Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spying on Acquaintances

As mentioned earlier, when I retired in 2007 I became interested in looking up people from my past and contacting them. There were only three whom I actually met up with. One was a painter whom I knew from college who had dropped out of society and become a monk at a Hindu monastery in Ganges, Michigan. Another was a math major from college who became a computer science professor at Clemson University. The monk made no effort to keep up with me, and the professor always responds to e-mails, but the onus is on me. My high school graduating class had its fortieth anniversary reunion in 2008, and though I did not attend, I came into contact with several high school acquaintances that year. Of those, I met only one, a woman who happens to live nearby in Bristol, Vermont and is a weaver who married a potter. I've had e-mails from a few other former classmates and spoken to one on the phone. I have also contacted former coworkers, but they generally have a tepid response or I never hear back from them.

I had thought that past acquaintances might enjoy recounting old days, but the reality seems to be that most of them would rather not. This is an interesting topic in itself that I won't go into now. I think the ability to forget the past and dwell in a contemporary schema of one's own making serves to simplify and protect one from the overwhelming complexity of life. A poor memory is often good for your mental health. Beyond this, I tend to find my high school and college personas a little embarrassing now. I see myself and most of my early acquaintances as having been stupid kids up until about the age of thirty, and the closer you look, the more tempting it is to dismiss the period as a temporary developmental one. Furthermore, I tend to be analytical about these things and like to dig into them, whereas most others don't want to discuss them in any detail.

The upshot of all this is that I recently decided never to contact anyone from my past again, because the efforts I've made thus far have been fruitless. This excludes the very few people whom I have kept up with continuously since about 1975, though I probably won't have much contact with them either. Instead of actually communicating with people I've known, I now plan to keep up with their lives, when possible, through their online presence. Most of them have little or no online presence, but a few do.

Since I don't like having an online presence myself, I have recently not been making posts using my full name and have deleted previous accounts displaying it whenever possible. That makes it a little inconvenient, since I don't have any social media accounts, but it is still possible to access information about people without belonging to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Disqus, etc. When someone uses the Internet for publicity related to their profession or hobby, a reasonable amount of information can be found by anyone.

As mentioned in my post about my former girlfriend, Kimberly, she stopped communicating with me some time ago, but that has not stopped me from being curious about the progress of her life since 2000. As it happens, she has decided to become a writer and is attempting to sell her books. Bits of information about her can be found herehereherehere and here. This may all seem like trivia, but it is adequate for rounding out my picture of her life, and I would not have been able to do this without the Internet.

Kimberly apparently kept a journal during most of her adult life and is now starting to self-publish it in the form of memoirs. So far I think she's covered her early period in France, England and New York City. I'm not sure whether I will ever want to read her works, because even though she is quite literate she has a light, Southern-California-esque personality and is unlikely to delve into anything in a manner that I would find satisfactory. I would be interested to read her memoir about the years that I knew her, 1997 to 2000, but, judging from her LinkedIn profile, she has elided that period from her life. Interestingly, there are large gaps in her résumé for the periods that she'd rather forget. You would never know, for example, that she was born in Iowa and once lived in the Chicago area. She spent several unsuccessful years training in modern dance and later gave up teaching because she couldn't handle the unruly students in Roscoe, New York after getting her M.A. from Columbia. I felt sorry for her father, who died recently and whom I met more than once, because she projected an unwarranted animus toward him. He was a low-key Midwesterner who had been extremely reliable throughout his life. After being shot down over North Korea during the Korean War and escaping across enemy lines on his own, he became a successful engineer and essentially funded Kimberly's entire life, since she never held a demanding job even as she managed to travel the world to her heart's content. Her mother died young from leukemia, and Kimberly subsequently never got along well with her father, her sister or her father's girlfriend. Frankly, her self-presentation amuses me.

I won't bore you with more than you would care to know about Kimberly, but thought I'd mention this alternative to actually interacting with people who'd just as soon forget about you. I'm sure you've already Googled a few people yourself.

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