Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Rules of the Game

I recently bought this book on "the art of attraction" for a guy I know, and of course I read most of it first. (One of my college boyfriends had this book on his shelf, and I was amazed that he wasn't embarrassed about it. I was embarrassed enough for the both of us and never looked at it.) The book's best section is the section of "Routines," actual scripts for how to start a conversation, or how to move towards the first kiss, etc. One of the routines (meant for "demonstrating value" to a girl you just met) purports to reveal your innermost motivation in three questions.

1. "If you had to choose one thing you need to have in your life in order to feel like life is worthwhile, what would it be?" (Alternatively: "Name something you really enjoy doing.")
2. "Okay, if you have [worthwhile thing] in your life, what kinds of things does that allow you to do or experience?" (Alternatively: "Describe your perfect experience of [worthwhile thing].")
3. "Okay, imagine a time in the future or even now when you have [worthwhile thing] in your life. And this enables you to do [various things]. How would that make you feel inside?" (The answer should be more specific than "good" or "happy.")

The answer to question number three is your "core value." Now the guy doing the hitting-on is supposed to recommend, "Whenever you have to make an important life decision, whether it's about a job or a guy or a friend, just ask yourself if it brings you closer to that [feeling] feeling." (If you want to read the whole thing, it's on the Amazon "Surprise me!" preview, pp 245-246.) Imagine having this conversation at a bar! It would only work if everyone was a drunk. It's like hitting on someone by ripping open their chest! (C.f. fav ever Mary Gaitskill metaphor, from "A Romantic Weekend": "His gaze penetrated her so thoroughly, it was as though he had thrust his hand into her chest and begun feeling her ribs one by one.")

What is your answer to question three? The conclusion of the questionnaire caught me off guard, and as a result I think my answer does reflect something true about me. My answer was "not lonely." Which is why it's funny that I've ended up here, in a country where I don't have any friends and have no ideas or plans for how to meet some. Someday soon, my personality might flip inside out, and the embarrassment and trouble of using the Internet to find friends will seem less awful than my very complete loneliness.

Until then, I have been thinking a lot about a new word to describe extended travel, namely, "Renunciation." This is from Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be, and she is quoting the I Ching: "RENUNCIATION: Voluntary retreat brings good fortune to the superior man, and downfall to the inferior man" (76). I'm not as interested in whether I will turn out superior or inferior (probably the latter)--the sticking point is more, why would you retreat (reject, abandon) voluntarily? (I also keep thinking about what, exactly, characterizes a Pyrrhic victory.) This seems utterly different (and better, for now) than my previous thought about extended travel, from Tobias Wolff's Paris Review interview: "It's good for a while to be dropped through the bottom, to be a little helpless, to have to scramble to make do, because as you get older, you do less and less of that, and it's good for you, it takes the rust off." I wasn't rusting in college, I was having the time of my fucking life.

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