Thursday, April 30, 2009

One step forward, two steps back

My continuing quest to become even just a decent person suffered another setback this evening.

Earlier, a friend informed me of a recent complication. Although I naturally expressed, and indeed felt, sympathy for the trouble, still I enjoyed my role in it. Were the matter of greater importance, or the dilemma of more substantial dimensions, such bemusement as I may have experienced would have been transformed into worthier sentiments. Or, at any rate, so I hope.

This episode highlights what is a persistant obstacle in achieving what is, for most people, an automatic and appropriate level of selfless sympathy. I am admittedly in many ways a wretched person. But one, at least, with the grace to feel badly about it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sadie Hawkins

Jury selection began in my case today. I thought it would have taken only one day, but we're going to be back at it tomorrow. Of the first twelve, four will be excused for cause, meaning we'll need to seat their replacements, voir dire them, and potentially obtain more "volunteers" from the galley.

I think jury selection is the closest I'll ever come to understanding what Sadie Hawkins dances are like for women. Sixty people are called into the galley. I look at them and form snap judgements regarding their prospective suitability. Then twelve are called into the jury boxes to answer questions. The first series of queries are generic, then each side gets to ask specific questions.

Technically speaking, the attorneys are allowed to ask questions only to determine the legal suitability of a juror. But really, they are used to pry into a person's soul, to determine in the span of two minutes the reach and depth of their passions and prejudices.

Interestingly enough (at least to me) is the fact that jurors seem to take the questions very seriously. You don't really hear people espouse views that they think will get them off the hook, even if in other ways it's obvious that they'd like to be excused.

The courtroom works a kind of magic on the people inside. They seem to understand the enormity of the circumstances, and it ennobles them above their parochial concerns. It really is a sight to see, and I say that as no friend to my fellow man.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Limitations of Perfection

Excluding a whimsical intermission on the nature of reality, this post marks the conclusion of that series in which I described those traits I would find desirable in an ideal woman. Now the ink has been spilled, and my childish desires uncovered, but all the same, what was the point?

To be sure, I can't really say there was one, except that at some moment (likely induced by boredom and sleep deprivation) I felt the exercise to be of some value as a diversion, and perhaps of some interest to any passing reader. But like all good aspirations, the definitions serve to illuminate my personality to the same degree, at least, as the erstwhile subject.

What exactly that light has revealed about me is a matter of some interpretation, but at the very least those inclined to draw a favorable conclusion will admit that my standards are not entirely shallow. As for them who may draw the alternative inference, well, there was already enough out there about me to criticize at any rate.

Of course, it goes without saying that there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect person, and indeed even insofar as I have defined the term yet it is still too ephemeral and unrealistic to survive the rigors of real life. It is unfortunate to admit that ones aspirations may not be achievable, or even realistic. But as to this subject the true difficulty arises upon consideration of the contrary conclusion.

What are the chances that you would ever meet the one right person? And how could you even be certain he or she was it? For that matter, what are the chances that you could find your perfect job? The ideal home? The right friends? How do you know you even have the life you're supposed to have? These are indeterminable, and not entirely because their values are indeterminate, but rather instead as they are subject to the uncertainties of human existence.

We accept the imperfections of life because we have learned that reality itself is a kind of compromise; one we navigate as surely as circumstances permit. We do the best we can. This is a comfort to us even when we fail, because it is not clear that there is anything better. But suppose there was?

The real tragedy would be if there was such a person (or job, or life, and so forth), or several, and yet you were never to meet. Or else perhaps even worse, you may remain together for years in cordial association, unaware of the potentials, or unwilling to test them. This is a melancholy thought, and one that, as with all discussions of the possible is best considered briefly and with a shallow investment, but one that should never be entirely forgotten.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stuck in the Past

During one of my many sleepless nights, it occurred to me that the entire world we perceive no longer exists. Whether from sight, sound, or touch, everything that we know comes from stimuli that travels to us, is received and then processed by the brain, and finally rendered as a conclusion we call reality. But in actuality, each of these steps takes some amount of time to complete, brief though it may be, such that our world is not the present, but the infinitesimally recent past.

