Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Uncomfortable Self-Awareness Ed.)

[psst! hey! Look over there on the right. Click on "keifus writes!" it'll take you to the front page. I've been at this, really I have!]

Five thoughts culled and concatenated from correspondence with my bloggy buds. Blame the usual suspects among those for stirring up my thoughts. Blame the outside world for being generous enough to coincide with them.

1. Coincidence
Do you believe in memes, ideas that propagate through information media as organically as a virus? Me, not so much, but I do think we're pretty well hardwired to look for them. We're built to draw parallels and make connections and explain external events. It was a handy evolutionary trick for our under-muscled and under-sensoried primitive selves to apply cause-and-effect narratives to keep ourselves fed on the jungles and savannahs, but it's also led to a lot of bullshit over the years--some of it pleasing (and even illuminating in its way), and some of it deadly serious (with similar possibility of enlightenment).

To our jaded modern-day reasoning selves, coincidence has gotten a bad rap. Think about the word: it's constructed to mean, "happening at the same time." I like this straightforward definition better than the usual one meaning "unlikely." I can distinctly remember my tenth grade English teacher going on about the latter definition as being essential to literature. "Random shit happens," he'd say (not in those words), "just like in real life, and the beauty's in drawing out the consequences." He didn't formulate that quite correctly, however. Just like in real life, stuff happens in literature at the same time, on the same stage. But in fiction (and non-fiction too), the writer employs the gigantic conceit that both causations and correlations are real for those events, and arrogantly maps thom on to a narrative of his or her own design.

Events happen and there are causes, yes, but narrative is always applied after the fact. We retroactively select the remembered details of the past that are best aligned with the current story. Memes are fiction. Hell, they're less than that, proto-fiction maybe, more like after-the-fact themes than bred-in-the-brain genes.

2. Noticing
One theme to the human story I've been picking up on in the past few weeks is what draws people to one another. Certainly it's followed me around various bloggy conversations lately. What makes us notice each other, either in this virtual space or out there in the physical? What makes us pick one another out of the crowd?

I miss the poster Splendid IREny being around. She is, in my estimation, brilliant at feeling out the subtle spaces that separate individual people from the rest of the world. In one of her last posts on Slate's Fray, she described herself as noticing some guy, and him noticing the noticing and so on, back and forth.* That captivated me because (assuming I'm nost just retroactively applying a pleasing narrative) I've begun some of my more powerful friendships that way.

Those early moments are interesting, like some brief instant of alignment or congruence (or anti-congruence, even) that drifts into our attention by whatever random fluctuations of consciousness that are the noise on our trajectories through life. Certainly this sensation is a function of our conscious brains, our ghost selves, something imagined thanks to the quirky and ineffible neural stimuli zapping around in there. Probably it's a matter of projecting our imagined spirits onto the occasional places they seem to fit. The cues in "real" life, I suppose are different than those in the virtual universe, more sensory, less cerebral. I'm finding it very cool to recognize people based almost only on their words.

But from whatever source, that's just a spark, and you need some feedback to turn that notice into an acquaintance. There's a feedback mechanism, the noticing and the noticing of the noticing, tentative contacts made and reinforced, the amplitude increasing. We're like objects that drift into one another's orbit, we may accelerate and crash, fly or drift apart along adjusted paths, or revolve pretty stably for awhile. It's dynamic of course, and even circling billiard balls are impossibly complex if you throw enough of them in, but we can always look back and trace the trajectories.

What kinds of people draw me in? Often enough it's the people moving at about my funny pace, in a similarly confused or independent arc relative to rest of the masses.

3. Looks
I avoided the word "attraction" up above. Although it is apt enough if I'm going with awful physics metaphors, it has too may animal connotations for what I was trying to describe there. "Attractive" is something different from attraction: it's just an acknowledgement, a description bordering on the impartial.

