it seems that any measurement process worth more than its component parts has to be able to preferentially detect signal (that being the thing you are concerned about) from noise (that being the thing you couldn’t care a whit about, but which also happens to be collected through your process). and there is something alluring, maybe even quest-like, about the search for signal. something that even inspires art. the image above, for example, which happens to be a strip chart recording from a radio telescope of the first discovered pulsar, got re-appropriated into one of the most iconic album covers of the past few decades. but, if your signal is lost in the noise? you, my friend, are hosed.
we rely completely on a 3lb processor of neural tissue perched atop our flailing bodies to filter out all matter of unwanted noise that bombards us on a daily basis. on the plus side, this puppy is open source and totally programmable. on the minus side? most of us are kind of lousy programmers, and our code is a snarled mess not to mention poorly documented. the fact of the matter is that until you can even differentiate what it is you want to treat as signal, you’re going to have a lousy noise filter and can easily find yourself adrift. here be dragons.
i guess it takes a certain degree of consciousness and awareness to be able to recognize when you find yourself in the noise, but it can be an awfully hard vantage point to reflect on the journey’s beauty. and fully aware, but adrift with the dragons nonetheless, have we been, lo, these past few months.
on a typical day, we rarely have bandwidth reserved for processing any more than what is required to get kids where they need to be, prevent them from maiming themselves or each other, and maybe get a little work done. if exercise happens, it feels like a small miracle. if kids are asleep, lunches are packed, and anything we can stand to clean up is swept aside quickly enough to allow us to mumble a few intelligible words to one another before crashing into bed, it feels like discovering 20 bucks in your pants.
the field of view can sometimes feel suffocatingly small. and yet, somewhere along the way we became acutely attuned to the fact that the future laying before us here in Santa Fe couldn’t include all of the things that we felt we needed and that the situation was becoming untenable. we love this place, and i love my job. but, for a variety of reasons we knew that it was time to go. kim has been performing her duties as a post-doc 1700 miles from her colleagues, holed up in the back of our house. the public school system in new mexico was just ranked dead last in the country, and you gotta know they faced some stiff competition. kim and i are both products of public school education and the prospect of having to send our kids to private school or roll the dice on admission to charters was enough to make the stomach turn.
so, ok. awareness. but going from that point to actually defining what it is we want or truly need from a place we live/jobs we have has been arduous. i’ll omit most of the hand-wringing for brevity. in the end, kim was offered a truly amazing position that seemed too good to refuse and we have been trying to put pieces into place around it. rationally, we know the move makes sense. it maximizes the likelihood that both of us will have gainful employment, puts our kids in good schools, puts us a hell of a lot closer to family, etc. emotionally, we remain ambivalent.
we want to put roots down somewhere. we want this to be the last time we move for a good long time. we want to have a community of friends at least something like we had in college and high school and that we haven’t had in what feels like a really long time. all of those things seem to point us back toward, gulp, chapel hill, nc.
this all feels a bit scary. or a lot scary depending on the day. for whatever its shortcomings, we love santa fe and fear that life in a place that is incredibly convenient but a good bit less spectacular may feel a bit hollow. kim is understandably scared out of her gourd at hopping on the tenure track after having been incognito for a few years. i am intermittently petrified about moving somewhere without a full-time job waiting for me at the other end. processing all of these pieces of information, trying to make some sense out of them, trying to know what is best for all of us as a collective feels daunting. it is confusing. but we’re taking a leap of faith that something better awaits us. and if it doesn’t, we formulate a new plan.
i just read a profile the other day in the nytimes of the author george saunders. i hadn’t known him by name, but it turns out he wrote one of the scariest, most hilarious stories that i have read. anyway, the piece ends with a quote from him that i have been holding onto tightly. “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”