Rules of Attraction, or, Love in a Time of Confusion

Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed, anymore?

I’m not ogling, I’m…I’m…appreciating!

But when does a smile become a leer?

Is there, now, any appropriate way for one adult human to indicate attraction toward another adult human? Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed anymore?

Must we revert to formal introductions, chaperoned courtship, and a kind of Regency-romance style of communication? (with apologies to Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, whose cynical proposal of marriage to Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, is echoed in the image above – credit where credit is due). “My dear sir, it cannot have escaped your attention that I find you to be the embodiment of male pulchritude (translation – “damn, baby, look at that butt! And those sculpted arms!”) and that I would greatly enjoy appreciating you more closely, you gorgeous hunka…”

Oh, wait – I digress. That’s not exactly Regency style, and is clearly off-limits. If you say it out loud.

What if you say it with your smile and your eyes? Bad? Wrong? Certainly ridiculous, in my case.

But if online dating is just too creepy and scary, and when merely striking up a conversation with a person to whom one is attracted feels perilous, how is anyone going to find love?

Or more to the point, how are adults to find each other to share (after an appropriate period of “getting to know one another,” probably vetting by trusted friends, and maybe a background check and some medical testing), erm…. how shall we say this? to share, erm, … mutually consensual physical affection?

There’s a chapter in my book called, “God Help Me, I’m Turning Into Betty White!”

No offense, Betty, I love you – everyone loves you – I’m just referring to that shtick you do, where you look sideways at a much younger man – with obvious, intense and substantial appreciation.

The chapter in the book recounts a fleeting incident of that kind of thing, where the younger man almost certainly didn’t notice me noticing him, and I noticed how ridiculous I was being anyway.

But Betty has been doing that bit, or playing characters who behave that way, probably since she was younger than I am now. And it is (was?) funny because women of a certain age are not supposed to feel, and certainly not supposed to display, desire. Because that would be ridiculous, right? Hilarious?

Well, it may be ridiculous, and maybe hilarious, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

Is the Betty bit ok, anymore? Or is that not OK? Seriously, I’m asking. I used to think this sort of thing was utterly harmless. And for God’s sake, Betty White is pretty damn harmless. And funny.

But if women object to being objectified, men get to object, too. It’s a goose/gander thing, right? Equal is equal.

Does that put any form of appreciation for another adult’s physical beauty off limits?

Case in point: I was in the local drugstore (pharmacy, or “chemist’s,” for you users of British English) the other day, looking for this little loofah thing I could have sworn I bought in that store, but I couldn’t find it.

So I went looking for a store clerk to help me find it – and as I turned toward the sound of someone asking an unseen clerk for help, I saw a stunningly handsome man striding around the corner of the aisle, toward the unseen clerk who was trying to help him find what he wanted. They later resolved the problem by ordering the item for him at the desk.

Where I waited, at what I hope was a decent, respectful distance, for my turn to speak to a clerk to help me find what I needed, which, it turned out, they also didn’t have.

But I waited long enough to ….um,….appreciate this guy. Trying to be discreet, but still. I appreciated him long enough to notice that he was the embodiment of my current (unattainable, I suppose, much to my regret – but see, “lack of youth and beauty finds recompense in experience and enthusiasm,” above) ideal – jeans, work boots – obviously made his living working hard, and from the look of him, working mostly outside. Black hair. Good natured with the clerk. A nice, nice looking guy, who appeared to be the kind of guy who knows how to do stuff.

And look absolutely amazing while doing so.

I mean, this guy could stop traffic.

(And actually did, later, when we both tried to pull out of the parking lot at the same time. You know how that goes – you go and stop, because you see another person pulling out, and then they stop because they see you, and you both wait a sec, and then you both start going, until someone makes a decision about who gets to go first. In this case, he backed his pickup truck – my new favorite vehicle, when driven by the likes of him – out a little, saw me coming, and stopped, but I stopped too, and then we both started and stopped again, and then I waved him on, laughing).

