I spend a great deal of time pretending I'm not paying as much attention to people as I actually am.

People love that they can come ask me questions, and I can tell them where everyone else is and what they're up to. They hate thinking this through to its logical conclusion, which is that in order to do this, I have to be keeping tabs on pretty much everyone I recognize, pretty much all the time. I do it because:

  1. I like having a working mental model of my environment, which doesn't go so well if I don't track most of the moving parts;
  2. I find it fascinating and in some ways very elegant to watch people wandering up to and into and past one another all the time, like the chaotic Brownian pattern of pollen grains on water;
  3. I can't turn it off without busting out the really good drugs.

These thoughts are apparently weird, and most people get very squirmy if I share them. They get uncomfortable when they realize that not only do I know what they are doing, I also remember what they have been doing, and can probably predict what they will be doing to a reasonable degree of accuracy. And they get especially uncomfortable if they realize that I know enough about what they do to hazard a guess as to what prompts them to do it. I'm not really sure why, other than it seems to be another one of those social status things that I always miss. I think they don't properly grok that I want to know things just to know them, and not to pass judgement. I don't get it, but I don't have to, as long as I remember it's a Thing for people who aren't me.

So I keep my observations mainly between me and my blog. I generally don't write things I'd be upset with the subject reading, but saying it to their faces tends to get me more trouble than answers. Life is easier if I'm the only one who ever thinks about this stuff. My curiosity is my own damn problem. I'd rather never get any answers to my weird questions than make everyone around me touchy and paranoid.

Intellectually, I'm aware that it costs me a great deal of energy to watch what I say and police my sight lines all the time, and that this is one of the big reasons I find humans exhausting. Even the ones I like. Especially the ones I like, sometimes, because I care about not annoying them, and I don't want to spook them into not talking to me anymore. I do it so often and so automatically, though, that I never really remember how much less exhausting it is to not do it until I suddenly don't have to.

z.B.: I've been wondering what goes on in ye ballroom dance instructor's head since something like February. I hadn't said anything about it, because I thought marching up to him after a show and going, "Beautiful performance! What on Earth were you thinking?" would be kind of weird even for me, plus it probably wouldn't get me what I wanted. By the time I mentioned it here, I'd been trying off and on for a couple of months to figure out some much more subtle way to go about getting some answers, or at least getting enough information to guess at what kind of solution space the answers were in.

I have since discovered that this was a complete and utter waste of energy. Subtlety is a thing he only does on stage. If he has decided he wants your attention, his method of getting it stops just short of painting HI LET'S CHAT NOW on the side of a brick and hucking it at your head every time he spots you. Which will be a lot, because he sets alert flags for people somewhere in the back of his brain, and they seem to be polled continuously. I have had less subtle bids for my attention, but they were mostly from very large dogs who wanted me to throw the ball. I walked past a studio door once and accidentally distracted him from an ongoing rehearsal. It was after hours and I had no way of knowing he would even be in the building, but once he'd spotted me he made damn sure I noticed.

For the first few weeks, I was trying very hard to be normal at him, because it's generally best if new friends don't find out the extent of my curiosity until they're too attached to be weirded out by it, but subtlety doesn't work on him any better than it works for him. I got exactly nowhere until I started telling him things point-blank: Your name is one of the ones I scan for on the schedule. You never said what you do when you're not here, so I gave up and Googled you. I am noting what you drink when I'm the one running the bar, and I will probably end up knowing how you take your coffee, too. I am listening when you talk, even if you think I'm not. I remember things.

On occasion, I have delivered some of my observations about him directly to his face. I made a crack once about him waking up one morning and just deciding we were going to have conversations now -- which is a fairly accurate, if simplified and snarky, description of how this all started -- and the only thing I got back was one of the kilowatt-grins. I am betting he knows perfectly fucking well that aiming all of his (considerable) attention at one person without any warning hits like a sledgehammer, and that he did it to me on purpose to see what kind of response he'd get. I mean, well played there, but still.

[I say a lot of strange things, many of them even on purpose, and so far the only one that has so much as made him blink was the day I shorted out so hard I couldn't handle social cues, and responded to 'how are you?' with 'are you looking for the polite answer or the real one?' Technically, his sputtering wasn't a proper answer to my question either -- he got about three real words out, none of which were related to any of the others in any way -- but it did tell me that it hadn't crossed his mind that there was any ambiguity there. I feel kind of bad about that one; implying that he was just making empty social noises at me and then letting the answer go in one ear and out the other is a piss-poor way to repay candor.]

I had honestly forgotten how much fun it can be to just fucking talk to one of the interesting people, without worrying about whether I'm watching too closely or listening too much or friending too hard, or whatever. I don't even have to pretend I'm not keeping half an eye and a quarter of an ear on him whenever he's in the room, because he has exactly the same bits set for me. I don't know if most humans can't split their attention that way, or if they just don't like to, but other people are startled as all hell when I do it. I thought it was obvious when he went from concentrating very hard on his computer to suddenly, magically becoming part of the interaction as soon as I got to the part about one of the renters leaving us free cookies, in a conversation I was having with someone else entirely. God only knows what that looks like to the rest of the office staff.

I am tempted to claim I have absolutely no idea what he wants from me, but that is a damn dirty lie. I still have some questions about the finer points, but fundamentally what he wants is for me to pick up the +3 Sledgehammer of Personal Attention and wallop him back. Okay. Done! I'm generally wary of making it too easy for third parties to figure out who I've taken a shine to, but he plainly has about negative one million fucks to give about that, so I don't have to care either.

Aside from that, the only thing he's actually asked of me is to dance. He caught me alone at the desk one day and sort of tripped over himself to offer me lessons. Came out of left field at the time, although inasmuch as he is a professional dancer and we both work in a dance studio, I really shouldn't have been surprised. This is actually one of those things I try not to think about too hard, lest I find myself losing an entire afternoon stuck to the sofa, staring into space, trying and failing to figure out how I started my day by going to work like a normal person, and ended it by getting cha cha lessons from someone who has his own IMDb page and at least one national title that Google will tell me about.

No, I don't know either. Some kind of colossal cosmic clerical error in my favor, is my guess.


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