Science is a strange kind of reality worship. We want to know what really is, out there in the physical world, independent of the vagaries of our internal experience. We try to find what’s true for everyone, all the time. It’s easy for me to forget that there are some contexts in which what is actually happening, in a measurable sense, is not what matters most. Sometimes, it hardly seems to matter at all. Corporate PR hacks, religious proselytizers and other propagandists understand this intuitively. If you tell people a story they want to believe, often they will go ahead and believe it, regardless of any countervailing evidence. They will thank Big Brother for increasing the chocolate ration from 30 grams to 20 grams per week. But this kind of disconnection of external from internal reality isn’t always sinister. Sometimes it isn’t even a disconnection so much as it is an orthogonality. Disconnection suggests that the two were once connected, or are intended to be one, but our internal experience is just not the same thing as external reality. They are related, but separated, by warm vitreous pools of light and hairy waveguides. There is some part of us which is intrinsic, or such a distant and distorted echo of the outside world as to be unrecognizable.
Waking up lost
I feel the way I did that morning in the hostel in Juneau, when Becky and I were starting our kayaking trip in Alaska in May of the year 2000, almost exactly 10 years ago. I feel that way, but on a different time scale. I woke up in the bunk, and didn’t know where I was. I’m sure that feeling has a name, but I don’t know what it is. I was temporarily misplaced. The most recent bits of history, which had gotten me there, were lost in my mind somewhere. An episode of micro-amnesia. Where am I? And then in a wrenching mental gyration, it all comes back. Like looking at a map and a compass, and suddenly realizing you’ve gotten turned around. It’s not that peak, it’s this one. That means we’re here, not there. And fuck, we’re out of water too. Now what?
Alone in the world again
Note: this was originally written May 14th, 6 weeks ago.
I thought I wouldn’t have to do this again. Not alone. Build a future from scratch. Carve it out of a big block of nothing. It felt so comfortable. So safe. At least there will always be Michelle. That’s what I thought. Now I’m moving out. She’s kicking me out. Get out. Get out of my life. Go away. Tyler doesn’t live here anymore!
I’m going to live in the front house for six weeks, and we’re going to try to get to know each other again. I feel like I’m a burden on her. An emotional liability to be written off if possible. Hazardous psychological material. Who would want to get to know me? And so the thought of going off again, into the world, to try and make a place for myself alone, seems impossible. But at the same time, it seems like that’s what she’s trying to get me to do. Think about being apart. Dream about it, and hope it’s not just a nightmare.
Deborah Tannen is a sociolinguist at Georgetown University who studies “genderlects” — the speech and conversational patterns that exist both between women and men, and also within same-sex communications. She wrote You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation in 1990, and it explores an interesting way to interpret several types of common (often, explicitly stereotypical) misunderstandings that take place between men and women. Her idea is that generally in conversation women are trying (perhaps unconsciously) to facilitate intimacy, building relationships through social connectedness, whereas men are attempting (also perhaps unconsciously) to negotiate a social hierarchy.