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On Delillo, Cultural Hysteria, and the Fear that My Womb is a List by Deborah Taffa

Photo Credit: Laura Knapp “Lists are a form of cultural hysteria,” Don Delillo said, noting the appeal of bullet-point mania. Supposedly, lists represent our need to reduce and simplify the complex, to create order out of chaos in a postmodern world. I’m afraid my womb might be a list, and my husband’s semen might be, too. Our family might be nothing more than a primal urge for more busy work, the completion of complicated tasks feeding the illusion of control.

Mothering, too, creates cultural hysteria. Issues with “Mother” or the fear of becoming a mother or the hope of making a girlfriend a mother or the appearance of the lower-case word “mother” as an unsophisticated theme in female writing. There are other ways mothering is a form of cultural hysteria. The words “feminism” and “mothering” fight with each other. When they appear together, they break out in a rash.

Yes, mothering is a form of cultural hysteria, and lists are a form of cultural hysteria, and so I’m thinking the two things must have more in common. I’m thinking a mother, like a good list, arranges and organizes, creates meaning and irritates everyone with her talky lack of depth. Both a list and a mother fight entropy and disorder. They tuck stuff away before you’ve finished using it—robotically stacking, always utilitarian—and most of the time no one can find it afterwards but them. Oh, lists! Oh, mothers! They are creatures of habit who make their arguments quickly, arrogantly emphasizing short attention spans. They roll their eyes as they rush along, compiling information, sure that life will scare us all if they don’t stop it from spinning out of control.

Toddlers spin out of control. They fall and crack their heads open, and their skin has to be glued back together. Teens spin out of control when they stupidly think their parents never smoked weed and, therefore, will never be able to tell cat-dander red eyes from blood-shot red eyes. A home is an out-of-control list, with a roof overhead, and a pile of dirty clothes waiting to be done. An out-of-control life is a list of needed grocery-items pinned to the fridge, of overdue library books tacked to a corkboard, of calendars chock full of scribbled in squares marked off week after week after week.

A family can morph into a list-checking war. A marriage can be a battleground of tallied “I said, you said” wrongs, missed events, gifts given and received, happy times (numbered), anniversaries counted, and compromise. Few survive the chaos of lists unscathed. As a veteran of that war, and an expert in battle, I offer a list of the lists I’ve started, and plan to finish, I swear, just as soon as the people in this house, this “home is a list,” have clean underwear in their sock drawers again.

1. Ten reasons the Bugs Bunny video clip—“Rabbit Season!” “Duck Season!”—is the Bible of parenting and should be studied for style and technique.

2. Twelve passive-aggressive ways to torture your evil grandmother after discerning that she might be prejudiced against your possibly-gay, definitely-effeminate son.

3. Nine strategies for admitting you lied about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, but not God, Feng Shui, and the power of prayer.

4. Five techniques for making authentic-sounding laughter when your spouse tells you something stupid.

5. Eight ways to let an evil teacher know you are watching them—with a pair of sharp garden shears down your pant leg—while maintaining a professional air of politeness.

6. Eleven dangerous missteps to avoid when whipping out your checkbook in an attempt to buy your child a friend.

7. Nineteen ways to spend Super Bowl Sunday that don’t involve football, a feigned appreciation of bean dip, or the desire to impress Uncle Rico.

8. Six items that will amplify in smell if left under the backseat of a mini-van.

9. Fifteen ways to address your dislike of professional cheerleading—or whatever your spouse loves and you hate—without sounding defensive.

10. Thirteen reasons to gaze on the beauty of food without taking photos (or) thirteen ways to stop embarrassing your teenagers on Facebook.

11. Twenty ways to mortify your teenagers on Facebook without using stupid food photos. Warning: employ only in moments when they really deserve it i.e. you are starting a war that will wage on for years.

12. Five topics you should never broach on a family holiday, especially during the first 100 miles of a 700-mile road trip to your mother-in-law’s.

13. Three strategies for using self-deprecatory humor so that people believe you are, like, actually, humble about your kid’s rock star success.

14. Twelve misconceptions about sex during pregnancy, and the female body after pregnancy. Time to set those pee rumors straight!

15. Ten age appropriate, do-it-yourself rituals to celebrate rites of passage—without involving going to the mall, getting a driver’s license, or renting a limo—all of which use Siouxsie songs and really cool metaphors.

16. Twenty ways to scare the class bully without actually resorting to violence. Bonus: The scare tactics are subtle! He’ll never be able to prove a thing!

17. Six arguments in favor of teaching your kid the brag-brag over the humble-brag, while at the same time discouraging trash talk on the soccer field.

18. Ten reasons being sincere will only get you in trouble—especially in this era of lists.

19. Seven strategies for grabbing and cleaning a toddler found painting his body with honey, jelly, or chocolate syrup, while managing to keep your party clothes clean.

20. One-thousand-thirty-two reasons you should be afraid to have kids.

21. Six fair-fighting techniques to use in marriage when what you really want to do is cut your partner’s eyelids off with a pair of safety scissors.

22. Ten signs that your kids are plotting a middle-of-the-night coup (or) ten signs they know about the toys you plan to box and drop off at Goodwill.

23.  Thirty reasons a committed relationship is scary for everyone, regardless of the individual’s gender, sex, region, generation, or culture.

24. Fifteen reasons you should risk sincerity despite the dangers—especially in this era of lists.

25. Seven ways to turn your spirit animal into a beast that will rip the throat out of lists for breakfast, so your womb doesn’t end up hanging on a corkboard covered in Hello Kitty stickers.




For more writing by Deborah Taffa see Prairie Schooner, Brevity, Best American Travel Writing, Salon, etc: Currently, she lives and writes in Kirkwood, Mo, with her husband, kids, dog, hermit crabs, and Venus flytrap. She teaches Creative Nonfiction at Webster University.

Editor's Note

About Fishing by Crissy Van Meter