Some years back, in my early 20s, I went through one of those phases that people tend to go through. Don't know anymore what kind of phase it was, but I'm sure it must have been. A phase that makes one more sensitive to things. Or maybe 'perceptive'. Or maybe one just projects things onto one's perceptions that one usually doesn't. Perceptions about people mainly, and the different kinds one comes across. As is usual during the Sturm-und-Drang period of one's life at that age--well, it's not just 'that age', but for most people it kinda ends by 30 at the latest; poor bastards--these perceptions about people weren't on the whole positive. By and large they still aren't, but at that age it bothered me more than it does today.
In those days I mostly wrote what qualifies as 'vignettes' on life. They weren't really stories, but ruminations across the inner landscape of 'me'. Some of them were a few hundred words long; others got up to 3000, I suppose. And, yes, they were all written in English, with me still experimenting with the language. Very stilted at times. Afraid to write as I spoke or thought.
Anyway, one day I got onto a bus--I lived in Brisbane then--and sat down and looked around me, and my the tenor of my perception of the other people there was pretty dismal. All except for one, a girl probably in her mid-teens in the inevitable high-school uniform of some Brisbane school. Dark haired. Quite pretty. Quiet. Oval face. Remarkable dark brown eyes, which were just slightly crosseyed. The kind of face that one never forgets, especially given the circumstances, though I suppose over time my memory of it has become modified, as tends to happen. Still, without claiming to be able to actually visualize it, I still have a notion that I actually remember it. Particularly since I went home and immediately sat down and wrote this little 'vignette' on life, external and internal-to-me, called Crosseyed Love. And as I wrote it, it was one of those things that makes you realize stuff about what it is you perceive. This is one of the great things about writing things down, especially if you actually like doing it. You find out about things and about yourself seeing things, and little details that otherwise you would probably either never or else much later have been able to become aware of.
In this instance it was about the effect people have on one another. In the little story the girl was surrounded by aliens who stole away the lives of those they came into contact with. They did this by distorting time--for when you looked at them, time all of a sudden seemed to slow to an agonizing crawl. Not in a good way, mind you, but one of those really boring crawls. Boredom multiplied by a gazillion. Every heartbeat is tedium. Every breath is an immense effort and you wish you didn't have to last through it all.
And they were standing around her--and around me for that matter--and sucking the lives out of us. And so on it went.
What brought this up was a...well, call it 'perception'...I had recently. This one was more positive. This is unsurprising, because one grows out of the phases of easily descending doom and gloom. (Or does one? I know I have, but maybe the phenomenon isn't as widespread and common as I something would like to think.)
In Dunedin, which is a small town, anybody who's lived there for a while and has a reasonably outgoing personality, will have a very loose network of people one 'knows' in some way. Most of them one 'knows' only very loosely--to the extent that one doesn't even know their names, but one sees their faces again and again, and they end up seeing one's own, and so is established an 'acquaintance' of sort, even if it's only a smile-and-nod as you pass by each other. This kind of contact is quite age and gender independent; at least in this town, where when someone smiles at you it doesn't instantly causes an attack of potential-stalker anxiety, as it might in another place. It's one of the very attractive aspects of living here; at least for me, because I quite like not having to struggle each time to establish something more than a cold professional contact with people, and I do like poking through that damn skin of "and how are you today?" There's people on the other side of that barrier and I'd rather talk to the person behind the professional mask.
The other day I realized just how acute my perception had been, that day on the bus in Brisbane. For there is a whole spectrum of people you come across, and at the ends of the middle range, best labeled as 'reaction-indifferent', there are, on one side, really those life-suckers. You look at them and you wish you hadn't. It's not because you know something about them that makes you dislike them. Far from it. You know diddly-squat about these poor blighters, who might be perfectly nice people, but for you they're just treacle-time triggerers.
On the other side are people that actually make you feel nice. Positively so. You're glad you happen to chance across them, and when your gazes cross you smile, and so do they, and there's little doubt they mean it, just like you do. Nothing more than that fleeting contact, but that's enough. If you started to talk to them it would conceivably turn out that you have nothing at all in common and that all you can ever talk about is the weather or other ineffable platitudes. But it doesn't really matter, because this 'sympathy' thing is far more fundamental than 'commonalities'.
I don't quite understand how this works, though I've been trying to find some system underlying it all. It's got to have something to do with faces, of course, because faces are the mirrors of our souls; and through faces we 'connect' with others more so than through any other medium, at least across distance; though in proximity other factors such as the sound of a voice as well as scents become increasingly important. I'm sure that careful analysis of the faces that have this effect or that will reveal commonalities that might well explain one's reactions, I've yet to figure out just which features cause what kind of reaction. The effect definitely transcends barriers of age or gender, which makes it all the more interesting and puzzling.
A work in progress, I suppose. Maybe one day some aspects of this puzzle will become clearer. Right now I confess that I'm stumped, and 'reason' fails to explain why I welcome a crossed gaze and smile from one person but do my best to avoid a similar contact with someone else.