Yesterday I learned about a child who just a few short weeks ago chose to take his own life to end the misery of being mobbed at school. I did not know this child but he was by no means separated from me by those famous six degrees. I can not let this day go by without saying this, stupid, pathetic, insufficient as it might be: I will do whatever I can perceive of doing to not leave a child in need. I will do, actively, what I can do in my own time, in the place that I find myself in, to reach out and make a difference, to change those circumstances that allow this to happen over and over again, laugh at me if you must. But I can’t think about this child without saying that – in the very least – I will try.
the particular state machine that my brain might be runs in and on one human life time. the declarative nature of the statement x like “dna computation is a likely development” quite naturally is not based on intuition but is the result of the different moves of a game i taught myself in the hours my brain was idling. moves which could not be called strictly logical in the sense that they are sequenced in an if-then statement, if that makes any sense, but in the visual study of apparent patterns and a prediction that is based upon that study. surprisingly, these moves do resemble the description of computation very accurately, especially in so far as i would actually call them a mere transformation of data. metamorphosis. though it would cause semantic discontent to state that “everything is a database”. to distinguish data requires to locate specific particles in a specifically assigned space, excuse the non-technical terminology. i am aware of the finite number of particles in an infinite universe – with the simple but intriguing result that the set of all possible states of data, no matter how one is to specify its dimensions, is incredibly large yet finite and bound to endless repetition. this in itself of course is no counter argument to the statement but it strongly pointing towards the idea that the very idea of extractable data is just based upon the inability to take the integrating concept into consideration or simply put: that one might mistake one’s myopic point of view for reality.
School was almost normal. I focused on everything being just so and despite a rising headache towards later classes I succeeded. If there was any inventing of reality to do I was doing it in the most concentrated way.
The last class of the day, philosophy, a spirited, alas mediocre attempt to make philosophical thought palatable for the average Junior High School Student, started as uneventful as usual. Sometimes I actually had felt sorry for the teacher, Ms. Havenshire, who despite her dedication to teaching managed to neither teach those who were interested in philosophy (as she was slaughtering all logic by simplifying ideas to the point of merely being kitschy allegories) nor those to whom spending any energy on comprehending concepts beyond sports and dating seemed a severe waste. I still kind of admired Ms. Habvenshire as she managed to keep her enthusiasm for us and never really gave up on the class nor let herself be put out by Mark’s (the eighth grade nerd, another proud participant in Supergifted and Supertalented) sniding but acute remarks on her lack of logic nor by mechanical, accurate reproductions of an idea she just had introduced in a kindergarten like cheer.
What she was really aiming for was for us to fill all those beautiful metaphors with the stuff of our own lives. If she was aware – as she must have been – that her efforts were utterly unsuccessful she never let on. After ten minutes of her cheerful chattering I submitted to the chitter of her voice and allowed myself to do the very thing I had told myself I would not: I relaxed. I guess I was feeling safe for a moment, safe enough to allow things to unfold their own way.
Ms. Havenshire voice as a pleasurable background voice I started drifting. I spent the better part of the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out how many leaves there were left on the big chestnut tree facing the classroom window. Increasingly entranced by the precision with which I could see the leaves from where I sat as if someone had drawn them with an ultra-sharp pencil, I slowly grew aware that I had lost my focus on keeping reality in check. Ms. Havnshire’s voice had dropped its harmonious melody. I grew aware that it must have been quiet in the classroom for quite a while and with some effort abandoned my leaf counting quest and returned to the class room. The change in Ms. Havenshire demeanor was subtle but unmistakable.
Just as my fun and laid back mother suddenly appeared to be an edgy, uneasy person, Ms. Havenshire seem to have transformed into a colder and paler version of her former self. She studied the class with a distracted yet discontented look and flatly announced the page in the text book she wanted us to study, of all things Aristoteles’ cave metaphor. After a few short minutes reading time she started quizzing students, much to everyone’s bewilderment because barely any of them had used the five minutes study time to actually study. None of her usual sweet and cheerful forgiveness and patience as she corrected answers and scribbled grades in a small black notebook. She seemed nervous and kept checking the time on a small silver watch I had never seen her wearing before as if she couldn’t wait for class to be over (a sentiment that I shared) and finally she let herself be challenged to a pretty sardonic, almost threatening remark.
She had known Mark Haden all school year long to have a tendency to challenge her carefully prepared explanations in an almost insulting manner, a situation which in turn she, kindly disregarding his rudeness, would use as an educational diving board to engage the rest of the class in some reluctant discussion – but today she took his remarks eye-to-eye.
When asked to read the paragraph about Aristoteles’ cave out loud, Mark had one of his nerdy moments and established with grim determination that there was no way to prove that anything outside his perceived self was more than an illusion of his own brilliant, creative brain, and that he would therefore not be persuaded by a merely illusionary voice to take on any task. She went right over to his desk. It was dead quiet in class. For a moment, I swear, she looked at him like a snake might look at a rabbit before the kill. There was nothing of her usual shy smiling presence left as she hissed at him, eyes slanted: “Mark, believe me, I will establish reality for you in a most convincing way by simply letting you fail this class. Unless you are prepared to regard such an experience as the product of a your brilliant, yet masochistic mind, I suggest you participate in class as required.”