He was laughing too, flashing a blindingly beautiful smile. A smile that suggested that he knew I had appreciated him, and (sadly, to me) thought it was funny.

He turned right, I turned left, and that was that.

And the day just continued like that – it was a lovely, sunny day, I was in a good mood, wearing a bright rose-orange t-shirt, jeans and shades, and my hair was blowing around, fetchingly, I thought, in its naturally curly state, and good-looking men were walking, biking and working outside, all over the place.

And I smiled at them.

That’s OK, isn’t it?

Or isn’t it?

The more I think about it the closer I come to another panic attack.

The men I smiled at that day weren’t seeking attention from me. They were just out and about, doing what they do.

Was I wrong to smile at them, appreciatively?

Seriously, I’m asking. Was that wrong?

Because I’m not very good at hiding my, erm, appreciation for good looking, talented, kind, effective men who look like guys who know how to do stuff – fix things, build things, open things that won’t open, close things that won’t close, etc.

Handy man. In the practical and the James Taylor sense (“I fix broken hearts, baby I’m your handyman…”)

What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do?

Get me to a nunnery?

Still hoping to find affection, somewhere, and awaiting your sage advice, I remain, your humble, devoted, confused, anxious,

Ridiculouswoman

One Moment To Get This Off My Chest

Let’s just take a moment for a quick dip in the Snark Tank, so I can vent a little, and then try to get back to trying to be nice (but remember, I own a T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting” and another one that says, “I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter…”

So, a snarking we will go…

Fiction Friday – Obsession and Possession: Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Some books … become part of me…

The best times of my life have been spent in imaginary places. Or real places that have been populated with imaginary people. I’ve learned more from great novels than from any history book or non-fiction treatise I’ve ever struggled through.

Humans thrive on narrative and storytelling – we make sense of the world by telling stories about it. The stories may be true, or myth or some combination of the two, but a narrative will always stick with me where a dry list of facts may not. Tell me a story, though, in words, or words and music, and I’ll remember.

Some of my best friends are fictional characters. They’re always there for me when I need them, getting into and out of the same scrapes and adventures, saying witty or silly or profound things, expressing their hearts in a way that touches mine. I’ve been a nerd a long time, and often a lonely one, and I’ve always found a friend in a book.

Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I used to be unable to get rid of books at all. I’ve gotten more ruthless about it, especially with new books (or books new to me.) If they don’t grab me right away, I ring the bell and shout, “Next!” (See the latest entry over there in the Snark Tank.)

But if the book grabs me, holds my attention, makes me stay up all night to finish it, well, it’s MINE, MINE I tell you! And will be for life. Nothing can induce me to get rid of books that have befriended me, helped me through hard times, and give me something new every time I reread them.

I love historical fiction and speculative fiction, and there are a few books in these categories that have changed my life, or, more accurately, become absorbed into my life – become a part of me.

There is only one series, however, that has very nearly spoiled me for all others. Reading anything else is really just a break from rereading these – the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series: the extended tale of a British Royal Navy captain and his particular friend during the Napoleonic wars.

These are not easy books. The first especially requires a leap of faith – just suspend disbelief and trust that you’ll get it eventually.

I first came upon these books for kind of a silly reason – I have a strict “read the book before you see the movie” rule. Back in 2002 or so, I heard that Russell Crowe (and back then I was still in the throes of a pretty serious Russell Crowe problem) was to star in a film called “Master and Commander.”

So I marched off to the library and that book. And something told me I’d better take the next two in the series as well.

I sat down to read it, and I didn’t budge for about 14 hours other than to address basic needs. I remember thinking it was complex, the language hard to follow, but something about it just captured me. The book had a helpful diagram of a ship in the front, and a helpful scene where one of the seamen explained to one of the characters what many of the ship’s parts and the sailor’s expressions meant.

And as I got into I came to care very much about the characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and struggled to savor the writing while fighting the impulse to read ahead quickly to discover what would happen next.

