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The Sanguine State

Women often complain that men don't notice things - meaning small but momentarily important things. Although I notice more than most women, even, I think that they're right about the run of men. For a long time, I thought that masculine inattentiveness was conditioned by taboo: boys who notice things are likely to regarded as sissies. But it can't just be that, I thought the other day. Most boys are hugely egocentric, and don't notice anything beyond their own immediate interest. Surely they're not conditioned by taboo; they never need to be.

So I asked myself, what are men paying attention to? (Bear in mind that what follows is more a bit of creative writing than a scientific hypothesis.) That question soon lost priority to another: what makes a man who doesn't pay attention to the small things pay attention to the outside world at all? Here's my highly imaginative and thoroughly unsupported non-thesis.

It's long been a hunch of mine that baseball cards and other collectibles tell us something about the masculine psyche. As adults, men replace these items with memories, but they arrange their memories with equal care. Arranging and  rearranging memories is an endless pastime. "I came out well in that encounter." "Don't want to go there again." Many expectations are really nothing but projected memories. "It happened to him, it could happen to me." The rearrangement is important because it's from this activity that a man can infer his place in the pecking order - he certainly doesn't want to be told. So he's sizing himself up all the time. This gives him the appearance, if looked at from a certain angle, of insecurity, but it's not that really. Nothing, after all, is secure. Call this state of mind, rather, hedging. Keeping the bases covered. (Whatever that means; I have no business using sports metaphors. Now PPOQ will post one of his scathing comments in order to tell me what "covering the bases" entails, but, dearest, let me remind you: it will go in one ear and out the other.)

A man who routinely passes his free time hedging needs a mental appliance that will alert him to the need to pay attention to the outer world. It's actually the sign of a man's security if such alerts are rare. The man may be a fool, but he's secure. An insecure man is always switching between the two states, hedging and observing. The only reason that I'm not a nervous wreck is that I don't hedge at all, so I don't have to be alerted. I was too tall and too odd too young to worry about my place in the pack. I didn't have any place in the pack. I was something of a rogue elephant, "exiled," according to the dictionary, "from the herd."

That's just what makes this matter so interesting to me now. I always knew that I was different, but like most young creatures I was too preoccupied by my own problems to devote much attention to the inner lives of other people. (I worked my way back into the herd, but on a Green Card.) One of the fruits of late middle age is the tranquility to be openly curious. So it occurs to me to ask, what's going on in the head of the other guy in the elevator? Assuming that he's not overburdened by care and woe - and that he's not wondering the same thing about me - what sort of thing is going on? What does consciousness feel like, when it's not tied to observing the condition of the elevator cabin and the state of its occupants? Since I'll never know empirically, I have to come up my own answer, and this is what I've come up with.

Experience sets the inner alarm system. Some men will always sense what they need to sense without suffering any harm, while others will be on the alert all the time. The difference between being on the alert and noticing things is that noticing things is non-committal; nothing's at stake. That's why most men don't notice the little things: they don't need to, and not noticing leaves them free to pursue their favorite pastime in a sanguine state.


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You pose a very interesting question and suggest an equally interesting answer. I will have to think about it for a while, because I'm a woman who doesn't notice little things,but not because I'm constantly hedging- far from it.

I need to think how to describe what I think about in my free time: many, many things, often highly influenced by my current circumstances. I'm now wondering if, despite their apparent diversity, these thoughts share common elements. I'll post again when I figure it out.

What do dogs think? What do people with Alzheimer's think? What does Martin think? Ah, that begins to give me a clue as to what men think. The sizing up and self-comparison thesis certainly holds water. But, like dogs, men could be thinking of sticks or dinner. They could be day dreaming, and certainly often thinking about sex. Or so they say. Noticing things, or not noticing them, seems a different aspect of thinking, however. For me, noticing is aesthetic: Color, style, arrangement, the daily progression of nature, the sky, personal grooming, interior decoration, architecture -- they're all treats for the eye. Thinking is often conceptual: Poverty, race, leadership, the judiciary are all preoccupying me during most of my waking hours these days. Maybe men (and women) who don't notice exterior things are more audial or kinesthetic in their orientation. As for the outside world, that is a question of relevance, isn't it? As my last client observed just in this past hour: What do 27,000 dead in Pakistan have to do with men? Nothing. Instead, he received 15 messages from his email list for bike racers today about the pros and cons of bike trails versus bike lanes. That, sadly, is what some men in Ithaca are thinking about. Roll over, Rodin.

Yikes, make that 73,000! Thank you All Things Considered.

Q: "Why can my husband discuss the Vikings for 2 hours but US for only two minutes?
A: Men like things simple. Black/white. Win/Lose. But relationships are gray/slippery. Not once has a ref brought the two coaches together and said, "while it's true you won 49-0, I felt the way you treated him in the 3rd quarter was a projection of your own insecurities, so actually you lose and he wins."

Q: Why did my husband cry when the Red Sox won the World Series but not at our wedding?
A: If you had turned him down for 86 years, he might have.

We are simple creatures. On my trading desk noticing anything other than the Treausry curve or who won last night or the latest scheme to get out for a night away from home is not in the cards.

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