In Which I Meet Lots of Randos

The old man in the green jacket wipes the table down carefully, deliberately flicking away each piece of debris. There are already two people at the table next to his, deeply focused on their game of chess. The white pieces have crawled over the board, the game nearly at its close. In a few moves, it is finished; the two men shake hands, and one walks away. The other turns to watch the old man as he lays out a chessboard of his own.

A group gathers around the table–four other guys looking at the empty seat. The man in the green jacket waits, his back perfectly straight as he surveys the pieces laid out before him. The group surrounding him is tall, tan, and young, the kind of people you’d totally expect to see walking around Santa Monica. It’s rude to stare, I know, but I’m having a hard time looking away from something so out of the ordinary.

One of them finally sits down, and the game begins. They use a timer to play, slapping down a brass knob to begin the countdown for each move. The other three stand and watch the as the pieces slide back and forth. I don’t realize how obviously I’m watching until one of them smiles and nods at me.

He comes in a few minutes later to buy a bottle of water, and walks over to me on his way out. He’s in his mid-thirties, I think, still dressed like a college kid in jeans and a t-shirt and running shoes.

“You from the area?” he asks.

“Yeah, I go to UCLA. Are you?”

“Moved here from New York a few years back.”

We chat like old friends in the way that only total strangers can, the conversation flowing smoothly as we share the superficial details of our identities. He is retired already; worked in software development before that; has a mom who studied chemical engineering until she “did the homemaker thing.”

It’s the kind of conversation that you can have exactly once with a person, before you learn enough about them that an exchange of facts can no longer pass for conversation. When friends talk, there is an expectation of intimacy: if you already know the pieces that make up a person’s life–their job, their family, their hometown–all that remains is to get to know the pieces that make up the person themselves–their dreams, their passions, their fears; and these things are not so freely shared. Maybe this is why meeting people is so easy (“What’s your name? What’s your major? Where are you from?”) but quickly turns into me pulling aside someone else I know to introduce them as well, so that the whole thing can begin again.

He asks if I want to play chess with them. The last time I played was in fourth grade, sprawled out on the living room floor as I tried to think just a few steps ahead of my dad.

I accept, and find myself seated across from the old man in the green jacket.

“Have you ever read any books about chess?”

“No, I haven’t.”

In retrospect, this should’ve been a sign that I was going to lose even more spectacularly than I anticipated.

The game is over in five minutes, my king cornered and half my pieces removed from the board. I thank him, we shake hands, and I leave, for now finished trying to fit in. I am neither tall nor tan nor male; I am not a chess player, though not because I lack the qualities I just mentioned. I should not feel like I have failed some unfair initiation into a secret boys’ club simply because I am a girl–I am not a chess player because I know almost nothing about chess. That’s kind of how life works. But as I wait for the bus, I can’t shake off the feeling of failure, which makes no sense because to be honest setting up the pieces correctly was about as much as I could’ve hoped to accomplish. All too often, I find myself wanting to fit where I don’t belong, and sometimes it’s simple to change myself just enough to make it; but there are some things that can’t be faked. And chess, as I have been reminded, is one of them.

I Didn’t Finish Any of My Thoughts

It’s easy enough to look at a morning or an afternoon or even an entire day and to tell myself that I used it well–I’m not throwing away my shot–even if it wasn’t particularly memorable or daring or fun, because one of the many millions of things to which life could be analogized is a sum: of minutes, of days, of joy and pain and everything in between. And okay, maybe it’s oversimplifying things to say that the human condition = good stuff – bad stuff, because then that means figuring out what makes an experience good or bad or whether all of life falls completely into one category or the other (disclaimer: pretty sure it doesn’t). But the fact that we have memories and the ability to learn from experience means that on some level, we do experience life as a sum; perhaps a more sprawling and complex one than mine, but a sum nonetheless, as we collect months and years and memories in hopes of achieving that elusive critical mass required to swing and make an impact on some small piece of the world.

—-

As we roll past the city lights on the 405, I wonder what, exactly, we are. By definition, we are just friends–the “just” is very important. We enjoy spending time together; we get along well; we are comfortable. We have accepted a status quo. But as I watch the other side of the freeway fly by, headlights streaming past like beads falling from a string, I am not sure this particular state of being is meant to last. But right now, Ben Rector is singing about falling in love, and I look straight ahead because eye contact during love songs would most definitely upset the balance we are trying so hard not to.

