Sunday, November 11, 2007

Living in your head

A long time ago now, I used to be married to a mathematician. In many ways, it was not an easy life, although it got easier when I came to understand that I was responsible for all things mundane, from electric bills to finding dinner. The man lived almost entirely in his head, except when he blew off steam by hiking or biking, as if the explosion of all muscular synapses would be the only thing that could counteract his habitual over-concentration in the brain.

To an extent, I also live in my head. I can see that many people don’t relate to my craving for things intellectual. But there are degrees of everything, and most of us are very, very different from mathematicians. Or physicists. Anyone who spends a lot of time in a world that is pure abstraction. Don’t feel sorry for them; their lives have a purity and clarity than many of us miss. And if they miss human connection, it is for the most part something they don’t know to miss, just as most of us don’t miss the joys of their lives.

This morning I saw the movie version of David Auburn’s Proof. Very nice. The guy gets mathematicians. The scruffiness, the obliviousness to anything other than mathematics, the fear of being past their prime before they are out of their twenties. The idea that work trumps all other demands. And whoever did wardrobe for the movie was a genius.

Catherine wore a variety of interesting and intricate knits, particularly when she was most herself. Cables and patterns in muted colors. When she feared she was crazy like her father, she tossed off her sweater, as he had shed his winter coat in the snow. When she was furthest from accepting herself, she wore denim. Knits are the perfect metaphor for the mathematical mind, turning linear thread into flat surface.

When I knit, I can get into a zone that is, at least in my imagination, something like a mathematician’s creative ecstasy. I’ll never know that particular passion, but I like to think I can discern its shape. And knitting or writing or painting the house, I do experience the joy of living in my head, a joy that is not available to everyone.

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