A Howl at the Moon

I delight in the full moon every month.  And while, despite the large number of objects I own in a wolf motif, I have never literally howled at the moon, I do feel a surge of something when I notice a full moon in the sky.   It’s primal.

I don’t consider myself a superstitious man (a whimsical one, surely, but that’s different), but it often seems that I am more better at what I do when the moon is bright.  It could be a coincidence, it could be my imagination, it could be placebo effect.  Or maybe some part of my mind is on a 28-day cycle of highs and lows, just as I know I am a faster reader in the evening and a faster typist in the morning.  It doesn’t seem so hard to believe that there is a cycle at play.  And if I know anything about how my mind works and where my creativity comes from, it is that I know very little about how my mind works or where my creativity comes from.  So who am I to say?

As I see it, my duty is to to be as open as possible to inspiration and new ideas, and to make my mind a welcome place for sparks of ideas to start a fire, not to try to predict or understand the whimsy of the Muse.

Do I actually believe that there is a Muse for my mathematical ideas?  Sometimes  I do.  The inimitable Ramanujan said that his astonishing (and astonishing really is an understatement) insights and formulas were revealed to him by a goddess in visions.  If you know anything about Ramanujan, it’s as plausible a story as any.

In any case, the last three days have been good for my work; I’ve figured out how to confirm some of my hunches, and taken a chunk out of the next batch of questions I want to answer about number theory.  It’s becoming clearer in my mind how the transition from my current whiteboard and Mathematica explorations into a handful of publishable papers is going to happen.

What I haven’t done much lately is update this blog.  As the full moon winds down, it’s a good time to play a little bit of catch-up and vignette my way to a new blog post.

1. Thanks have been given…

Thanksgiving was held at my parents’ house; my wife and kids and I went down on Wednesday night for a pre-Thanksgiving sleepover.  My mother is an excellent cook, so I felt bad when Susie, not feeling well for reasons unknown, ate barely anything from Thursday’s feast.

Of course, I got what was coming to me when it came time for my wife and I (mostly my wife) to host Thanksgiving, the sequel at our house the following Saturday.  Sure enough, it was my turn to feel like death warmed over and served on toast.  But give me a little credit, I got all my desserts done, carved the turkey, and made small talk with the assembled friends and family.  I didn’t eat anything that day (okay, part of a marshmallow-sweet potato ball, but the consensus was (and my personal experience supports) that my wife is a phenomenal cook.

Even with the illnesses, there is so much to be thankful for.  I am happily married to a beautiful, wonderful woman, and I have two healthy, wonderful children.  We have a nice little house with a brand new kitchen.  I have a job that lets me have a family, and I enjoy my work.

It’s a good life.

2. Birthday cake on the side

Our Thanksgiving (or as I like to call it, T2: Turkey Day) was also an impromptu (or at least, a slightly promptu) early 4th birthday party for my favorite (read: only) niece Lilly.  As far as I could tell the children enjoyed the party; there were presents, and I did throw together a funfetti cake with cherry icing on top of the official Thanksgiving desserts.

Now, I love my niece, and I’ve tried to talk to her on numerous occasions.  She is rather shy, though, and had never responded to me in any way.  When she left, I said “It was so nice to see you, Lilly.  Have a happy birthday.”  No response, no nothing, she just turned and walked out.  I said to her grandmother, my mother-in-law, “One of these days she’ll speak to me,” so Grandma calls her back, says to say goodbye to her Uncle Mike.  So Lilly tromps back, stands right in front of me, and calls out “Goodbye..Uncle..Mike” as she looks uncertainly past me and around the room, clearly having not a glimmer of a clue who this Uncle Mike person was.

It’s a start.

3. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

So please put a penny in the old man’s hat!  Anyone?  Old man’s hat?  Sometimes I think I’m the only one whose childhood featured that song.

Speaking of Christmas music, it sure is out in force now; at the coffeeshop where I spent much of my morning, the station had switched entirely over to holiday music.  So I got a little Bing Crosby, a little Jingle Bells, you know the sort of thing.

I’m against playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving is past now.  Black Friday is behind us and it’s not to early to embrace the season if the spirit moves you.  So I wasn’t complaining about the change in ambiance ushered in by the wintery music.

The only problem with the music was the bizarre rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which I haven’t gotten out of my head all day.  Now, I like the song.  It’s my favorite secular Christmas carol, in fact.  The problem was this version was very uptempo, very jazzity jazz jazz.  Catchy, but no soul.  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is first and foremost a bittersweet song.

(For my money, by the way, the best cover of this song is the Tori Amos version, but Bing Crosby pulls in a close second.)

Truly, I like this time of year.  The Coke products are decorated with polar bears and Santa Clauses, nativity scenes go up here and there, the Christmas specials start to air, and limited time flavors of tea and coffee creamer show up at the grocery store.

Christmas is two of my favorite holidays of the year.  There is a religious holiday, the time for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  There is also a secular holiday, a celebration of family and togetherness and generosity and joy, etc.  I happen to celebrate both with gusto.

(As far as I’m concerned, it would be less confusing if the two holidays had different names.)


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