Monday, December 20, 2010

The Manson Family

Greetings Friends,

It may be an analogy in poor taste, but I can't help thinking about the state of family as it compares to the Manson Family. Yes, they were all certifiable, and they committed heinous crimes at the behest of their whack job leader. But really, at holiday time there are bound to be more than a few of us who find ourselves thinking we all have a little "Manson" in our families.

I have to admit I've been indirectly obsessed with the Manson Family for about a month now, since I watched an installment of the documentary series The Passionate Eye on CBC. The subject was Roman Polanski, who was married to the actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered by members of the Manson Family. This particular doc was a fascinating account of Polanski and his famous sexual misstep, and all the subsequent legal wrangling that has kept him a fugitive from justice in the United States for over 30 years. The tidbit I honed in on was the fact that all his troubles started after Tate's murder. She was 8-1/2 months pregnant when she was killed, and there was footage depicting a devastated Polanski at her funeral. I was an infant when all this happened, and didn't comprehend the who, what, where and why until many years later. I remember the assassination attempt on former President Gerald Ford, but the name "Squeaky Fromme" did not resonate with me at the time. Now, you can put me in front of a documentary of just about anything and you have my complete attention. At the moment, my favorite genre is anything out of the 60s and 70s; the 70s especially, since the older I get, the more I seem to be longing for the innocence of childhood and the indifference to the familial dynamic, and all its associated bullshit.

The holidays mean one other thing besides food and presents: the unavoidable contact with family members you normally eschew, with the exception of weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and Christmas. Those are some of the most unavoidable scenarios where you find yourself in a room full of people you would probably like to murder; if committing murder happened to be legal. Instead, you suck it up and deal with it. Your blood pressure rises, and you are likely to have a bit too much to drink, all in the name of having to deal with the stress of seeing people you genuinely loathe.

I'm not suggesting that everyone comes from a Manson Family. I believe you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who loves their entire family - even those fringe relatives whom you don't see very often. It's perfectly normal to have one or two (or half a dozen) questionable relations you'd rather not associate with. We've all got them. It's when your immediate relations fall into that category that you want to dive under a rock and hide there for all eternity. Those are the people for whom this time of year is particularly difficult. I'm not just talking about superficial political and philosophical differences; when those nearest and supposedly dearest are a bunch of people you just cannot stand, you want to swallow a potent sleeping pill now, and wake up on January 2nd. 

The older I get, the more I realize how tricky it is to be part of a family. In some cases, you've got to do some serious cramming to ensure you watch every last "P" and "Q" at holiday gatherings. Further to that, you must also be aware who resides in which camp, and who's got a beef with whom. It's all so senseless and exhausting to keep track of. The larger the family, the more "mishegas" you have to deal with. The longer I live, the more I want to say, "thanks, but no thanks". It's true that you reach a certain point when you just want people to be straight with you, and tell it like it is. Same goes for family. Let us please cease the game playing and the side taking and the declaring of wars. None of us will live forever, and none of us are taking anything with us. The sooner we learn those lessons, the happier we will be. In the meantime, we'll just pick a corner of the room, stay there, and count the minutes until we can escape.

In all honesty, I dislike having these negative feelings when it comes to family, but I've known enough people and heard enough stories to know I am not the only one who feels this way. A notable character from one of my favourite television series referred to this time of year as "Stressmas". She happened to be a shrink on the show, so she knew what she was talking about. Well, whoever wrote the lines for her character knew the deal. All the gathering, eating, giving and taking add up to one thing for a lot of us: misery. Sad, but infinitely true.


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