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Getting possessive about a 'private find'

By Joan Silverman / August 14, 2000



The question was simple enough. A friend asked for information about the vacation house I rent each year. My answer was equally simple - no.

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Not that I needed to be so blunt; my friend had thought to ask whether I considered the house "a private find." I did.

"I feel a little funny about this," I explained, aware that my territorial stance seemed, at best, odd. There I was, being possessive about a place I didn't even own.

She easily backed off. Still, I felt sheepish, though curiously right. I wasn't protecting some rental house from invasion by a friend; I was shielding my own experience - removing it from the gaze and comment of others.

In fact, I didn't feel possessive about the house itself; I was laying claim to a set of customs and rituals - seal-watching, late-night meals, rowing to a nearby island - that were part of staying there. The house wasn't mine, but my experience of it belonged to me in some non-negotiable sense.

Vacations aren't generic McGetaways. They're as individual as the people who take them. I know a couple who plan to revisit their honeymoon island villa to celebrate the wife's 50th birthday: romantic idea, to be sure. Less romantic is that a group of friends has been invited to join in. At another time, perhaps, this notion of re-casting an intimate event might have sounded more appealing. But so much has become social, communal, public - even money and sex, those two old bastions of privacy, now figure prominently in the most mundane chatter.

At a time when Web sites and TV shows offer the most intimate details of strangers' lives, some of us want to run for cover. "Fifteen minutes of fame" is the phrase that describes the sudden splash of attention, some people seem to crave. For the rest of us, though, 15 minutes of privacy is the antidote we seek.

In the end, the basic defense of my stance goes back to a primal sense of territory - of what's mine, as distinct from yours. My experience, adventures, memories are mine, alone - part of the blueprint of who I am and how I see the world. These are not transferrable, like tickets to an event; they're unique, singular. One can choose to widen, or narrow, the sphere into which other people are welcome - to revisit the honeymoon villa en masse, or to conceal a much-loved vacation spot.

When I declined to give out information about my vacation spot, I was telling my friend only half the story. I felt equally odd about sharing, or not sharing, information - about refusing to assist with my friend's plans. So I suggested some alternatives to my friend, tips about other places I'd stayed that I was glad to pass along. The point wasn't to be a curmudgeon - just to strike a balance between one's private and social selves.

*Joan Silverman is a Boston writer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society