By the time we find parking, we’re late. We order separately, and it’s not until after we’ve joined the rest of our group that I realize we’ve gotten the same damn drink.

The toilet overflowed the other night for no apparent reason, and I still don’t know what’s wrong with it. I check inside the tank, to make sure the chain connected to the little rubber flapper connected to I’m-not-quite-sure-what is still there, because that’s the only thing I know how to fix. Fortunately (or not), it’s present and working perfectly.

We have a plunger, so I find it–and realize that I don’t actually know how to use it. I understand the physics of creating negative pressure, but now there’s a plunger in my hand and I’m suddenly uncertain; do you just use it once? Do you keep plunging and hope for the best? I Google it. More than ever, it feels like I’m playing at adulthood.

Enzymes catalyze reactions by positioning substrates in a favorable configuration. This is typically illustrated by two models–lock and key, and induced fit. The lock and key model suggests that the enzyme’s active site is precisely shaped to accept its substrate, while the induced fit model instead suggests that the active site changes shape upon coming into contact with a substrate, in order to bind it securely. So basically, enzymes echo all my unanswered questions about identity and relationships–are relationships based on a lock and key model, in which two people click just so and are locked into place, or on an induced fit model, in which upon coming into contact, two people mold each other–pushing back and giving in just enough to create a perfect fit? I know that I have been bent and molded and grown by others, in the same way that I see scraps of my own identity woven into the people I love.

A common tumblr factoid (thanks, I think it’s a great source, too) says you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. I imagine it as a giant Venn diagram–circles of five people intertwined and overlapping, life on life on life, pressing in just the right places to bind themselves together. 

 

The Same Thing I Wrote About in High School

(aka I haven’t blogged in two years and this was a struggle)

The last time I thought about a lot of the things I write (which was a really long time ago, because lol I never write any more), I realized they all tend to have the same structure: a story from when I was a little kid, an analysis of how I see the world differently now that I’m not a little kid, and some kind of pithy-for-a-high-school-senior-I-guess conclusion.

Yeah, let’s do that again.

Because the thing is, it’s not a surprise that I see the world differently now; I haven’t been a really little kid for over a decade now, and a decade is half of my life so far. And if there’s one thing time can be unfailingly trusted to do, it’s to bring about change. So while it makes sense that I might romanticize the way that I saw the world when I was someone else entirely–nostalgia is real, okay?–the inescapable truth is that every day, I will change just a little.

We fear the dark because we cannot see. If we cannot see, we cannot know what we are facing. And in the same way, this future of change before me is uncertain. At the core of it all should be the most central parts of my identity, and I want very badly to believe that these anchors of personality do indeed exist, constant despite age or hometown or career. But the truth is that I don’t know–and this uncertainty is (and has been, for as long as I can remember) the only thing about myself that I believe in for sure.

In middle school, I read a poem by Rudyard Kipling–“If.” It’s specifically intended as a model for guys to pursue, but apparently my reading comprehension skills didn’t pick that up, and so in sixth grade, this was who I wanted to be:

“…If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
[…]
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Okay yeah, I’m not really sure how I missed that last line. To be honest, I might’ve just ignored it, because as far as I’m concerned, this poem is about how to be a good person (which is a critical part of being a good man anyways). The concept of “grit” (of sticking with it, whatever it may be, until it’s finished) is not a new one; perseverance has been valued since the before people wrote words and essays and poems about it, because since when has doing anything worthwhile ever been easy? But there is a pride and independence in the kind of personhood that this poem describes that deeply appealed to my eleven-year-old self, perhaps because at eleven there is very little that is certain. If I can rely on myself, though, there is no need for the things around me to be certain; only me. And even if I continue to change–to become someone just a little bit different every day–I know that I am me, even if I might sometimes be unsure of who that really is.

Wait a Second

It’s putting things generously to say that I am a procrastinator. I put off the difficult, the unpleasant, and the confusing; I put off the things that scare me. I don’t know why I do this, because it seems like my life would be a lot simpler if I could just get the hard parts over with right away.

Actually I just proved my point by going on Facebook instead of working on this post. My bad.

Anyways, though–nearly everything worth having in life takes some effort. It’s unavoidable. And part of me is convinced that if I wait long enough, things will get easier or even just go away–and to be honest, sometimes they do. Procrastinating isn’t a purely bad thing. The problem is that it keeps me from being scared.