They say that sevens marry sevens, threes end up with threes and so forth. My wife says she married up on the attractiveness scale, and, of course, I say the same thing. My friends are, for the most part, in a similar stratum of attractiveness as myself (though admittedly I've improved this past year, and they're losing their hair a lot faster than I am**), which is to say we're not bad-looking people, but unlikely to end up on a billboard anytime soon.

There's a great swath of humanity of middling appearance, made up of us all-parts-in-the-right-place types within a standard deviation or two of a healthy size, attractive to those people who happen to like those things, and who are comfortable ignoring those things. I like to think that attractiveness is a mutable thing anyway. I like to think that I find people more attractive because I like them, and not the other way around.

But maybe I made those friends in the first place because we already found ourselves relegated to the same social sphere, given those opportunities to find congruences because most people in the teeming throng have already categorized us based on our looks.

4. Appearances
For the morning thing, I had been running around the track for a month or two because the pool had gotten too crowded, and because the change was nice. I got to the grunt-n-mumble point of social interaction, suitable for people you always see, but don't (care to) know. But my knee got sore with the running, and so it was back in the drink. Seeya, strangers.

So I'm there doing some pre pool-party hoisting or lugging of something or other, and one of the morning track people, a woman I actually tended to notice there, comes up and starts talking to me. I'd picked her out as a serious and graceful runner, kind of a pleasure to watch, if I were to let myself watch.

"Hey, is that you swimming there now?" she asks.

"Um, yeah."

"You swim well. Are you training for a triathalon?"

"Uhh nooo...but thanks." I explain about the knee, grinning a little, maybe blushing even, and hop back on the rack at the first opportunity.

Likely, she was training for something and after seeing me huffing at the two activities, she thought I might have the same pursuits. I think it was innocuous (and if it was only mostly innocuous, then I admit to enjoying a little flattery), but that didn't stop the Angriest-Looking Dude in the Gym (another person I've had a tendency to notice ...and recoil from--perhaps he's an archtypical rival) from stomping over to her afterwards and starting a conversation himself, glowering all the while like he owned her. And it didn't stop my wife from getting pissy when I told her about it that night. (That sucked.)

Even though I love heckling, I don't enjoy small talk, and it takes me a while to get comfortable with most people. I give away a lot of tells when I'm meeting strangers, really showcasing that early discomfort (downcast eyes, rapid speech). Flattering myself, I blame a surfeit of imagination for this, my hyper brain always putting together scenarios with humiliating consequences. When I was younger, it made it tough to meet women. Nowadays I'm mostly beyond embarrassment in that department (but get me around people with greatly superior talents in areas I pursue...), but there's a lot of very real negative reinforcement if I act suspiciously around the gentler sex. (Which of course makes me act more awkwardly, and, well, you know). I think I was a cad not to return the compliment in the gym--that woman is a good runner, and it would be interesting to know what a training-for-something regimen involves. A real gentleman may have even helped her avoid the protective ministrations of Angry Dude.

I've got to tell you, I'm thrilled that I know as many women as I do through these pages. Would any of you have ever picked me out of a crowd? You probably wouldn't have gotten past the stammer.

5. Daily Affirmation
I look a lot better than I used to, but I still don't think most people's minds would leap to "triathlete" after gazing at an enspeedoed Keifus. But I was elated at the idea.

"You should just know when you're good, Keifus, you shouldn't need to be told!" Which is the rub, you see. I've got an idea of how good I am (and how good I'm not), but I hear way too much about the shit I do wrong. And it's usually hard to see how trying to improve changes a damn thing in my life (though it sure does make me more defiant).

So when that positive cue comes, I eat it up. But I fear its addictive qualities. I fear it'll turn me into a pewling asshole. I fear that it's made me troll for it on occasions. I'm afraid it'll go to my head. Many prophesies are self-fulfilling, of course...or is that just another narrative conceit?


* Hope he was all that, SI, if you're reading.
** neener neener!


obfuscati said...

enspeedoed and stuttering keifi are cute.

ulitu: sit, ubu. sit

Keifus said...

"Oh look! Oh wow, this is a rare find, indeed. Yes, yes, come in closer--no! not that close, you'll startle it. Oh, it's an amazing specimen.

