When I was in the eighth grade, I had this one substitute teacher. My class was being quite rowdy, as we always were for a substitute teacher. Wanting to keep us quiet, that teacher issued a challenge to my class. He drew this simple brick pattern on the blackboard:
He told us that there is a way to draw one continuous line that intersects all the lines in this pattern. He even said that there would be a prize of $50 to the one who could solve this puzzle. All of us in the class got to work right away, sketching the pattern on looseleaf and trying to draw that one continuous line through trial and error. That kept us quiet for pretty much the rest of the afternoon. None of us in the class could solve it. As that substitute teacher was quite a frequent visitor to our school, we’d always present our latest possible solutions to him whenever he came back, in the hopes that we’d win that $50. None of my classmates ever solved it. When I was bored in high school, I’d sketch that pattern in my margins, and again try to find that continuous line. Same deal at university. Even now, during my breaks at work, I find myself sketching that pattern and drawing lines. For 10 years now, I’ve been trying to solve this “riddle of the substitute teacher.” But, it does say something about my personality.
I am a person who has trouble letting go of things. When I am presented with a problem such as this, one with no obvious solution, it gnaws at me. Through a repeated process of trial and error, I attempt solutions only to have them fall flat. These problems become sirens, singing a song of temptation and driving me mad. Maybe that’s why I originally found math appealing. Every calculus equation was just another unsolvable problem trying to seduce me to my end. But when a problem has no obvious solution, I just have to solve it. And the one that I’m currently confronted with is a frustrating one, indeed.
I’m sure by now you’ve all read of my grand adventure visiting L and her three lovely roommates down in Camrose. You also read how I was developing a bit of a crush on the one known as Lady Jaye, and how my heart was crushed when I was told that she is a lesbian. At first I took this in stride. This happens to me a little too often. I develop a crush on someone, but soon it moves on to someone else. This week it’s Lady Jaye, next week it’d be that new news anchor on channel 6. But something weird happened. The crush wasn’t going away. It was starting to get disturbing. Why wasn’t it going away?
I began comparing this to previous crushes. (Good ol’ physics: look for the pattern.) In the past, when could I describe those crushes as being dead? Well, in the sunset of a crush, I’d usually cook up some kind of reason to convince myself why we’d never work together. But this time around, I didn’t need to cook up a reason. I had a ready-made one in the fact that she is a lesbian. That didn’t sit right with me. That’s the kind of excuse that men tell each other when they get shot down in singles bars. “Oh, she didn’t like me because she’s a lesbian.” As excuses go, it was just too darn convenient.
There was another reason why it wasn’t sitting well with me. Whenever I came up with an excuse on my own, there would always be that one niggling self-doubt in the back of my mind. There would be that one little voice saying, “Well, you’ll never really know, will you?” From that, I’d draw hope; the hope that I’m not a complete loser and the day I do work up the nerve to confess my feelings, I will find my one true love. As long as there was doubt, there was hope. But in this case there was no doubt. We wouldn’t work at all. No doubt means no hope. No hope means I’m destined to live alone forever in my parents’ basement. I needed to know that I’d never really know.
So, my unsolvable problem was this: How do I get a lesbian to reject me, but not because she’s a lesbian?
As is always the case with these problems, the logistics of my first solution made it completely impractical. At first I thought the answer would be simple. Simply get Lady Jaye to say she’d go out with me if I were a woman. That would provide the requisite hope and I could get on with my life. But how do I implement this solution? How do I walk up to a person I barely know and ask, “So, if I went to Sweden and had the operation, would you go out with me?” And besides, if she said no, I’d be back at square one. Impractical.
I needed to know more about Lady Jaye. Perhaps I could form a good excuse as to why we wouldn’t work if I knew more of her character flaws. Who knows more about your character flaws than your roommate? So, I e-mailed L and asked her to send me a list of what she doesn’t like about Lady Jaye. And L responded. As I read through the list, I came to a stark conclusion. This was just the wrong thing to do. Getting someone to write out a list of why they hate someone else is just a negative exercise that accomplishes nothing. I should have never made L go through it. L, if you’re reading this, what you should do now is write out a list of everything you like about Lady Jaye. And give her a big hug. And again, I’m back at square one.
Time to focus on my skills as a scientist. I got that degree for something, right? Based on my observations of Lady Jaye while I was down there, I should be able to come up with something that could help me get through the night. Let’s see…what did I see? Well, she was leafing through this bike catalogue. So, this implies that she’s a cyclist. That’s OK. I used to do a bit of biking. What else? She made reference to Dr. Lotz and the biathlon team. Biathlon implies that she skis. I don’t. I tried it and didn’t like it. In fact, she was quite athletic. She’d want to be outside running and jumping and enjoying the sunshine while I’d want to stay inside and watch Star Trek reruns. Come to think of it, I hate athletes! How the hell can you dedicate your life to a sport? How can you dedicate your life to running faster, jumping higher, and getting stronger simply to beat the other guy? What’s that line in Fight Club? “Self-improvement is masturbation.” And when they don’t win, they start whining and nitpicking the rules and demanding to see the instant replay. Yup, athletes are just over-competitive, aggressive, whiny masturbators. And if they’re not good enough to do even that, they become phys ed. teachers.
Problem solved! I don’t have a crush on Lady Jaye anymore! In fact, I just about down right hate her! But not because she’s a lesbian. Because she’s an athlete. And, as previously mentioned, I used to be quite the avid cyclist myself. We’ve still got one thing in common that we can use to build common ground. And since I never asked her, I’ll never know how large that common ground could actually be. Therein lies the doubt, which leads to the hope. I’m over you, Lady Jaye! Now we move on to Jessica Alba, star of Dark Angel!
Perhaps it’s appropriate that that substitute teacher drew a brick wall pattern on that blackboard all those years ago. Trying to solve problems like these are very much like beating your head against a brick wall. If you do it long enough, that wall will give eventually. True, you should take a break once in a while to rethink your strategy. If you look around, you may find a door in that wall, see how to draw that continuous line, and discover the best way to be rejected. And then, there will always be those times when you have to accept the inevitable: there is no continuous line, and, despite your well-thought out excuse, she is still gay at the end of the day. But if you just walk away, you’ll never really know, will you? And where there is doubt, there is hope. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a line to draw and $50 to win.