Rabbit Holes Are For Weekends Only!

Now and then the distractions I suffer as a writer are of cosmic proportion, the sort of distractions that send me off on wild tangents that I am physically forced to take, otherwise my brain will crack for want of exploration, and I get completely lost in them.  The trouble is, in some other universe I’m actually a theoretical physicist.

Have you met Quora?  This is Quora’s fault:

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And that’s just the little bits and bobs I scribbled down as I took this weekend’s adventure that spilled over into all of Monday and now Tuesday, as I write this post.  To think, I was actually going to post about the music that inspires my writing. Ha!  I’ll just save that for another time.

All of this began when a fellow on Quora asked the question: “How can I understand the 5th dimension?  Problems related to N-dimensional spaces are seen in Mathematics.  But I can’t visualize how a 5th dimension would look? What exactly is it?”

Boy, is that a deep and never-ending rabbit hole.

Do you want an answer?  I’m afraid you aren’t going to like it.

Basically, the answer, theoretically, comes down to something like this:  A three dimensional cube is made up of two dimensional squares by doubling the points, and a two dimensional square is made up of one dimensional lines by doubling points, so it stands to reason that a four dimensional tesseract would be made up of three dimensional cubes by doubling the points, and by doubling the points again, we can make a five dimensional object (or pentaract) that is made up of tesseracts, made up of cubes, made up of squares, made up of lines, made up of points.  Or something like that, but then it could be argued that three dimensional rules couldn’t be applied to a three dimensional object to make a four dimensional object in the first place, because they would require four dimensional rules, so a fifth dimension would definitely require fifth dimensional rules, and that in our third spatial dimension, the first spatial dimension only looks the way it looks, because we see it with three dimensional eyes, etc., but you see that spatially, there is (theoretically) no limit to the number of spatial dimensions possible.  As a rule though, you must know that the 5th spatial dimension would actually be six dimensions–five spatial and one time (at least), otherwise there would be no seeing it for anyone, because perception of any kind requires time… Unless he was talking about what the fourth spatial dimension looks like, which is actually 5 dimensions, in which case, he might just watch the film Interstellar and have his mind wrapped around on itself rather than ask Quora what it looks like (and then instead he could ask why it is presumed that time would be folded in a 4 spatial five dimensional construct, so that a girl who thinks she is witnessing her mother’s ghost is actually witnessing her father interacting with his own past from the future in order to save the world).  Unfortunately, we live in a three spatial dimension world, so we can’t know what a five dimensional object actually looks like (even in the movies), all we can do is make shadows on a two dimensional plane and rotate the shadow object in three dimensions, and pretend what we’re seeing is a reasonable representation. (Which begs the question, what does rotation look like in the 5th dimension anyway–is rotation even possible,or is spin only a three spatial dimension thing?)

I’ve seen all sorts of crazy on this little journey of mine.  I would love to explain to you all of the ideas spawned by this particular rabbit hole, to explain why, in my humble opinion, time must be the first dimension or how I think I actually diagrammed the folds of time in a tesseract a few years ago without even realizing it, because I have been down this rabbit hole many times before, but I’ve really got to stop now.  It’s time to declare this rabbit hole officially closed for business until some future Saturday, when I don’t have real work to do.

The Eleventh Age won’t write itself.

What I’ve Learned Through Experience About Experience

Recently, our family went to see the musical Once, which I recommend everyone see at least once in their lives, in either musical or film format, because it is a genuinely nice little story about a boy and a girl, and meanwhile the music is fantastic.  Seeing it performed live does make it all the better, because there is something magical that happens as the performers dance around the stage with their guitars and fiddles and accordions, making the story of their songs, not just singing songs about their story, if that makes sense.  From the start, the music catches up your heart and doesn’t let it go, so you find yourself just sitting there on your bar stool in a pub in Ireland, and it doesn’t even matter anymore that you could only find enough seats together so far away from the stage that the actors officially have no faces, not that you could have afforded seats together in any other section of the theater, but you are there, living it, and oh, that music, though.

Our three children are old enough that they’ve left the accumulating fun-and-temporarily-exciting things stage of their lives and entered the, “I don’t really want anything,” stage, so year before last we decided that instead of giving socks and sweaters for Christmas, we would begin a new tradition of doing our best to give them memories.  That year, the week of Christmas, we took a real family vacation to Colorado, which is something we had never done before.  We weren’t there to visit anyone, but to simply enjoy the mountains, so tall I cried a little every time I stepped outside, and snow, so deep in places I felt like a little kid getting lost in it again, and the peace of true solitude, which was unfathomably awesome.

