Monday, June 30, 2008


I have been tagged. Tagged three times. Tagged, but I haven't been playing. I am now IT without wanting to be it, IT without actually being it. They want me to fill out an atheist questionnaire. There's a small difficulty though: I'm not an atheist. True, I don't believe in the existence of a God or Gods -- certainly not a personal one. But I'm not "an atheist." I am no more an atheist than I am "an a-Elvist." For how can one define themselves by something they are not? (Only God can do that.) So I am not a theist, true. But my identity isn't -- and can't be -- defined by my lack of theism any more than it is defined by my lack of belief that Elvis is alive and working as an undercover agent for the DHS. "Hi, I'm an atheist and an a-Elvist! Pleased to meet you." This is silly.

What am I then? Let’s see what my choices are. I can define myself by what I do. Like in that* old Yiddish joke, I (occasionally) eat pig and dance with shiksas: I am "a sheigetz."

(*It goes like this: "Rebbe, rebbe, my son has gone crazy, meshugeh!"

"What happened?"

"He eats pig and dances with shiksas!"

"So? If he danced with the pig and ate the shiksas I'd say he's crazy. As it is, he's just a sheigetz!")

But this doesn't work too well outside of a joke. By this same reckoning I am also a chocolate-eater, a cyclist, a sex-ist, a sleepyhead; a moneymaker and a troublemaker and a diaper-changer, too. Clearly, you can't be defined by everything you do, and how would you pick and choose? Next, you could try to define yourself by what you most LIKE to do. But that doesn't work to well either. How does what I like to do define who or what I AM? I like reading and I like thinking. I like pina coladas and I like the feel of the ocean -- and I like making love at midnight (in the dunes on the cape). As you can see, this doesn't work as a categorization.

I've been discussing this with a good friend recently. We'll call her Alice for the purpose of this post. Alice is a smart, earnest but easygoing woman, with long raven-black hair and a bright, easy smile that exposes just a slight bit of her upper teeth. She makes an excellent partner with whom to discuss existential questions -- or really any other thing, as well.

"I think I'm going mad," I said.

"Glad to hear it," she says.

"I'm not joking!"

"I know -- you never do!"

No, listen. See, this living a life that is so absolutely incongruous with the way you see yourself, combined with an inability to define yourself any other way is a Perfect Storm – a sure recipe for madness. Total, fucking madness. It may have been workable for a while, but it's not a good long-term plan, is it?

So she says "Then write about your life; that must help." (Can you detect the sarcasm?)

I wait for Alice to finish brushing those loose, phantom hairs away from her eyes. She has this endearing tic of brushing non-existent hair out of her eyes whenever she gets nervous or the discussion gets a bit animated -- makes me want to lean over and tuck her hair behind her ears for her. (I guess it's a bit like I twirl my payos in the same situation, only I sometimes DO finally tuck my payos behind my ears.)

"Sweet baby Jesus" I say, "I don't WANT to write about that! That’s not who I AM!" And this is a problem: I am not who I am.

She then suggests I write about my enrolling in an undergraduate physics program, but I don't think it makes for very interesting reading. It certainly makes for some boring writing, and besides, that still isn't who I AM. It's like those people who -- consciously or unconsciously -- feel this need to insert their qualifications in every other comment they write, especially if they're arguing with someone on any subject whatsoever. Psychologist, molecular biologist, historian. You soon realize these people define who they are by the qualifications they earned in school and hang on to it as if it’s a bungee-cord someone forgot to tie around their waist -- as if without it they wouldn’t be given the time of day and with it you’re supposed to be dazzled by their... what exactly I’m not sure. Nobody IS what they studied, much as they try to convince you otherwise.

I then suggest to Alice I'll write about my adventures (or "adventures"). Her eyes grow just a bit wider than they already are. (Alice has wide, expressive blue eyes (a rare combination with that hair, I think) that always seem like something is hiding behind them -- like she knows a great mystery she's not letting you in on. I'm beginning to suspect this may be true.)

"Aren't you afraid of what people will say?"

No! I'm not afraid of what people will say. What WILL they say? Why do I care what the couple of loony-tunes (and one fuckwad) will say, anyway? Will I define my life by what "people" will say? Where am I, in Williamsburg or something? (Don't answer that.)

"But you don't HAVE any adventures!" says Alice. (She has this way of being convincing even when she's not. It's cute.)

Ah, that’s a more serious issue. But not fatal.

"I'll make some shit up!" I blurt out after a pause.

"Bet you can't!"

Now I can't back down anymore. It's a challenge, and I don't like to lose a challenge -- most especially not with Alice.

"I can even make YOU up!" I say. And so I did.

I win.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Voices in my head

Did you know there's a beautiful and easy proof that the square root of 2 is irrational? The ancient Greeks evidently did. By this same beautiful method you can prove Theaetetus's statement that the diagonal of a square is incommensurate with its sides. And his teacher Theodorus already knew that the square root of all natural numbers 3 to 17 (excepting 4, 9 and 16 obviously) are irrational -- this in circa 450 B.C.! And yet it took me 2,500 years (plus 15 minutes of reading the history of calculus) to understand this. A bit slow on the uptake, I guess.

I have seen the future...... and it is one-tenth of a second ago. Click here to read about it. Amazing.

I have seen the past...... and it is ten thousand years ago. See here. Incredible.

Yes, those guys from an uncontacted tribe are trying to shoot down the surveying aircraft with bow and arrow! Cute. Imagine the story they were telling around the campfire that night: "Hey guys, you shoulda seen the one that got away! It was THIS big, made a terrible noise, didn't even move its wings, and had huge spinning tent-poles on its nose. I SWEAR ON MY MOTHER'S SPIRIT!"

I wonder if they also have skeptics, believers, and a concept of existential angst. Or maybe they (like me, matter of fact) are just trying to get through life without, well, dying in the middle. Which is a noble cause, I think.