I’m not saying that waiting until the last minute to do my homework is going to stunt my personal growth or anything like that. But the problem is that I don’t just procrastinate on the small stuff (like homework or blogging or taking out the trash): I procrastinate on the big stuff, too. It’s like I’m a little kid, curled up under the covers with my eyes squeezed shut because nothing can hurt me if I can’t see it. Except this time, it works. I can put off things indefinitely and never have to deal with them.

The problem is that then I end up staying underneath the covers, forever a six-year-old afraid of the dark. I’m an involuntary Peter Pan–not just because I won’t grow up, but because I can’t.

And that’s not how things are supposed to be. Equilibrium is artificial because the Earth is spinning slowly into chaos and there is nothing that we can do to stop it. Entropy is a fact of life, and that means that when I procrastinate–when I keep myself from being scared and growing up–I’m artificially maintaining my sameness. I’m Gatsby, trying to repeat the past again and again and again; I’m Joe Kavalier, forever haunted by the ghosts of the same people and the same problems but refusing to deal with any of them. And let’s be honest, things really don’t end too well for Gatsby. Joe Kavalier gets a happy ending eventually, but he has to grow up first. If I want any kind of happy ending, then, the message I’m getting is that it’s time to grow up–it’s time to be a little scared. Procrastinating might work forever, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for me.

I want to change, but I want to not be afraid. The two, however, seem to be more or less mutually exclusive. Doing things that scare me makes me grow up a little bit every time.

I know that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite it, etc. etc. etc.; but I have a tendency to keep myself in a bubble where there is no need for courage, because I never need to be afraid. To me, that is a purely bad thing. If I’m never afraid, then I never need to grow or change. That scares me, more than any of the other things that I’ve put off. There’s beautiful stuff waiting out there–I just know it. All I have to do is go find it.

Oh look, a Facebook notification.

Just hang on a second, life, I’ll be right with you.

My Side of the Sharpie

The pull-down map on the wall squeals  as one of the kids yanks it down.

“That’s my country!” she says, stabbing a finger right on top of the Philippines. “Where’s yours?”

My friend points easily at China. “I lived there until I was ten.”

I hesitate, partly because I can’t make decisions anyways, and partly because I have no idea where to point. It’s true that I am Chinese and Japanese, but I’ve never really been comfortable saying that I definitively identify as either one. And trying to say that either China or Japan is “my country” is even worse.

After a couple of seconds I decide that I’m American, darn it all, and so I tap the big orange United States of America.

The kid shakes her head. “No, I meant which country is yours!”

I quickly tap both Japan and China, because it’s easier than explaining to a ten year old that I don’t really identify with any country that isn’t America and that I’ve lived here for my entire life and that I use chopsticks less skillfully than my aunt’s white ex-boyfriend and that I couldn’t speak Chinese if my life literally depended on it. And honestly, non-explanation is usually what I do. I would feel so pretentious if someone asked me something innocuous like, “Are you Japanese?” and I answered with a drawn-out spiel about how I don’t actually identify as Asian, even though I technically am.

“Where are you from?” is (occasionally) a big deal in America. At one point in my life it was a really big deal to me that I wasn’t sure how to answer. Did being born here and being good at English and watching cartoons make me an American? Did taking Japanese classes or eating dim sum or folding origami make me Asian?

Who knows; who cares?

(Just kidding, I didn’t actually say that. I wanted to be cool enough to answer that nonchalantly, but that is definitely not how I actually answered. I wanted to be able to stand firmly on one side of the line that I imagined divided Asian me and American me; I can still see it, dark and Sharpie-thick, splitting me into little pieces.)

In all of the books I read in middle and elementary school about Asian-American kids trying to come to terms with being the product of two cultures, the kid would usually decide one of two things: either that it’s possible to straddle the line between Asian and American because duh, people are called Asian-Americans for a reason; or that being Asian and doing Asian things is important while still being an American because (insert reason here, typically family or a personal value of culture and diversity). Actually, those are kind of the same thing. These kids all magically figured out how to balance being Asian and being American, without losing any sense of self–their sense of self was actually probably even stronger because they weren’t wasting a ton of time trying to pick between Asian and American. And for the longest time, I wanted to figure out how to be one of those kids, because I hate making decisions.