On the drive out, all five of us crammed in our little Ford Fiesta, we got stuck in a snowstorm in the panhandle of Texas, and it took us six hours to travel twenty miles.  The next day, when we reached our cabin, which was up in the snowline of the Chalk Cliffs, we were so cut off from the rest of the world that in order to get a single, iffy bar of cellular service, we had to travel two miles east.  Meanwhile, we aren’t exactly made of money, and the vacation had tapped us nearly dry, so the only Christmas tree we could afford was a tiny, five dollar potted plant that we decorated with strung popcorn like the olden days, and while we did give the kids money to buy small gifts for each other, my husband and I exchanged small presents, and of course Santa Claus came down the chimney in the middle of the night, bringing us one plastic sled and some candy to share between us, we agreed that it didn’t feel like Christmas.  We missed many of our old family traditions and sitting around the tree at home on Christmas morning, unwrapping our surprises, even if they had only been surprises of the socks and sweaters variety.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time, but we learned some valuable lessons about adventure on that journey, and needless to say a few rules came of the endeavor:

1.  If we ever go anywhere for Christmas again, we must be able to afford a tree and decorations while there;

2. Any trip over three hours requires we take two vehicles or we fly, especially if there is a possibility of snow;

3. Decent cellular service is required wherever we are staying, not two miles away.  We must be able to text from our beds at night and receive Snapchats from friends in a snap, as the name implies.

I’m still not sure why this last rule is necessary, because I was perfectly content out there on our own in the wilderness, though I should probably admit, I’m the proud, yet begrudging, owner of this little bad boy, which I only use for playing Sudoku when I’m waiting for swim practice to end.

my phone

What can I say? I am forced to carry it.  My husband said something about needing to be able to get in touch with me in case of emergency.  My children were all like, “Embrace the millennia, Mom.”  Most of the time I can’t even hear it anyway, but now I’ve gone totally off topic.

In honor of what we learned from our trek to Colorado, this past Christmas was full of joy, old traditions we appreciate more for our newly acquired perspective on things, and a little traveling under three hours for ice skating’s sake.  We decorated the entire house, made garland and wreathes of cuttings from juniper trees, practically drowned in all of the cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies we made for family and friends, the kids decorated their stockings (as they will probably still be doing when they are old like me), there were random outbursts of Christmas carols, and of course there were plenty of presents under our tree–mostly sweaters and jeans, no socks.  When it came down to the last presents left to be opened, the kids knew they would be special because I held them out until the end and made them open them at the same time.  At first I think my son was a little confused that they had each received day planners, probably because he is forgetful, and I have handed him more than his fair share of planners in his 19 years, so this was a little inconsiderate on my part, but as they read the message I left them, telling them to proceed in silence, so as not to give anything away for the slower readers among them, and to try not to break anything, and they began eagerly turning to the dates I had marked in their calendars with little envelopes stuffed with tissue paper, there was a swell of quiet elation that felt a lot like staring up at a 14,000 foot mountain for the first time and wishing never to leave.  The hush was quickly broken by peels of laughter and stomping of feet, as they unwrapped in turn their tickets to the theater to see a traveling Broadway show, to a cello concert and then a proper music festival in the summer. In the end, when the jumping up and down and happy tears gave way to text messages to friends and Facebook posts, I knew we had just made the best Christmas memory of my entire life, and the best part was that I would get to relive it at least three times.

So we went to see Once, and it didn’t matter that we couldn’t see the actors’ faces, or that our water heater died that morning forcing emergency shower maneuvers, or that just before we entered the balcony to find our seats the alarm system on our house went off and one of our dogs bit an investigating police officer, whom we owe new pants and a doughnut bouquet for his troubles.  We were all legitimately happy–the sort of happy that lets you see the humor in everything.

One of these days, I will be an Aged P., and when that day comes, I intend to have a decent list of wise things to tell those who will listen.  This will probably be number three on the list:

Give experiences to those you love, even small ones, whenever you can, as much for your own happiness as for theirs.