This leads to two interesting, though related, conclusions. First, everything around me could completely disappear, and in fact I would be unaware of it for some measurable period of time. I would be like Schrodinger's Cat, for an instant, in a world both whole and complete, yet entirely empty as well.

But secondly, and personally more interesting, is the fact that no amount of effort can ever bring me to the present. No matter what, light will still take time to reach my eyes. My brain will still require time to process the information. Thus, no technological or personal development can ever give me an actual view of the current reality. That we cannot relive the past is a social and literary truism, and yet we actually live in an expired universe. It's the here and now that's unattainable.

Of course, these observations have very little application in the real world. But anyone who didn't expect that conclusion is new to blogging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Perfect Woman #1: Imperfection

While it may be something of a surprise (though probably not much, if you know me), it turns out that the most important qualities to me are problems. The thing is, there's really no perfect person, and if there were, she'd be somewhat boring and insufferable, and certainly taken at any rate.

In the end, I think it is our own personal miseries that make us interesting, to the extent that any of us can claim to be. Below are the imperfections I'd want in a perfect girl.

1. Basket Case

There is this scene in Broadcast News where Holly Hunter breaks down and weeps, for about thirty seconds, and then she dashes off to face the world. She is a load bearer, the Hollywood prototype for an entire lineage of (what are now sort of cliched) professionally fulfilled, social basket cases. Carried on her slender shoulders are all the insecurities of two or three normal people.

These weigh her down not because they are so heavy in themselves, though they may be, but rather because she thinks about them, she knows them, and they represent everything she doesn't want to be, but inevitably is. There is something about the nobility of anyone willing to struggle against such a burden that I find incredibly compelling.

2. Mercurial

I am attracted to people who are just slightly unstable. I'm not talking about a crazy knife girl or anything, but it is exciting when you're never quite sure what another person is going to do. More than that, though, I like people with fickle moods.

Maybe because I'm somewhat reserved, I would want someone whose feelings come on suddenly, like a summer storm, only to burn out in a violent flare of emotional activity. My perfect girl isn't a drama queen, but a tempest of feeling, aspiration, and insecurity that is, even at best, only imperfectly contained.

3. Lonely

My perfect woman would be, in some sense, a lonely woman. There would be a part of her that was distant to the world, too fragile to survive exposure even to those closest to her. But while she wouldn't share it, she would indulge it with occasional bouts of solitude, or at least the longing for it when life makes actual seclusion impractical.

Greta Garbo once famously proclaimed that she "wanted to be left alone," and that is a sentiment my ideal mate would understand.

4. Regrets

At the center of all compelling personalities is a sadness that never really goes away. In her own way, my perfect girl would be a profoundly sad person. She would have numerous regrets accumulated over the course of her life. Some of them may be a bit whimsical, like childhood aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

Others would be more profound. A lost love or a broken friendship. The relationship she wanted but never had with her mother. Paths not taken or choices made because of fear of failure, or success, or abandonment.

These she would keep and at times consider, and they would stay with her and form an undeniable part of who she was.

5. Unattainable

Lastly, my perfect woman would be, to put it simply, unattainable. Whether through distance of geography or sentiment, commitment to another person, absolute dedication to a cause, or even just a simple dislike of me personally.

Part of this is psychological. Her unavailability relieves me of the responsibility to pursue the matter any further, and that is a concept that comforts my numerous crippling personal insecurities. Part of it is just a "grass is greener" effect. She looks better if someone else has her.

The truth is, for whatever reason (and probably for multiple), I have very little interest in romance. Admittedly I have the same feelings as anyone else, and even occasionally the same inability to properly control them. Even so, I regard such pursuits generally with suspicion and even, though it is somewhat unbecoming, a certain degree of disdain. So my perfect girl would be someone who, perhaps at the start inspired some of the higher and lower passions, is intellectually and even to a degree emotionally compatible, but ultimately socially unavailable.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Perfect Woman #2: Personality

The penultimate post is a brief review of the preferred personality of my perfect girl. Because some people are visual learners, I have selected a photo of Holly Hunter to serve as exemplar this time. Her character in Broadcast News is probably about as close as Hollywood has come to depicting what I'd want in a woman.

