I went to bed early on Monday night, and set the alarm for a generous 8 hours, but ended up sleeping in past my alarm. I’ve been taking Nyquil before bed, but it doesn’t make sense to me that it would make me sluggish in the morning. At any rate, I rolled into work well past when I wanted to.
I did some tidying up and busywork, but, as per the last few weeks, my heart hasn’t been in my work recently. There has just been too much.
When I got home, I prepared myself some food, and watched the new episodes of Girls and Looking. Girls had a spotty last season, and the first two episodes of this new one weren’t that great either, but this week’s (Episode 3) was really great. I’m very willpower- and empowerment-minded right now, and I love watching Marnie and Hannah come into their own, even as they are terrible and awkward in their manner. Adam and Jessa are such a natural pair I can’t believe we haven’t seen them play off of each other before.
Looking still doesn’t realize who its interesting characters are, but Patrick was almost funny and charming and we got to see a little bit of the beautiful Raúl Castro. I’m worried that he’s going to hook up with Agustín, which would be a waste, but I’m just glad that he’s not gone forever. Please don’t make him get back with Patrick.
I got the last of my weekend Charliework done, and had one of those blissful moments where my bed was made with fresh bedding and I had just taken a shower and I was in a robe and I had tea and was just lazing. My mom and my sister decided that they wanted to read Moby-Dick this year, so I started the first few chapters. I think I might be the only one that’s started.
Nyquil fog again. Bought lunch, was trying to only prepare my own food this week.
Nothing special at work.
Got started on Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is kind of about writing and also about just doing what you are meant to do. I realize that I’m deep in a wheel-spinning cycle of inspiration addiction, and decided to stop reading the book and take a month or so break from big picture writing, and use my time to either make work or read some primary text—take in books, movies, whatever.
I became fascinated with this New Yorker story about Yitang Zhang, a mathematician that solved some old problem. As you can tell, my grasp of the math is scant, but Zhang emerges as a fascinating human character, almost an artist:
A few years ago, Zhang sold his car, because he didn’t really use it. He rents an apartment about four miles from campus and rides to and from his office with students on a school shuttle. He says that he sits on the bus and thinks. Seven days a week, he arrives at his office around eight or nine and stays until six or seven. The longest he has taken off from thinking is two weeks. Sometimes he wakes in the morning thinking of a math problem he had been considering when he fell asleep. Outside his office is a long corridor that he likes to walk up and down. Otherwise, he walks outside.
Zhang worked on this problem with no outside encouragement or support for more then a decade while working as an adjunct. Before that, unable to find a professorship, he worked as a bookkeeper at a Subway franchise. Although it seems he is superintelligent, it is his complete focus that is inspiring. From another interview:
I am a quiet person. I like to concentrate on the math, on what I like. I do not care about the life conditions, like a good house, good cars, good clothing. This is my personality. I don’t have a car right now. I have a townhouse, but it is in California, where my wife lives. In New Hampshire I rent an apartment. The most important thing is to concentrate on math itself.
I don’t have any confidence that I’ll ever find that focus, nor really any desire to. I like good house, good clothing (we share our indifference to cars). But one of the reasons that I’ve always found a kinship to the pure math/pure physics crowd is that, like music, they are things that are outside of words and semantic reasoning—words will always be a metaphor, and it is possible to think in the thing without needing words at all. Sometimes when I can get all the voices in my head quiet, I can get to that place where I’m just thinking and being in music and sound, no words. I don’t feel that same thing about numbers, but if somebody else does, I understand wanting to be in that state as much as possible.
I called my mom, talked for a little bit. Realized that my car is not worth much, so my fantasy of trading it in for something smaller and more energy efficient is not just a fantasy, but a pretty stupid one at that.
I had a long, emotional conversation with my brother. My heart breaks for him right now, because he’s 18 and out of school, and he has some things to figure out right now that are twisting him around. Even the questions he’s asking make me think that he’s on a truer path faster than I was—I was stubborn enough to stick to a contract I thought I had to stick to (a contract that I invented, that nobody asked me to sign, and that never made sense in the first place) for another two or three years before it ran out of gas and I had to try and build myself again from scratch.