Day Three in the Move Towards Perfection

January 4, 2010 at 4:24 am | Posted in Goal Progress, Sociability | Leave a comment

Dungeon entrance

Would you descend the stairs? A part of me would charge down, sword held high.

As I’ve mentioned before, on Sundays I’m prone to taste the Dark Teatime of the Soul. It’s no surprise, then, that yesterday proved more difficult than the first two days of 2010. I sulked, I moped, I was bored. The day was not wasted, however, since I learned to apply the following principles:

1. No one ever found happiness by staring at her cuticles.

2. You have to take your shots.

3. What would Inglorion do?

The first is pretty self-explanatory, but the last two require elaboration. Let me begin with a story.

Whenever I set out to do something that scares me — that is, morning, noon and night — I want to be assured that the doing will make me happy. If it doesn’t I feel cheated. For example, I was hungry after church, so I went to the Parish Breakfast, which is always a bit of a trial. Inevitably, I have to seat myself at a table with strangers and make conversation. This leads me to suspect that I have poor table manners, and I’m not any better than the next person at making small talk. This Sunday, when I sat with a couple in late middle age and an old guy, the conversation limped along in a particularly discouraging manner.

Me: That’s a lovely pendant — what is it?

Nice Woman: When I bought it, I thought it was a lion, but when I got it home, I realized it wasn’t. I’m not sure what it is.

Her Husband: So her next trip was to the optometrist.

Polite laughter, followed by the sound of the conversation closing with a thud.

Old Guy: It was mighty cold in church today.

Me: The car I was driving this morning had no heat, so I thought, church will seem toasty. And it did!

Polite laughter. Silence. Husband and wife begin to murmur to each other.

Eventually, we did get things moving — we discovered that we’d all lived in Southern California, and shared the usual comparison of communities we’d lived in (Whittier, Northridge, and Irvine) and what had changed since we lived there. It turns out that the old guy had lived in the L.A. basin when he was in the service during World War II, which I found intriguing. I followed up, and unfortunately he launched into a meandering story that involved his son, a contractor, building Nancy Sinatra’s Hollywood home, and the lingering death of the Whittier Elks Club. I tried to listen politely and to find aspects of his tale interesting — the poor guy was clearly enjoying his largest audience of the week — but I did excuse myself after 15 minutes or so.

I left church feeling dispirited. The same dissatisfaction came over me when I chatted with a friend on the phone and felt afterward that I’d somehow failed to give him the support he sought. Darn it, I thought without irony, isn’t all of this network-building supposed to make me happy? I’m almost ashamed of the simple realization that followed: When you try new things, some won’t be followed by an immediate burst of joy.

I managed to see this in the light of a dating principle of mine which I think is clever. It goes like this: You have to take your shots. Dating is like basketball, in that you will miss more than you make. If you allow yourself to get unduly discouraged by each failure, then dating becomes drudgery. If, on the other hand, you react with equanimity, you will enjoy the process more, and will have a much better chance of eventually meeting someone with whom you click. After a dead-end date, I’m pretty good about saying to myself, “Ah, well, you have to take your shots.” (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a weird knack for dating and job interviews — not surprising, since they’re similar.)

I’m going to try to carry this dating principle over to other aspects of my nascent social life.

I came across the third principle while making a tentative list of Things That Might Make Me Happy:

Add three new features to my blog (I’d like to have an RSS button)
Add sources of pleasure and remove sources of guilt (perhaps difficult, since I’m terrorized by guilt often and often)
Find more ways to be intrepid (the source of my third principle)
Resume activities that I enjoyed as a child (drawing, for instance, which I practiced fanatically through high school)
Think about what you have that other people might envy

About that last: Dating experience does come to mind, strangely enough. In some ways I wish I’d stayed married, although I still dislike my ex-husband heartily. It pays to reframe this, though, and to remind myself that I’ve reveled in much of my single life. I adore men, and I enjoy meeting them — it’s the one area of my life in which I’m not the least bit shy. I regard myself as charming creature, and as a result, I do charm men.

