Saturday, December 13, 2003

I'm listening to classical music on the radio. It's a familiar tune, one by Bach, but one I can't name. There are a lot of tunes I can't name.

I remember in a conversation with Kahan once, he commented that he thought about mathematical concepts not verbally, but as ghosts and images. I know a number of people -- myself included -- who as often think nonverbally as verbally. Verbal patterns are great for working through details and for communicating ideas. But mathematical inspiration is, for me, a nonverbal process. The problem with nonverbal thought processes, though, is that they are often difficult to translate accurately into speech. The same difficulty holds for feelings, which is perhaps the reason why the phrase words cannot describe is a cliche -- because so often words can't accurately describe a feeling.

There are so many simple things that I enjoy: walking, reading, cooking, eating, thinking, learning, or just sitting alone. I enjoy cleaning and organizing. I enjoy bullshitting with friends. I enjoy feeling like I'm helping make the world a little better. I enjoy coding, and solving problems, physical or mathematical. I enjoy playing with words and ideas. I enjoy my research. I enjoy a lot of simple things. But I have a hard time saying why I enjoy these things, exactly. Why do I find some things so engrossing? Why do I sometimes feel so strongly the need to retreat and be alone? What is so comforting to me in a warm cup of tea? I cannot say clearly, and am frustrated when I try. Perhaps that's part of the beauty of time alone: the freedom to think in a manner as verbally fanciful or as completely nonverbal as I wish, without concern for whether anyone else understands or cares.

I've had occasion to think deeply of late on what I enjoy and what I want out of life. Right now, I want to finish my degree and move psat graduate school. Life as a graduate student at Berkeley has been rewarding, and I don't regret it in the least. And I'm getting very ready to be quits with it -- not with research but with the Berkeley graduate student status. So is that the reason I seem to have such a strong affinity toward work of late? Why not take it easy and go one step at a time? I have my own answers to those questions, but the answers seem weak when translated to speech. Is that because the answers themselves are weak? I think not.

I spent a lot of the day feeling pretty miserable. Work didn't help in this case; bullshitting with friends for a little while and then spending time alone listening to music did help. Actually, bullshitting with friends who talked about three-dimensional visualization of molecules and who asked me about quaternions really broke through the cycle of gnawing self-doubt; sitting quietly and listening to music just brought me the rest of the way back to good cheer.

I leave for home on Monday, and I'm looking forward to the time off. I look forward to seeing family and old friends, and I look forward to some time late at night when the cats are playing and everyone else is asleep, and I'm alone with my thoughts. Historically, this has also been a very productive time of year; perhaps it will be a productive time this year as well. I will probably take a break from writing in this blog until the new year -- if I feel the urge to write, it will probably go into papers or into e-mail. And so, gentle readers, though there may be few of you, and fewer still who I will not see on my trip home: best wishes to you as the winter starts and the year ends. It is a hard season, even festooned as it is with holidays. Be well.

Good night, moon.