1. Whimsy

For many people, life is a series of unconnected irrelevancies punctuated by blurry parts at either end. They go through every day with what's in front of them, and that's enough, or at least there doesn't seem to be any other choice.

But for my perfect woman, reality is more like a movie musical; everything seems normal, until all of a sudden you're in a big dance number. She should be given to random acts of spontaneity, and waylay conversations with bizarre (though strangely, still somehow relevant if you're clever enough to follow the thread) non sequiturs.

2. Humor

A sense of humor is absolutely essential before I can consider anyone tolerable, let alone perfect. If you can't go through life laughing, then I don't really see the point of going through it at all. My perfect girl would have an insatiable love of comedy, though one tempered by intelligence and good taste.

She would understand why The Three Stooges are funny and Jackass isn't. It would take more than a football to the groin to get her giggling, but Jerry kicking the tar out of Tom would be a riot. She'd love The Princess Bride and The Quest for the Holy Grail.

But most important of all is that she takes life itself in stride, with an inexhaustible store of good humor, given a wicked, if gentle, edge of cynicism and irony.

3. Hobbies

Maybe because they are so important to my own life, I find it difficult to relate to people without hobbies. It isn't essential to me that she be into gaming or movies or literature, though that might be nice. What is essential is that she have hobbies of her own, for which I have little interest. All hobbies look stupid to the uninitiated, and I would want her to be vaguely defensive to any criticism of her own past times.

4. Feisty

My perfect woman would be almost unbearably combative. Our verbal spars would be one part foreplay one part Olympic event, but never simply for affectation or the release (or creation) of sexual tension. Rather, the interplay of our personalities would be intellectually volatile and express itself as a function of varying intolerance.

This would be a symptom of a greater infection, one that renders her by turns uncompromising, aggressive, and opinionated. When losing heated arguments she fights harder, not to avoid defeat, but to forestall the admission through mutual exhaustion. For me, the perfect girl would be a spitfire. Stubborn, feisty, and at times even defensive, but without malice or complete inflexibility.

5. Independent

The last personality trait I'd consider essential in an optimal mate would be fierce independence. I'd want her to be able to have gone through her entire life without meeting me, and still have had a perfectly fine time. She should have her own ideas, opinions, and suggestions. We'd disagree all the time, and she would have little difficulty in expressing her own positions.

I don't really care what her job is, but whatever she does, it should give her a sense of personal and intellectual fulfillment, from which she derives an important sense of empowerment and confidence. She should have goals and aspirations that are entirely particular to her, and the drive to pursue them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Perfect Woman #3: Brains

A great body is nice, but it's just empty packaging if she's slim on smarts. In part three of My Perfect Woman, I turn to the intellectual merits of a mate. By the way, Mira Sorvino (pictured above) graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. It's not my fault she's gorgeous too, so no complaining about the example photo for this one.

1. Wits

For me, there is nothing so enticing as the natural tension between two clever people. An entire genre of film (Screwball) was built around the interplay of words and ideas. These proved so capable of creating the necessary romantic tension that the overt sexual references which are so common today were completely unnecessary (I recommend the classic film His Girl Friday for a perfect example).

My perfect girl would be clever. She would be obscenely, absurdly clever. But whereas for most people wit, insofar as they have it, serves as a veneer for personal deficiency, hers would be profound thought and rational consideration given a charming, breezy form.

2. Reflection

My perfect woman would be a deep thinker. She'd have an opinion on the major issues of the day, the great existential questions, and the inscrutable mysteries of the universe. And yet while she would have given these subjects serious attention, they wouldn't weigh her down or induce an unbecoming severity.

3. Education

An ideal mate would have the kind of thorough education that leaves one well prepared on any subject, confident in their abilities, and eager for further intellectual enrichment. This is less a matter of degrees per se, though those are nice too, but it's really about the mindset common (but neither universal nor unique) to those who have spent several years in the acquisition of expertise in a particular field.

I would also want my perfect woman to be faintly protective of the relevance of her preferred subject, to a degree inversely related to its practical applications. If she could have a Ph.D. in philosophy, that would be particularly appreciated.

