Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Un-Known

This week I thought about things we maybe don't need to know, maybe the un-known. I say this after watching my mother undergo cataract surgery four feet away from me. Glass separated us. I could choose to watch the procedure either in "person" by turning my head to the left or "up close" by looking straight ahead at the TV screen, where the surgery took place and was recorded, with edifying narration.

Okay, so what did I need to know about my mom's cataract surgery? That it worked. That she didn't hurt. That it was a good decision. Did I need to see the emulsification of her cataract and the subsequent vaccuming of its debris? Maybe. Did I need to watch as the surgeon cut her eye? No. Especially no if I were looking to my left and actually watching the surgeon slice my mother's eyeball. No.

That got me thinking about the pop phrase TMI (Too Much Information). It's all around us. We don't ask for all the data shared with us, non-stop, nearly everywhere we go. Even though I was flattered with my gut doctor telling me, as we reviewed my colonoscopy pix, that my colon was one of the most beautiful he'd seen, I'm not sure I needed to discuss the appearance of my colon with him. I would probably have been fine with his saying "Everything looks great" and not jointly trekking through the curving highway of my scoped entrails.

When I'm shopping, I really don't need to see the details of that woman's body, squished as it is in undergarments too small and knit outerwear that's too thin. I really don't need to see the details of that man's body, who is apparently choosing to not wear undergarments under his sweats. Nor do I need to see the forms of my co-workers who just finished their workouts, all wrapped up in Spandex. I do not need to see that woman's expensive implants, as perfectly pert as they are. I do not need to see that young man's underwear as he bends down in front of me at the checkstand.

There is much on television I do not need to see. I do not need to know the details of daily life of Snoop Dog, the Osbornes and even the Kardashians, as beautiful as they are. I do not need to know how Sandra is doing now that Jesse is "out" with his inked floozy. I do not need to know what angst Jen is going through without a man. Spare me, please. And I REALLY don't need to know the details of Kate Gosselin's new body. Really.

At work I learn more about employees than I want to know, including their sad realms of health and domestic relations, as well as the pieces that are missing from their ability to determine what behavior is appropriate for the workplace and what is not.

At home I learn more about my neighbors than I need to know. Please spare me the late night staggering about in the driveway or the ramped up diatribe of an unhappy adult child.

In the political realm, I shudder at the excess info I receive, starting with LBJ's scar, through Bill's philandering cigar work, to Palin's sad saga of unwed child hooked to a narcissistic stud.

Spare me, please.

I think of a mentor I had in graduate school, a very reserved, pretty much up-tight Renaissance scholar. To him, Milton was cool ("bomb"). To him, Herrick was racily erotic. To him, the courtly love tradition was where it's at. I savored his observations, in person and, after leaving campus, in more than a decade of joyous correspondence. I appreciated his shock at the impudence of full and unsolicited disclosure. He yearned for coyness, for the valor that is discretion, for the ability to hold back information that may be unsettling and unnecessary. He liked nuance and hints and serendipidous revelation.

Maybe I'm more like him than I think. Maybe the overload of skin and disfunction is more offensive to me than I typically let on. I'm thinking that there is some profound joy in discovery, in mystery, in hesitation. Though I appreciate all the wonders of immediacy that technology and the web allow us, maybe I long for the day when imagination was given a chance to work, before graphic full-face video exploded any doubt. Maybe I long for the more refined, graceful days of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, when less really was more.


  1. You can't see me, but I am standing and applauding.

  2. Could not have said it better, although occasionally I feel the need to share TMI, like when the plumber was showing me video of my basement pipes [fascinating] and I commented, unsolicited, it looked just like my colonoscopy pics, but w/out the rust buildup. Coincidentally, before reading this I had just put up a background on my computer of Audrey Hepburn...think we're onto something...Nanz