imaginary outfit: 41

I find myself at 41 two people. Maybe that's not quite precise enough—two implies a balance, but the me I am and this other me are not true equals. She is more like a golem, constructed through my motion and attention, shaped by demographic categories. (Golems are a particularly heartbreaking bit of folklore; made of inanimate matter, usually mute, never quite human, stuck symbolizing something.) She gestures to me from ads and search results, more interested than I am in skincare and chickpeas and ethically made organic cotton t-shirts, willing to watch shows that bore me and read books by authors I dislike. She is, at most, a bad best guess. There's an odd pleasure, encountering this algorithmic shadow self. The wrongness is gratifying, a reassurance that somehow the many online patterns I trace do not quite add up to who I am.

I suppose I should enjoy this feeling while it lasts, because somewhere in the background some combination of machine learning and natural language processing and other as yet unknown to me forms of evolving artificial intelligence are mutating into something that can extract more useful value out of everything I've shared online (and this blog is over a decade old; there is a lot there) and my own puny self-satisfaction at my minor human specialness will sizzle to vapor like an ice cube dropped on a hotplate. 

It's funny to think about how a computer might piece together the person I've been and the person I'll become. Selves are a weird, shifty business. How will they ever know what to remember and what to forget? Myself at 41 nods acquaintance to myself at 31, and we both recall 21; 11 is harder, and one is buried too deep. 

Eleven-year-old me had a stack of loved books read over and over; one was Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. If Sara Crewe had kept her riches and her attic, I think she might've worn this outfit, and so would I, both then and now—a silk velvet dressing gown the color of the wheat in that painting by Bruegel the Elder; soft dull crimson slippers. A bracelet heavy with glass gems and a richly patterned scarf; earrings made of horn fashioned like small sailing ships. Gormenghast and a licorice pipe are additions made by a me located somewhere between then and now who learned to enjoy stranger, sharper tastes.

And now all this, whatever it is, singular or not, is not mine alone anymore; it's out there for the machines to read and make of what they will. But nothing here is a thing the computer could think to show me, at least not yet. I still had the pleasure of finding it all myself.


Incidentally, this expensive robe has the very best user review I have ever read. Under the title, "THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF CLOTHING I OWN," Minnie19 writes:
I feel like a medieval queen wearing this. It feels antique but somehow manages to pull off the trick of being understated, austere, even though it is undeniably luxe. I think it's the wide sleeves, the kimono style finish to the front of the robe and the weight of the fabric, which give it a kind of gravitas that comes with something simple and beautifully made. Its the kind of gown you wear for reading poems on a fainting couch but would serve you well when plotting a war.