Love Stories

This weekend, I stumbled onto an article about how to fall in love with anyone in just thirty-six easy questions, which led me down the sort of geeky rabbit hole I find particularly enticing, so I thought I’d share some of my adventure.  I’m not really certain how I wound up in the Fashion and Style section of the New York Times, reading about the night when Mandy Len Carten fell in love with a guy she was probably already at least deeply in like with (after all, he actually said to her, “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone,” which just screams, “Hey, I totally dig you,” so they were well on their way to love, in my opinion, by the time they got around to sitting in that bar, asking each other probing questions, both willing to see what would happen next, but still it is a sweet story), however after reading her article, I found myself pondering the thirty-six questions, developed by Dr. Arthur Aron, who runs the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at SUNY Stony Brook, reading about other people’s attempts at recreating the original 1997 study, Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness, and considering what this means in terms of why and how we fall in love with the imaginary people in books and movies, because that’s just the sort of nerd I am.

You might be asking yourself, as I did, whether or not thirty-six questions can actually result in a lasting relationship between perfect strangers, as the article suggests.  The answer is yes and no.  According to Dr. Aron, love requires a certain surrendering of the self to another person.  From a scientific standpoint, in love it is as though the other person becomes a part of yourself.  In fact, fMRI brain scans of test subjects in other studies have shown that mention of the name of a significant other, a parent, a sibling, a close friend, all result in the activation of similar parts of the brain as the mention of a test subject’s own name, suggesting that we hold these people we love as very near to ourselves, which should make some poets out there very happy.  In real life, we become more intimate with others as their lives, needs, wants and desires become intertwined with our own.  This process is sped up in the lab (or the bar, as the case may be), by way of the thirty-six questions, which progressively become more personal in nature, providing a decent framework for micro-empathizing your way to a legitimate bond with someone you’ve only just met, the only real caveat being that it does require an initial willingness in both parties to build that closeness in order to work.

If you were to walk into a McDonald’s, sit down in front of a stranger and ask, “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” (experiment question #1), most people would likely respond with a heartfelt, “Not you, buddy.  Now get outta here before my fries get cold.”  However, if you find a willing participant, someone who is not only willing to answer the questions but also willing to listen to your answers in return, these questions can and do produce results, even in perfect strangers.  One pair in the original study wound up married, and the vast majority of participants in the original and subsequent studies reported feeling closer to their study partner after completing the experiment, though they didn’t all rush off to the altar, because a heck of a lot more than taking forty-five minutes to answer thirty-six questions goes into building and maintaining a lasting relationship.

Still, as I read the list of questions, considering what it would be like to sit with a stranger and ask and answer questions as innocuous as, “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” (question #7) or as cringe-inducing as the fill in the blank, “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …” (#26), I couldn’t help but think that they all sounded much like plot devices in some Nicholas Sparks film:

"When's the last time you just let go and cried in front of somebody, Joey?  Hell, when's the last time you let go and cried alone?" Emma smiled, turning out her feet to stand on their sides, the corner of her mouth tucking in, like she knew she was going one question too far, but by that point, she was tired and only wanted him to kiss her the way the guy kisses the girl in the movies. (Question #30)  

All he wanted was to bury his head against her neck and take in a deep breath of June as it washed over her skin, but he couldn't, not yet, he thought, laughing as the wind caught up in her hair, spinning it in a wild tangle of strawberries and sunlight.  "Damn, Em," he answered, taking a slow step toward her.  That was all he could say.

I’ve mentioned before that when we read books or watch films, we develop neurological bonds with the characters, much like those we experience in real life.  This happens in an incredibly short time-frame compared to the lifetime it usually takes us to get to know, say, our own mothers or even our best friends, but the connections we make with characters in stories are just as real, producing in our brains the same chemicals that we experience when we fall in love or lose our jobs or get chased by the Mob (I assume… I’ve never actually been chased by the Mob, myself, but I hear it’s exhilarating).  This is, at its heart, what makes entertainment so entertaining, and I think it’s likely the same thing that happens with Dr. Aron’s questions.  It’s not the questions themselves that matter, but the willingness to ask and answer something deeper about ourselves that provides that chemical romance we all need, that fix that only comes through the discovery of the layers of that person that are hidden in the next chapter.  But our lives are so busy, and we so easily get caught up in the mundane and forget that we are all books, begging to have our pages turned.

The Nature of Evil

A fellow by the name of Joseph Campbell once (or twice) aptly described Myth as “other people’s religion”.  Okay, so, he wasn’t just some fellow; he was fairly hyper-intelligent, massively well-versed in the areas of mythology, religion, psychology and philosophy, and has influenced many people with his works, including you, to a degree, if you’ve ever seen Star Wars or read Dan Brown.  If you need definitive proof that you’re not doing enough with your precious few years here on this earth, just go read up on him, and once you’re through feeling totally inadequate and have been sufficiently inspired to do something greater with your life, perhaps you will set out on your own hero’s journey, to “follow your bliss,” as he would say.  But before you do that, since you’re here anyway, you should go ahead and finish reading this post, which is not about Joseph Campbell, though that bit about myth being other people’s religion is important, so I’ll come back to it in a moment.

