by some obscure chance you read this, I'm sorry, and I miss you.

So I guess that brings me back to where I left off last month.  The noise and traffic of Keefe's 12th birthday party went off without any significant hitches other than some conflict I had with Keefe over contributing to the clean up.  Some of the potential guests had scheduling conflicts and couldnít show up, which meant that our two families of warring friends didnít bump into each other.  The extra residents in our house had been quietly looking for another place to be, and the day after the party guests left they packed up their pets and belongings and abruptly they were gone.  Only a few days later I found myself minding a 15-month-old, and the contrast between mass chaos in our house and spending time alone with someone that tiny and quiet was spectacularly jarring.  Conflict between our friends continued to escalate in even more unlikely ways, as with cleanup completed the owners put the house of contention up for sale and the former tenants started calling local real estate agents and warning them not to represent them.  While I canít imagine having the cojones for that myself, I could quietly shake my head over it and not give it much further thought, because now none of the participants were living in my house.

Ahhh.  A pleasant sign of relief.

Then, of course, the column I had written in the middle of this chaos appeared here, and served to rub salt in the wound.  My dear friends J and L felt that I had the order of events in my recounting of the story wrong, and that my column implied callousness on their part. More specifically, they said that they never heard complaints about dangerous mold from N and D until the day they arrived on our doorstep. I was pretty certain I had included a disclaimer in my column somewhere about the whole tale being largely based on hearsay, which I guess in retrospect I didn't, and I know I had intended to send the involved parties a copy for comment before it went on line and later I noticed that email was with a bunch of other half finished and out of date correspondence that never got sent.  Things were crazy here and we had flu that week and it just sort of slipped my mind, which is really no excuse, but there it is.  So I find myself having to apologize again for not knowing when to keep my mouth shut, and I apologize for any unintended slight or seemingly cast aspersion in last monthís column.  I hold these people in very high regard as decent and compassionate people.  I also wasnít there for any significant conversations taking place between these folks, so I canít make any authoritative claims about what took place between them.  As I said, Iím mostly just glad to have the issue moved out of my house.

It still leaves me thinking hard about communication issues.  I have something of a gift for occasionally harming friendships with my compulsion to speak my mind, although I am learning.  I stopped claiming years ago that tact was a mutual agreement to be full of crap, and I think harder now about how what Iím about to blurt out is likely to be received.  Iím still unapologetic about being an opinionated so and so, though, because in my own experience I vastly prefer it to the alternative.

In the time weíve known N and D, theyíve mostly gone from one crisis to another, and it seems to be human nature to assume people who do so are somehow doing it to themselves.  I donít think thatís entirely fair, but I know that this specific family has developed a habit when under stress of climbing into a hole and pulling it in after themselves.  This turtle behavior apparently helps them in processing their emotions, but not staying in communication in a straightforward way with those around them clearly exacerbates problematic situations that might otherwise be defused.  I canít be sure who told or didnít tell who what when, but it doesn't seem entirely out of character to assume something didnít get said or said clearly enough that Iíd personally find it inconceivable not to be mouthy about.

If we really want to live together in any kind of community, even just within a solitary household, thereís really a kind of balance that has to be struck.  Blunt communication is an announcement of important content using poor language, tone or timing, and confused communication concerns itself with tone or timing so much that the content gets lost. Both sabotage community.  Now that all of our houseguests are gone, and with every indication that everyone invited to our annual feast of the dead isnít going to show up, I struggle to remember that in my ongoing pissing contests with our 'tween.  Unless I strike the right tone I canít get the message to sink in.  But in the blissful simplicity of our nuclear family, itís a little easier because we already know each other so well, and remember eventually not to take it personally.  I can be pretty sure at least that our frequent miscommunications arenít likely to result in litigation.  Knock on wood.
Michael Nabert
is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having "a deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh and Keefe.  


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