Psychoactive Lattices

[Day 12]

The day before yesterday, some of us got into a discussion at a party after work about trinomial lattices, which are a type of financial derivative (option) pricing model.

Don’t tell ME actuaries don’t know how to party.

I mean, we don’t, but don’t tell me.

As the office’s resident wordsmith, I got asked at some point exactly what a “lattice” is. I said it’s an interweave or other regular geometric arrangement of some kind, depending on context.

PERSON, LOOKING AT PHONE: “He’s right.”

OTHER PERSON, LOOKING AT ME: “Why would anyone know that?”

ME: “There are twenty of us at a bar in Columbus, Georgia discussing derivative pricing theory, and my knowing the meaning of a common architectural term is what needs explaining?”

ALL: “YES.”

To be a mathematician in America means ignoring every signal our society can send about the social undesirability of being a nerd. Many fall off along the way; where I work, we end up recruiting roughly 1/3rd of our employees from other countries.

How much people hate math or think that learning it is useless is a frequent humor trope in this country:

Even I have to admit that’s pretty damn funny.

Still, it can be hard sticking your head up in class at age 10 and say, “this long division stuff is awesome!” when everyone else in the class hates it. There are related areas, such as computer programming, that bear much less stigma, so children gravitate there, instead.

The economic result of this, of course, is that we don’t have enough mathematicians, and the few of us there are get paid pretty well. Which we then spend at bars after work in order to carry on somewhat surreal and obscure discussions.


As a writer, I identify myself as a poet, because being a mathematician didn’t make me enough of an outcast.

As a poet, I spend an inordinate amount of time on word shading. I like to know as many synonyms for any word as possible.

When I was driving my middle daughter to high school every day some years back, we’d play a game where we’d see who could think of the most synonyms for whatever random word came up in the conversation. She still remembers with relish the first time she beat me at it.

It was a proud moment for me, too, but showing it would have spoiled her fun, so I didn’t.

This same daughter, now grown and working at the same company I do, asked me the other day for a synonym for “psychedelic”.

ME: “I’m surprised you don’t just use thesaurus.com.”

HER: “You are thesaurus.com.”

Aww.

I threw out the words “multicolored”, “trippy”, and “psychoactive” as suggestions. She decided to use the one she’d never heard of before, as it turns out she was writing something satirical about people who inappropriately use obscure words no one has ever heard of.

I wonder where she learned about people like that.

Sigh.

 

“Hope Is The Dream of The Waking”

I’ve never really sailed, but, I miss it.

In the same vein, I often miss people who I’ve never actually met.


I look over to my left, and there are, on shelves, hundreds of books I read as a child. My eyes light on one in particular, and I can remember the world of it, the one created on its pages.

Forty-five years after I last read it, I still remember Barracuda Island and the Order of the Twisted Claw, because imagination made it real.

But I couldn’t describe what our family dining room looked like at that same age.


After “I love you”, “Hi, sweetheart”, and “Goodbye, love”, quite possibly the sentence I have heard my wife utter to me most frequently in almost eighteen years of marriage is

“Everything is not about you.”

Straight up, there are (many) days where I make things about me that aren’t. So I need to hear this, repeatedly.

Over time, though, an entirely opposite set of thoughts has showed up, thoughts that have never been said except inside my own mind.

Whether people are mad at you or happy with you, it’s not about you. Whether people want to talk to you or don’t want to talk to you, it’s not about you. Nothing is about you. Therefore, there is no you, really, as people’s actions would all be the same regardless.

I’m trying to report the logic of my own heart as true-to-what-it-is as possible; realizing, of course, that it is insane.

Still, the disconnectedness of non-biologically based relationships seems to have something to it, something we frequently ignore, with sayings like

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.

Which is not exactly true, as we can choose people all day to be friends who may not choose us back.

You know, those people you miss even though you may not have actually met them.


When I would watch the sailboats, I would feel hopeful. Sailing has the kind of non-violent wandering purposefulness that my heart craves.

