Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Natalie Imbruglia's (very) hidden agenda, according to my college education

There's this thing I do when I get in the shower. I always try to get the shower curtain liner to lay flat against the shower walls. This inevitably involves dampening the walls with a palmful of water, then carefully sealing myself into the shower by making sure that liner sucks tightly to the wall. I realized that I used to do the same thing with blankets, at night in bed -- I like to sleep with the ceiling fan at a good clip, so I seal myself into the blankets by tucking myself in around my ears really snugly. I hate being able to feel a cool breeze leaking into the pocket of warmth under the blankets, but at the same time, I've got to feel it over my nose and mouth.

Why do I do these things? What's this obsession with sealing the cracks? In one way, it's about containing or preventing a potential mess. There's nothing I hate more than drying off after a shower, then stepping out onto a soppy shower rug. It's also about comfort -- a tightly sealed shower or a snug bed keeps in warmth, locks out cold. But maybe ultimately it's about control. Maybe I have to have things in absolutes -- all the water on this side where I want it. All the warmth from the neck down, all the coolness above the chin. Maybe these things I think of as my endearing quirks are really early signs of neurosis. Seem like a big leap? Not to me. I majored in English in college.

As an English major, you quickly learn that symbolism is king. If you can take two seemingly unrelated phenomenon and find a way to link them convincingly, you're golden. It's even more powerful if one of the two things you're connecting is a crippling psychological disorder of some kind, or at least has a strong religious subtext. I once listened to a song on the radio about a woman whose boyfriend had left her, and became convinced that the song was actually about her experience of losing her Christian faith. My family was pretty hard to convince, though.

"Mom, I'm telling you -- she says it right in the song. 'I'm all out of faith ... lying broken on the floor ... Illusion never changed into something real ... I guess the fortune teller's right ... should have seen just what was there, and not some holy light.' She's obviously singing about how she felt duped by organized religion."

"Sure, honey. Just finish your peas so I can wash your plate."

Anyway, sealing the cracks may be my way of creating a safe, isolated environment. And who couldn't use one of those? (Like how I morphed it from "control" to "security"? That's another English major trick. You're welcome.)

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