First and foremost I am a man of ideas. I have always been a man of ideas and I presume I shall always be a man of ideas. As such, I am of this nature easily inclined to fall in love with an idea, to infatuate myself in concepts and theories, to indulge in the orgasmic philosophies of imagination and the perpetuation of thought itself.
As such, I am also of the nature of put into things more thought than one might deem reasonable for the affair. I consider at length where I’ll spend my money, how I will spend it, and what will remain after it’s spent. I can spend days on end merely considering which movies, which books, which ideas I liked more than the last.
Take history. But two short years ago I was beginning college. I loved the idea of history, that ability to raise one’s eyebrows and make a well-informed comment upon how this has all happened before. Just look back in that year, at that place, at that one moment which parallels this, and you’ll see, very clearly, how we’ve just repeated our mistakes–for better or for worse I’d leave to the audience, but it’s only one such possible encounter with a historian.
Of course, but two short years ago, I was also beginning my first course in history. And I can assure you all, there was no delight in the act for the delight that mirrored the concept. I was bored. I sought answers and insight that didn’t exist in the text, that didn’t exist in the mindset of history. Though I still love the idea of history, and being historically knowledgeable, the study itself remains elusive, a passion I cannot touch.
And as a mathematician, I’m also exceedingly fond of tangents.
I’ll go off them one at a time, or sometimes two or three at once, following twisted paths like Alice until I finally find myself back at where I began, slightly changed, but mostly the same, a bit like Luna Lovegood in the end, an open mind, but not altogether present in any moment.
This is all exacerbated under stress. My innate personality inclines me to be thoughtful, and discerning, and intuitive, and reasonable, but when put under strain, these great qualities transform into cold rigidness and withdrawn mystery–that vague image of a lone wolf, critical of those it encounters but equally as much a mystery to itself. Not to mention when that warmth retreats, when these thoughts are drawn inward, does this perpetual fancy with ideas seem not only to enhance itself, but also to become more easily missed.
A year ago I spoke of a tree. One that began with a seed of who I was and where I was and continued with a stem of where I had been and broke into branches of where I was going. At the time I had foreseen four–the Mathematician, the Rabbi, the Politician, and the Writer–but now I see simultaneously many less and many more.
It was fractal almost, at the time, but as I see it now, there’s nothing less to compare it to than the most intertwined and self-symmetric image you have ever seen twisted upon itself until it, too, has become unrecognizable.
This Julia-Mandelbrot love child has become my past and my present and my future as well. And it’s upon these branches that I now see myself seeking direction, that I see myself amid the chaos, trying to make sense of it all.
The Mathematician remains the dominant level curve, the one most easily seen, the one most easily followed, the shortest distance and at once the longest line. My goals as a mathematician have changed somewhat, however, from that miniscule tree I spoke of one year ago. I still see myself teaching, but no longer at the high school level or lower. I have met many able-bodied education students, and I have worked with students of that age, and I have spent a year now working with college students as a tutor, and I know now that the reason why I could never find passion in aiming myself at high schools or middle schools is because I don’t want to teach at those institutions. They have their good hands coming, but mine is not among them. Instead I want to teach at the college level, perhaps at a community college, doing for others what my teachers have done for me.
My master’s in math is not merely a “one day it might happen” scenario any more, but instead the next step. As I look decidedly at colleges to which I may transfer after I graduate with my associate degree, one of the things I keep looking for is an accelerated master’s program, that I might finish my math education in three more years as opposed to four.
The Rabbi, I’m afraid, has died. There was a glimmer of life, of hope, of possibility very near the end, in which this branch grew and blossomed and shone in the light. But as is often the case with rare flowers of this kind, a quick bloom leads to quicker gloom and it wilted in the night.
In its stead has arisen the Politician in full force, much more than mass times acceleration, but a force so great it rivals the fabric of the universe itself. Second on my list of criteria for a school to transfer to is a degree option in political science. I strongly suppose I may find it in my interest to add a second major, or at minimum a minor in the field, but this is where my fear and uncertainty set in.
This past year I have had much contact with politicians and political thought, much more than I had ever supposed I might. It has seeded, though how deeply I cannot tell, an interest in not only service and leadership (or it’s been my growing involvement in leadership that has interested me in politics) but also in perhaps fulfilling my duties to my country and to my fellow man and woman sooner than I had supposed. I still do wish to teach, do not ever mistake that, but after a few years of collegiate math I have a feeling I might feel more inclined to teach by example how to lead and be a most honorable member of society than by teaching in a classroom as I might beforehand have had it.
Now, you could say, these two branches are slowly intertwining themselves, fighting each to overcome the other, uncertain, truly not knowing, if they can coexist as one. But still, there is that fear: Is this new desire to enter politics merely a fanciful dance of ideas and theories and imaginings? Have I deluded myself with such a sincere assumption of interest that I have neglected to see this interest as what it truly is?
I have noticed, in the past, that those things I am most inclined to adopt as pillars of my foundation of self and soul I have kept closest and quietest compared to all other facets and architectural designs of my life. It was many months before I mentioned to a soul that I planned to change my major to math. Is this silence I have kept about politics an indication of the same sort of paradigm shift as that had been, or is it merely the observation of a silent but deadly belief in ideals and not reality?
Yet as I look at all of these colleges, so many other possibilities begin to grow as well. There’s Jewish Studies minors (for although I will never be the Rabbi, Judaism still holds fast to me and I will always wish to know as much of it as I can learn); and there are German minors (because I’ve been told it’s a good language for mathematicians, because my grandfather–for whom I was named–was German, because in Yad Vashem it donned on me that those language I felt most inclined to learn were Hebrew and German); and there are Creative Writing minors (which after my classes at GTCC should be but three courses long, to further that willow branch of the Writer pushing through the leaves of this infernal tree of life, always grasping a bit of sun before falling in the shade).
Not to mention the places! There’s Chicago and New York and Boston and Chapel Hill and Raleigh and Greensboro and Evanston and Urbana and Blacksburg, all fighting for domination, all fighting for me to join them. My family, my love, they pull from opposite direction, and where shall I land when the wings are clipped and I fall to my own two feet?
And the people. Those lovely, horrifying people–only in the brightest, mind you, for it is the horror of expansion, not the horror of dread, that fills me. I have learned, strongly, that my time is priceless and I cannot be for everyone what everyone wants me to be. Yet still, a strong student involvement is something I’m considering very carefully for all the colleges I’m looking at. Some have the bare minimum–a Jewish group, a GLBT group, the possibility to join a political group or a green group if I so choose, and leadership development options–but then there are some that have clubs whose natures I adore–Reiki and Kendo, Fencing, Aikido, Ball Room Dancing, Yoga, Meditation, Writers, Parkour–all these things I would love to learn or have already made a part of my life. Common ground to step upon, new ventures to plow forth, new possibilities building more new branches.
And the tree continues to expand. To grow. To dominate the presence of my mind.
I’m quite nearly at the point where I can, and will, choose my top ten and only my top ten schools. These I will contact. With these I will discuss. And to one of these I will invest the rest of my life. That part, I’m afraid, is not the painful part. Nay, that’s the easy part–once I’ve made that commitment. The hard part, you see, is not in embracing that one thread of possibility that will remain, but in surviving the death of all those that won’t.
How will this tree look in ten years? In three? How will this tree look in six months, when half its branches have been trimmed and the very wind might knock it down?