# How to Get from Point A to Point B: Walk

### Week 15: Experimenting with Absurdism

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I could not write a newsletter about how paralyzing freedom feels… because I was fucking paralyzed by it. Well, not paralyzed per se, but I fucked around in too many directions and got lost. All I wanted was to write about how calculate your next move from point A to point B.

**My Point A:** Wanting to write something interesting about math and the paradoxical nature of freedom

**My Point B: **Publishing something interesting about math and the paradoxical nature of freedom

I made several attempts, and here in my final attempt, I think I figured out exactly what Socrates was talking about when he said some shit about knowing that he knew nothing. But also strangely, I did exactly what I needed to do to get from point A to point B. Here we are, so I did something right.

## Attempt #1

Because some jackass will say “The fastest way between two points is a straight line”, I'm going to ruin that saying for you. It's not that simple. If you draw a line between two points and have zero variables acting on the line, sure - yeah, a straight line is the fastest, most direct way to get from Point A to Point B, but where besides a 2-dimensional drawing does this actually apply? Almost nowhere. Add one SINGLE variable, lets say gravity, on a marble rolling from Point A to Point B, and you’ve got a whole mathematical situation. It's even got a name, it's called the brachistochrone problem. This “simple’ problem was posed 300+ years ago in a mathematical journal where the founding editor was Gottfried Leibniz, you know, the father of calculus? Leibniz and his buddy Bernoulli was trying to goad Newton into some mathematical foreplay so he wrote this:

“I, Johann Bernoulli, address the most brilliant mathematicians in the world… I hope to gain the gratitude of the whole scientific community by placing before the finest mathematicians of our time a problem which will test their methods and the strength of their intellect. If someone communicates to me the solution of the proposed problem, **I shall publicly declare him worthy of praise.”**

-Johann Bernoulli, Acta Eruditorum

So, whoever the jackass is who thinks anything is that simple, please. (It’s me. I thought it was simple… I just learned all this today.) Going from Point A to Point B ain’t so easy even if you’re just a damn marble. God forbid you’re a human trying to write an essay on absurdism and statistics of all things.

My point is it’s hard to calculate the best trajectory, if not impossible. When I set out to write this essay the phrase “degrees of freedom” kept repeating in my head.

*Degrees of Freedom. Degrees of Freedom. Degrees of Freedom. *

There are a lot degrees of between Point A and Point B. There are a lot of things I could do and say even in an essay about this phrase alone, so I did what anyone does when they don’t know what the fuck to do… I got into semantics:

“Degrees of Freedom”: the number of varying independent parameters in a system.

The Absurd had me in its clutches at this point because even within this rigid mathematical definition I found infinite degrees of freedom.

“Independent”? “Parameters”“System”?

I broke these down even further.

A *system *is a group of things that produce an effect. My system is my life - and I was just trying to get a newsletter out about how to get something accomplished. The system was dysfunctional.

*Independent i*s an attempt to isolate an idea in 11 letters. (Thank you, Webbie) The letters I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T (do you know what that mean?) are independent of each other, and the word independent is independent of other things. What are independent parameters? Is my brain independent from the neurons? Is my idea of “degrees of freedom” independent from it’s mathematical definition?

The problem I was having is exactly what I imagine Camus meant when he said he was obsessed with the Absurd. One could dig into the infinite distance between two points. * I fucking get it.* I stood up and left my cursor blinking.

## Attempt #2

I tried again the next day, taking a new approach from my own personal experience:

Of all the bullshit college courses I took in high school, statistics was probably the most useful, but only in retrospect, do I see the utility. What I remember most was the teacher, a tall, apple-shaped woman who resembled Mrs. Puff, Spongebob’s driving teacher. She sat at the projector with a transparency and a vis-a-vis pen writing a loopy “x”, attempting to explain a chi-squared test to us like we were aidiots (we were). I had stats first period of the last semester of the year, so I could give two fucks about it. I’d been up late the night before (every night) dealing with all kinds of variables: I had a job and a half, a band state championship, a weird relationship with church, a dead grandma, a fucked up family situation, a college apartment for me and my boyfriend…I was more interested in calculating the number of days I could miss without being truant (19) than anything else. I had a lot going on, and to do well in school, I needed to solve a lot of problems elsewhere, or at least simplify the equation.

I was in the same situation here. Too much shit flying around in my brain, and the more I tried to set mental constraints, the deeper I went into a rabbit hole that was borderline gibberish.

