I don’t know how these things are connected, but I’ve been holding them together in my mind for some time now. For some reason, I’ve been thinking about these lists we chronicle in popular culture at this time of year at the same time that I have been thinking about the stories that we need confirmed despite their veracity. So for example, I was thinking about or better yet, dreading, the television shows and magazines dedicated to which celebrities divorced or filed bankruptcy or were engaged in some scandal alongside my thoughts about the documentary film 51 Birch Street. Have you ever seen this film? If not, go directly to Netflix and add it to your que. The film is about a man who learns that the relationship that he believed that his parents had was an illusion after his father marries a woman who had been his secretary soon after his wife of 54 years dies. Doug Block, the filmmaker and son, had been close to his mother but found his father difficult to get close to. The viewer expects to like and respect the mother but one of the great surprises of the film is how much you like and respect the father. Doug learns that his parents’ marriage was rather loveless when he discovers the almost daily journals that his mother kept chronicling their marriage. I’m not going to give it all away, but one of Doug’s pressing concerns involves his father’s swift marriage. Were they having an affair, he wonders. In one very poignant moment between Doug and his father, Doug asks his father this very question. It reminded me of an episode of Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane that I happened to catch when one of her daughters asked her if she was actually nude in a PETA advertising campaign she had seen printed somewhere.
The audience had been privy to the behind the scenes footage of the photography shoot and knew that Lee Simmons was actually in the nude so I was curious to see how she would respond to her daughter’s inquiry. She looked directly at her daughter and said, “No, Mommy was not naked.” The little girl let out a sigh of relief and moved on. I remember thinking it was a sweet moment because Lee Simmons knew that her little girl wanted her to say exactly what she did. That if she could have accepted the possibility of her mother’s public nudity, she wouldn’t have needed to ask the question. So when I heard Doug Block ask his father if he had had an affair, I thought his father must have heard a little boy asking the question.
Maybe I’m curious about my own need for sustaining fictions and whether or not I would recognize them if I asked them out loud. I wonder if there is something fundamental about the parent/child relationship with respect to these sustaining fictions. If, for example, we find the need for our husbands or our wives to support these fictions for us, are we asking our marriage to perform paternalistically. If we need our friends to perform this function, then are we asking our friends to perform paternalistically.
I still don’t know why I’ve been thinking about the year in review alongside sustaining fictions but in thinking about the two ideas now I am more intrigued by what a year’s end list of questions might look like. Maybe I don’t like the fiction of facts that we chronicle. I don’t like the suggestion that because we know the quantity of something or the state of something, that we also know the quality of it. Maybe I would more greatly appreciate a list of the mysteries of life that we have encountered and the ways we encountered them. Perhaps I’ll work on this list as a model for a more interesting chronicle of our times.