Life: The purpose of life edition

“I may think socializing is a way to waste time,” Zhang says. “Also, maybe I’m a little shy.” [. . .]

Seven days a week, he arrives at his office around eight or nine and stays until six or seven. The longest he has taken off from thinking is two weeks. Sometimes he wakes in the morning thinking of a math problem he had been considering when he fell asleep. Outside his office is a long corridor that he likes to walk up and down. Otherwise, he walks outside.

“What is the purpose of life” is a question everyone answers with their life.

The blockquote is from “The Pursuit of Beauty: Yitang Zhang solves a pure-math mystery,” and the article is itself beautiful and brilliant. Edward Frenkel gets name checked, and his book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality could be profitably read in tandem.

Sometimes when I read articles about income distribution and fights over slicing up the massive economic pie I think of articles like “The Pursuit of Beauty.” What would a world in which people signaled less and did more look like? But the preceding sentence is itself signaling, so I’m part of the problem by saying so.

Life: Laughter and “Rapture” edition

“They were both laughing. Laughing made everything harmless and carefree and sweet. That’s the sort of idiot she was, taken by an easy laugh. Laughter took danger out of it. It was one way to get a woman: make her laugh. It disarms her and distracts her from the perils that may, and most likely do, lie ahead. Laughing throws a person’s balance off, and in that state she is more easily toppled.”

—Susan Minot, Rapture; I find the book funny although I’m not sure most people would. “thought it was funny” may be the ultimate subjective assertion. Rapture is available for $4 on Amazon, and for that price you should definitely read it if you think you’ll at all enjoy the subject matter. The product description makes it sound more gimmicky than it actually is.

The quote above is on page 17 and to me is the key to the novel.

Life: Transience edition

“Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being, are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot—as if this was anything lasting or likely to trouble him for long.”

—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations; Lil’ Jon alludes to and was inspired by Aurelius in “Turn Down for What.” Note too that I’m not convinced the premise of the passage necessarily or sufficiently supports the conclusion.

Life: Heroes, normals, and TV edition

“‘Heroes are much better suited for the movies,’ Alan Ball said. ‘I’m more interested in real people. And real people are fucked up.'”

—Brett Martin, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The book is recommended.

P.S. A friend asked why I’m reading today of all days, and I replied that every day is a good day to read.

Two kinds of nurses, two kinds of professionals

“In adult film, there is only one kind of nurse, but in real life, there are two, though they both come in the same range of shapes, sizes, and colors. The first remembers what it is like to be weak and frightened and tries to tell sick people the kinds of things they wish they had been told when they were weak and frightened. They make you realize that nursing is one of those professions that maybe some people were actually, biochemically, born to do. The second type have the malevolent, sated languor of tropical predators and have never won an argument with a grown-up in their entire lives and feel anodyne throbs of reptilian anticipation at the thought of finally being placed in a situation where they know slightly more than another person.”

Zak Smith, We Did Porn: Memoir and Drawing, which is more humane than expected but does not have linear narrative coherence. Whether the latter is a virtue or drawback I leave to readers. I lean towards “drawback.”

How could the quoted paragraph apply too to teachers?

Life: What is Los Angeles? edition

“One day the whole world was going to look like Los Angeles, he decided, not a city, nor the absence of a city, just ruined countryside, with houses squeezed between highways which never tired of whispering the lie that it was more interesting to go somewhere than to be here. The entire westward drive of American history seemed to have piled up on the beach, and the descendants of wagon-crazed pioneers, refusing to accept completely the restraint of the world’s widest ocean, frantically patrolled the edge of the West, like lemmings in therapy.”

—Edward St. Aubyn, On the Edge, which is good but still only a lead up to Bad News.

As for Los Angeles in specific and the California temperament in general, “Refusing to accept restraint” is a good thing: it drives technology, progress, and the whole human enterprise. No wonder Silicon Valley is in Silicon Valley and not somewhere else, somewhere where restraints are accepted rather than challenged.

Unfortunately in many domains California is now quite willing to accept restraint, to the detriment of everyone.


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