4. Vocabulary

Few deficiencies make conversational partners more tedious than a tendency to use the same word excessively, or to finish every sentence with a particular phrase (such as "you know" or "basically"). My perfect woman would have a versatile and even, to a certain extent, excessive lexicon, but one she would employ with becoming self-restraint.

Oh yeah, and she would also acknowledge the linguistic efficiency of the word "hella," and be no stranger to its use.

5. Practicality

Finally, my perfect girl would have certain practical intellectual capabilities that I'd find useful in every day life. Chief among these would be flawless spelling, echo location of parked automobiles, and eidetic recall of phone numbers, names, and other incidentals of social interaction.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Perfect Woman #4: Looks

This post is a little shallow, but I never claimed to be a saint. Statistically speaking couples of approximately the same degree of attractiveness tend to be the most successful. Which means I'd be pretty much stuck with the Wicked Witch of the West. So long as the subject is the perfect woman though I can be as unrealistic as I want!

1. Voice

I'm crazy about voices. My perfect woman would have a versatile voice, by turns warm and inviting, or conspiratorial and mischievous. She should sound friendly and accommodating, but still have underneath the perceptible malice of excessive wit. Her laugh should evidence comprehension and shared amusement rather than just simple mirth.

2. Legs

There's not really much to say here without straying into the crass, so this entry will be pretty short. But her legs wouldn't be!

3. Glasses

Glasses are absurdly attractive on women. My perfect girl would have glasses. Preferably her eyesight would actually be messed up, because the alternative is that she wears them as an affectation, and I wouldn't like that. Not that she has to be blind, but is a little farsightedness too much to ask?

4. Flames

Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but for me it's redheads. I'd want her hair to be the color of copper in sunlight, bright but not light.

5. Elegance

My perfect girl has a kind of natural elegance, readily apparent in everything that she does, but without vanity or display. She would be marked by that state of grace of confident and content people, with a glow that persists despite her indifference towards her own appearance.

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Perfect Woman #5: World View


This post is the introductory volume of a five-part series detailing those characteristics that would be present in what I would consider a "perfect" woman. To start things off, we'll look at the world view I'd want her to have.

1. Decent

I am socially very liberal, mostly because I deny the right of any person to dictate the limits of acceptable behavior to others. Carried to it's logical extreme this principle would result in anarchy, but I do not demand that it be pushed quite that far. But what I do expect, and would require in even a tolerable woman (let alone a perfect one) is a decent respect for the self-determinative rights of others. She doesn't have to like homosexuality, but I expect her to support gay marriage. She may dislike religion, but I require her to protect it's free exercise. She may disapprove of affirmative action, but she has to hate racism.

2. Irreligious (at least somewhat)

I am an atheist. My perfect girl need not be herself. I don't need someone who thinks the same way I do. It wouldn't really bother me if she did identify with a particular religion. But I couldn't countenance a fundamentalist, especially one that seeks to push her views on the rest of the country or to legislate her particular brand of morality. The only other view I couldn't accept is someone with no opinion. It's alright if she had a faith. It's alright if she didn't. It's not alright if she never thought about it.

3. Objective

Objectivity is very important to me. Too many people now, especially in the political arena, determine a desirable conclusion and then tailor their positions (and their "facts") to suit. I find this practice intellectually bankrupt, and indeed one of the greatest bulwarks protecting prejudice and inequity. My perfect woman is someone who values rationality, can admit when she's wrong, and is willing to surrender the blind comfort of partisanship for the admittedly less reassuring, but ultimately more rewarding rigors of objectivity.

4. Curious

My perfect woman is someone who thinks about the world. She wonders why things are one way and not the other. What other people consider useless trivia she sees as a window whose view affords a more complete picture of life. She doesn't have to be an existentialist like me, but she should have an opinion on the subject.

5. Restive

I would want a person who was motivated by a perpetual, and insatiable, appetite for life. Even though she'd be a better person than anyone would ever need, still she should be worse than she wants to be. I'm not looking for a perfectionist. In fact, I have very little use for perfection, and a good deal of suspicion for those who pursue it. But what I do want is someone who is never satisfied with the status quo.