Friday, October 13, 2006

Occupational Hazard

I ended up not doing nearly as much reading as I'd planned yesterday, mostly because I kind of went on a cooking binge. I cranked up Ella Fitzgerald on the CD player (it was an Ella kind of day) and made oatmeal raisin cookies -- using a mix of regular and golden raisins and dried cranberries for the raisins and throwing in some toasted walnuts and cinnamon chips. Then I made a stew for dinner. I think I was having so much fun with the new chef's knife that I deliberately made something that involved a lot of cutting and chopping.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a Word Spy definition that she said sounded like me. The word was quirkyalone, which is someone who enjoys being single and therefore prefers to wait for the right person instead of just dating a lot. Yeah, that would be me. Further, this is a person who really is a romantic and who doesn't want to settle for less, which is part of why they're still single. As the person who apparently coined the term says, "We are no less concerned with coupling than your average serial monogamist. Secretly, we are romantics, romantics of the highest order. We want a miracle. Out of millions we have to find the one who will understand."

I generally consider this quirk to be an occupational hazard of being a writer or being someone who has the kind of imagination it takes to be a writer. I can't seem to turn off the writing part of my brain, even when it's getting in the way. If I meet someone, before I have the slightest chance to get to know him, my brain has already drafted the entire love story -- the witty conversation, the first date, the proposal, the wedding. Sometimes, I don't even have to meet someone to start that kind of daydreaming. If I'm going to a place where I could potentially meet people, I'll have dreamed up a cute meet with someone perfect for me, the witty conversation, the progression of the relationship, etc. That puts a lot of pressure on the real encounters. No human being can live up to what's going on in my head.

I think that's part of why I'm the queen of the Crush from Afar. Until I went to a high school that was too small to do anything from afar, I always seemed to have crushes on guys I didn't actually know and never made an effort to meet. My first big one was in seventh grade, on an eighth-grade boy who was in my PE class (there were 80 people in my PE class, so still plenty of distance). By the end of the school year, I had an impressive dossier on him. I knew his entire schedule, who he hung out with, even which books he checked out of the library -- because it seemed like I was always pulling the same ones off the shelf, and then seeing his name on the checkout card (yes, I took that as a sign that we Were Meant To Be). Thanks to my mom meeting his stepmother at some military wives luncheon, I even knew all about his family and his backstory. I daydreamed all kinds of romance-novel-worthy scenarios about how we'd end up meeting, but I seemed to go out of my way to avoid meeting him in reality. If I saw him coming, I'd head the other way. My friends were absolutely forbidden to say his name, point to him or otherwise indicate any interest whatsoever in him. Even though the class we had together was the kind that might allow for many mingling and casual chat opportunities, I somehow managed never to end up on a team or in a small group with him (of course, there that may have been smart, as I was phenomenally uncoordinated and would not have made a good impression). I think I enjoyed the idea of having a crush, of liking someone who didn't know I existed and didn't know someone liked him that much, and all the fun little mental fantasies the crush gave me more than I would have liked the idea of dealing with him in reality. I went through a similar pattern in eighth grade, and then again in college (The University of Texas, with some 50,000 students and lecture classes with 200-800 students, is the ideal place to have a good crush from afar).

But, you know, sometimes reality does cooperate with the daydreaming, which only reinforces the cycle. I have two great examples, and I swear, I am not making this up. At UT, I was in the ballroom dancing club my senior year. Every year, they have The Great Waltz of Texas, where they have a chamber orchestra in the Texas Union ballroom, and people come all dressed up for a night of waltzing. I went with the club, which was a mix of guys and girls, nobody really coupled up. Of course, I had daydreams about being swept off my feet by a handsome man. When they struck up "The Blue Danube" as the first waltz and everyone in my group paired up, I was left the odd one out, which I didn't mind because I wanted to get a sense of things before I hit the dance floor. But a moment later, a voice beside me said in a European accent, "Excuse me, Miss." I turned to see a tall, blond man wearing a tux with tails. He bowed and clicked his heels together, then asked, "Are you unaccompanied for the evening?" When I said I was, he asked if I would care to dance, then he held his arm out to escort me to the floor. I spent most of the evening being literally swept off my feet (he was a very energetic Viennese waltzer) and generally feeling like Cinderella. At the end of the event, we got our coats -- his was an opera cloak -- and he walked me down the grand staircase. When we got outside, a dense fog had rolled in, and once we parted on the West Mall, he disappeared into the mist in a swirl of opera cloak. Seriously. I did not make that up. I'm not even embellishing.

The other time something like that happened, I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. I had the usual daydreams about meeting someone cool there before the event. Then the opening session got pretty boring, so I started studying the other attendees. There was one really cute guy maybe just a bit older than me there, and I found myself daydreaming about how he'd approach me during the coffee break, blah, blah, the usual romantic fantasy. And then we had a coffee break. I was heading over to the refreshment table when I saw the cute guy walking straight toward me. Yep, he did approach me, we talked, then we went to lunch together, wandering Georgetown to find the perfect place with the right atmosphere, and we pretty much hung out for the rest of the conference. If that happened in the Internet age, we'd have probably at least tried to keep in touch by e-mail, but back then, the phone and snail mail to each other's offices, which was the contact info we had through the conference, seemed a bit too much, so it didn't go beyond that. But it didn't really need to because that weekend was great for what it was and reminded me that I was capable of snagging the cutest guy in the room.

And that brings me to the here and now. Remember that anchorman I have the huge crush on? Well, his station is doing a community event in a town next to mine tomorrow, and he's the station's on-air personality for the event. This could be my chance to meet him, and now I'm wondering if I really want to. I know me, so I know the odds are that if I even saw him, I'd head in the opposite direction and totally freeze up, even if I do have plenty of icebreaking material, since we went to the same journalism school and know a lot of the same people. Mom said to just look so hot that he'd want to come over and talk to me, but just thinking of that is making my stomach go all wobbly and my heart race. Is it more fun to daydream, and is it worth the risk that I might meet him and think he's a jerk, or that he wouldn't be remotely interested in me, which would mean I'd no longer have my fun daydreams? And by this time, have I built him up so much in my head that there's too much pressure for reality to stand a chance? Then there's the fact that it's supposed to be a family event, and that makes me feel weird about going alone (Mom said to say I was researching a book if anyone said something). And, of course, my silly romantic writer's brain is busy at work. By the time I'd finished reading the information on the event, my brain had scripted our introductory conversation, mentally searched my calendar for a day I might be free to get together with him again, planned my outfit for that date, and then realized that the event is held at a site you can rent for wedding receptions, which would be perfect if that's where we met. ARRRGGGGHHHH! It's enough to drive me crazy. Why can't I just meet someone and have a nice chat like a normal person, without writing the story of the rest of our lives in my head at the same time?

I guess you'll know the outcome if that paragraph (and any related comments) disappears abruptly tomorrow afternoon. That's the hazard of being a quasi-public figure and trying to balance life and blogging. There's no way of filtering out people I know from reading this, and if you met someone who was an author, wouldn't you get a little curious and Google them to check them out? It's like there's this treasure trove of info on what I'm like and what I like if someone bothered to read all this, and I'm not sure I'd want one of his early impressions to be me gushing about having a crush on him in a very recent entry (he'd have to be really into me to dig far enough back for anything else I've mentioned). I do know that people I've met have looked me up in the past. If these last two paragraphs disappear tomorrow and you're dying to know what happened, e-mail me and I'll do a secret e-mail blog post about it.

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