The importance of subtle observances

My body jerks when I sleep. Last night, my jerkiness entered a dream. In the dream, I was at Jackie’s house for dinner and was being introduced to a roomful of people. I had expected to meet one or two, but was startled to find fifteen, all of whom were young adults that I had no interest in. I thought it ridiculous to even be told their names, but social formalities required that introductions be made and that I respond with feigned interest, so I gritted my teeth and smiled. I also began to jerk. I knew that this would mark me as either having a seizure problem or a psychological one, either of which would throw sand into the delicate bearings of the social mechanism and embarrass my hostess. I resolved to stifle the jerks. My resolution awakened me, and I lay in bed jerking almost out of control.

After the worst ended, I lay thinking—as if for the first time—about how set our social rituals are, both in form and range. For example, one could absolutely wreck an introduction simply by standing a foot too close, because unaccustomed proximity implies aggression, sexual interest, or insanity. To one from another planet, such customs might appear so subtle as to be unimportant, but satisfactory social relations apparently hinge upon the proper observance of subtleties more than upon grosser behaviors. I know very well that I wouldn’t sniff a new person’s genitals, but eliminating lust, nervousness, or boredom from my voice, demeanor, and sweat glands, is a far greater challenge.