Encyclopedia of Stray Knowledge Gained During Quarantine

I sit in boxers on a Zoom call in my bedroom as my writing teacher explains the importance of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. New beginnings are always a theme of interest in times of uncertainty, and there is not a single one person on that call who isn’t aching to start over. A few months until high school graduation, with all celebratory feelings gouged out and replaced with the banality of the world going to shit; nothing is as appealing as rebirth. My teacher explains the Haft-sin and their meanings; Sebzeh (sprouts) which stand for rebirth, then Sir (garlic) for healing, Sib (an apple) for beauty, Samanu (wheat) for courage, Serkah (vinegar) for aging, Sekah (a coin) for wealth, and Senjad (a fig) for love. These were the items her family used when she was growing up and the ones she will use as she passes the custom down to her daughter. At the end of class, she tells us to tear out two pieces of paper. On the first paper, she says, write a list of things you want to bring into your life and on the second write the things you want to cut out of your life. Bury the first piece of paper like a seed, and let these things grow. Burn the second.

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Everybody likes a folk hero and everybody with some sense likes Johnny Cash. I learned he was, somehow, both adamantly apolitical and completely devoted to social justice. In this day and age those two things don’t seem reconcilable, and I’m not sure they ever were, but for his sake, I am glad he died before he had to watch the country he loved burn down completely. He already lived through one Watergate. I can’t understand what it means to be patriotic or believe in the good of your nation. I suppose, to him, a “country” stood for its people. He stood for people, too. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ballad of Ira Hayes,” and “Man in Black” among others show that for all his touted centrism, Johnny Cash really did have the good of all in mind. He advocated for prisoners rights, civil rights, and for the return of native lands. I listen to a new song of his everyday for weeks.

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I read Plato’s Symposium after rewatching Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “The Origin of Love,” has been playing in my head for days. Aristophanes posits that the human race originally had three genders; male, female, and androgynous, and that each person was made up of two faces, four arms, and four legs, so they could see 360 degrees around their heads and cartwheel around like mad. But they grew too bold, challenging the gods, and as punishment Zeus split them into two. Love, the longing for one’s other half, was born. This type of story is not unique to the Greeks, as some theorize that Adam was originally androgynous in Genesis, and when split into two, became a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. Diotima tells Socrates that love is a ladder. The first rung, which we generally achieve in our youth, is the love of the body, which evolves over time to love of mind, of heart, of self, slowly growing until we achieve pure love for Beauty itself. The final rung of that ladder seems so distant, but then again I am young, and I have begun the journey of learning to love things in the way many young people do. Locked up in my home for the last several weeks, I am missing the banal ecstasies of waking up next to the person I care about. Touch is impossible at the moment, as is casual conversation and the simple pleasure of being in a room together, quietly enjoying their company. Romance is replaced by the dull ache of missing someone: their bed, body, and self. Touch and companionship are gentle necessities, often forgotten or neglected until everyone in the world is feeling forgotten and neglected, and then we’re reminded how much we need each other. 

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At four in the morning after a long and arduous phone conversation in which we attempt to keep the romance alive by airing all the necessary dirty laundry, I am feeling relieved enough to create. Though my first passion will always be writing, I have a newfound appreciation for art because it does not require me to make sense.  My words won’t align themselves in a way I want them too, but sketching and painting help me gain some coherency. I give myself over to portraiture for a little while, hoping that eventually I will get good enough to be able to recreate the faces of people I love and do them justice. For now, I sketch the faces of random strangers I find on google images and fill in their skin and hair with the most brilliant watercolors: pinks, blues, purples, greens and all the beautiful hues that don’t occur naturally in human beings. 

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My frustration with online classes comes to a boil with high school calculus and I simply stop tuning in. I’ve been told that math is the language of the universe, and I am always looking to uncover the beauty in math. That’s particularly difficult when math courses insist on making such a fascinating subject so incredibly dull. I put off practicing for the AP test in favor of watching a three part PBS documentary on cosmology and laughing at the late 90s special effects but feeling, if nothing else, a little glimmer of hope at the pureness of astrophysicists’ curiosity. I can certainly understand the appeal in searching for the theory of everything. It is an elegant concept, to think that the infinite variability of all things can be broken down into letters and numbers. If quantum theory is to be believed, then the universe, though generally well ordered, is built on foundations of pure inexplicable chaos. Where is the bridge between these two worlds, the chaotic world and the orderly one? Can it ever be expressed in a formula? String theorists have been scratching their heads over this for decades. How convenient it would be if there really were eleven dimensions, and we could grasp the pure and elegant reason behind the befuddling messiness of things. 

Thalia Medrano is a first year HAST student and a contributor to Die Bärliner. 

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