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June 23, 2008
Would we make good college roommates? I asked Q last night before falling asleep. We are sharing a dormitory room this week: two narrow beds, two dressers, two desks and two chairs. Two hooks for our bathrobes. One closet, now full of my clothes.

We'd be great roommates, he answered. But the college would never put us together.

I guess not.
No, of course they wouldn't. Q's a boy and I'm a girl.

I look at the utilitarian furniture: oak, stained a light blond. His books and papers are on his desk: after sixty years of teaching, Q still prepares assiduously for every class. I think that I might move the two narrow beds together, later on, to form what the Italians call a matrimoniale, so that we can sleep in the style to which the years have accustomed us. But yes, the two of us could live in this room. Worldwide, it is not unusual for familes of ten or twelve people to live together in a room this size.

We are used to a lot more room. But we don't really need it. What we really need is psychic space, interior roominess, and the spiritual privacy in which to think our own thoughts. These are gifts even close neighbors can give each other if they choose to do so, even if they're in a crowded place. We make graceful boundaries around ourselves to preserve our inwardness, so as not to dissipate its worth by throwing it around every room we enter.

It's interesting that Americans, so blessed with physical spaciousness, so often seem peculiarly compelled to violate our own privacy. Our fashion choices -- our lowrise trousers, falling-off baggy jeans, our bare midriffs, our micro miniskirts, our breathtaking cleavage --expose and advertize acreage that might better be kept to ourselves. Our confessional television shows, on which no behavior is too private or too shameful to be paraded before an audience of millions, and no public humiliation too grotesque to exchange for the chance to be on television. We create celebrities out of almost nothing and then we eat them alive, gnawing away hungrily at their marriages, their children, their addictions, at all their failures. Well, it's fair, we tell ourselves: After all, they wanted to be famous, didn't they?

There are people for whom these false intimacies -- the fraudulent sense of being in the know about Paris, Tori, Jessica, Brad and Angelina -- are the only intimacies they have. They have taken the place of actual human closeness with real people, functioning as a kind of permanent schoolgirl crush, fellowship with an unobtainable someone which is less risky and less costly than actual human contact.

We might be better off if we learned to live in closer physical proxmimity to each other again. Maybe there's a better balance between our inner and outer selves when we must reckon more immediately with one another. Mayber then we wouldn't bfeel compelled to walk the streets in our underwear and fantasize about people we've never met.
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