It Has Taken 50 Years For Me To Realize We Should Measure and Value Our Lives In Seconds
“Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal. For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it persists forever.”
— Become What You Are, Alan Watts
The sum of one’s life sits in a changing marinade of events/experiences. Sometimes harsh. Sometimes soothing. There’s no way to ever predict what revelations lie up ahead. In Fall 2019, I began the start of one last math book — Chasing Rabbits: A Curious Guide to a Lifetime of Mathematical Wellness. I was veering towards even more uncharted, and frankly, nebulous terrain in the field of math education. I mean, wellness? I contacted one of the most well-known and highly regarded people in the field — Jo Boaler — on Twitter on Sept 24, to see if she would be interested in writing the foreword. I wrote to her 2:30 pm on that day. She responded affirmatively exactly 30 minutes later. It is important I share that detail, as really, that’s what we all do.
We think in generalities, but we live in detail. To make the past live, we must perceive it in detail in addition to thinking of it in generalities.
Alfred North Whitehead
In late 2019, I was only armed with a gut feeling about wellness. By February 2020, the most unexpected yet powerful muse showed up — the global pandemic. It not only galvanized my writing, but it slowly began to shepherd me in the direction of looking at life through a smaller and smaller window. First in terms of people in my life. And then soon after, the domain of time in which I reflect and talk about my life. Eventually, this dwelling on such small segments of time is what I pined for. My mathematical world, already in full bloom, was a garden of delight to be examined flower by flower and petal by petal. What made this examination so extraordinary that it actually… wasn’t.
I was finally living the way we were all meant too.
The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
While I love mathematics, my first love has been music. And, if it is possible, I have lived with its precision even more so than my world of numbers, patterns, and equations. Let me give you some small, but acute examples of what I mean.
Take the words “childhood living.” What do they mean to you? What do they immediately conjur up? Hopefully, happy memories of a time that is constantly receding away from all of us. While it means that for me as well, the first thing that pops up — will always pop up — is that those are the opening two words in the song Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones. The running time of Jagger singing those words is five seconds. However, the detail that is missing is how he sings the word “childhood”. He extends the singing of it with an oddly perfect — I say that because the Stones dabbled mostly in messy/dirty rock and roll — tone of painful nostalgia. I am not sure how many takes they did to get that part right or maybe, it was just a spontaneous bullseye to capture the mood of the song. Either way, it is a sliver of mesmerizing, musical detail I have neatly shelved in the exhaustive musical wing of my mental library of memories that last mere seconds.
Take the words “I like it”. Horribly inert, right? We must all have used this phrase at least a thousands times in our lives — to the point it has been watered down in meaning. Except, for me, in the musical context I am about to share with you, it symbolizes defiance and rebellion on a cultural level.
On paper, “I like it” is meek. But, throw it in the greasy, glam blender of Love It To Death era Alice Cooper, and have it sung with snarly defiance, and it goes from insignificant choice of words to anthemic memories for a whole generation of disenfranchised and disenchanted teenagers.
Excerpt from Sonic Seducer: Lust For Life With The Transcending Moments, Memories, and Magic of Rock And Roll
Attention to my own life’s detail prompted me to start writing my fourth — and yes, this time — my final book. This time, the lens will not be mathematics. This time the lens will be music.
I am going to be 58 in a few weeks. The years ahead will not be same as the years behind. Hopefully(because of living in a mathematical world) I won’t suffer cognitive issues. Physically, I know my body will begin to slow down, ache, and eventually finally yield to mortality. I can’t change that. I can eat right, exercise, and live life lightly, but in the big scheme of things, the narrative of time isn’t terribly flexible to my final outcome.
However, I can — and sure as hell am doing — partition my life in seconds. To moon over mathematics with its seductive detail of abstraction and universal truths, almost number by number. To listen, remember, and celebrate music in all intervals/characteristics — cultural periods, bands, albums, songs, and finally, the moments of songs. To be in the moment with the moment. And, to bring that microscopic view of the world to the rest of my life.
That, my friends, is paradise…