Personal essays

Marking time

**Counting the years**

This month Maggie and my ages each flipped to perfect cubes.

She is 3 times 3 times 3 and I am 4 times 4 times 4.

The fact that we were both perfect cubes made me smile and I thought about all I did between 27 and 64.

You can view your life as being divided by cubes.

From 27 to 64 I did a lot. In a way, that’s the core of our active life. I built a career - several, if I’m honest. I built my family. I built the savings for my future once I can no longer work.

Maggie’s cube marks the transition from becoming the woman she is today to entering that core. i

From 8 to 27 our personality and who will be are taking shape. It is a time of physical changes through puberty and emotional change as you head out into the world and make friends of your own and choose who you want to be and what you want to do. It’s a path to independence.

The first cubic transition from 0 to 1 is amazingly critical. So much happens that first year. We saw that in Elena but not in Maggie. We met Maggie just after her first birthday and missed the celebration of her first cubic year.

We were with her for the years from 1 to 8 and watched her acquire language and start to define herself. We can look back at who she is today and see the seeds of it in her early years. And yet she’s pushed beyond.

As for me, this is my last cube. I can’t imagine living to 125. So, if we’re counting in cubes, over 64 can be viewed as a time to enjoy what we’ve built mixed in with a time of physical decline.

**Straddling periods**

I went to the Picasso museum in Paris to see an exhibit that featured currated pieces from their vast collection.

Instead of being grouped into styles, it was ordered roughly chronologically based on where Picasso was based at the time.

The thing that I found most interesting was that there weren’t clear demarcations in his style.

If you only know Picasso from his cubist paintings - you know the ones where both eyes are on the same side of the nose - then you may be surprised by some of his early works which look like very classic and realistic looking in a Greek/Roman style.

But just as I don’t expect to flip magically from my core productive period to any sort of decline just because I’m 64, even after Picasso started exploring cubism and painting the world that way, he still would draw more literal paintings.

I find that interesting.

There were clear points in his life where his vision had tipped to cubism but he didn’t lose the ability to see the world as he had.

In the famous Feynman lectures, Richard Feynman explains that he understands the physics of light and matter in great depth but that doesn’t prevent him from enjoying the beauty of a sunset.

One pre-cubism painting displayed showed an image of and ordinary boy standing next to an ordinary girl. The painting looked realistic until you noted that the boy’s hands were unusually large and one of his legs was essentially a cylinder. Picasso was beginning to see the world in ways that he didn’t yet understand.

**Odometer**

When I was young the odometer in cars was mechanical. The ones place would turn and when it moved from 9 back to 0 there was some mechanism that would increase the tens place by ones. When that moved from 9 to 0 the hundreds place would increments.

We were such rubes in those days that when the car was about to turnover, say from 99,999 to 100,000, we’d all get in the car and ride around the block watching the 9’s click over to zeros as we reached 100,000 miles (and again at 200,000).

I did that last week. In base two I was 111111. That’s 1 + 1 * 2 + 1 * 4 + 1 * 8 + 1 * 16 + 1 * 32 or 63. Last week on my birthday I added one to that and all the 1’s turned into zeros and another 1 appeared on the left.

My odometer turned from 0111111 to 1000000.

I am now 2 to the power of 6.

**Squares**

One more quick math fact you may remember a^(bc) = (a^b)^c.

So I am 2^6 which is 2^(2*3). We’ve seen that that is (2^2)^3 or 4 cubed but it’s also (2^3)^2 or 8 squared.

This year I am also a perfect square.

It’s more of an accomplishment that this year is a power of 6 and a power of 3 for me, but perhaps it’s better to view the ages of a person when divided by squares.

Of course no metric is perfect, but let me leave you with an exercise.

Consider how ones life changes when punctuated by squares. From 0 to 1, from 1 to 4, from 4 to 9, from 9 to 16, from 16 to 25, from 25 to 36, from 36 to 49, from 49 to 64, from 64 to 81, and beyond.

It’s interesting to me to view the different periods of my life through this prism.

It’s also encouraging that, if all goes well, I’ve got another perfect square in me.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 184. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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