“Hope is the dream of the waking,” Aristotle was reported to have said. What drives us, moves us, transports us is not reason, it is the irrational part of us underneath, no matter how many rational explanations we attempt to backfit to our actions.

It is only at the limits of our reason that we glimpse who we really are: we are creatures of imagination, who plant hope and harvest dreams, all the while gazing at clouds we secretly think of as the sailboats of the angels.


[Day 11 of a 30-day prose essay undertaking.]

Falling, In Love

[30 days of prose, day 10. – Owen]


Falling in love is like stepping off of a flying airplane; them loving you back would be the parachute. But that parachute doesn’t always open.

Splat.

Love in relationships always comes with risk. We can’t know what others are really thinking, and we can’t know how years or circumstances might change them. But we step out anyway.

And sometimes, we crash.

Hearts, however, are usually stronger than bodies, kind of like the flight recorder on a airplane.* They are usually ready shortly for service on another flight. The decision to step off a plane again, though, gets much harder.

Before I met my wife, I had lots and lots of practice at falling in love. Many of these were more like falling of a curb than an airplane: short fall, easy landing, right back up, no problem. But others were harder: awkward falls off of bicycles, and diving boards, and even a roof or two.

Finally, I stepped off a plane for real, and man did it feel good. Scenery rushing by, blue skies, green pastures, and another person there with me. It was such a rush.

Then I hit ground, hard, in a fenced off area called “divorce”. As I lay there, wounded, I saw her (my ex) bounce immediately up and get on another plane.

One person’s crash is another person’s escape, I guess.


So why do we do it? Why do we try again?

I can’t answer for you, but I can answer for myself. I loved the feeling that came with stepping off of that airplane, and I wanted to feel it again. In addition, I wasn’t going to let one person stand in for any other person I might love for the rest of my life. For that next person might be my parachute, and I might be hers.

The other reason I had for trying again came from an observation I’d made, which was: planes can crash whether we ever get off them or not. Isolating myself hadn’t prevented crashes in the past, but it had prevented joy.

In the end, we love because we’re made to love, and because the choices of others do not determine who we are.

But it sure feels like they do those times we hit ground.


* I innocently asked my dad when I was a kid why they didn’t make planes out of the same material as flight recorders so that people would survive the crash. I got a long explanation on the aerodynamics of heavier metals.

Glassblowing

This post was inspired by a post from the Not Throwing Stones blog. – Owen


I realize I could do about 300 days* of posts beginning with “I love {x}”, and never repeat a single x, but anyway: I love blown glass. All through my latter teens, twenties, and thirties, I had a small blown glass figure in my bedroom I bought when I was fifteen. I had bought it for a girl, but she preferred my best friend and so refused the gift.

It was a pretty good deal for me, looking back.

I’m fascinated by people who can actually make things, and I’m fascinated by those things, themselves. There are few activities in life happier than making something, and doing anything really well takes a lot of practice. So a lot of the person ends up in the thing they make, which is rather wondrous.

The first time I ever saw the process of glassblowing, live, was at a local arts festival; there were two people, a woman and a man, and they made things while those of us in gathered crowd watched. Eventually, my parents had to drag me away.

I had a tremendous desire, as a child, to make things with my hands. I wanted to sculpt, paint, hammer, lathe, even blow glass. I had no talent for any of it, though, a reality that slowly dawned on eight-year-old me before blossoming into a grief.

Realizing that we aren’t capable of achieving some of our own dreams while still young is an almost universal experience, but one we tend to overlook as grown-ups. In fact, adults tend to tell kids that they can [be athletes, be artists, be models] in a kind of thoughtless and mechanical way that only adds to the child’s grief.**

My father, who could make many things, never understood my limitations, because there was nothing he turned his hands to that they wouldn’t do for him. His mind knew no such limits, so to him there were no such limits. I’ve since seen that attitude many other times and places in life.

Within that same period of my life (ages 8-10), though, I also learned, with my mom’s encouragement, that there were many things I could do, and that my time was better spent focused on doing those.

