In Which the Garage Door Tries to Warn Us

18 January 2004

When I am frustrated in trying to explain what I mean, I resort to the Levi-Civita epsilon notation. I find this a little distressing, as pieces of self-knowledge go. Scott and I once, in high school, graphed our sense of telepathy with each other over time, on the back of one of those paper Chinese zodiac placemats. We were trying to discuss how we were experiencing being symbiotic, and math became a much easier language.

But I thought I was over that, is the thing. Not over math, because it's pretty. But over...having physics as a default, I guess.

When you have the same mathematical/theoretical physics training as someone else, and you can write what you mean in a very compact equation, you can hand it to them triumphantly: Look! Here's what I mean! And then they say, "Oh, you've got a Kronecker delta in there, okay, I see what you mean." Or else, "I think this delta function is kind of fudging here." But the reason we use math and abstruse notation in physics -- the reason THEY use math and abstruse notation, dammit -- is that it really is a compact and useful method of communication. Really. I've heard people complain about scientific jargon, but most fields that have jargon do so because it's a useful method of internal communication.

In some ways it's like I went and spent years and years of my life learning Aramaic and am now shunning the company of anyone who pays attention to anything before the 18th century or south of Switzerland.

In other ways, it's worse than that. I've voluntarily emigrated from the Land O' Physics, renounced my citizenship and gotten new papers. I have deliberately ensured that my old similes will be out of place, and that the things I'm constructing similes to will be foreign. You can't move from Norway to most American cities (other than this one) and walk into a deli and have people make sense of it when you say, "Hey, that smells like gjetost." But neither can you go back to Norway after and say, "Hey, you know what, that place on 54th, it smells like gjetost!" Because the people there will say, "Where?"

But that doesn't make it smell any less like gjetost.

This is when I have to admit I feel loss, I feel I lost something leaving physics. That doesn't make it a mistake. That doesn't mean I should try to go back. It just means that I can't deny that there was something there that was important to me. It wasn't important enough, it wasn't the most important thing, but I loved it, and in a lot of ways I still do. It was the right choice to leave. I'm glad I left. But every once in awhile it's still an ache there, my old love gone from me.

I deliberately learned to think this way, this physics way; I trained my mind to these forms, these connections, these comparisons. I probably wouldn't see them if I hadn't trained my brain in that direction; but now that I have, they're no less valid. Tensor mechanics don't work in their entirety for character relations, but they do work some. They do illuminate different aspects for me.

The good thing is that science fiction is the field in which I will find the most fellow voluntary exiles from my old country. Clear back when I went to ICFA and was in a delighted haze of meeting my heroes, Joe Haldeman called John Kessel over to meet me with the information that, "She got a physics major, too." And Kessel looked down at me and grinned and said, "Eh, you'll get over it. We did." So now that I have, or rather now that I am (because it'll be four years this spring, and I'm still getting over it), I know that there will be others, and where to find them. Science fiction is like one of those really tasty restaurants that bills itself as being "eastern European" or "Mediterranean" or something equally broad: there'll be a lot of people in there, some of them Nordic or African or Asian in descent, but if you go to the back room, there'll be someone doing the old dances, and they might even be your old dances.

And then you can say, timidly, "Did anybody notice that that deli down on 54th smells like gjetost?" and they can holler out, "What, are you crazy? Now, what really smells like gjetost is, when you're walking past that shop, the one with all the fish, and you're just coming up on that restaurant that costs too much...."

One of the things physics has ruined me for, and I suspect this is forever, is literary criticism. It's their verbs, their damned verbs. They're always claiming to know something they theorized a chapter ago. "And because of Derrida we know...." No you don't! He made it up, and now you're making up something based on it! And don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for making stuff up. It's one of my favorite things. But you have to know you're doing it, and you have to acknowledge you're doing it, or it's going to drive me up the proverbial wall.

Ah well. So. Yesterday I flipped through the book on Romany dance and spirituality, which was a gift from Julia and Zdravko last time we went to Bistro E. I was not impressed (quoting The Tao of Physics as Gospel will do that) with her conclusions or methods, but the author seemed to be a very well-meaning individual. Then I started reading de Lint's Spirits in the Wires. Every once in awhile, I'll be reading de Lint and come upon a sentence I truly hate. It just jars me out of the book with a, "Yuck, my land! Couldn't someone have edited that thing?" But mostly I enjoy de Lint enough that the occasional sentence like that doesn't present a huge issue.

And I worked on the Not The Moose a good bit, skipping along, la la la.

And in the interim between that paragraph and this one, we went out to a church, picked up The Pill at Walgreen's, and came home, and let me tell you: it is not warm out there. Not by a long shot. Not even on a civil acquaintance sort of basis with warm. Next time we go to church, God's other kids are going to get a good view of my corduroys and boots. Because it is cold.

And the thing is, the garage door opener tried to warn us. It's kindly that way. We have a controller for each of the two garage doors, and when it gets below a certain temperature, you have to ease the door we usually use past the first notch by hand. This is probably the door's way of telling us we really don't want to go out there, as it's entirely too cold. Really entirely. Just too cold. We had been warned, and yet we were fools enough not to listen.

I do like the cold; I like that I've got on a cranberry wool funnelneck sweater now, and I like my SmartWool hugging my feet and my foot duvets hugging my SmartWool; I like that it's perfectly reasonable to make myself cocoa with lunch and cups and cups of lemon chamomile tea after that. But...I also like having a chance to warm up inside, and I like that the office is warmer than anywhere else in the house.

The weatherbeing in the paper said that it was perfect weather to hibernate inside, and I agree. It's also perfect timing for writing about Finnish winter. I could probably even do Fimbulvinter if I tried! But none of that, not yet. I have other things to do before I get to my Fimbulvinter short story.

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