Mark looked genuinely impressed and scared. He stuttered a subdued response and started reading the paragraph out loud. Not much rebellious spirit there. I grinned.
One thing I knew. Ms. Havenshire would never, ever talk like this to any student, she’d rather leave the classroom to cry in the hallway, returning with red eyes, I was supremely sure of that. Whoever was stimulating or better manipulating my brain to recreate my school environment was getting out of their comfort zone. Though I did feel a bit freaked out for a moment when I saw Ms. Havenshire lick her lip with a slender, forked tongue.
How did he get in? The same way he got out, I guess. Slowly, really feeling borderline silly, I got down on all fours and crawled to the cat door. My legs felt heavy and cold and as the circulation started to work again were starting to tingle. I ignored them and bent my face down to the cat door as if I was a cat. Of course I knew that I wouldn’t fit through the small opening, just wide enough for Plinius, not even, after some adjustments, wide enough for the neighborhood raccoon who, attracted by Plinius cat food bowl, had twice raided the kitchen. I felt cold night air on my hand pushing up the slot and then on my face. I pushed closer to the opening and peeked out.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland after she had tumbled down the rabbit hole. I could see Plinius’ world bright and clear. Too bright actually. There was daylight out there, in front of my kitchen door, bright sun light reflected off the silver ripples of the lake. Plinius sat, back to me, at the shore, and washed his coat thoroughly with his cat tongue as if to cleanse himself of my human touch. I knew the lake by the characteristic shape of the mountains that surrounded it. The place existed. Only it was not in my backyard where I had, only moments before, watched Plinius through the doorglass as he was diving into the night. The lake glaring in the sunlight was far up in Vermont, Lake Willoughby, a deep glacial body of water wedged between two mountains with biblical names where my mother, Phoebe and I had spent our summer. I had not the first idea why I would see it through the cat door.
Plinius seemed to think nothing of it, and he just continued to lick his lower back, proceeding systematically to the tail. He paid no attention to me and would not have either if he had cleaned himself on the kitchen rug behind me. I turned back for a reality check, back to see the night kitchen in my own house, closing the cat door gently as if to protect the night in my house from that other wordly daylight. Or the daylight out there from the night leaking out of a cat door in my world. Because in my spacetime it was still night, my kitchen was still dark except for the weak glow of the night light.
Out there where Plinius roamed, it was not only bright day but an entirely different geographical place altogether. Not New Humble Jersey. I pressed my face again the cat door again. Plinius had taken advantage of my distraction and had removed himself from the scene. It was dark out there, the smooth, velveteen darkness of our own backyard. In the distance over the black leaved silhouettes of the tree tops I could see a star. My own backyard and starlight traveling over a distance of 430 light years.
Finding Plinius could be impossible at times. For days on end the only sign of his existence could be that his cat bowl was empty in the morning. At some point, mostly drawn by Phoebe’s calls in the evening, he would walk out of the shadows in the garden and return home to sleep in the margins for a couple of days or on his favorite chair in the kitchen. I was never certain of his return. In that way he was like my father, too. It was very likely he would come to pick us up for a weekend but never entirely. When I shared this observation with my mother once, she quoted from “The Hobbit”: It’s a dangerous step, the first step out of your own front door.” Implying, I guess, that no one really knows whether they are going to return at night. But the remark wasn’t all that helpful. Some people do make more of an effort than others to come back. My father had a challenging work schedule in a big law office in the city. I guess, I was somewhat harsh towards him. Still.
Walking into the kitchen that night I found Plinius right away. He was sitting in his favorite chair, looking up and squinting his eyes as if he had actually been waiting for me. A small reading light had been kept burning as every night in case we girls were to walk into the kitchen in search of something to drink. I walked over to Plinius and kneeled down in front of his chair. He yawned and turned his head to the side. “Plinius,” I whispered, putting my fingers in his fur. He felt real, shaggy softness, powdery cat fur smell with a hint of cat litter. I put my nose into his fur and inhaled. A real cat. When I looked up, Plinius had closed his eyes again. He wasn’t purring, mind you. But he let me be. Unusual. As I looked at him, my face close to his face, noticing a bit of mucus leaking from his dirty pink cat nose, the long whiskers, the white grandpa beard on his chin, there seemed to be, in his very presence, a message. It was like working on a math problem, knowing you just had to think right about and even more importantly look right, look in the right way, whatever that meant, at the equation and you would understand it. That was how math usually was for me, the answer to a problem was right there, in front of my eyes, on the paper, I just had to bring it into focus.
And that was what Plinius seemed to be to me that night in the kitchen, a living and breathing logarithm to express a specific, meaningful relationship between an unknown value and me, cat2me is the output from the function cat2 when the input is me. I looked at him really hard. Did Phoebe speak cat as well? Did she know what kind of a cat logarithm Plinius was? Plinius himself couldn’t be bothered to help me. cat2phoebe is the output from the function cat2 when the input is phoebe. Plinius sighed as if bored by my slow mind, moved a bit under my hands, and farted.