Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Begging forgiveness from a neglected love

Heart of my heart, my darling, my love, forgive me. I nearly forgot you.

You know how it is -- remembrances of thee come at ever longer intervals -- always with that pang of guilt, but never with sufficient passion to jolt one into action. The minutes merge into hours into days, and as each memory of our last tryst grows fainter the mind wanders through thoughts of other, more immediate, mistresses. My fickle lust craves to jam every waking moment of my consciousness with images of their newer, younger, more nubile and seductive charms. You are a known quantity, the contract read from page to small print, the zeta already solved for -- the excitement of the newer hunt moves these loins to greater vigour than pallid memories of you could ever.

And yet, and yet, dear blog, you are a love I return to. I'm sorry for ignoring you this last week and more -- kiss and make up with a new entry?

Yes, what a week it's been, what a week. I've been here, there and everywhere, doing this, that and the other with her, him and everyone. A trip to Princeton to greet old friends, sit in on a conference without registering, and just in general hang. New research ideas, new ideas in life, possiblities in the job market, biking, several parties, older friends rediscovered, learnt a bit more about newer ones -- spring is in the air.

Gosh, where does one even start?

As always, somewhere, anywhere, as long as it works.

So, here's a little bit about my research life. Fascinating reading for most of you, doubtless, but do tarry a while -- I promise there will be no equations.

To begin with an anecdote -- I was at this conference in Japan, talking with a woman working at Sony Corp. She'd done her Ph.D. in pure math at Cambridge (the UK version), and was now working on more applied research in Tokyo. I was, as always on these junkets, gloating about how sweet grad student life was, and asked her if she didn't miss that?

"Well, you know how doing math is. It's a full-time profession, 24/7. You're constantly thinking about something, and it's exhausting. At least with this job anytime I'm not at work is time I have for myself."

"So what are your usual working hours like?"

"Well, I normally start at 0900, and stay until maybe... meh... 1900 or 2000. Oh, plus, of course, there's the 1.5 hour train commute each way."

You know, sometimes I envy her...

Naaaaaah, just kidding :)

Though, really, when an idea grabs hold of you, and you're convinced you're right, and you're this close to solving it...

... but haven't yet, and that last idea failed but the new one which replaced it has promise, and if only everything would line up correctly in your mind it'd be a truly beautiful edifice which people would look at and contemplate with awe (with some reflected glory on the architect, of course, and in those lovely interludes that you think you've licked it you devote considerable amounts of your (you allow yourself to think because of post-coital bliss) considerable brainpower to just this type of kissing oneself on the back of your neck), but (n-1)/n of the time the ugly-but-always-honest monster of truth rears its head from underneath the corner of the rug you'd shoved him under while you were fighting these battles with other beasts in your mind; meanwhile, of course, it's just this ugly mess you can't bear to write down on a piece of paper even though it'd help you organize your thoughts -- you dream about it, you obsess about it, you blank out in the middle of conversations, you lose contact with friends and the outside world, you fight your solitary fight for something that really only you and a few other solitary people would possible ever care to care about. You grow to know the woods because you've been lost in every nook and brook, multiple times coming from multiple different directions. You love yourself, you hate yourself, you wonder why life is worth all this trouble -- even stupid ditties are easier to get out of your head than this obsession.

Why do you do it? At some prosaic level there's papers one must write to get a career and so on, but that line of motivation sucks your soul out -- hopefully you do it because it's a truth that you find beautiful, and it deserves to be discovered. And at the end (if you reach it) you look back and wonder -- how could I have conceived of this thing larger than myself?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am currently in that pleasant interlude between thinking I've nailed a difficult problem with an elegant solution, and discovering a flaw in my reasoning. The reason for the optimism is, more likely than not, really just because it's morning, and as always I'm in that gentle halfway house whose windows are half-fogged with sleep, but is teeming with ideas that spent the night waiting to be let out. It's been a couple of weeks I've been fighting this mental battle of epic proportions (and little consequence in the grand scheme of things). These things happen maybe a few (fingers on one hand) times a year, and they're what makes it all worthwhile. Afterwards there needs to be a long dark teatime of the soul, with much debauchery and mental slothfulness.

There -- now I've gone and exposed part of my true current state of mind. Go ahead and make fun of it.


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