Andrea Doria Alchemy
A Brief History of Mathematics
I’m no economist. I had to take algebra five times in high school. Five. That’s right. I failed four, separate, algebra classes. Then, in my senior year, I attended a night school class where, every Tuesday at 5PM, an apathetic instructor watched Wheel of Fortune on a television attached to the wall while a dozen mathematically-challenged teenagers stared at their hands. After six weeks, we students were called to the desk at the front of the class one-by-one, where the instructor asked us a question.
“What grade do you think you deserve, son?” The instructor said, looking up from a grade book.
“A-plus,” I said.
The teacher shrugged and made a mark.
After four years of failure, my math education ended with a perfect, yet fraudulent perfect score. Despite my lack of any real understanding of how math works, I do like thinking about it. As a writer, I’m envious of those who can summon algorithms and equations to find stories in data.
Six years before my Wheel of Fortune-based math class, another teacher, Mr. Harris, civics teacher asked our class, “Who here has parents that are married?” Out of the 15 seventh graders in attendance that day, 13 raised their hands. “Now,” he said, “Who have parents that are divorced?” Two of us raised our hands: me and Beth Brogden. I have no idea what point Mr. Harris was trying to make or what the hell it had to do with seventh grade civics, but in analysis of that ad hoc and humiliating survey, we can conclude that in 1990, in Blue Springs Missouri, at minimum, two kids had stories to tell.
Economies especially interest me. I love the interplay of dynamic factors that give shape to trends. It’s poetic. Beautiful. When actions by certain individuals or groups impact the direction of the whole, I feel like the poetry in math echos the ebb and flow of natural elements like sunshine or storms or pools of rain. Anomalies carve through samples like streams. I like to apply this kind of data-as-nature, comparative thinking to other, non-quantifiable realities, as well, like peoples’ emotions and mental health.
It’s interesting to reflect on our own moods and how they effect other people. Like an event action that results from an aggregation of dynamic factors, our emotions will not exist in vacuums. They refuse to be uniform and wholly predictable. Relationships, which are often the stage where emotions perform, reshape in real time, echoing the ebb and flow of our own highly conditional internal statuses.
As a result, I feel compelled to tend to my mental health, not only for my own benefit, but for my partner, friends, and colleagues, as well, the people who have to endure the rain or sunny day at the beach. For, the experience of my constituents externally, within the various configurations of relationships we share, echos my experience internally. Or so I’m told.
While it’s always a good idea to take care of oneself out of an act of self love, I feel yet more incentive to take care of my emotional health out of a love for these people—especially my partner.
The Summer of George
A popular expression originating from an ancient Hermetic text states, “as above, so below.”
George Costanza says, “Nobody tells me it’s them, not me! If it’s anybody, it’s me.”
Costanza tells us that his perpetual self loathing is so constant, that he considers any given transgression between himself and another human from a default position of self blame, assuming always that the onus of bad behavior falls on him. He is, seemingly, wrong forever.
No one person is always wrong. The decisions we make about our approach to others is based on experience. Different people have different experiences and some are simply more mainstream than others. Those with behaviors outside the norm are assholes. Those cemented in a zone of enthusiasm, secure attachment, and empathy for their fellow man are “great.”
“Who, Kyle? He’s great.”
Everyone else is just, “alright.”
To whit, in Seinfeld season 8 episode 10, “The Andrea Doria,” George learns he’s to compete with a survivor of the famous sunken ship for an apartment. He and Jerry decide the tenant board, in whose hands the decision of who gets the coveted apartment rests, will be swayed by the candidate who in life has experienced the most suffering.
As such, George invites his parents to the city in hopes of digging up some childhood traumas he can use. However, the day George’s parents sit down with him at Monk’s coffee shop, they immediately erupt in a fight about whether or not the booth they’re sitting in is too drafty. George can’t get a word in edgewise. When the screaming subsides and George’s father finally asks his son what he’s invited them to talk about, George, defeated, says, “Actually, I think I’m pretty clear on it.”
In this moment, George is perfectly aware that his world perspective has been corrupted by abuse. The behavior he leverages to function within that world perspective is, too, corrupted by abuse, and the pain this behavior causes to himself and others as a result of all of this is unjust. In the matter of the apartment he desires, the lifetime of injustices he has suffered are stacked up in his mind like poker chips and in the ruthless game of Manhattan real estate, he had hoped to cash in.
If this transactional, emotional economizing of abuse sounds exhausting, I can tell you from personal experience, it is.
Between the Gutter and the Stars
The Hermetic text teaches us in Ancient Arabic, “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.” This economy of victimhood, resentment, and shame feels, sometimes, like a kind of fiat currency, traded in a market that never closes.
It is the chaos we know in nature as a storm. In the market, its value is not intrinsic, like the pure bullion of a stable childhood. It’s forever hanging in the balance of extenuating factors, whose nuances and inputs are as various as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or a polar vortex. While most of the time it’s a series of ups and downs, sometimes there are terrible terrible crashes and natural disasters.
When everything above is dependent on a rickety underpinning below, sometimes, it feels like you’d be fooling yourself to think anyone, ever, will say you’re great or even alright.
The key to correcting corse and putting the economy back on track is obvious. To fix what’s above, one must shore up the earth below one’s feet. Sometimes, the most complex problems begin with the simplest questions:
What is below?