"Northeastern enspeedoed keifi can usually be found on the couch or in liquor stores. They tend to get fat in captivity, and you rarely see them with their native markings on display like this. Listen to his call. 'huh? what?' he seems to be saying. It's eerily haunting.

"Do you see him squinting around like that? It's only a matter of time now before we're discovered. Let's move!"

august said...

Keif --

agree re. memes. Other stuff -- very close to things I'm not willing to talk about online. Let me just raise my clinched fist in solidarity. If our meat lives eer correspond in such a way that we can drink heavily, I'd love to chat. You're not wrong (and, by the way, not bad either).

Keifus said...

You can always try hiding it in generalities.

Nah, don't. But I certainly accept your offer on the off chance, etc.

K (thanks, too)

rundeep said...

I miss Splendid too. She's good at getting between the wallpaper and the wall.

I'm really wondering about all of our relationships to one another these days. Fray life is both more and less satisfying than its meat counterpart. I guess we are witnessing its confluence. Genuine emotional content and intellectual similarity. I need a virtual cigarette.

BTW, lots of women think science nerds are cute. And look beyond. You're less unhappy than you think. It's not necessary for artistry.

Keifus said...

I'm wondering too.

Keifus said...

P.S. you may be right about happiness. On the other hand, I'm not sure that's the proper antonym to frustration.

P.P.S. cute, though always a pleasure to hear, never got me far, so glad enough that it's irrelevant now.

p.p.p.s. while I'm at it, you're another person I wouldn't mind swapping offline life anecdotes with at some point or other.

twiffer said...

i've been steadily growing more attractive as i age. at this rate, i should be super hot by the time i'm 80.

both attractiveness and appearence are mutable. the mutability of attractiveness is related to the mutability of appearence. clothes can make the man, sometimes. but, mostly it's different things that appeal to different people. for instance, my ex thought my hair looked better short. perse likes it better longish (frankly, so do i, but i think it's more that bothering to get it cut is annoying). some people (okay, chango) think i'd look better cleanshaven. and so on.

circumstances can effect social skills as much as nature. at least as far as talking to the opposite sex goes. i found it much easier once i got to college. not just because of beer either. high school consisted of girls i knew telling me that my older brothers were hot. that always seemed to put a damper on things. remove those circumstances though and conversation becomes easier.

i think "meme" is just another term for conventional wisdom.

Keifus said...

I topped out in the looks department out at 25 or so, but weight loss and a healthy beard growth has helped a lot.

And circumstances? Yes, yes they do.

Off-topic: I bought some noise-cancelling earphones today, and they seem to work by piping in white noise and amplifying the music over that. How annoying.

P.S. to obfuscati: no doubt I owed you a gentlemanly compliment in reply to that first comment. I just never learn.


rundeep said...

Do I hear a hugfest building? Boston, here we come!

I'm fun. Really, much more fun in person. Just ask twif. Who could never be more entertaining in person than he is online. Or some complimentary restatement of that.

Keifus said...

Hey rundeep. It would be hard for me to get out even to Boston, but I love the idea. Got any tips on spousal preparation?


rundeep said...

Hey dude. The key is to a) let her know (or remind her) you participate b) drop some names and conversations into your conversation with her, so she understands the kinds of topics you are raising and discussing online (ie, these are intelligent people and not where I'm looking for replacements) then c) invite her. Really. Demos brought his wife, Iso brought her husband and son and a friend. It's okay and it will convince her your time is neither ill-spent nor clandestine. And if she chooses not to come, you'll come with a clear conscience.

Splendid_IREny said...

Neiner, neiner back, Keif.

I gotta get my time prioritized for all this online visiting, I know. But I miss a whole bunch of people from Fray. Very good on your swimming. I think I can counter with my treadmill story, it's a killer (not really, but I have to learn how to market myself).

As a compliment (seriously): If there's a male blogging version of Amiee Mann, I think it would be you.

Peace out/Peace and Noise,