At what point does a hug become an embrace? Where is the threshold between a “peck” or a “smooch” and a kiss? How long must a handshake last before it becomes “holding hands?” Intimacy, like so many other experiences, is a matter of degrees. Rarely do we attempt to articulate the means by which we measure levels of personal engagement; but when we do, we find those measures almost impossible to quantify. Each of us, individually, just “know” the limits beyond which acceptable interactions change into awkward, unsettling experiences. Yet those individual limits differ from one person to the next. So, for example, one person may be perfectly comfortable giving someone a long, leisurely hug, while the recipient might feel uncomfortable—to the point that she feels as if the arms wrapped around her constitutes something akin to molestation.
Everyone has his own comfort zones and, conversely, discomfort zones. Except for almost imperceptible clues given by people with whom we interact, we might regularly stumble across personal boundaries. Yet when we try to precisely define those clues and those boundaries—and how we know whether and when they have been crossed—we are unsure how we know them; only that we do. Interestingly, the degree to which identical intimate behaviors are considered acceptable—or, in fact, are welcomed—can depend on the context in which they occur. In the company of others, an embrace (whatever that is) may be perfectly acceptable, but if it takes place with no one else present, it can be awkward and uncomfortable (or exciting and desirable).
Depending on the relationship between people, a discussion of the matters addressed in the two paragraphs above can be either intriguing and educational or delicate and embarrassing. Through unspoken communication, we “know” almost automatically which will be true. The languages of human relationships are enormously complex. We learn many of those languages through simple observation. Knowledge of others comes only from excruciating experience.
Food for thought. Or flavors that prompt one to feel the need to fast or, at least, diet.
I have thin skin. Literally. My skin used to seem thick, like a flexible protective coating. Now, though, it is thin and it looks brittle, though it is not. It is not brittle, but it is delicate; easily torn or otherwise damaged. Hidden beneath that diaphanous layer, blood flows through veins so narrow the cells must align themselves in single-file to fit through those conduits. A person could become so deeply absorbed in the intricacies of the cells and tissues and organs of his own body that he could not notice the passage of time. Days and nights and weeks and months could go by during one’s focused examination of his skin, he nails, and the almost invisible hairs that grow from his skin. A person could get lost in fascination with the way the epithelial cells align on his arms, creating striated patterns that look like mountain ranges viewed from a satellite circling a hundred miles above Earth. Imagine a conversation with a friend; a conversation that mimics these observations. If both parties to the conversation were to open up completely about the dialogue, the pair would become close. That’s what sharing intense thoughts and observations tends to do. It brings people close. It makes them feel like they are sharing intimate secrets. Or it fills one or both of them with abject fear of exploring the unknown. Often, though, we do not know which, until it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
The pain in my clavicle has almost completely disappeared. The six-day course of steroids has done the trick, at least temporarily. I hope it lasts. But the pain in my shoulder when I reach with my arm comes quickly and intensely. It feels the way I imagine a knife to the shoulder would feel. I need to learn not to reach. Just stay immobile. Painkillers would be nice. Powerful stuff that would make me feel warm and comfortable and free of pain and worry. I think I may understand why people turn to illicit drugs; I suspect those chemicals can erase physical discomfort and can replace emotional pain with elation. Experiencing such ecstasy just once could leave a person hopelessly addicted; not necessarily to the joy, but to the absence of of agony.
Tomorrow, I will buy four new tires. And I hope the cause of my dash brake light illuminating on sharp right turns will be discovered and corrected. Today, I will think and act and consider all sorts of things. I will indulge my fantasies and attempt to suppress anger that might bubble to the surface. I will listen to the rain and watch the leaves continue to fall, littering the driveway and the street and the forest beyond. So many things to occupy my mind and my time. Time to light another cone of incense, letting the aroma of patchouli transport me to another time and place. That, I hope, will distract me from the fact that my coffee maker died this morning before it could produce even a single cup of French roast coffee. The fact that coffee is unavailable this morning is enough to cause me to worry; how will I cope? I will be fine. I have done without coffee for months at a time in years past. I can do it again if I must. I can substitute water for coffee. I can be an ascetic for a day. And I can order a new coffee maker while I experience the refreshing feeling of swallowing cold water. If I focus my attention on the way water makes me feel, I will be happy and enlightened. And I will. I will, indeed.
Meg, my understanding of “wash, rinse, repeat” is that it indicates “the continual repetition of an action or sequence of events, typically in a way regarded as tiresomely predictable.” Is that what you had in mind?
Wash, rinse, repeat.