Thursday, 5/16/02

The last couple weeks have been spent job searching online, an activity which seems almost as effective and enjoyable as wearing a "WILL DESIGN EMBEDDED SYSTEMS FOR FOOD" sandwich board down at the freeway exit, minus the fresh air and the dignity. Every company maintains an elaborate online "career center", peppered with enthusiastic assurances that they are actively seeking people just like me, and that a regiment of hiring managers are hunched over their inboxes, waiting breathlessly for my application. So I go through the charade of filling out forms and submitting resumes, perfectly aware that they will never be seen by mortal eyes, let alone eyes attached to people powerful enough to make hiring decisions. It has all the futile exhilaration of playing the lottery.

But at least it gives me something to do with my day. My last vaguely noteworthy day, I think, was Sunday. In due deference to yet another overcommercialized national holiday, I met my parents for lunch. (They arrived somewhat late; there's nothing that can make you question your self-worth like thinking you've been stood up by your own mother.) As a gift, I gave my mom a clay imprint of my hand. When I was four years old or so, I made a plaster-of-paris handprint in preschool, and my mom has treasured it ever since. But I figured, hell, I couldn't have done a very good job if I was only four. I could barely write back then, let alone craft a work of sculpture. So I made my mom a new one. I'm not sure if the new one is that much better, but it certainly is a lot larger.

But that's not why I'm writing about Sunday. The memorable bit happened later. On the misguided assumption that my social ineptitude and emotional disorder can be cured by publicly waving around these undesirable features like a castrated exhibitionist, I will now wax pathetic about the particular traumatizing non-event that left such an impression on me.

After lunch, I went to the bookstore. I do that a lot these days. The bookstore has the nice properties of being free, outside of my house, and either entertaining or educational depending on my mood, and this matches well with my own not-so-nice properties of having no income, having nowhere to go all day, and wanting to be either entertained or educated with unpredictable whimsy.

Anyway, I was sitting and reading, as I tend to do in bookstores, when a girl walked in. She was gorgeous. I won't bother describing her because that is better left to your imagination, and in any case, if you had seen her, you probably would have said she was "cute" or "pretty" or "not bad". But I'm not you, and to me, her looks were nothing short of perfect.


Strangely enough, I found it somewhat difficult to continue reading. I couldn't concentrate. I'd look up at her, look down at the book, let my eyes float over a paragraph without bothering to parse the words, look up again, quick, look away, she's about to turn around, wouldn't want her to think I'm STARING at her, repeat, repeat, repeat until neck muscles have received an invigorating workout.

I knew what André or Ben would say, as clearly as if they were mythical miniatures perched on my shoulders. (Angels? Demons? Not sure with those two. Okay, with Ben, I'm pretty damn sure.) "Go talk to her." Right? Isn't that what one is Supposed To Do in such a situation? "Go talk to her." "Go say hello, start a conversation, ask her out, date her, marry her, spawn a mess o' little'uns, and die hand in hand, gazing into each other's cataracts." "Go talk to her."

I did not go talk to her. Didn't even move. And it wasn't because I was shy or intimidated or socially awkward. (Certainly all of those applied, but they weren't the reason.) The reason was that I simply didn't want to spawn little'uns with her, any more than I did with anyone else in the store.

Yes, she was beautiful. Yes, I couldn't take my eyes off of her. But no, I didn't see how that could be relevant to my romantic desires.

First of all, she won't be beautiful in thirty years. Nobody will be beautiful in thirty years. The only people alive who will be beautiful in thirty years haven't been toilet-trained yet. Second of all, I strongly believe that familiarity distills into beauty over time. If I love someone, she will become beautiful in my eyes. Together, these two imply that it is wholly ridiculous to pursue a romantic target based on initial physical attraction.

The idea is that I want somebody who can amaze me now and in thirty years. Lust will fade but laughter is forever. I'll get too old for bedroom games but not for word games. Yes, she was beautiful, but I don't want beauty. I want someone who can create beauty. Someone who loves words, or art, or music, or code, or science, or any other act of incarnating dreams out of elements and imagination.

Someone who builds sandcastles. Or someone who makes up her own words, makes up her own games. Or someone who brought a truckful of lumber back from Home Depot and built herself a bed. Or someone who draws an awesome webcomic. Or someone who can do Fourier transforms in her head. Anything of that sort. (All of them at once might force me to renounce atheism.)

Anyway, you get the idea. I've justified to myself the orthogonality of physical attraction and personal attraction, and being a higher-order primate with a big brain and free will, I should be able to use this ideology to govern my actions. But even though I've filled my high-level mental centers with thoughts of sandcastlers... I'm still receiving unmaskable vestigial prodding from the brain stem. And lower. These parts don't care about any long-range, eventual plans to optimally propagate my genetic material; they want supple woman-flesh and they want it now.

And there's the problem. I've rationalized away physical attraction as irrelevant, which means that when it actually comes along and dumps a big pile of emotions on me, I don't have the slightest idea how to deal with them. Girl walks into bookstore, Bret sees girl, Bret's "lower brain" starts generating emotions -- lust! desire! zowie!, Bret's upper brain refuses to acknowledge the situation or provide handlers for the emotions, and somewhere in the middle... things start to fall apart. It's like a process receiving a bunch of uncaught signals, as one might say if one didn't care about the negative implications of UNIX metaphors on social standing.

I, for one, do not. You might wonder why this is all suddenly becoming an issue right now. The reason, I think, is that I had SIG_IGN (the "ignore" signal handler) firmly in place for much of the last decade, for one reason or another or another (reason #3 accounting for a good six years or so). When I was only looking at One (or recovering from One), I never even noticed anyone else. The blinders have just started to come off in the last few months, and... good god. The life of a healthy, strapping young lad is filled with curvy distractions.

Anyway. Back to Sunday, back to the story. After the sighting, and the subsequent rush of unhandled emotions, and the subsequent shame for feeling such emotions, and the concurrent shame for simply staring at somebody in public, and the wonderfully post-modern deconstructive shame for feeling shame in the first place for experiencing a natural human emotion... I couldn't go back to the book. I couldn't even think anymore. I had to go home.

Hm. I'm sure there was a point to all this, other than to simply present myself as an emotionally miswired man-child experiencing some sort of bizarre eructation of adolescence. Maybe that's enough of a point. Maybe that's too much of a point.

I'm a nice guy. Really.