Abr 8, 2004

Hope is bad for a happy man and good for an unhappy one. Although I have gained a lot since I began to study myself, I am still very much dissatisfied with myself. The more progress you make in self-improvement, the more you see the faults in yourself, and Socrates rightly said that the highest state of man's perfection is the knowledge that he knows nothing.

Leo Tolstoy
Diary entry
6 am, April 8, 1847

Mrs. Salguero's Proportions

That was some mean talking, wasn't it?

I'll write about you here and do the anthropologically ethical thing of holding back your name. Two reasons. First, I'm teaching community development, and I'm in the habit of hiding names. Second, I've long since resigned myself to the fact that we are never our true names. I understand you have the same understanding; you used to say it with flair though. You said Jesus was never Emanuel and Emanuel was never Jesus. Christ! You weren't ever messiah, girl; not in my book. I hope you've long resigned yourself to that fact.

Let's call you Mrs. Salguero after my grade four math teacher. You'll find that a rather flattering association: she's pretty. You know, cropped hair, the boy's cut thing that everybody thought heightened femininity then (yours fell between your shoulder blades, but my 'then' was a long time ago anyway). Her nose and lips were quite distinctive: I remember Pinky Amador by it, and by Pinky Amador, I remember her. Meanwhile, I recall you by Dawn Zulueta when she had longer hair and a smaller neck.

Why should I need to call you - rose that you are - by another name? For one, I think I still can't call you Ma'am. You didn't approve then and, maybe, you still didn't.

Mrs. Salguero will fit you. She taught me math. You taught me beauty in math. Or the mathematical beauty of nature. The Salguero I name you after taught me none of those things, just plain, boring elementary math. That's all. Well, let's see. So the association was partly because of the appearance. You're pretty of course, but, strictly (okay?) that's beside the point.

Anyway, Mrs. Salguero, you called me up from Australia yesterday. You asked if I remembered Fibonacci numbers and spirals and how these formed the natural logic of shells, flowers, and pine cones. Even, they say, the proportions of the perfect face. Of course, the golden ratio! The elusive Phi. "You know," I said, "some claim that those writers who wrote with unexplainable magic - I mean despite obvious errors - mastered and used the numbers of Fibonacci. According to the rumors the errors were actually compromises to remain faithful to the golden ratio." "Really?" you asked. "Yes, dear, and that explains the Homeric nods and Shakespeare's mixed metaphors." "Really?" you asked.

"No, I made it up. Homer existed long before Fibonacci-" "But," you said "nature existed before us all. He just found the formula but the formula existed before him. It's nature, see? The poets must've found a way to it, intuitively or something. They're different from the stock we have now - you included, you ass - who write with their noses on desks and aseptic keyboards. I mean, they walked the earth! They had their ears to the ground."

"Like Mohicans, you mean?" I asked.

"Or Aragorn," you said.

The conversation drifted to other topics as conversations often do: Legolas, the legalism and Great Wall of Shihuang-Di, my poems, how dilettantes could not be poets, the fate of your other students (if I knew, I told you, if I didn't, we made it up), your crushes, Viggo Mortensen. I said Cate Blanchett at some point, though I didn't mean to say I liked her or something. I asked about Mr. Salguero and you mentioned a nice Venetian river ride and champagne and there was a sigh there somewhere that - for the life of me - I could not understand. Somehow, from the sigh you got to talking about Buddha. I said I recall a year or so ago, when we drank at your place in Bulacan and you thought a bonfire would be nice. You brought out nine Buddhist books by various venerables and masters and committed them to the flames of Hume.

"You remember that?" you asked. "How could I forget? I even asked you why you did that. You said something like: what all those volumes really taught was the false necessity of books." I was laughing. "I remember!" you laughed, quite awkwardly because you knew that I knew you couldn't have forgotten that night. The silence came and that could be quite awkward in a telephone conversation. Between us, I always took it upon myself to disturb such silences. Ah, Mrs. Salguero! How could you leave me that sorry task of breaking silences? You know I always took the cheap route of metaconversation.

"You know how conversations spiral sometimes? I mean, when you come to think about them. What if a truly edifying, meaningful, or - at least - beautiful conversation really just follows the numbers of Fibonacci?" You followed through (and I thank you) and brought me deeper with Julia sets, the graphic mathematical series of Mandelbrot. Another five minutes worth of talk. Or was it an hour?

"Full circle," I said after. "Yes, full circle." "This must cost you," I then asked, "how're cellphone rates there?" "Don't mind, it's my birthday and he's footing the bill." "Generous! So you're making the rounds, huh?" "Yeah, I guess. Batt's failing though." "Oh, I'm sorry. I wished I saved you time! You know how long-winded I am." "Yes," you're smiling, I could hear it in how your voice fell, "but it's never about saving time. Didn't I teach you that? It's never about saving anything." "Of course," I said, smiling too though I don't know if you could hear it. "Happy birthday again," I followed through, quite awkwardly with the last word though. I knew you knew that I didn't greet you a first time.

"Oh thanks," you said (and I thank you for this grace). "Bye, Ma'am" I said, finally.