The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

Pretty fantastic collection of essays by Meghan Daum, starting out with a gut punch called Matricide, which isn’t about killing her mom but rather about her mom’s death nine months after her dementia-addled grandmother’s death and Daum’s near death illness a year later, then her miscarriage of (natch) what would have been a daughter. From that seriousness, we head into shallower water with The Best Possible Experience, a deconstruction of marriage with a hilarious recounting of all the terrible choices of men she’s dated, including a guy who works with a “spirit guide counselor” (whose business card was all circles, and when Daum stated that she didn’t like circles, he retorted, “If you don’t like circles, you don’t like me.”) What I loved about this essay was the path it offered me for my own redemption:

But here was the thing about my dating life. I spent most of it with absolutely no eye toward making a permanent commitment. What I was in it for, what I was about, was the fieldwork aspect… I was looking for experiences, for characters, for people who paid other people to chant and beat drums while they lay on massage tables wearing flashing LED sunglasses. I regarded my love interests less as potential life mates than as characters in a movie I happened to have wandered into.

Perhaps my favorite essay was the third, Not What It Used To Be. This winds between nostalgia for college, advice to give your younger self, and the uncanny fact that us Gen X’ers have nearly everything in common with baby boomers and nothing in common with millennials, “because the digital revolution has installed a sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ that’s as palpable as any war, any catastrophe, maybe even any coming and going of a messiah. And any millennial can see that any Gen Xer, no matter how tech savvy or early adaptive, belongs to the group of those who came before.” Also included is a great transcript of a 1994 Today Show clip where Bryant Gumbel confesses his confusion about how to pronounce the @ symbol in the email address he just read on air, and asks “What is the Internet anyway?” Daub goes on to tell us that she has to teach a thirteen-year-old about the concept of leaving a voice mail when he calls someone and they don’t answer:

I tell him that leaving phone messages is an important skill and that, if he likes, he can practice by leaving some for me. He looks at me like I’m suggesting he learn how to operate a cotton gin. To try to explain to a thirteen-year-old the importance of leaving a callback number is essentially to bathe yourself in a sepia tint. You might as well be an old-timey portrait in a Ken Burns documentary, fading in and out between stock photos of drum-cylinder printing presses while Patricia Clarkson reads from your letters. By the time this boy is twenty, there may well be no more voice mail.

Further essays go into her foster child advocacy work as an offset to not having children, dabbling in lady love as an honorary dyke, the Joni Mitchell problem (and her chance to interview Mitchell, tossing her questions about the time signature changes in the middle section of “Paprika Plains” and about her unfair pigeonholing as a folk singer), Daub’s irrational love of dogs, her hatred of all things cooking, life in LA, and her experience of being in a coma.