I’m watching his eyes move. Tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick they traverse across the screen, then sweeeeeep back to the other side, in the characteristic pattern of reading. There’s a unique experience in watching it happen through the medium of video-chat, where your conversational partner is basically looking right at you. Tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick-sweeeeeep.
“Interesting,” he says when he’s done.
“Yeah?” I say. “I just engaged in the creepy practice of watching you read it.”
“Ha, how was that?”
“Interesting, weird. I know what information is going into your head, but that’s not at all obvious. You’ll smile and frown occasionally, but that’s it. I have no idea what your reactions are.”
It’s a unique kind of estrangement, watching it happen, looking right at them, knowing the information on the page, not knowing what’s going on in their mind. Just Tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick-tchick.
We restrict our language in different ways—many situations have limits on swearing, expressive body language, technical jargon, non-academic language, domain-specific terms, slang.
I was recently reminded of the small pleasure of not having one such restriction. You know innuendos? They’re good fun. Additionally I’m terrible at detecting them and trying to figure out how to say things without possible reinterpretations. I give small thanks to the fact that I don’t have anyone who delights in innuendo in my life right now :). (And don’t y’all start!)
He’s talking through a theory of how people craft self-images to be popular in society. It’s fairly detailed, and he’s explained the bones of it to me earlier.
“So this relates to the personal problem you were talking about before?” I interject.
He pauses, hands midair. “Oh, no, this doesn’t have to do with me yet.” He smiles, wry. “I have to work through the abstract theory first before it ever gets applied to me.”
I say, “Of course,” with all seriousness, and he does a bit of a double take before laughing.
“Right, you’d know what I’m talking about.”
“This is how the world works,” I emphasize, a statement which is not true, but is what comes to mind when I’m trying to highlight the fundamental truth to the two of us that yes, of course abstract theory needs to be worked through before application to individual feelings, of course.
I wonder how long I’ll be nostalgic for the Minnesota State Fair. For Sweet Martha’s cookies, and unending milk, and fries, and roasted nuts, and honey sticks and strange booths and baby animals and crowds, sweat, friends, family. The memories all blend together, the best of all of the years. I think about it every summer, when it’s warm enough for dresses.
When people explain ideas to me, I often raise objections to appear smart, so that I’m not just sitting there like a lump.
Sometimes objections occur to me naturally—I don’t have to search for them—but I feel they’re not relevant to the perspective being taken.
Sometimes objections occur to me naturally—I don’t even have to try to search for arguments, just listen—and they’re relevant, and they’re helpful, and they’re smart, and I can say them.
Those are the best objections. They feel nice.
I’m grumpy with my program.
“get name of the class and then make a new instance matlab” is my Google prompt, and I expect nothing useful to turn up—it’s a weird search term, for an unexpectedly not-straightforward problem.
Lo and behold, the first link was exactly what I wanted to do.
“I love this world :)” I write in my notes for the blog. “Love this world :).”
“It wasn’t an awkward conversation,” I explain to two of my friends. “It was just… I was dropping these hints—this is what’s interesting about me—and she wasn’t going for them. And it was hard to find topics that we both were interested in. I found a few, but then she would lose interest where I wasn’t expecting it; it just made it kind of hard to navigate.
“I was also trying to be less aggressive in my questioning than usual, so that made it harder too to dig up interesting things… man, I’ve forgotten recently how conversations can be, since I’ve been interacting with a very specific type of people. Rusty skills,” I write out in text message, shaking my head.
(To be clear, conversation is a two-way street, and she was definitely doing her job too—a bit better than I was, actually. Conversations are just hard sometimes, with new people.)
There’s so much information in the silence, in every rephrasing of someone else’s words, in how people misunderstand.
In the moment, I don’t often have the mental space to do the backwards inference to figure out how they think and feel, but there’s so much information.
He’s suggested I do something, and I’m making faces, trying to wrestle through it in my head.
“You look uncomfortable with that,” he notes apologetically, about to take it back.
My internal monologue: “SO WHATTTT??? WANNA FIGHT????”
(Hahaha :). I don’t even remember what I said out loud, but I think it probably came off as aggressively amusing. In a past blog post, I worked through the idea that I like a certain style of uncomfortableness, one that’s aimed at helping me grow. Since realizing that liking this form of uncomfortableness isn’t going to hurt me, my internal monologue governing this desire for growth has become… insert your own adjective here, but I’m going to go with “awesome”.)
His mouth is twisted up, entertained. “Symmetric,” he repeats.
“Well, it doesn’t make sense that I’m worried about that part of the problem, but not this part! I should be worried about this part too. Otherwise it’s not symmetric, it doesn’t make sense!”
“That sounds logical—you should definitely worry more, to make it symmetric.”
I’m grinning at him in the same way he’s grinning, diverted at this illogic. I love the ridiculousness of it, how it feels to know something—“I should be symmetric”, the thought insistent and true—and yet have the twists of it pointed out, have someone else enjoy in the quirks and myself realize the inconsistency.
“I don’t understand how you use ‘should’ sometimes,” he says, shaking his head. “Symmetric.”
I shrug, smiling. There’s a singular delight in having someone else do a deep dive into your thoughts, have them point out something you haven’t seen, help discover it with you. Not everyone can do it, not everyone wants to do it.
I’m still smiling. Symmetric, indeed.
I was sitting in the car the other day, listening to someone explain something not very well. I also explain ideas not-very-well unless I’ve practiced them. But it reminds me how many spectacular explainers I have around me, because this experience actually felt surprising. Some practice, some have long expertise and experience, some are naturals—regardless, I give so many thanks to all of these great explainers.
(Two of my friends took me swing dancing the other day, and one of them explained the basics of swing dancing very well too. In that case, I was getting physical feedback in return for mental comprehension—an unusual but fun reward.)
“I read your blog yesterday,” he tells me, grinning. “It was great—I spent two hours on it before I had to stop.”
“You liked it?” I say, smiling big. “Whoa, you read more than the more recent ones? It’s super rambley.”
[“Yeah, but it’s so excited with life,” someone else says, in my memory. “I’m always happy to read rambley if it’s so excited with life.”]
“It’s cool, though—people are going along with their lives, and you’re thinking things through, and deciding that you’re okay, that you’re going to do your own thing—it’s inspiring, uplifting.”
This guy works insanely hard, hasn’t slept much in the past week, and I’ve literally never seen him get angry or upset at anyone.
[“If this paper gets done, it’s going to be on his willpower alone,” I say to my advisor. My advisor smiles, says, “His willpower—that’ll probably do.”]
I have such great people around me. I forget sometimes—I always forget—but I have such great people around me: always do.