Faces and the Occupations of the Mind

I like data. I’m naturally drawn to complex things that don’t really involve people — electronics, maps, architectural diagrams, programming code, chess, mechanical stuff, etc., and I’m really comfortable picking up a complex thing that I’ve never seen before. These traits are not unlike those of many men I know.

Being naturally drawn to people, though — that’s a different story. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not a socially awkward geek — but I’ve been noticing something lately as I’ve been working on remembering people’s faces and names.   I’m very present when I’m with someone (and I’m mainly talking about new people here, but it applies also to people who are a fundamental part of my life) — but when I’m not with that person, I just don’t think about them. I don’t think about what I’ll say to them when I see them again. I don’t wonder what their lives are like, whether they’re married or have kids, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. That’s just not what my mind does on its own. So after I meet someone initially, they often quickly fade in my mind so that when I see them again, a week later, it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time. Nothing stuck from the last meeting.  I’m like that goldfish, constantly surprised to see the little plastic castle in his tank.

With respect to faces, what I rarely do — and what I’m trying to do now — is to picture the person’s face in my mind after we’ve parted. I’m now trying to let other people’s being into my mind. I’ll picture her face, his face, I’ll remember their name, maybe something about them, I’ll remember something I want to say — *want* to say, not just feel obligated to say — to them when I see them again. This really involves a fundamental turning:  turning towards people, and away from the other stuff that I usually occupy myself with.  I’m choosing to spend my mental energy on people rather than things. It’s exercise for me; it doesn’t come naturally.  It feels forced, and false, like smiling when you don’t want to.  But I believe that even this small effort has an impact, both on me and on those around me.

I still like my iPod Touch, but, as Martin Buber might frame it, I’m voting Yes for the I-Thou relationship.

About David

Prone to musing and to being prone. Father to two, writer, engineer.
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11 Responses to Faces and the Occupations of the Mind

  1. gammaword says:

    Yeah, “I and Thou” was one of those really profound books for me. Read it years ago and it just always stuck with me.

    That’s a pretty crazy statistic about the eye closing! Even though it’s not that scientific, I believe it somehow. It’s just so fascinating — it says so much about the way people typically relate. It’s as though, at the moment of greatest ecstasy, we are afraid to open and experience that in front of another person. I wonder if that gets to something you said about people feeling shame around sex, and so there’s this reticence to actually have someone else see you experience it. May also be a Puritanical aspect to it — just sharing pleasure (of whatever kind), to that mind-set, is “bad.”

    Anyway, this idea of having to tune out one’s partner just to reach orgasm — if true, then how sad is that?

    • EarthMother says:

      It is sad, though I am not surprised by the numbers at all and in fact find them a little high. A comedian years ago had a joke about the look on one’s face at the moment of orgasm… think it was Dennis Miller, and he said the look was just that of a chimp who needed cheese. I think we have self confidence and shame issues. I also suspect that at the moment of climax we may actually be fighting biology to stay other-focused. Its a very internal feeling, unless its one of those soft expansive ones where you feel like you’re merging into the cosmos and stuff.

      Thanks for the Buber reference, been about fifteen years since I read that in religious studies classes and later in transpersonal psych classes.

      • gammaword says:

        Oh my, I think you may have seriously impacted my future sex life — I’m always going to remember this image of a chimp needing cheese. 🙂 That’s priceless and will be stuck in my head for a long time.

        I understand the self-confidence and shame issues, although personally, I don’t really experience those, which is why I’m so intrigued by what you said about biology. I mean, I do close my eyes at times. Sometimes it’s because she’s got her eyes closed (which mostly she does), but yeah, sometimes it’s “something else” — I feel like I’m going inside myself in some way. I never thought about it in terms of biology, though. What do you mean?

  2. EarthMother says:

    The physiology of the orgasm is to me such that it’s really almost impossible to stay clearly focused on the Other. Your heart is tripping and then stopping, every endorphin in your endocrinal system is flying, every muscle contracting all at once. I’ve actually been meditating on this for a couple days myself… I can’t recall in the past if there were many times at all where I was able to stay focused the entire time. Many times I closed my eyes. The one or two times I know I did not or was being encouraged by my partner to stay with them, I think it was close… yet I believe I did “go away” at that specific moment and come back.

    Will be interesting to try to stay mindful next time to see.

  3. eatingthrough says:

    Oh my gosh, gammaword, I can’t believe I’ve never read your blog before. I love your writing style, I love the essence of what you’ve written about in this post, and I’m just mad for the detail about the plastic castle in the fishbowl. Lovely.

    You’ve been so wonderful about reading my blog, I was telling a friend over lunch this week how much I appreciate that when she asked what your blog was about. It was in that moment I realized that you are a real person with a blog of your own, until then I just hadn’t considered your reality beyond a kind soul who read my blog. So, rather abashedly, here I am, reading your blog and genuinely appreciating that we kindred spirits have found a way to connect out here in cyber space.


    • gammaword says:

      Hi eatingthrough — fancy meeting you out here in cyberspace! I’m glad you enjoyed the post so much. But I gotta say, I hope your friend gave you an appropriately hard time for finally allowing dawn to break across your brow. 😉

      Do keep up the fabulous writing (and life-processing) you’re doing.

  4. alphabetfiend says:

    My RobotBoyLoverMan has this crazy gift where during intimacy of any kind, even just watching tv feet up in his lap foot massage, he’s able to enter my energy and manipulate it from the inside — which makes his nickname especially funny. And apt. As a lover it’s a hell of a skill. And then there’s me. I’m neither in his body or my own really because I open up to the noosphere

  5. alphabetfiend says:

    (oops! Hit publish by accident) Was just saying that I enter some “other” too but it’s like the wild wild west of words. A vortex of sensory images & stories. I know this is due in part to my synesthesia. Touch crossing with color, vision processed as sound. I wonder though, is this fair to him? He comes over to visit and I leave. I’m not trying to avoid intimacy, it’s just that intimacy with the part (him) leads to intimacy with the whole (world, morphic field, collective consciousness) I’m always taking in the stories & emotions & secrets of others but sex is when I download it onto my hard drive. Now whose the Robot? I wonder if he feels cheated? I’ll hafta ask!

    • gammaword says:

      I’m not sure I see where fairness enters the picture — you don’t really leave, or at least, your leave-taking is in the same touch-space as his and no doubt sends special shivers up his spine. To be a part of that — to have in some way caused that — is a rush. I mean, what is intimacy if it’s not sharing sacred moments? You bring the divine into bed and he participates in that. What better?

  6. alphabetfiend says:

    Are you sure about this outta sight outta mind thing?? That’s not ringing exactly true.

    • gammaword says:

      Well…depends on the person of course. I’m mostly referring to people with whom I’ve not yet felt any sort of connection (and with whom I may never feel one).

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