Friday, June 30, 2006


Dave reprinted one of my favorite posts of his -- he had forgotten it, he says, but I had not -- which chimes interestingly with the self-portrait project: Looking Ourselves Over. I am apparently, by Apache standards, egregiously a whiteman. Almost everything irritating that whites do, I do to even greater excess (well, except for speaking rapidly and aggressively). Particularly looking long and directly into someone's eyes.

Long ago and far away, when I was in graduate school, I used to have coffee sometimes with a friend, and we'd talk about this and that, gossip about department doings and so on. I'd just drop by the coffeeshop and see if she was there; if she was, I'd sit down and have a cup. It was an easy and rewarding relationship.

One day I sat down, and she was looking bemused. "Just before you got here, the girl at the counter asked me if we were in love," she said. "She said we were always gazing into each other's eyes."

She laughed, and added (with what seemed to me unnecessary emphasis), "I said NO!"

The long night of childrearing descended on me, then, and since I had no social life how much I looked into people's eyes was not an issue. But recently, emerging slowly from my burrow as I have been, it's a matter of interest again. I had lunch with a woman last month, and I thought of my grad school friend, and of the Apaches, so I paid some attention. Sure enough, I was gazing into her eyes. I consciously did a bit less of that, turned my body slightly aside, looked elsewhere. Every time I checked, though, there I was again. Violating the Apache sense of decorum and probably even the Portland one. Gazing. It's not easy to shift such habits. It will take some mindfulness and practice.

I can trace it back. For many years of my life the only relationships I was at all interested in having were love-relationships. I don't think I ever learned the body language of friendship. So I treat everyone as a lover. No wonder I make hetero men uncomfortable. (Why, I wonder, do I not make lesbians uncomfortable? I don't seem to. I'll have to ask.)

I always needed to push. The Apaches have that tagged right. It is aggressive, challenging, to lock onto people's eyes like that. Even -- or maybe I should say especially -- when it's an affectionate gaze. I'm demanding more than my share.

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