Thursday, January 01, 2015

Last days of 2014

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little Runaway
I was flyin'
                               -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Runnin' Down A Dream"

We, my wife and I, escaped the sub-zero flurries in Virginia to flee to Florida and a resplendent 25 degrees Celsius, literally the scientifically defined room temperature. All the niggling hiccups notwithstanding, I declare vacation accomplished.

I like what I do, and if I got paid a little more I could do it all my life. Even though I am but a microscopic pinprick in the vast expanse of scientific endeavor, I believe the very contemplation of the fact unites me with the expanse. I suspect this belief (being an insignificant yet irreplaceable part of a larger plan) is fundamentally similar to a profound spiritual or religious faith except that it does not contradict logic or common sense. 

And common sense says that much as I like having equations and conjectures floating in my head, I would do well to periodically wipe the slate clean. Every six months a week long vacation away from the daily grind does wonders for my psyche. Not checking e-mail is the modern age tapasya, a cathartic penance for those seeking to rise above the world-wide-web-ly desires. 

Of course that does not mean that it is even possible to turn the mind off even on a vacation. Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish for meaning in every unassuming nook of an indifferent cosmos and you have given him food for thought for a lifetime.

What does a manatee do but sleep all day and eat when its bored? As my wife asks, why does it exist? Why is a 3000 pound lumbering hulk nibbling on my hand like a puppy? Is a manatee a metaphor of existence - either pointless, caught in an endless cycle of self gratification, or blissful, uniting with rather than conquering its environment.

A circle, no matter how vicious, has no direction.

I felt so good, like anything was possible
Hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
                               -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Runnin' Down A Dream"

Florida keys are a group of islands stretching out more than a 100 miles south of mainland US connected by a thin highway practically at sea level. On either side of the road, the ocean is an infinite expanse. Water as far as the eye can see, water as green as blue can be, water so perfect, so serene and so infinitely deep, it inspires and terrifies me...

I can watch waves crashing for ever. In nature where most beautiful things are ephemeral (sunsets and snowflakes) and most things terrible eternal (death), crashing waves and open flames can bring me endless joy. Each wave or lick of flame that stands out from the rest seems to be the last great one, one that could not be bettered. I wait for a while, then eventually resign and let the juvenile antics of squabbling licks and middling waves amuse me.

Yet if I wait long enough, there is always a bigger, longer, higher, better one. Always.
And yet, if I wait long enough, the average is always the same. Always. 

Bell curves can make life worth living...

The last three days and the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sun shine
                              -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Runnin' Down A Dream"

Speaking of eternal, stars. The stars are out all night in the everglades campsite. Sure I have seen better starlit nights before, but that never seems to disappoint me. Seeing any more than the five stars I can see from the city is exciting.

I meet relatives on this trip who have been around the world more times than they can remember, even though every trip has left a mark in their life. I would like to go all around the world someday, eat all the crazy foods and listen to all the weird languages. And I want to look at their stars and say... "We are not so different, you and I. See that star, it sings to me too."

I try to show off some star trivia to my wife to look smart. However, when its midnight and a raging thunderstorm threatens to rip your tent off, or flood it at the very least, I feel dumb. Why did I not check the weather and book a hotel instead? Why did I not buy a better tent fortress? Why did I not get the electric dipole question right in JEE and get a job at Google, it <probably> does not rain like this in California? 

And then my wife rolls over to tell me she's okay and I should go to sleep. To let me know that I am not "that" dumb. That I could do a million dumb things a day and they would all still not match up to the smartest decision I made. To sit next to the chirpy dimpled girl in class all those years ago. I won't go to sleep. I'll stay awake to make sure we are warm and dry. 

That is what a smart person would do, and I is smart.

Wooo ooooo...
Wooo ooooo...
Wooo ooooo...
Wooo ooooo...
                              -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Runnin' Down A Dream"

How fast can you go in a car before you start contemplating the fragility of your mortality? Physically, the human body was never designed to move faster than 45 km an hour. An impact or slip at that speed, which cheetahs and gazelles routinely experience, would shatter the human body like glass. Our bodies are uncomfortable with motion, we get jetlagged, seasick, carsick or just plain injured. Yet our minds seem to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of moving at 50 or 500 mph. That is why we have a need for speed, our minds yearn to go beyond our bodies' limits.

It is a rush to hurtle down from an airplane at terminal velocity, or to be spearing the wind down the interstate with a blistering guitar solo piercing the heavens in the background.

Its a high that has no crash.

Wooo ooooo...

A great 2015 to yoooo....


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