Friday, June 13, 2003

Layne's got an interesting post on the nature of self-loathing (or the dangers of introspection, or any of a dozen other themes, depending on how you read it). She's just back from a hiatus and doesn't have an anchor tags just yet, so you'll have to scroll down to Thursday, June 12 to read it. If I break down what she's saying to its basics, here it is: She's more honest in her blog than in her life, therefore the people who read her blog know her better than anyone in her life. She knows herself better than anyone else. She hates herself. Therefore, we must hate her too. Or, at least, we ought to, because she's such a disappointment.

I'm not sure where to start with this, so I'll start at the beginning. Now, honesty has never been my goal with this blog. I rarely out and out lie, but I do sometimes fiddle with the facts in order to get to the truth. So I would never say my blog readers know me better than my friends. But even those bloggers who claim absolute honesty are still, in the end, crafting a facade through their blog. They don't post pictures of themselves when they first wake up, or describe in detail the odor of their last bout of intestinal distress. No matter how close your blog comes to your life, the map is still not the territory, and there is so much that can never come across in a blog. How you laugh, for one thing. My friend Emily has a very pretty laugh. You could even call it decorous. But when she really gets going, she'll pop out a snort that sounds remarkably like a mule hiccupping, after which her eyes get wide, and her hand comes up, too late, to catch it. And then more laughter, which leads to more snorting... You get the picture. And it's utterly charming because it's completely beyond her control. Joy unleashed.

Theron likes to snake his foot out, not to trip you, exactly, just to remind you to pay attention to your balance. Christie talks to herself and sings Dadaistic, improvised songs. Off-key. Billie, after a year of dating Emily, has caught her snort. These are things that would never show up in a blog, but are so much a part of who they are that I can't imagine them without. And that's not counting the stories that go nowhere, the smells of cooking, both good and bad, or the look on their face when they've just been woken up by a wet, sloppy kiss from a black lab.

So, yeah, your friends may not know your deepest fears, hopes, and dreams, but they know things about you that your blog readers can't even guess. And your friends may know more than they let on. From time to time, I give in to the temptation to think myself mysterious, and I'm lucky enough to have friends all too willing to dispell that misconception.

Point two: We know ourselves better than other people know us. A couple of years ago, Theron and I were hanging out in his kitchen, and he pointed down to my feet. "Everytime I see somebody standing with one foot on top of the other, I think of it as 'The Mike Stance'."

I looked down, and sure enough, I had my right foot on top of the other as I leaned back against the counter. I'd never noticed myself doing it before then, but I suddenly understood why all my left shoes had a footprint on top of them. My ex-wife would ask me what was wrong, and I'd have to work to find the answer, only to find that, yes, I was in fact angry, or stressed out, or had a headache, or whatever. But I didn't know until she pointed it out to me. I was too stressed out to notice that I was stressed out, I guess.

There's this spot in my mustache (it was very, very young in the picture at left, and has filled out since. I hope.) where the hair is a bit lighter, and a bit thinner, and the hair always seems to part right above it, so it looks like I have a bald spot in the middle of one side of my mustache. Drives me fucking nuts. But most people don't even see it, because, unlike me, they don't see my face often enough to be drawn to the flaws like I am. And even if they do, their relationship to me is such that they see what's right about my face before they get to what's wrong with it. Similarly, if Christie gets a zit, which does occasionally happen, I look at her and see a beautiful woman with a little zit, not an enormous zit with a beautiful woman behind it.

Here's an extreme example. I had a friend in grad school named Jane. Because of a medical condition, one side of Jane's face looked swollen, but was actually covered with smooth scar tissue, while the other side was untouched. As it happened, it was the left (her left, my right) side. Now, the right side of the brain is the one that handles facial recognition, among other things. Because God has a sense of humor, the right side of the brain actually processes what shows up in the left side of our field of vision. That means that when we look at someone, our brain is mostly looking at just one side of their face.

So, when I looked at Jane, my brain was looking at the side with no scar tissue, which was, for the record, classically beautiful. In fact, the first time I met her, it only took about 15 minutes before I completely forgot there was anything out of the ordinary about her face. Kirksville's mostly a walking town, so we knew each other for a year or two before she ever rode in my car. She was in the back seat, so naturally when I went to talk to her, I looked in the rearview mirror. Suddenly, my brain was looking at the scarred side of her face rather than the untouched one, and I understood in a flash more about Jane's character than I ever had before. Thanks to the vagaries of genetics and neurology, the face Jane sees in the mirror every day is nothing at all like the one the rest of the world sees when they look at her.

The secret, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that life is like that for all of us.

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