Monday, March 14, 2005

Open, press, scoop, stir

My father was on Morning Edition this morning. It was a nice eight-minute piece that tied together his life and work. A few things struck me. First, that he said he is always thinking about how to organize things and how to be efficient. Even when he brushes his teeth he thinks about how to divide up his mouth into parts and whether to separate out outside/top/inside surfaces or upper and lower jaws or right and left and when and how you switch the position of the brush, etc.

This surprised me because it occurred to me that some people might NOT do this. I asked Greg if he did this and he said he definitely did not. So that is something strange that I share with my father.

And yet my father is not the most efficient or most practical person in day-to-day life. He sees efficiency and simplicity in computer programs and mathematics, but not the day-to-day chores. That is where my mom comes in. In the interview he talked about designing the kitchen with graph theory and how it turned out the wastebasket had to be near everything. When Kadin insisted on using the can opener today I thought about another part of that kitchen, the two drawers my mom labeled: “Open, Press, Scoop, Stir” and “Cut, Scrape.” It was the can opener that would change drawers. Was it an opener or a cutter? And, only slightly tangentially, bandaids and aspirin, were did they go? Oh yes, “Cut, Scrape.” I grew up with zillions of things like this and I realize that I think like this too. I love the indexes to my father’s books because I can always find things. It’s like a map of my own mind. Others have told me they find the indexes confusing.

It's slowly dawning on me that other people don't constantly try to categorize objects or find the shortest route or organize the fewest number of trips. Could it be true? My friend George called this morning to say he'd heard the interview and he said he felt he understood me a bit better. Let's hope it was the "wastebasket needs to be near everything" part of the interview that reminded him of me, not the "didn't take his bicycle helmet off in the library" part.

Have to run to pick up Rees, but might reflect more on this later. If you heard the interview, what did you think?

1 comment:

George Swain said...

Friend George here. Yes, Jen, it was the discussion of the kitchen's design rather than your father's habits with headgear that reminded me of you. In fact, the bike helmet indoors rather reminds me of myself.

I love the quote from your dad's website used to explain why he no longer uses email entitled "Email (let's drop the hyphen)" He writes, “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.” This helps explain one of the perennial rubs in my job (as a middle school principal). While it is exciting to have the thrill of new experiences, it can also be frustrating to feel the need to be "on top of" rather than "on the bottom" of things.

Cheers