I wasn’t sure if I was too American to be Asian, or too Asian to be American, but now I joke all the time about how white I am, and I think that that was my solution–to throw out as many of the stereotypically Asian things about me as I possibly could. I point at America instead of Asia; I fold paper airplanes instead of cranes. It’s not a bad thing, or at least I don’t think so–I picked a side of the Sharpie line in my brain. Maybe in a few years I’ll pick another side, or maybe I’ll figure out how to straddle the line, but for now, this is me. It’s okay not to know, because I’m never going to totally nail down my identity. It’s constantly changing, whether I want it to or not. For now, though, I choose America; and that, more than anything else, makes me an American.

I DON’T OWE SAMI COFFEE (yet).

I want to be your manic pixie dream girl. I want to be the bread to your butter, the peanut butter to your jelly, the Krispy to your Kreme. I want the cheesy stuff, and I want the mysterious dark-haired-darting-around-corners stuff, because that’s the point, isn’t it?

Okay, so I don’t literally mean you. But you (literally, this time) know what I mean.

Here is something about me: I want it all. I want and I want and I want, because there are too many molds into which I want to fit. Every time I turn around, there’s a new ideal that looks cool, so of course I think “ooh, shiny,” and start wondering how I can make myself fit whatever new version of perfect has caught my eye.

I could totally go on and on about how love is about people accepting each other for who they are, and blah blah blah. But the truth is, I want to be liked. And if who I really am isn’t cutting it, then maybe I’ll change a little; maybe I’ll wear a little more makeup or find a tighter pair of jeans, read more books or listen to different music. I get that feminism is a thing that has stated many times over that women are strong and independent. That doesn’t change the fact that I want people to like me.

Back in kindergarten (and, if I’m going to be honest, far past kindergarten), I would not talk to people. Being the quiet kid was natural and easy, and I didn’t see too much of a reason to change who I was. Play-Doh didn’t ever require me to talk; later, I would replace the Play-Doh with books. There were ways to be happy that didn’t have to involve people, and I was comfortable with that because people were scary and awkward and unpredictable. Books, unlike real life, could be walked away from.

Ironically, though, pretty much everything I think I know about love comes from those books. Manic pixie dream girls come from books; princesses and tomboys and girls-next-door come from books. I grew up wanting to be Hermione or Belle or Alaska, but what I didn’t realize is that what tied all of those wants together was love. I mean, sure, all three of those characters were smart and independent and attractive, but all three of them loved and were loved, and to middle school me, that was a big deal.

So okay, maybe I still want love. And maybe I don’t need to change for it, but I don’t really want to wait for love to come and find me–I want to do everything I can so that love and I are in the right place at the right time. I don’t want to wait, you see. The only problem is that I can’t be everything to everybody, no matter how hard I try. I will never be your manic pixie dream girl if I’m someone else’s Hermione, and I’m not sure which one I should be. The cliched answer is that I should just be me, I know, but sometimes I’m not too sure who that is anymore.

The Blog Theme Changed And I Was Confused

Theory: at some point very far into the future, the universe will have expanded so much and entropy will have increased so greatly that there will be no energy differential between objects, so no energy will be able to flow. Everything in the universe will be cold and dead and silent.

This is Option Number One for the end of the universe.

Option Number Two suggests that the universe will expand up to a certain point, after which it will rapidly collapse back inwards on itself, forming a massive black hole. Where the universe was will instead be absolutely nothing.

When I was a little kid I didn’t really understand how black holes worked. I thought that I could just be strolling down the sidewalk and a black hole might open up and suck me into oblivion; understandably, this more or less scared the crap out of me.

Part of the problem was that I hate not knowing things. The little notification button at the top of my WordPress has been gold for the past week, which means that there’s a notification in there; the only thing is, it never loads. Last night I literally dreamed that the notification opened properly. That is how much not knowing things bugs me. And so the fact that two (and probably more) options exist for the end of the universe is kind of disconcerting.

Back to the little kid anecdote: I was terrified of black holes because I didn’t understand them, but they also scared me because I feared oblivion. I don’t think I actually knew the word “oblivion” at the time, but the concept was something with which I was familiar. Oblivion was the way that I could hold my breath and screw my eyes shut and pretend I didn’t exist until suddenly I could hear my own heartbeat thudding in my ears; and then I’d have to stop, because I could feel panic coldly flooding me as I wondered what I would do if it actually worked. Oblivion was the kind of thing with which I would flirt, but from which I would run away screaming if it came too near. It was something I couldn’t understand, but from what little I’d felt I knew that it was more permanent than anything I’d ever experienced.

