Monday, December 21, 2015

Descending Degrees

Dear Mercutio,

Buon Natale,

I trust the holiday season is agreeing with you. For me it is another source of demanding dissimulation. Here, we walk about with cheer in our hearts, but so often it is only a cutaneous sort of cheer: the kind one gets from being cold or drunk.

Scusami, I can almost hear you chuckle and say to yourself that Ada is as she always is, especially at this time of year. My mood does not result from the turmoil occurring in the world, because there is always turmoil in the larger world and quite often in the billions of worlds drifting through the greater container.

And this container has reached a turning point in its journey around the Sun.

Have you ever reflected upon the fact that human beings have been dividing a circle into 360 degrees for quite some time. The Egyptians and Babylonians both did this, perhaps because the circuit of the sun is close to 360 degrees. And no, I do not believe their measurements were wrong, but their math careened toward the elegant and 365 does not have as many divisors.

So we have five and 1/4 degrees left over. What shall we do? Nothing.

Time, like space is variable. On this letter you are reading, it is a linguistic convenience: something we can agree upon to understand one another. In mathematics and physics it is something else. In accounting it aspires to absolute. It passes much more slowly for a child and accelerates with age.

This is a time of year… for thinking about time. "A year older and not an hour richer." I feel like I lost something last year. A failed project for example is a mocking "white elephant" sort of a gift wrapped up in the degrading tissues of time.

Degrade… Stepping down. Perhaps hiking down into the darkness of the longest night, a sleep we equate with a journey to the Great Perhaps of Rabelais. I would prefer to wear Hanukkah geld on my eyes because at least I can eat it in Hades. Degree descends from degrade down the long road of time from Latin through the Romanesque archways of French. Presumably it came from somewhere else before the Romans carved it in stone.

Upgrade is a curious mixture of old Germanic and Latin. It has degraded by now to mean a dubious improvement that maintains stock values and programmer jobs.

Perhaps the problem is comparing a spatial metaphor with time at all.

There is of course the idea of degrees being measurements, or steps of temperature. Being skinny, I am usually quite aware of changes in temperature at this time of year. But I love the cold for contrast it gives: I feel more alive in it, rather than during the slumberous hot days of July and August. As I have said elsewhere, those days live more in memory and dream.

The New Year is coming of course, whether I measure it in the cycle of the Sun and the days brightening, or the more arbitrary definition of January first: the God of Doorways does not really care, you may say—he is always looking both ways. Did Janus also work on stairs?

This is a time of year when resolutions are often made, but are more often ridiculed. Yet, like many things I hide from the world, a desire to resolve still lives in my heart. This past year I have questioned the value of desiring anything, including the desire to resolve. By logical extension, am I not desiring to desire? No wonder that non-being is the answer to such questions. But for now it is not my answer.

My answer may be that I strive to not look at the world in terms of ups and downs; the very words conjure quantification, which does not entail qualitative interest or value.

May my words suggest: A tone of gray or minor key is not the thing, not a degree. The change from one to another, regardless of its count, is what counts and not what direction it moves in because someone will always see it differently. I remember you said that as a sculptor you had to understand perspective better than a painter—your art inhabits spaces of at least three dimensions, compounded exponentially by the number of viewers.

For that lesson, Mercutio, may the coming year be a continuum of small events of beauty without demarcation or end.


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