The funny thing is, I’m not especially attractive. A boyfriend (the guy with Hegel in his bathroom) once told me that my features are striking but not pretty. I think that’s accurate. Only one gentleman of my acquaintance ever waxed poetic over my beauty, and he had strange taste. (I was mortified to discover that he longed after the large-nosed actress in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Apparently he had a thing for bold profiles.) I am quite thin, which often stands in for beauty, but I’m not what you would call a looker.

That said, I pride myself in the fact that every guy who has expressed an opinion on the matter says that I “exude sexuality.” Ever since I started college and began to get the usual number of propositions, I’ve thought, hey, I’m a hot number. It came to me much later that any woman who isn’t missing a limb gets propositioned when she’s 19, but by then it was too late — I was convinced that I am enchanting, and as a result, many men find me so.

All of this is by way of saying that maybe — just maybe — I can fool my way into believing that I’m attractive in other ways. Say, that women want to be my friend. Certainly it’s worth a try.

(I’m enjoying writing this morning, and am inclined to go on and on. Feel free to quit at any time.)

About being intrepid … well, I have to begin by saying that when I was in junior high and high school, I played Dungeons and Dragons avidly, which is not normal for a girl, even an unusually geeky one. Unlike a lot of people who have grown out of it, I think D&D was an excellent use of my time, and I’m not at all ashamed to have done it.

So, I had this wonderful character. His name was Inglorion, and of course he was quite exotic, what with his platinum hair, fair complexion, and eyes the color of mercury. Through a quirk of the game, he worshiped a goddess named Anacin III, after the pain reliever. Oh, and he was the bastard son of a duke.

Best of all, though, Inglorion was perfectly intrepid. He crashed through every cobweved cave entrance, mysterious oak-and-iron door, and, naturally, into every sort of booby trap. He took on bullies in taverns, seduced anything in a skirt, and charged into battle with glee. When he found himself outnumbered or outwitted, he responded with unfailing good humor. As a result, he proved indispensable to almost every party I campaigned with.

I bathed in Inglorion’s reflected glory throughout adolescence, and I tried to act as Inglorion would have if he found himself attending high school in a smallish Southwestern town. I danced with abandon, protested various evils of the mid-eighties, and launched journalistic crusades. I cheerfully refused drink (no one offered me drugs) and stayed out until dawn anyway, reveling in grungy bars when I could get in, and all-ages nightclubs when I couldn’t.

One example: I went to the prom stag my senior year wearing a gorgeous vintage dress that cost $15. I skipped the after-prom to check out an obscure band called Mad Parade. I was one of three people in the audience, and I danced happily and flirted with the guitar player after the show. I’m now skeeved out by the idea of a guy who was probably in his late 20s making up to a 17-year-old girl, but at that age my innocence was impenetrable, and no harm came of it.

Why is she telling us this? Well, I recalled it all yesterday, and felt ashamed of my timidity. I don’t like to change lanes, let alone charge hordes of orcs. Therefore, one of my mottoes for the year will be, “What would Inglorion do?” You can’t tell me that this is silly. Inglorion is a part of me — I just need to invite him out more often.

(None of this addresses why I chose to be a guy for so long, but, hey, some unconscious tics are best left undisturbed.)

One last observation: I clearly remember feeling uncomfortable at the prom. Going stag was not just unusual, but unheard of. Even so, mine was the most beautiful dress, and I learned a valuable lesson: Many prestigious social events are dull. For me, a dateless wonder, the prom seemed like an unattainable paradise — until I got there. I enjoyed it, but it was a definitely a letdown, primarily because it was packed with fellow high school seniors whom I didn’t like. The anticlimax proved to be a relief: I conquered the magical prom, and found it commonplace.

I’m tempted to go on, but I’ve probably delighted my audience enough for now. More later.

Love to all.

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