In the few months this site has been up and running, I have posted character pages for several of the main characters introduced in book one of The Eleventh Age, but so far I’ve only touched on many of the good guys, the heroes of the Eleventh Age myth, who are just embarking on their proverbial journey, which Elli Foote

Elli Foote, the hero of The Eleventh Age
Elli Foote, the hero of The Eleventh Age

believes is to find the Stones of Peace (or power, depending on who you ask), to protect them from Roviello Tofal, the ruler of the wizards, who happens to have survived the past ten thousand or so years solely for the purpose of destroying her, in order that he should finally become ruler of all of humankind (as her noble retinue has explained is her destiny, by way of a little story she comes to call The First Fairytale, which is the prologue in book one, if you’re interested).  While this may sound a bit far-fetched, as it does to Elli, I can imagine it would be a bit difficult to stand in the face of a sea of true believers, who have all sorts of completed prophecies as compelling evidence of your greatness, and say to them you simply aren’t the messiah they’re looking for, though Elli does try, and then that silly ten thousand year old wizard, Tofal, decides to send his army, including the treacherous blood wraiths, to destroy the only home she has ever known, and it turns out there is nothing like having your home ripped apart by the followers of a ten thousand year old villain hell-bent on killing you to inspire a little off-the-beaten-path adventure in the middle of the night, as many a hero before Elli Foote has discovered the hard way. I have purposefully refrained from writing much about Tofal thus far, so as to avoid spoiling the pure evilness that I believe you should get to know in the same fashion as Elli–slowly, one death at a time.

However, I will say that quite a bit of study of the nature of evil has gone into creating Tofal’s character, which has been a cumbersome task at times.  One only need to read a short way into this entry on The Concept of Evil (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) to understand that evil is a bit hard to pin down.  In fact, we all have our own distinct ideas of what evil actually is, believe it or not.  For instance, some people have a strictly religious sense of the term, and think about evil as being perpetuated by some supernatural force outside of oneself, while others have a totally secular sense of the term, and while they may or may not believe in a divine power, they do believe that there are some human acts that are so fundamentally abhorrent that only the term evil can apply, though that evil is seen as strictly of this world and man’s making.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe there is no such thing as evil in any sense of the term, either because it requires a supernatural entity in order to exist or because defining an act as evil has a tendency to beget more evil, and doing so is therefore incredibly dangerous, so such acts that would otherwise be deemed evil by the populous should be treated to less hostile terminology, so as to lessen the blow and the blowback.  Personally, I find it interesting and disturbing that the ideological divide on the topic of evil is not and will never be some line drawn in the sand and that the nature of evil allows for such varying degrees of understanding and reprehensibility that one person’s little white lie can at the same time be another person’s conspiracy to commit treason, which is why I think evil must exist, though I’m certainly no expert on the topic.

Consider for a moment the truth that one man’s religion is another man’s myth, as Mr. Campbell pointed out.  We have proof of this everywhere around us, and have had proof throughout all of recorded history, though somehow this fact hasn’t stopped us from killing each other yet.  The idea that such a paradox can exist in a world where there is no such thing as “evil” seems impossible to me.  In fact, I have recently come to the (inexpert) conclusion that it, one man’s myth being another man’s religion, actually requires evil in every sense of the word in order to exist.  This is not to say, as some evil-skeptics would try to claim, that I believe some religious supernatural power or another is required to bring evil into the world, though that may be what happened.  Rather, I think perhaps this is true of all things mutually exclusive, which is just about everything, and that, in itself, might just be the very nature of evil at its core–that it stands somewhere between definition. To take it out of the religious context, one man’s slate gray can be another man’s steel gray at the same time both men are looking at the exact same shade of gray, yet somehow simultaneously seeing vastly different colors that would not look so vastly different to a third party, who would call it verdigris because he’s a little colorblind.  This slight shift in perspective, and the very natural human application of mutual exclusivity, is where all difference comes from, and it is in this fertile soil call difference where evil blooms so splendidly.  Perhaps this is why there is just one tree of knowledge of good and evil in that old myth about the garden-you cannot eat of one without eating of the other, and that is the curse of our human condition.

I am still learning, but that is my thought on the matter of evil, for today at least.  I will just leave you with this bit of fruit in parting: An atrocious act can be seen as an act of heroism, all that is required is a change of author.