Monday, September 01, 2008

Unpacking your life

I went over to my house late yesterday afternoon and assembled another bookcase. By the time I was done it was dark, and I decided to turn in for the night and get a fresh start in the morning.

This morning I popped open a few more footlockers full of books and emptied them onto the shelves I had built the previous evening, arranging them by vertical size more than any other consideration. Then it was time to assemble another bookcase, in this case the black three-shelf model from Target.* After that was done, it was time to open more footlockers. What about these, over here...?


I opened a footlocker full of Physics textbooks. Books from my college days. Books from my brief, miserable stint in grad school. Books that I bought just to study on my own. Thermodynamics and Mathematical Physics and Electromagnetics and Linear Algebra and Superstrings and lots of books on Non-Linear Dynamics.

Here it was: everything I had once been, everything I had once planned to become, all neatly consolidated on several thousand sheets of paper.

I handled the books reverently. I could still do this, I thought. Fat chance. Maybe.

I lined them up: Mathematical Physics and Calculus and Linear Algebra and Solutions to Partial Differential Equations along the bottom. Superstrings and Electromagnetics and General Physics and two different copies of the Feynman Lectures in Physics on the middle shelf. Thermodynamics and Non-Linear Dynamics - the topic I had intended to study in grad school - on the top.

I came across a book called The Einstein Scrapbook in the same footlocker, a gift from some friends years ago. Einstein has never been a huge hero of mine - he's too inaccessible, too out there. Richard P. Feynman has aways been more my sort of hero. But as I flipped through the Einstein book I looked at some of the photos. One of them was of cards made for him by children on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. Ten years older than me.

If everything had gone according to plan, I would have had my Ph.D. by 1995, been a working Physicist sometime after (or, more likely, before) that, and would have put out three or four books of science popularizations for non-science audiences by now.

Things didn't go according to plan.

I loaded up the shelves with the textbooks, then put some of the popular science books in one of the bookcases I had previously assembled, after first shuffling some of the books to make room and consigning others to the "children's table" of paperback bookshelves. Up went "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" and two copies of Tuva or Bust. Not everything in my Richard Feynman collection - I still have to locate Genius and No Ordinary Genius and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, and possibly a few others.

I leafed through a few more books. Flipped through the two volumes of the 9-11 tribute put together by comics artists and writers. Seventh anniversary is coming up soon. Seven years...

I was tired. I had accomplished what I had set out to do this weekend.

I closed up the house and left.

Video time: Once again, Buffalo Tom fits my melancholy mood. I've known of this song for years, mainly thanks to the Kevin Smith* movie (which I've never seen) that took its name from the song, but I never heard it before last Sunday. There's something incredibly beautiful about this song. Give it a listen.

Taillights Fade, Buffalo Tom:

*The bookcase from Target seems to be made from higher-quality materials than the ones I got from Wal-Mart, though both of them are quite cheaply made. Target's all-plastic fastners actually seem inferior to the ones included with the Wal-Mart shelves, and assembly was more difficult for the one from Target. But if I buy another bookcase - and will need to - I will try to get one or two tall black bookcases from Target, and then go to a hardware store to try to replace some or all of the included fasteners with higher-quality items, at least wooden or metal dowels to replace the fragile plastic dowels that are supposed to support the shelves.

I definitely like the black finish more than the fake oak finish. I thought it would make the room look smaller, but instead it makes the book spines pop out into high visibility.

**This is not a Kevin Smith movie. Why did I think it was? The only real connection is actor Jason Mewes, as far as I can tell - "Jay" of Jay and Silent Bob fame.

1 comment:

...tom... said...

"Things didn't go according to plan."

They seldom do, in my experience...

"Seventh anniversary is coming up soon. Seven years..."

No, they seldom do...