Monday, October 24, 2011

weekends, obsessions.

on saturday an acquaintance asked me if i worked on weekends.  not wanting to sound like a workaholic, i told her that:
"unless it's really busy,
i only work weekends when i feel like it."
she seemed satisfied that i wasn't a crazy oddball.
for my own part, i was relieved at not having to lie .. but only to stretch the truth a little.

the truth is that there are a handful of research problems that are essentially fixtures of my life.

when i wake up in the mornings, they may as well be waiting for me at the kitchen table.  odds are good that if i have nothing else planned, then i'll start thinking about them over my first cup of coffee.

i don't count them as "work" because it's easier to puzzle over them than not.  on the other hand, they're purely speculative, and i don't expect ever to make progress on them .. though i still try and i hope that, eventually, i make a small step forward ..

they're not the problems that one should think often about.  they're fun, just like how ice cream is tasty and fun .. and still not good for you.  it took me a long time .. about 3 years of a first postdoc .. to realise that it's important to have several problems at a time and of varying "levels of difficulty."

even now, i have a tough time not dropping everything entirely and running exclusively after one problem.

it's fine to like mathematics; i wouldn't be in this business if i didn't.  being a working mathematician is another thing entirely, though.  there's a rat race, just like for the rest of the world, and it helps to have something to show for your efforts.

so on weekends, i tend to work half-days on problems that border on obsession;
i'd work the full day if i didn't get tired and sick of repeated failure.

it sounds awful, when i put it that way.  for the same reasons, though, i really like rock climbing.  when you finally finish a route and reach the top, it feels like you're king of the world ..

.. which is somewhat crazy, but give me a break: i'm a mathematician. (-:

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