Still — and many of you (particularly guys) may understand this feeling — the disappointment of not being good at particular things has never really left me. I sometimes think that’s where envy comes from, when that lingering disappointment in ourselves becomes anger or resentment at others who don’t have the same limitations.

I wanted to be like my father was, straight up. But my way lay on a different path.


The ultimate craft that each of us is responsible for is crafting our own lives. One of the marvelous, magical things about blogs is that we get invited to watch others in the process of doing so. I have a particular fondness for people who can write in a way that creates a window for me to picture their lives. Everyday life, to me, is the most beautiful thing in the world.

I read a blog post a few days ago that really struck me. Reading it, my mood began to change in the same way the author’s mood changed as she described it along with the circumstances of her evening. Riding a bicycle in the pouring rain for 45 minutes, then the warm bath, the conversations with friends, the TEDx talk — I could picture all of it.

I felt like I was there.

The process by which we move from someplace dark (or damp) to a place of gratitude is one almost all of us know, yet we need constant reminding that such a journey is even possible. So I was very appreciative of that post.

In addition, since the author (Jesska) has left some very kind comments on my blog, I therefore present this as a (linked) comment on her wonderful post, and want her to know how much I appreciate that she took the time to write it.

By the way, according to her “About Me” page, Jesska works as a glassblower. So now I’m envious, too. 🙂


* Technically, that would be 300 more days of it, since I’ve posted about 300 already.

** Or the opposite problem, where adults discourage dreams that the child can achieve because of their own, rather than the child’s, limitations.

Ranger Tower

[Day 8 of my self-imposed 30 day prose challenge. – Owen]


For many years you’ve looked out for the first sign of fire.

Day after day, in a tower that gets more isolated with the passage of time, you’ve kept watch. You climb those long steps, because they get you to where you can see. Sometimes, you’ve had a partner to spell you, and other times — maybe even now — you’ve been alone. But you have a job to do, and a wonderland to protect.

Because you’re a parent, and being a parent is like being a forest ranger.

Once your kids get past a certain age, they may just see you as part of the tower. You know, that old structure where people come and go out of habit?

That’ll be you.

And it doesn’t mean they’re bad kids. It just means they’re focused on their own growing. Which is what we want.

It may be when they’re learning to walk, starting school, learning to drive, or having their 21st birthday — you’ll be there, in your tower, trying to head off the fire you fear so much.

Because fires do come, and we never know when.

I think a lighthouse would be the imagery for a parent more commonly used. Lighthouses are beautiful.

A ranger tower, on the other hand, is strictly functional. Like a parent’s love. It may be old, clumsy, or even embarrassing, but it’s on the job, looking to minimize fire damage. No matter how old the tower, or the people in it.

There will, of course, come a day when there won’t be anyone in that tower anymore. And sometimes it’s only then it’s realized what a wonderful thing the forest ranger did all those years. Because love is wonderful, but less glamorous than people realize.

You might pass by it for years and never even notice.

Like a ranger tower.

“Libraries Are Magic”

[Day 7]


Well, they are.

My mother tells me that, as a girl, she spent a lot of time at the public library, because (a) it was safe, and (b) it was quiet. My mom is the thirteenth of fifteen children, born into hunger level poverty, so both of those things were in short supply.

We moved a few times when I was a kid, and I remember the public libraries in each place. In addition, we had school libraries and even a meaningful church library or two thrown in there.

My favorite two of all those libraries were the two where we lived starting (for me) at age 10. My hometown library was my favorite, and made summers bearable. The next town over had just built a new one (pictured) and I used it, too.

When you move to a new town or neighborhood, you typically don’t have friends there. It’s quite a change for kids, particularly when you are used to having lots of them where you moved from. This was the situation my sister, brother and I were in the summer of 1972. My brother was starting high school with summer band though, and my sister was at the same high school she’d been at, and could drive.

I knew no one, and was going to be starting 5th grade at a new school that fall.

