panda-like calm through fiction
I don't think I used to be a bad person; I'm not sure when that started, actually, but I know when I first became aware of it. I'll preface this by saying the girl was phenomenally beautiful- though I think that might be overselling it. Her appeal was that she was ordinary, too; she didn't seem like a beauty queen, or like she even really understood that she was pretty, there was just something wonderfully present about her. When I told her she was lovely, she smiled simply, and said, “I'm just me.”

Perhaps, I've told myself, things would have been different, had we met in a coffee shop, or a candy store, but we were in a repository of books- a city of books, really. And I let her sweep me away, into the fantasy section, where she asked if I'd read American Gods, because its author had published a follow-up. Now, I'm not a total idiot; I'm aware of Neil Gaiman, I just haven't read American Gods; I don't know if I ever really intend to. And of course I said that I had.

Everything beyond that is to the side, really; the mundanities of a relationship that are neither interesting nor unpredictable- they just are. But it was the first time I noticed it, consciously, though I'm no longer convinced it was the first (and certainly not the last).

Another incident happened with a coworker. He was one of those interesting people who knew his politics, but actually seemed to genuinely relish debating them. Rarely did he fall back on polemics , and even more rarely did he wall off ideas as sacred. But on the subject of the election in 2008 I found him oddly intransigent. His support of McCain was even more befuddling than his embrace of Rush Limbaugh, whose factlessness he did not dispute (there's still an outside chance Limbaugh is the most subversive satirist in the two centuries he's been active). But for some reason, he was determined to believe that Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, had been written by Bill Ayers (as if that had any significance anyway).

The argument had gone beyond tedious, derailing us from a useful debate of John McCain's presidential intentions for what was basically a poorly-hatched political witch-hunt. I told him I'd read the book, that the nautical references were no more than anyone who'd read Treasure Island as a kid (I'd read the condensed version, so I was being slightly more honest, here) would have been able to make. He eyed me the way he always did when he thought I was lying, but relented (because otherwise we'd have spent the next hour Googling our way to the truth- and as a Libertarian the truth was rarely on his side).

The last, I think, I perhaps save because it's the one I can justify the most, especially in a bad economy. I wasn't unemployed, but I've been underemployed for a good part of my life- working a job I was probably too smart for when I got out of high school, let alone now, most of the way through my bachelor's. I answered an ad on Craigslist, looking for, well, me, really. It was the first time I was enthused about a job, because the listing was looking for someone with my exact qualifications and personality.

And of course, the first question out of my interviewers lips was had I read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I could tell from the way he said it that he had not, but that he believed that someone he wanted to hire would have. Now, I know parts of Strunk and White like they were tattooed on the backs of my eyelids, but anyone who's tried to read the entirety of the book understands that it is an act of literary masochism trying to crawl through its entirety. I told him that I read a section every night before bed, to stay sharp. But over the course of the interview, it became clear that decisions had already been made to change their direction. That I was exactly what they'd advertised for seemed irrelevant; that I was happy to do the job in the way that was different from how they'd advertised seemed doubly so.

Singularly, these incidents seem like minor slips, an ego-protecting knee-jerk with little lasting moral relevance; together, they begin to sketch a picture I know too well. I used to be trustworthy; I used to trust myself not to worry about a moment's failure when weighted against my ability to trust myself. I used to know if I'd tell the truth about what I'd read and what I know- but I can't anymore. Though I suppose I can look forward to the day I can lie to myself.

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