What I Don’t Understand

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No one understands everything, but everyone wants to understand something. Spend a little time discussing one of those fascinating subjects which you just don’t get. Why does it interest you? What don’t you understand?

I’m seven years old and I’m mortified. I remember the feeling very clearly, the embarrassment creeping hot into my ears and the discomfort wriggling in my memory. The details of that day’s events are unimportant – I was an awkward second-grader. I still can’t remember where I put my running shoes two minutes ago but I can remember this thought that I had twelve years ago and the conviction of it. I’m standing in front of the kitchen sink and I’m convinced that I can change that day’s events if only I can change what I am about to do. If I can go back one step, I can go back as many as I like. There are two silver taps before me. If I turn the tap that I am not about to turn, then I can likewise erase an earlier choice. I have a one in two chance of turning on the tap that I am not about to turn on. I’m sure I wasn’t thinking of percentages, but looking back now, fifty percent odds are quite promising. Nevertheless, it didn’t work out in my favour. I turned a tap and water came rushing out. It would have been different if I had only turned the other one.

I’m throwing pennies into a koi pond and they flash gold as they sink among the fish swimming lethargically in the shallow water. We must be at a Chinese Buffet. I marvel at how exotic this is – my purse is full of pennies and I could be here all day, tossing away gold coins. But then I think, how much money am I throwing away? Four cents is negligible. Five cents is as well, because if you add one cent to it, you’re not changing anything significant. But there must be one penny, a single toss, in which the amount of money I have thrown flippantly to the fish becomes “a lot”. One hundred dollars is a lot of money to toss in a koi pond. So is ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. Each individual penny doesn’t matter, but one penny matters – the penny where my recreation becomes reckless.

This is what I don’t understand – the science of statistics. If there are five taps, I have only a one in five chance of turning the tap that will be turned, but I will turn the tap that I will turn. It seems very silly, but as a child this concept consumed me. I would try and think consciously about turning the tap on the left, while quickly switching and turning the tap on the right, convinced that if I managed to turn the “other tap” I would be able to win yesterday’s race or actually complete yesterday’s homework. Likewise, I would ride my bike up and down the street, reciting all the dollar and cent values between zero and one hundred dollars, trying to pinpoint the critical number.

I didn’t actually want to find it, of course. I still don’t want to. If someone was to tell me now that there is a fallacy of equivocation between the tap that I will turn and the tap that I will turn, that time travel isn’t that easy to isolate, that eighty-seven dollars and sixty-three cents is a lot of money, but anything less is pocket change, and that statistics is as easy as piling numbers on top of one another and letting them sort it out for themselves – well. Seven-year old Emily flushes pink, says No, I won’t touch the tap at all, and turns back to the koi pond.

This gives the impression that I’m just looking for something to be flustered by, that I’m faking it and I should have written an essay about astrophysics or fate versus free will because Who the Heck really understands that anyways (and I certainly don’t), but I think even if we break down statistics into single numbers, one could spend a lifetime trying to define and clarify the simplest units of science. That doesn’t make it futile to chip away at a mystery or a paradox with dedicated reason, and I wish I still had the same stubborn inability to accept a vague answer as I did twelve years ago, but I do think understanding is an infinite journey, and if I’m stuck at some point along the way because I can’t decide whether the path I will take is the path I’ve already taken, then it’s a journey that occurs in sprints and in pauses, and I’m enjoying being engaged in this one.


Written by emdies

May 12, 2011 at 11:20 pm

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Who I Am Now

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Emily Dies.

At some point in the present tense. Besides preventing me from a career in medicine, the point of a name like that is to remind one that Emily verbs; Emily is, hopes, watches, pretends, walks down the street, etc. Except that if my name was Emily Walks Down the Street this would be a different essay, and maybe I’d be a pediatrician.

But if I’m a verb that always has to be in the present tense, then it becomes more difficult to pin down Who I Am. I wish sometimes that my personality was static – I crave the same excitement, confusion, and faith that coloured and clouded my childhood,  or the exploration and sense of achievement that drove my high school years. But Who I Am Now, while illuminated by the discovery of those years, is also subdued by furious efforts to avoid change and return to Who I Was Then. Emily Walks Down the Street, Emily Stops, Emily Thinks She Might Have Turned the Wrong Way, the list goes on. The middle names get quite excessive.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when you find who you are you sign a contract and settle down. I promised myself I’d try not to make this pretentious, but the verbing thing got me all stuck.

I believe in God. I struggle with my faith less frequently than I used to, which means I’m farther away from it. Belief is something clear, but the details become blurrier as things change around them.

When people used to ask my brother to differentiate between the two identical baby girls sleeping in the push stroller, he would say, “They’re both Hannah and Emily.” We pretend not to be. Also, we can’t communicate telepathically, but we do occasionally text message.

Finally, Now – I like to play the piano. I like being underwater. I like Earl Grey Vanilla and reading the Editorials and Degrassi (The Next Generation). I enjoy Calculus but sometimes I forget how to add two digit numbers. I’m living in a Barbie Dream House and I want to start a vegetable garden and if you ask me next week I might not be Emily Starts a Vegetable Garden. If Emily Dies is the only permanent name then I can be whichever verb I want to be and that’s Who I Am Now.

Written by emdies

May 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm

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Also, I’m having quite a hard time working out the logistics of this thing..

Written by emdies

April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

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Hello World!

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Here’s a blog.

One essay a week for the whole summer, to keep the brain going, or just for the adventure. I might just keep this up.

Don’t give me hidden messages; the Disney princesses got it right.


Written by emdies

April 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

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