Chickens and Eggs


Courtesy, “hand writing science formulas” by Mr. Lightman


Sometimes it feels like Plato and Aristotle are sitting at my kitchen table, arguing. This happens because where my kids used to bicker over who elbowed whom in the back seat of the car, as they’ve grown up they’ve moved on to better things – debates over ideas. And I have to say that while the squabbling in the back seat used to make me want to scream, the disputations that happen at the kitchen table leave me thinking. Here’s a case in point: the other day, the Rocket Scientist and the Conductor got into an epic talk about whether math is only a product of the human mind, or whether it has some reality in the world. The Rocket Scientist maintained that math is the name we give to things – amounts, shapes – and that, as such, it’s only a human construct. We see a tree outside, and connect the lines of its branches to other lines we see (the horizon, for instance), and come up with this idea we call a line. We see things and call them squares, even though no perfect square exists in the world. Meanwhile, the Conductor argued back that math grows out of physics – things exist in the world, we see them, and so we name them. Therefore, there’s a line because lines exist in the world, we see a bunch of them that look very similar to each other, and the idea of lines is born. To put the question another way, does the abstract grow out of the concrete, or do we pull the abstract out of nothing and lay it over the world we see? Sometimes These are chicken and egg questions that are just interesting to think about, and have been throughout time. As usual, I don’t think about them in terms of math and physics, but in terms of people and the telling of stories. The questions are equally tough in that realm, though, because while you often see that people tell themselves stories about what should be, or what the world is like, and then build their real, lived lives around that made-up story, you’ll just as often see stories that grow out of life. A person will experience kindness or cruelty, and go on to tell stories of the same. This gets writ large all over history – we tell ourselves that the king is born to be petted and obeyed and the serf is born to be abused and commanded, and then we make that story true by making sure everybody lives that way. And yet, that’s not the only way it happens. For a thousand reasons some other idea might develop – the concept that we human beings have inalienable rights, for example – and it works its way in, eventually changing the story for everyone. Chicken and egg, math and physics, reality and story. Is it a seesaw, or does one always lead to the other? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to think about. 



Courtesy, “Microphone Closeup. . .” by Stuart Miles


I love the sound of language. Beautiful words, powerful rhythms, and the passionate ideas that can unfold from inside them. Is it any wonder I’m fascinated by poets? I’d forgotten for a while how much I loved poetry until my older two daughters – the Book Princess and the Conductor – introduced me to spoken-word poetry. That art form has already produced some stars, notably Sarah Kay and Taylor Mali. But there are so many more yet to be discovered. I realized that when the Conductor recently took a poetry class, and brought home some of the poems a classmate shared. All I could say was, “Wow.” So I asked him if he’d mind sharing one of his poems with a bit of a wider audience. Thankfully, he said yes, so here is “Cindy” by up-and-coming poet Kevin Chen.

We are pendulums,
living on opposite sides of our father’s clock
you were born on midnight,
with both hands already
raised in a solemn surrender.
you were the 4th child of 6.
moved to the united states when you were 5
and met a familiar man who smelled like stir-fry cigarettes
who you’d later call dad at 6
became a makeshift matriarch at 15
Then a full time cashier for our dad’s carryout at 18
your hands have never stopped moving.
I remember that night
when you told me, that your whole life
felt like a fraction.
4 out of 6
Bottom heavy.
Like an inverted hourglass that nobody bothered to turn
they told you to keep your mind in the numerator
and your matter on the denominator
but you told me you were never good with math.
You preferred art,
growing up–in an empty house,
I used to watch your hands
hang like primary colors.
Your hands dancing
like kaleidoscopes across canvas
you were a cartographer,
mapping the intersections between blue
and red and red and blue,
you were painting a cross section of your chest
a sprawling metropolis of arteries and veins
it’s no wonder you left an “x” in the space between your lungs
as if you could solve for it by plugging in numbers and numbers and numbers
you told me you were never good with math.
I remember when you started painting black,
twirling on the axis of midnight,
When the rods in your eyes melted like cavities
when you too started smelling like stir fry cigarettes
you told me that the sum of all colors
would always be black.
I remember the day you stopped painting,
you told me you were looking for a rainbow
one that wasn’t anchored in pots and woks
behind kitchens at carryouts,
you were looking for a reason to believe
that rainbows could exist without the gold.
I remember the day you met a boy,
one that made you feel top heavy
so you fell head over heels
for a man with a prism heart
two partial fractions.
These days
I’ve come to the realization that
I was never good with math either
I could never get my order of operations right
I have this habit of subtracting before adding
taking and never giving
We haven’t said more than a word to each other in years,
but lately i’ve found myself wanting to be more honest,
no metaphor will ever be a suitable
for the three words i never said to you
when you needed me the most
So let’s start over,
Have I told you that I’ve given up trying to be an accountant?
these days I’d much rather be a stormchaser
like one of those guys on the Discovery Channel
I want to dive headfirst towards the nearest twister
and set a picnic in the eye of the storm
i’d like you to meet me there,
with rods and cones in hand
we will find that rainbow.
















The Reading Rainbow

IMG_5485Our house is a book house, where everybody is reading something all the time. And the nice thing about that, aside from the obvious, is that we get book recommendations from each other. Many of the books I’ve read in the past few years have come from these recommendations, and sometimes even a book I’ve read before is brought back to me in a new way when one of the family reads it. This was true of Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo, which a few years ago became the Beautiful Dreamer’s favorite. I had read it long before, and remembered liking it, but Because of Winn Dixie stuck in my memory so much I think I passed over Tiger Rising until, out of curiosity about why my daughter loved it so much, I read it again. I discovered that it’s a small gem, painful and beautiful at once. So I learned something both about the Beautiful Dreamer and about rereading books.

Her older sister, let’s call her the Conductor, introduced me to the lyrical contemporary/historical fiction The World to Come, by Dara Horn,  and the Rocket Scientist brought home several fantasy series I had never heard of before, in addition to pointing me toward a fascinating discussion about philosophy and fantasy that I’m still chewing over. My youngest, the Castle Builder, showed me the hilarious The Name of This Book is Secret series, which changed the entire feel of footnotes for me, probably forever. Then there’s the fun detective novels that Superman reads in alphabetical order.

And today, the Book Princess quoted from a book of poems that reminded me how well words can capture the exact feel of being alive in a specific moment. Here’s the poem she mentioned, from a book called Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

“And the pomegranates,/
like memories, are bittersweet/
as we huddle together,/
remembering just how good/
life used to be” (p.129).

All I can say to that is wow. I think I have some reading to do.