Last night folks came by to eat bread and Brie and watch Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue (archaic laserdisc format). They examined the five-column matrix of Post-Its stuck to my wall, which I'm using to organize my novel, then discovered a Guatemala travel guide beside my desk and declared me busted.
I confess: I'm doing a lot of book research for this thing. I'm reading so much nonfiction, in fact, that I don't have the time for fiction that I'd like. I've been fifteen pages into V. for weeks, and that isn't like me.
The most helpful books include:
--Guatemala Guide by Paul Glassman (old 1990 edition found used for $1.95)
--So Far From God: A Journey to Central America by Patrick Marnham, a first-class title which should not be out of print.
--Tangled Destinies: Latin America and the United States by Don M. Coerver and Linda B. Hall.
--The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: the Story of Paul Erdös and the Search For Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman. If you're at all interested in either biography or lay explanations of mathematics, buy this book. It's spectacular. I'm basing a character off Erdös.
--The Mathematical Experience by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh (ancient hardcover from Murphy-Brookfield Books).
--Descartes' Dream by the same two authors, now out of print. I won this book in the seventh grade through that Johns Hopkins talent search where they have twelve-year-olds take the SAT.
--The Cognitive Connection: Thought and Language in Man and Machine by Howard Levine and Howard Rheingold. Why are all these great books out of print? This one mostly deals with computer algorithms, but in detailing their genesis with the Turing machine it gives a lucid account of the holes that Russell and Gödel poked in the foundations of mathematics in the early 1900s. It also turned me on to Ramon Llull, the thirteenth-century Catalan mystic who was one of the first to imagine knowledge reduced to first principles, and who built this elaborate syllogism machine to convert the Moors to Christianity through force of argument.
--Number Theory: An Introduction to Algebra by Fred Richman. This was given to me by a mathematician uncle when I was eight or so. It's not high school algebra, but rather a specialized and much more difficult set-theoretic form of algebra involving ideals, rings, fields and all those other weird concepts that pure mathematicians expend most of their work on these days.
Anyway, then we watched Blue. That movie still floors me; the mother character in particular just breaks my heart. We finished around eight-thirty and everyone filed out of my apartment, and in their absence I felt suddenly and acutely alone in a way that is no longer common for me. I blame the film and the white wine.
I left my apartment and walked toward downtown Iowa City. The night was balmy--77 degrees by the bank clock--and the undergrads were out in force, laughing in packs. I walked past them, ridiculous me in my James Joyce T-shirt, among them but not of them. A group of police cars flashed at the intersection of Gilbert and Burlington; a green SUV tilted at a 45-degree angle from the road, resting on the crumpled hood of a white van. No passengers were in sight. I walked on, singing the recurring motif from Blue's unfinished concerto:
ORCHESTRA HITS: BA-BA-ba-BA! BA!
SOLO WOODWINDS (same theme, softer): Na na, na naaa-aaaa...
Then, as I crossed into campus and began to walk north on Madison, past the student union, I sang "Pyramid Song," a Radiohead track that will be released in May but is already circulating in mp3 form. It is such a fucking wrenching song, you have no idea.
I jumped in the river and what did I see?
Black eyed angels swam with me
A moon full of stars and astral cars
And all the things I used to see
All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little rowboat
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt
My best friend is in Arizona. My girlfriend is in Idaho. I am in the Central time zone. I walked, alone on a warm night. When I reached the Iowa River its flow was surprisingly quick; it was glutted, I imagined, with the runoff from the last of the melted snow. I took hold of a reed and stepped into the river.
A concrete support extends a couple of feet from the shore, just below the surface of the water; it may be there to keep the bank from collapsing, or to keep idiots like myself from drowning. I stepped to the edge of the concrete and stood shin-deep in the moving black water. It was cool but not cold. I was reminded of swimming in Stanford's Lake Lagunita; I was nineteen then, at the end of my sophomore year, and beginning a new and strange period of my life.
All my past and futures
Before walking home, I poured the water from my shoes onto the grass.