## Attempts #3

Rereading my story about Mrs. Puff I wondered how I got through that chaotic situation of my late teens, and realized that to understand an equation, you start by defining your variables - which is what I did earlier in this essay. I guess I’m not a total idiot for getting into semantics, eh? I’ve been cataloging my life’s variables in Lisa Frank journals and on LiveJournal since I was 8. Writing is usually the most helpful tool I have to figure things out, but I was on at least attempt number 3 to write this essay, and I’d gone from deeply personal to horrendously technical. I written about about the racist ideas of Karl Pearson, and the aromatic hydrocarbons wafting from the hyacinths next to my desk - which someone also once told me is a racist flower (what?!). I tried so hard to confine my mind to their fragrance…but the idea of terpenoids hitting my olfactory receptors, burst in my brain like a Mandelbrot set.

I was doing the same shit I’d been doing for 3 days, I could catalog variables forever, and somehow keep introducing new ones - this why we still have motherfuckers out here getting Ph.Ds in math to this day.

My brain was a scary place to be last week, and neither math, nor writing was going to solve my problem. I didn’t realize this until I came across the “degrees of freedom problem”. It’s a thing I recognized from my neuroscience background, also called the “motor equivalence problem” which says that there’s more than one way to move your body to achieve a goal.

So decided to move my body, and get the fuck out my head. I got up and danced around my office a little, popped a bottle of Prosecco. But no dice.

### Attempt #4

The next day I got up and went to a coffee shop, and worked on my book proposal, but this newsletter still couldn’t find its way out of my mind. Wandering around my house, I picked up Nietzsche *(Ecce Homo)* and read

“Sit as little as possible; give no credence to any thought that was not born outdoors while one moved about freely…”

Ugh, Degrees of freedom type-shit! I was instantly irritated. Earlier in the week, I had made a fuss on Threads about how women’s brains might not work the same way as mens’ specifically after hearing Cal Newport and Ryan Holiday parroting shit they heard about “the greats” always walking when they needed to think. I *hate *it when people tell me to go for a walk, because walking doesn’t help me think about the thing I’m trying to think about. I walk around and think about everything around me.

But I was desperate, so I thought *‘Fuck it,’* and slammed the door behind me.

I stopped at the mailbox of course. Opened and closed it, reminding myself that I was here on business! *Girl this is not off to a good start! *This was representative of the entire walk. I’d start forcing myself to ask myself questions:

‘What do you want to think about?’ *Hmmm* ::Waves to neighbor:: *What was the question? *

‘WHAT DO YOU WANT TO THINK ABOUT?’ *I want to know how to move forward when I’m stuck. Ooh purple irises! They weren’t bloomed last week. *

‘Ok. How do you move forward when you’re stuck?’ *I don’t fucking know? I wonder when my irises will bloom. Hmph. *

‘You just planted them last year relax. Now look at your feet. HOW DO YOU MOVE FORWARD?’

*One foot in front of the other? *

‘OKAY. So… you’re doing it’ *Am I? Damn I forget how steep this hill is. *

‘Bitch. Look at your dumb yellow shoes: Right. Left. Right. Left.’*But is this it? This is all there is to it? What about a flow state? I like the way they set their mailbox up. What are those buds? How do they look so lush? Succulents?*

‘Flow… Flow state. You’re kinda flowing aren’t you?’ *How is this flowing? I’m stop-start-stop-start! I do NOT like those shrubs. How boring. *

‘Don’t you think the default is living is some kind of stop-start cycle? Wake-sleep? Write-read? Think-speak? That *is the flow*. Life is dynamic. The elusive nature of the flow state is a result of the transience and indeterminacy of the world. Our default is not knowing - the opposite of anemnesis. We didn't fall from knowledge. We only ever ascend to it periodically. The kind of continuous flow you’re thinking about is death.’ *Oh shit. Goddamn. Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard, and Ryan Holiday - DAMN YOU. What time is it? I gotta pick Nova up, figure out dinner…when am I ever going to write whatever I learned here? *

‘You’ll write it when you’re ready.’ *When I’m ready? What the fuck kind of schizo shit is this? And what does this have to do with statistics?*

‘It’s fine. You’ll figure it out.’

It was fine. I went to the gym and didn’t write for another couple days. I was trying so hard to get from Point A to Point B by way of one path (statistics, dear God why?!), that I didn’t see that in the infinite degrees of freedom, there wouldn’t be just one way to get there. It didn’t have to be the fastest way (take that Bernoulli). It didn’t have to be Mrs. Puff’s way. It doesn’t even have to be the best way. It just had to be A way. My way.

So, how to get unstuck? The answer is just keep fucking going. It’s so lame, but you have to keep trying shit. Keep manipulating the variables. This is what all my friends said, and it would be the advice I’d give myself with zero context of Points A and B. You’ve got to move when you’re stagnant. Rest when you’re tired. Try all the shit until something works, until something feels right, something clicks, or something adds up. That’s making progress. You really can’t calculate your way out of most shit because there are infinite degrees of freedom.

So, fuck a thought experiment this week. Maybe think about your Point A and Point B and…as much as it pains me to say this, just go for a walk and see if it doesn't get you there.

:)