Eternity is really, really, really( x100000000) long. And that’s how long and how deep and how wide oblivion is. With such high stakes, it’s not really a surprise that I was (and honestly still am) terrified of oblivion, or that it is such a point of fixation for a lot of people.

Take Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars as an example: “I fear [oblivion] like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.” Oblivion is something that we’re surrounded by, regardless of our fear of it. It’s big and strong and scary–but it’s something over which we have no control. The universe will someday end. whether it expands until it can expand no more and everything lies silent and still for the breadth of eternity, or it collapses back into oblivion. Maybe that’s depressing–that someday we and everyone who knew us and everyone who knew of us will no longer exist. And I know that Anne Frank escaped her oblivion by writing, and that Hazel escaped hers by loving and being loved, and that perhaps one day or even now I might do the same; and yet, like Augustus, I want more. My college essays were about how I want to change the world, because that is the path out of oblivion towards which I have been nudged for most of my life.

And while I would love to pretend that I’m totally over that now, because duh, a person isn’t resigned to oblivion if even one other person remembers them (and sometimes that is all that we get), the truth is that I still want more. It’s far cooler to be okay with the eventuality of oblivion, I know, but the heart of the matter is that I am irrational and uncool and  I recognize that one day I and the memory of me will cease to exist, but I am not yet okay with it. Maybe someday I will be, but for now I am left holding the technicolor dream that someday, somehow, I will leave a mark–not a scar–on this world, before it and I cease to be.

Realism, Idealism, and the Glow After the Lights are Out

A little while back I sat down at the end of the day and I thought, “Today was kind of perfect.” It was sunny and I had a new book to read and I’d just spent the day at two of my favorite places ever, and all of those things just kind of came together, tied up into a single practically perfect day. It’s not a thought that I have often. I mean, there are plenty of moments in which I believe myself to be perfectly happy, but the long, slow-burning glow that comes at the end of a day that was as close to perfect as I could ever wish for is a rare feeling.

The thing is, though, I don’t actually believe in perfect days.

I am an idealist, but I am also a realist. The two are opposites, I know, but no matter how much I want to believe that things could maybe–maybe–consistently be some kind of perfect, I believe that perfect cannot be manufactured. Perfect is spontaneous and sparkling, a thing realized rather than pursued.

There is no list of boxes that people can check off to have a perfect day, or else we would do that every day. And if we could do that, perfection would lose its value–it would cease to be elusive and simply become ordinary.

Special things are special because they are rare. I know that’s kind of obvious, but because it’s so difficult to consciously make something be special, the things that just happen to be special are that much more valuable. We remember the special things because they don’t come around as frequently as we would wish. Like Marlow in Heart of Darkness said, “we live in the flicker.” We live in the in-between space where the memories of perfect things collide with the present, and that space is lit by the afterglow of the perfectly perfect things that we come across, like the flare of a just-switched-off light bulb. 

That sounded really cheesy. But the idea of perfection is kind of cheesy, because something that seems perfect right now might seem stupid in five days or months or years. Perfection has an expiration date. The things I wrote when I was in eighth grade seemed perfect then, but they definitely don’t anymore (example: “His girlfriend is a mix between a preppy cheerleader and a Basset Hound.”).

Perfection is subjective, just like everything else, and really, the collision of good and happy and beautiful can happen in so many different places that it almost seems as if there are countless pockets of perfection in the world, just waiting to be stumbled upon. And in turn, that makes life so much more interesting, because with every morning comes the possibility of a perfect day. Like Gatsby and the green light, we pursue perfection relentlessly; it is purpose and direction and satisfaction, and one fine morning–

My Daily Dose of Reality, Except Not Really

If I’m on my computer, chances are that I’m shopping online or catching up on The Voice, or maybe even both at once. I freely acknowledge that The Voice isn’t necessarily quality TV. I’m not sure it’s even capable of being quality TV–it is a reality show, and there’s a certain amount of scriptedness and canned-ness that comes with that. But underneath all of that, it represents a singular ability to dream and to continue to dream of what must sometimes seem impossible.

I mean basically, The Voice is like NBC trying to convince an audience to believe in this dream; if so many people can audition and have their ninety seconds of fame, what’s to stop you from doing the same? At its best, it’s a show that represents possibility and hope. You don’t know who’s coming onstage, and you don’t know whether they’ll make it or not, but you do know that for ninety seconds, they are reaching for their dream. That combination of chance and certainty makes it special–the certainty that someone will make it, and the chance that the person on screen at the moment might not.