Here was a world recreated in great detail; here was honor, duty, adventure and a great deal of humor. Parts of these books made me laugh out loud, sometimes laugh so hard I cried.

I confess I haven’t read all of Jane Austen, but I know Patrick O’Brian was a fan of hers, and his books are like, you should pardon the expression, Jane Austen with balls.

I don’t know why I like books that contain famous battles or details of military history. I’m pretty much a pacifist – but I just love stories of brave people doing brave things in pursuit of what they perceived to be honorable goals.

I finished those first three books in less than two days and raced back to the library to grab the next four or five, because I couldn’t imaging the agony of having to wait for the next one.

The devotees of these novels who started with them when they first began to appear often had to wait two years between books. I think that might have broken me – I just had to know what would happen next. And while I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I never really understood the impulse to wait outside a bookstore at midnight for the next installment – but I would have camped out for a week for the next one of these Aubery-Maturin books.

I’m a member of a Facebook group devoted to these books, where no one thinks it is weird that you use eighteenth-century language (“Give me joy!” or “I have the honor to report…” or “grass-combing bugger!” or “would one of you learned coves explain, in terms amenable to the meanest understanding?”) I’ve read the complete Aubrey/Maturin novels, all twenty of them, five times. (They are now mostly available as a complete set in a 5 volume hardcover, but you might be able to find the 20 individual paperbacks used online somewhere, and there’s a 21st, but it is unfinished and sad). I just can’t get enough of Jack and Stephen’s world, and I find something new in these books each time I reread them.

So, Jack, Stephen, you have spoiled me for all others; you have stolen my heart and earned my loyalty for as long as my eyes can read.

When I finished the series from the library, I was able to locate an online bookstore devoted to all things Aubrey-Maturin, and at what was then far too great an expense, as I was grossly underemployed at the time, enduring a sad and difficult time in my life, I purchased the entire set. They now occupy the shelf formerly occupied by my Mike’s chess books. When Mike was unable to read them or concentrate on them anymore, he piled them all into the car and drove them off to give them to a young man who was supposedly trying to start some kind of chess club or school, but who was unhelpful and singularly unappreciative of the effort this dying man took to deliver those books to him.

I kept a few of Mike’s poetry books, the ones that contained poems he shared with me and that we could discuss together, but a great many of the rest went to the hospice chaplain, who shared Mike’s love of poetry and whose friendship, right at the end of Mike’s life, was a great gift to us both.

That made room for me to bring my books downstairs, into our little library room. The speculative fiction I enjoy now has its own separate bookcase filled mostly with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (Neuromancer my brain to entirely new places, as did Snow Crash. Sharing the shelves with Patrick O’Brian are Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series (absolutely hilarious – someone Fraser has managed to place his hero at every major British and American military engagement of the nineteenth century). Those are good and a nice diversion from the next go-round of O’Brian. McCullough eventually starts writing more like a Roman historian than a novelist, so for me that series kind of wore out, but the first two, The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown are especially good.

These worlds the authors have created or recreated refresh me, comfort me, keep me company and help me through hard times. When I have to come back to the world I actually live in, I feel refreshed, strengthened, but also supported, knowing that there are a few, a self-selected few thousand people on the planet, who love these books as much as I do, and the human connection that results from just knowing they are out there gives me hope and gets me through my days.

You’ll either get completely hooked on Patrick O’Brian, or you won’t get through the books at all. There really is no in-between that I’ve ever heard of with these.

So if you set sail, I give you joy and wish you fair winds and following seas. Let me know if you decide to embark, and if you sign on as crew for life with Captain Jack.

We Interrupt This Program for a Brief Dive Into the Snark Tank

I have a few quibbles to get off my chest before my Thankful Thursday post. I’ve spent a lot of time reading during the last week and came across some of my pet peeves – misuses or misspelling of words. Which reminded me also of a few of my pet radio peeves, mispronunciations of common words, suffixes, etc.

So before I get rolling too much on that stuff I think I’d better dive on over into the Snark Tank to take care of it, OK? Back in a few.