Notes from Galen in 2013
I started kissing people when I was almost 15. I’ll tell you this: we were sober, it wasn’t the last time we kissed, we talked a lot after. All of that information is here, written out in the graphs. What’s not here: we were in a bed, it was after midnight, I read Harry Potter later, when I couldn’t sleep.
I didn’t start keeping a kiss list at the beginning. In fact, it took seven and half years before I wrote down everyone’s names, and another six months before I thought of it as more than just a list of experiences. It was also a list of data that, perhaps, could tell me something about myself—what I liked, or what my type was. These graphs attempt to answer those questions. The records start with my first kiss and end when I began this project. The graphs represent my first kiss with each person I kissed, and the data included represents what for me are the essential facts that make up each experience. For the most part, no two kisses overlap. Each encounter is unique, but maybe by breaking the experiences, and those involved, into their component parts, I could find something cohesive about the people I was intimate with and uncover a pattern about myself.
I started keeping journals when I was around 10. Since the beginning, they’ve meandered through what I did and how I felt, with an emphasis on Not Forgetting. For the last two years of middle school, I wrote every night before I went to sleep. These entries crossed the mundane and the important: Today I skipped soccer practice and got ice cream; today my crush and I read aloud from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in English class; today I started wearing a bra. The journals slowed slightly in high school, but by college they were back, with the lens now focused on how I felt and what that meant—in part about the experiences, but mostly about me.
Much of the information here I gleaned from my journals (and, for things like sun sign, from Facebook) but the majority comes from my memories. It only represents my experience, of course, except for a few externally-derived truths (age, sign, the difference between a 0 and anything above that on the intoxication scale) but some of the subjective views were written hours later, and some look back from today. What I wrote directly after is as close as I could get to a fact of the moment. All of it is at least somewhat fictionalized—as memory fictionalizes everything—but I tried to paint for myself, as accurately as possible, a picture of what happened, and of how I felt.
The stories I wrote or remember aren’t necessarily true; what’s true is the data. There are irrefutable facts to every kiss. In extracting these pieces of information, I determine a set of details that makes up each experience and that describes, as objectively as possible, a truth. However, these facts can’t be reassembled into an image. Even if I had data for every variable, from the weather outside to the background noise, there’s a quality to the scene that statistics can’t express. An experience, teased out into its component parts, loses some essential, experiential quality. The information provided with each data point paints a picture, and each correlation provides a narrative, but there’s no self that joins the data. It’s the language that defines the story as much as the plot points, and it’s the language that’s missing here. And so, as you read the information, you also read into it, and through this action, create the narrative. I give you a series of facts, but you author the image.
The data provided is limited by memory and by authorial choice. The graphs only show what happened in the first kiss; they don’t show how many timesg we kissed, how much I loved or hated the person, or how complicated those feelings may have been to disentangle. The data can’t tell you who the kisser is, and even if I said their names, it wouldn’t let you know them. Truth be told, it doesn’t let you know me either. Even I’m surprised how difficult it can be to find patterns in my behavior. I want to create a person who always likes kissing sober, or who kisses aquarian boys most, or who feels more shame the less she knows the person, but it’s not always the case. The data builds a story, but the story only goes so far. There’s something irreducible about it—some fact of attraction and pleasure, some sum that’s more than the parts. This is the identifiable but unpointoutable experience that exists in the crossection of these facts. It’s an understanding you won’t find here because it exists on an ungraphable plane.
Much of the information displayed for each kiss represents my individual experience of the encounter—my enjoyment, shame, understanding of how much we talked afterwards, and so on—but some of the statistics, including what appears in the “Who” section, refer to the kissers themselves. Most of this personal data is subjective, but that is especially true when it comes to gender and sexual orientation. I am classifying based on my understanding of another person, and this understanding may be wrong. If I misrepresented any kissers, I’m sorry.
Galen Beebe is a freelance writer, audio producer, and multimedia artist based in Boston, MA. She is an editor at the online publication Bello Collective, where she writes about the podcast industry. She holds a BA from Oberlin College and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. You can see more of her work at galenbeebe.com
John West is a technologist and writer, currently working in the R&D Lab of the Wall Street Journal. He holds a B.A. in philosophy and a Performance Degree in Historical Performance from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and he recieved his MFA in writing from the Bennington Writing Seminars. He lives in Boston with his partner (hi, Galen!), a baby, and a cat.