Shopping is a little different. There’s the same sense of chance and certainty–you know that the dress is black and white, but you don’t know how it’ll fit or whether the picture actually looks like the real thing. You know, but you don’t really, and I find it kind of addicting.

And I know that anything can be a metaphor for life if you try hard enough, but these are the metaphors that I’ve chosen for now–shopping and The Voice. They represent the edge between “yes” and “maybe,” which, basically, is life. Life is all about walking the line between yes and maybe, because although we love to believe in certainty, there are so many things that simply aren’t. It is not certain that everything will be okay or that tomorrow will be a better day or that tomorrow is even coming–none of these things are certain, and yet these are what give people hope to keep on living.

I was watching Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscars acceptance speech, and her belief that “no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid” really stuck out to me. I know that that moment has been GIFed and reblogged and generally quoted a million times over already, but the truth of it is nonetheless certain. Out of everything else, dreams are valid. No one can tell you that your dreams are not valid: only you get to do that. Anyone can say that your dreams are illogical or difficult or even impossible, but none of those things can make a dream invalid. That is certain. The uncertainty comes with the realization of the dream, and like watching The Voice or shopping online, dreaming is really just walking the line between yes and maybe. Always valid and forever fascinating.

Uncertainty in a Chart

The other week in economics, we made these things called cost-benefit analysis charts. Basically, they’re a comparison of the pros and cons of taking a particular action: if the pros outweigh the cons, it makes sense to take that action. If not, then it’s probably time to consider some alternatives.

I am an indecisive person. I like to pretend that it’s romantic and that I live in a land of possibilities or whatever, but the truth is that indecision can be really, really inconvenient. And boiling down decision-making to something as simple as a pro-con chart was kind of infuriating at first. It’s way more romantic to believe that the best decisions are made in the spur of the moment, when someone is “following her heart,” and bringing in cost-benefit analysis charts seemed to depersonalize and demystify decision-making, making it seem less difficult by quantifying uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a big deal. It’s like this impenetrable romantic fog hovering over everyone’s lives, because pretty much everything that we do has an element of uncertainty to it. Half (or probably more) of what makes it so romantic when Gatsby is waiting for Daisy in Nick’s living room is the uncertainty–the potential for everything to go extremely wrong or extremely right. I’m like, 99.999% sure that Gatsby did not make a cost-benefit analysis chart before asking Nick to invite Daisy over for tea, because that would have been less romantic. Right?

Cost-benefit analysis charts are just the hidden layer of decision-making, though. We naturally analyze the pros and cons of every choice we make–the chart just puts it on paper. So maybe Gatsby didn’t make a chart before going over to Nick’s (or, you know, maybe he did, because he’s Gatsby); the chart would just have reflected what he was thinking anyway. Maybe the chart would have made him seem less romantic, because he wasn’t acting only on his impulses and his love for Daisy, but maybe he would’ve thought things through and realized that Daisy would screw him over and lived a little less happily ever after instead of dying. Maybe.

But analyzing pros and cons is always going to be subjective. It’s not just about the quantity of pros and cons on each side–it’s also about the quality. So maybe Gatsby’s cost-benefit analysis chart would’ve looked something like:

Issue: Whether to reunite with Daisy.

Costs

Benefits

Incurring the wrath of Tom.

Daisy.

Affairs are messy.

Repeating the past takes a lot of hard work.

To the casual observer, it looks like the costs might outweigh the benefits–there are three of them, after all. But to Gatsby, the benefit (Daisy) outweighed the costs; not quantitatively, but qualitatively. Romanticism wins over math in this case, and the individuality of the interpretation of cost-benefit analysis charts makes them seem a little less impersonal than before. The human factor is still there, and with the human factor comes the uncertainty that makes romanticism possible.

The thing is, romanticism and math and science and economics can coexist. Human flight started out as this magical but unattainable dream–and eventually, science made it happen. You could argue that it’s not magical if you know how it works, but I would disagree with that. Flying is still flying, whether you’re the engineer who knows all about air currents and wingspan and lift or the little kid whose face is pressed up against the window as the ground falls away. Maybe it’s magical in different ways for different people, but quantifying or analyzing something in no way strips it of its appeal. (Key example: literary analysis). And seriously, science is an explanation for why the world works in the way that it does, but it involves hypotheses and experimentation and the constant questioning of almost everything. Science and math are just another means of combating uncertainty, and to me, that makes them pretty magical.