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I might define culture as the set of rules delimiting the unspeakable. The unspeakable rules every human system, though we focus more intently upon what we're supposed to say so we can stay on the stepping stones and not end up slogging around in soggy shoes.

I start my consulting engagements by asking the prospective client what cannot be talked about. I explain that as an alien within their system, I could easily start yakking about forbidden topics and thereby instantly undermine my credibility. Many respond by insisting that anyone can talk about anything there, which we both recognize as absolutely unlikely, but every client's first responsibility has always been to at least try to undermine anyone they hire to help. How else could any client hope to retain their self-respect?

This opening ploy either resolves or not, and it always resolves in exactly the same way: usually with a snigger. Speaking the unspeakable fully qualifies as a subversive act, and anyone committing such a truth momentarily turns into a salacious eight year old. It's farting-in-church funny, a rare treat, a deliberate debauchery. Once spoken, though, each formerly unspeakable quickly slips into the accepted lexicon, losing its fangs. Oh, AND, the stultifying paradox gets broken. The unspeakable has now been spoken.

Each Otter visit, she brings her rollaway bag filled with her present collection of unspeakables to take up temporary residence in our house, which features at least one attic room where we have been storing our own current collection of unspeakables, too. We both know this from the outset. I figure more than half of the anticipation we feel before the visit comes from a shadowy recognition that our precious unspeakables face a serious threat of being spoken, either intentionally or inadvertently, thereby unsettling our current culture. This feels both exhilarating and threatening, scary and enlivening, like life's supposed to feel.

The disclosures typically start small. Well-practiced, now, none of us sweat much blood in the early process. Small safety begets larger until the critically important and urgent beans get properly spilled. Some unspeakables shock on first listen while others need little chewing and no swallowing to absorb. Each visit broadens our small family culture by further narrowing what we dare not mention.

Each disclosure says more about the discloser than about the disclosed formerly unspeakable. The formal content of any unspeakable hardly matters. The power it wields as an unspeakable matters most, and cracking that surface tension disperses that power across the broadening family relationship. Small steps reveal hugely satisfying space.

Now, only four days in, the presence feels easy, even Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat deigns to play string with our intermittent alien. Several bombshells have landed and nothing's blown up.

Visiting the zoo yesterday provided the opportunity to observe a vast array of family rules playing out on a disturbingly public stage. The mean grandma, consigned to a walker, controlling three generations with her sharp voice and cutting commentary. The Otter and I roll our eyes at each other. The kid who does not want to ride in that stroller and the mom who secretly fears he'll get lost if he doesn't. The tee shirts seem to scream the otherwise unspeakable. I suppose The Otter and I were on similar display, our own unspeakables delimiting our presence to other observers around us.

In one of the several elephant enclosures, a Canada goose was staking claim to a concrete peninsula surrounded on two sides by three foot high glass panels. The goose carried on a running battle with an apparently belligerent goose who appeared just opposite where ever this settler goose stood, threatening to jump his claim. Much complaining ensued, repeatedly culminating when the real goose flew over to face off with his reflection. I labeled it The Goose Who Mistook His Reflection For A Threat, but on later reflection, I figure I mis-named him. Reflections might unavoidably be threatening, and probably should be considered as such, though we might be wise to refrain from reacting too strongly to those threats. They live on the properly terrifying edge between pre-consciousness and recognition, the same place our unspeakable live. The transition between these two states, the unspeakable and the spoken of, remains tricky, and properly so.

Our excursion ended when I created a massive new unspeakable. We labeled it The Regrettable Burrito Incident, all too fully acknowledging its humiliating presence before quite deliberately declaring it eternally unspeakable. We giggled through grimacing teeth, swearing ourselves to another secrecy every healthy culture relies upon.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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