Me, Myself, I

April 3, 1996

Okay, so like anyway, we have this pretty heavy e-mail thing going on, Amber and I. We met in a Moo and eventually worked up to revealing our e-mail addresses and real names. She's a 25 year old university student living on the west coast. She used to take courses in business management, but when she mentioned William Burroughs and no one in the class knew who he was--including the teacher--she knew she was in the wrong element. Now she's a business major taking art classes.

We know a fair amount about each other. But up until recently, neither one of us knew what the other looked like.

One of the great selling points about the Net is that people don't have to drag their personal appearances on-line. I'm free to be whomever I want. This, however, doesn't mean I can't drag my anxieties on-line with me.

Amber and I have been following each other's ups and downs for two years now. More than anything else, we share a similar comfort zone of intimacy. We trust each other with details that sometimes even our friends don't know about and yet we know that neither one of us would be obsessional enough to suddenly show up on the other's doorstep ("If you do show up," she wrote, "just don't ask for any money").

She was the first willing to breach physical anonymity. She wanted me to describe myself. She was curious. I'm glad she asked if only because I was equally curious about her. I'd see a 25 year old-ish stranger along the street or in the mall or somewhere and wonder if Amber would look like that person.

Nonetheless, I had serious trouble coming up with a reply.

Of course, if I were less neurotic I could have just supplied a breezy description of my finer qualities and that would be that. But I'm not, so that option was clearly out of the question.

I saw too many land mines. I feared that a few too many words in the wrong direction and the warm glow of her e-mail would be replaced by the distant obligatoriness one uses to thank in-laws for birthday presents.

On the one hand, if I dwelled on just my positive features I could come off as egotistical. Besides, simple self-aggrandizement would be dishonest.

Then again, so would providing a straight physical description, warts and all. What fun is that? I could go on about how that small scar got above my left eye or where my two birthmarks are. Heck, I could just fax her my dental x-rays. But is any of this me? If not, what is? And what is it exactly do we like about each other anyway?

These questions are trickier than they first appear. I remember an episode of one daytime talk show--Jenny Jones if memory serves--that introduced a couple who had been corresponding as cyber lovers for seven months but hadn't met in real life. She came out first, bearing flowers, a card and a nervous smile. But the second they introduced her partner you could tell it was all over. When Jones asked this guy what he thought of his beloved, his split-second hesitancy was enough to for all of America to realize she wasn't exactly his Sandra Bullock (man, that TV eye just does not blink). Obviously, this guy was no catch, as confirmed by what he finally did say: "Hey, looks aren't everything."

Uhh, yeah. Whatever connection these two had, I'm sure it was deep--though apparently not deep enough to survive seven seconds of daytime television. This is why experienced Net socialites avoid meeting in real life. Too many landmines, ya see.

After much wringing of hands, I finally plunged into writing a physical profile. To my surprise I actually got into it. I felt I wasn't so much describing myself as revealing myself. And that was fun. I enumerated my good points (both of them), knocked a few pounds off for good measure (oh, and you wouldn't ?), and swaddled my shortcomings in overripe prose.

Like most fair-minded people, I've always wanted to believe that a pretty face isn't everything, but neither does it count for squat. Somewhere behind our electronic letters were expectations of physical compatibility--if not at first, then surely later.

I'm not entirely comfortable with that fact, but I've also learned from this experience that beauty has less to do with what you got, than how you work it. And as a writer, I have nothing if not overripe prose. I've also realized that the beauty radiating from honesty and self-assurance tops all else.

Or so I'm hoping.

In any case, Amber seemed unfazed by the whole exchange--she's a better person than I. She did remark that I sounded like the "J. Crew-type." Yeah, I can live with that, though "Oscar Madison-type" probably would have been closer to the mark. The best part is that now not only do I know what she looks like, she has lost none of her mystery to me.

Just don't book us on Jenny.

--Joab Jackson

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