February 28

For some reason I go to a lecture on the history of science. I end up sitting behind a girl who is talking on her cell phone. She wears glasses and looks cute and geeky. As the lecture starts and the lights dim, she removes her glasses and the profile of her face strikes me as quite beautiful. Halfway through the lecture she turns around — perhaps to look at me? — and catches me by surprise (my face is in my hands) but again I begin to feel that feeling. I brush it off as silly. She waits and turns around again and there it is, unmistakable, the feeling. I pull my face out of my hands.

Shortly, she turns around again and looks straight at me — it feels as if a bullet hit me in the chest, a strong but small force right there atop my lung. The next time she looks around I try to smile, but I can’t do it, my lips just stretch out in a line. I look at her and look away. I look at the floor. I shift in my seat. She shifts too, sometimes turning only a quarter, sometimes looking straight at me.

In between the glances I try to think of what I should do once the lecture is over. “Hi, I’m Aaron,” I’d say. “What did you think of the talk?” She’d say it’s boring and I’d reply, “Yeah, it’s weird to see someone study the minute details of people who studied minute details,” smiling a little at my meta-y cleverness. And then I suppose my imagination skips some steps, because I imagine kissing her.

When the lecture ends, I pause a bit before walking out so that I don’t get too far ahead of her. I begin walking quickly, it’s a while before I notice she’s right behind me. My heart is in my throat now, really pounding. She moves so that she’s almost next to me. But there are all these people around — maybe in a minute when we’re outside. Outside, she places her purse on a table and fiddles with it, while I pace a little. I end up holding the door for her as she walks out, but once outside she pulls out her phone and walks away, the opposite direction from my dorm. I walk back to my dorm, head down, feeling like kicking myself.

When I get back to the dorm, my RA says she wants to talk to me. I get all nervous as we chit chat and then she takes me back to her room and then she closes the door. We chit chat more as I squirm; she insists it’s really nothing bad. Finally, she gets to a point. Someone told her (she refuses to say who) about my allergic reaction post, she just wanted to tell me there were people I could ask for help.

And so I am relieved and actually smiling when I stop by [redacted]’s room. My smile is undaunted when she looks at me and begins to make various grunts and scratch her arms. (This description unfairly makes it sound much worse than it was — the grunts were quite wordlike and the scratching wasn’t real scratching.) I ask if she wants to go for a walk; she does.

And so we go around and around the dorm. She’s extremely upset and unloads with lots of un-nice things about me and about how terrible she feels right now (e.g. projective vomit, bugs crawling on arms (hers, though), and (with hesitation) chlamydia). She’s upset about the post (no link). Eventually, I discern she has two major complaints: first, it was an egregious invasion of privacy and second, it was mean and passive-aggressive not to tell her in person.

She continues to unload but it seems my emotions have shut down: I don’t react, you might almost say I don’t even conceive of her as a separate person. It’s bizarre. (Usually I’d be in tears by now. Years ago I visited the World Wide Web Consortium and their friendly director of PR made me cry.) I think part of it may be that I firmly believe that people are entirely changeable, that personality is a conscious choice. If this is the case, then one should smile and appreciate insults (as I do) — they’re just more tips on how to change to be better.

We go around and around the dorm. She’s really mad. I apologize, I ask if there’s anything I can do in numerous ways, but she says no, there isn’t. (She also says I’m free to write whatever I want on my blog about this.)

She says the post made her sound terrible, made me sound “victimized”, and made the event sound painful — none of which are true or were intended. She says my quotes are doctored and events are distorted, which may be (I’m not perfect), but she doesn’t provide details.

Eventually we go inside and she goes back to her room.

I feel like I should respond, briefly, to her two comments. First, I thought she was OK with the post. I asked her if she was OK with me posting about it, and she said yes. And she posts about private things on her blog. But I was wrong. It was quite a monumental lapse in judgment — there’s no reason I couldn’t have asked if to approve it first. Second, I hadn’t told her how I felt because I hoped my feelings might change. But that’s no excuse for not telling her in person before posting. Again, a monumental lapse.

What caused the lapses? I don’t want to justify them, but I think they may result from the fact that I see this blog as written for a world separate from the one it describes, like dispatches back to a distant planet. People here at Stanford apparently read the blog, but I try to forget that, especially when writing. (As an example of this kind of thinking, I imagined using the advice people posted in response to my post in future actions with [redacted]. But that makes no sense since the advice would be outdated by the fact that [redacted] had read the post.) Forgetting about the people you’re writing about means you also forget about the effects that writing can have on them. Which can be really bad.

I’m sorry. I feel horrible.

They love you very much but they
Don’t know that you’re the one
Backstabbing liar
And have been all along
Backstabbing liar
Has learned to write songs

posted March 26, 2005 05:10 PM (Education) (2 comments) #


David M. Clark on Cognitive Therapy
Stanford: Meeting the President
Stanford: Caught Red-Handed
Lessons in Capitalism #2: Management
Jeff Hawkins Update
Stanford: Another Post You Don’t Have to Read
Michael Scheuer on Imperial Hubris
Stanford: Unscripted
Stanford; Home Alone
Stanford: Private Meeting
Stanford: My So-Called Terrorist Life


To tie up the thread on the girl, I found her on The Facebook but was too cowardly to do anything. The next day I walked happened to pass her in the street and again felt the feeling, but irrationally thought at the moment that getting to my destination was more important than saying hi. I haven’t seen her since.

posted by Aaron Swartz at March 28, 2005 12:07 AM #

Perhaps you’ve done the wrong thing, but now you’ve done the right thing.

posted by Robert Brook at March 31, 2005 08:58 AM #

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Aaron Swartz (me@aaronsw.com)