My first visit to the town library was our first full week in our new (to us) house. My mom, who taught school and so was home for the summer, took me to explore.

The library was in a very nondescript one story building. No fancy landscaping or architecture.

The children’s books were second thing on the right as we entered, just past the checkout desk. I realized within seconds I’d just entered a gold mine. For this library had the thing I was most looking for, yet couldn’t find in book stores: old books.

I think my love of old books started the prior year, when our teacher read us the first of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I realized that kids of my parent’s or grandparent’s times had led totally different types of lives, which I found fascinating. Before radio, television, or electric power in houses. Or maybe just before television, but, radically different than I knew.

I wanted more of that, and here it was.

My mom also found some books she wanted, and, after getting library cards, we were able to exit with a decent first haul. And the two week time to return meant a guaranteed trip back.

Libraries are magical for lots of reasons, of course. One of them is that we build monuments to those things we think are most important. When a child knows there are always collections of books available for borrowing, no matter where the family moves to, she or he knows society values books. The library in the next town over seemed like a palace to me, and there is magic in being someplace important — one that, as adults, we lose sight of, until maybe we feel it again by going somewhere famous.

Schools. Libraries. Football fields. Public pools. Grocery stores. Restaurants. As a kid, these are all magic. I see infants looking around in wonder in grocery stores, while their unnoticing parents hurriedly gabble away on their phones, oblivious to the sheer sort of ecstasy going on a few inches away.

Which is a shame, really.

When I went to visit my mom in Arizona last month, she took me to the library of the Assisted Living facility she lives in. They have newspapers, books, and magazines, and a computer memory game they’re all encouraged to play daily. So we did, together, laughing through much of it.

Old age and Parkinson’s are serious things, as is facing it with her children thousands of miles away. But my mom and I were back in a library, and the magic still happens there, just like it did forty-six years ago for a ten year old boy trying to fit into a new neighborhood, and just like it was for a little girl 30 years before that, trying to escape poverty and chaos.

Libraries are magic, magical monuments erected to something sacred, a chance to communicate directly with our own past. If we become too disconnected from the past, feeling it has nothing left to teach us, we lose the ability to focus even on the present. To truly know where we are, we must remember where we came from.

For if we forget that, the only monuments left will be monuments to ignorance.

And we can’t afford any more of those.


Photo credit : Niceville Public Library. 19–. Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 20 May. 2018.

camera obscura

[Day 6 of a 30-day non-poetry experiment. – Owen]


When the room is darkest, and only the smallest amount of light can get in, we sometimes see things most clearly, albeit upside down.

This is the principle of the camera obscura, the ancient “dark room” (which is what “camera obscura” means, literally) where a lens and pinpoint hole for light would project an entire panorama of the outside world onto the wall, only upside down. The original photographic cameras used the same principle to project light onto a light sensitive plate (later film).

People still view eclipses using a form of this method. There are also artists who work with camera obscura as a medium.

Our own eyes are a form of this, as well, which is why physiologists say the images our eyes see are actually upside down in the eyes, and our brains turn them rightside up.

The principle has applicability in many situations, and it’s worth noting it’s features.

The room is dark. In order to see something clearly, we have to turn the brightness on everything else down.

Only a pinpoint of light gets in. The truth must come in small, pure, and concentrated doses.

The light must go through a lens. It is only through focus that we truly see.

The entire panorama can then be seen. All that is truly out there – the good, the scary, all of it – can be visible this way.

It will, however, be upside down. Even the purest focus brings in some form of distortion we have to think through and correct for. What we seek is not in people or things or events, it is in how we interact with those people and things and events through our minds and hearts, in bringing a well-focused view of everything we can see into right balance.

It probably wouldn’t hurt a lot of us to clear away distractions, and to refocus our attention and minds periodically on what matters in our worlds. To look into the eyes of the people we love, free of electronic and other diversions, and provide our hearts with more images of the moments that we truly love the best.

And so theirs will be the faces we see when our rooms are at their darkest.