The Long and Short of It

I was out with friends watching Interstellar the other night. Afterwards we were standing around, trying to figure out the movie, some of us closer to understanding than others. I was one of these guys, trying to explain multiple dimensions to people who have never had to think outside three (and even had a hard time understanding those).

But I tried to take it further, make it clearer: dimension is not only a spatial measurement. We think of space in three dimensions: we can move forward/backward, left/right, and up/down–three measures, three dimensions. So what, they asked, is four dimensional?

It may seem like this will be a post about science, but hold on. Shortly, it won’t be.

In the physical world, we identify the fourth dimension as time: one moment progresses linearly into the next, but unlike the first three spatial dimensions, we can’t move backward through time because we live in a three-dimensional world. So what is four dimensions?

Or more specifically, what does the fourth dimension look like?

This is where I tried to be more general. We could come up with any set of any-dimensional space. Consider movie ratings: we could classify movies with a four-point score, based upon the quality of the acting, the soundtrack, the story, and the visual effects–four dimensions. A dating website might match people based on preferred sex of partners, age, location, and religion–this is another four-dimensional space, and quite frankly, most dating websites probably match people on a much larger number of attributes, creating a space much more complicated than four  dimensions.

We deal with multiple dimensions every day, and this is where my diatribe diverges from science into experience: We tend to measure our own lives with only a splattering of dimensions, such as the familiar triangle known to any college student: “Good grades, a social life, or sleep: choose two.” We often speak of the work-life balance, a two-dimensional space reconciling time spent working and time spent living, ignoring the fact the two are not always mutually exclusive. My life is a little more complicated at the moment: sure there’s work, but there’s also school, leadership (which is itself twofold), non-work-school life, preparing for future work/school, and my relationship.

For the vast majority of people, relationships and non-work-school life are intertwined. For someone in not only a long distance relationship but also a binational relationship, it’s a little harder. On the one hand we have to balance different time zones, different schedules, different modes of communication, and the usual relationship challenges, but on the other we also have to deal with immigration, great costs to time and money, coordinating forms, obtaining signatures, dealing with pricy shipping costs, and constantly keeping a record of everything we do because–unlike other relationships–we have to legally prove ours.

It makes for a lot to keep up with.

Many people say they don’t know how I do it, and to be honest, I don’t either. My Google calendar looks like a game of Tetris two pieces before game over, and even then it’s missing a few commitments that I’ve been too busy to add to the calendar. There’s a backlog of emails I’ve got to reply to, another backlog I need to write, and outstanding homework assignments I’ve yet to touch despite suddenly being due–tomorrow.

I’m not complaining, I’m merely observing. Some days I feel detached from everything, a specter hovering over myself, physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted. Sometimes I’ll stare at the computer, not really seeing anything that scrolls across my Facebook newsfeed or the hot page on Tickld. Sometimes I miss deadlines because more important deadlines preempt them; sometimes I spend hours looking back at those small choices that brought me here, and sometimes I regret them, but usually I don’t.

There’s no time for regret. No time for anger, sadness, or frustration. I gather my things, sling my bag over my shoulder, and check to make sure I have my keys and wallet as I walk through the door. Some people ask how I sleep. I do, usually. Restlessly.

I thought I had something profound to say about life. About long-distance, binational relationships. About multi-dimensionality and perceptions of self-identity. But I didn’t.

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