Doing the Impossible

Sorry this is so late.  Had news of the death of a relative.  No one close in blood, but someone who was very much a positive presence in my childhood.  So I took a little while to be … cogent.

I was talking to one of you on AIM and I said my family is half crazy and half stubborn and that all the best people are crazy.

And it occurred to me you need a good bit of crazy to get anything done.

When I was very little — oh, four to ten or so — I loved Enid Blyton’s books of adventures. In them kids went camping on their own, solved mysteries (usually, this being WWII era) espionage or smuggling or the like and had adventures.  For a while, I had “clubs” like her “Seven club” and such, but though the other members wanted to plan expeditions and camping trips, I was held back by knowing it was impossible.

You see, English culture between the wars might have allowed boys and the girls with them to go camp somewhere relatively safe, but Portugal in the sixties wouldn’t allow any kids to go camping on their own, without vigilant adults.  Different culture.  (I suspect it still wouldn’t, not unless one of the kids were legally an adult.  And even then…)  Particularly not girls.  So while my friends indulged in those dreams, I knew it was impossible.

It is somewhat of a mystery whether I thought it was also impossible that I’d grow up to live in Denver and be a writer.  I suspect I did, but it was a nice dream, and one I often resorted to.  From the window of my 9th grade classroom, (it was an attic of a five story building on a hill) I could see the road that (then) led to the airport, and I spent many a dull class day dreaming about going to the airport, taking a plane to Denver.  I suspect that dream was cherished BECAUSE it was “impossible.”  I didn’t have to worry about “with what money” or where to live when I got there, and I never even though I’d be leaving all my friends behind.  In the daydreams one or two of my childhood friends came with me, and we set up house and met nice men.

But these were dreams and it was impossible.

I can honestly say the day I went crazy was NOT because of that daydream.  For one, I had no clue what the poster was actually about (I often wonder if that ineffective advertisement was the MOST effective.)

It was a weird concatenation of circumstances, in that after 9th grade we no longer had gym classes, and I missed playing badminton.  So a few friends and I, after finals, arranged to have the gym, and to get together for a friendly game of badminton doubles, after which we were to go to a coffee shop for tea.  (So many days have dropped into the soup of the indistinct past, but that one is clear as a bell.)  It was a good game, we showered and changed in the gym showers, and then, as we were headed out the door, my friends decided they needed to use the bathroom.

This was an exit of the school we NEVER used and we only used it because it was the day after end of classes and only the front door and that exit were open — and that one was closest to the gym.

So they went to the bathroom and I was left loitering in the hallway.  I suspect the bathroom was a makeup emergency, because they took forever.  (At sixteen I only wore makeup on weekends, so it didn’t matter to me.)

The hallway had an enclosed-in-glass bulletin board, and I read all the stuff on it, because it was printed.  In those barbaric days, before a kindle was always at hand, I didn’t have anything with me that I could read (this itself was strange, as I usually had a science fiction paperback in pocket or purse.)  I no longer remember the other announcements.  Probably lost and found and the gym schedule for the summer (If you were a student, you could reserve it and come back to do stuff in the gym)  But a full quarter of it was taken up by a poster, with a picture of a girl emerging from a suitcase.  It said “Come out of your shell” and had a number to call.

I called because I didn’t know it was impossible.  Had it said “Call this number to become an exchange student” I’d have known it was impossible.  My parents would never let me.  We didn’t have the money. It would mess up my normal education flow.  I had no business doing it.  It was impossible.

But I didn’t know what it was for, and curiosity took me to a phone booth where I called the number and asked what it was.  They told me, I thanked them and was about to hang up.  They said “Can we send you an application?” and it seemed impolite to refuse.  So I gave a friend’s address, so my parents wouldn’t freak.

And then because the paper said only one in ten people were selected, and I knew the chance was remote, I applied.  I finally told my parents before the final family-interview, before they sent my paperwork abroad, to find a host family.

Even though it was “impossible” for various reasons, I ended up being placed with a family in the US.  My future husband lived down the road.  (Though it took us four years to get it through both our hard heads that we liked each other.  We were young and stupid.)

Four years later, when I moved here, and we tried to decide what I should do for a living, I tried all the sane things first.  I wasn’t markedly successful at any of them.  Translating (particularly multilingual scientific translation) IS well paid, but I hated it.  It is also a job that takes time to build a clientele in.  I was halfway through doing that when we moved to Colorado (that itself the result of my husband saying “you wanted to live in Denver, right? We haven’t done too well here; I shall apply in Denver” and us moving across the country, to a place we’d never been and where we knew no one.) I lost my few clients.  In those days translating was often intensely local.

When we got here, Dan said I could rebuild my clientele, or I could try pursuing my dream of becoming a novelist.  By then I’d written a few books, sent out a few submissions, and I KNEW it was impossible.  I mean, it was pretty difficult when you were native born and writing in one of the more popular genres.  I think the ration of first-novelist to accepted/published was something like one in a hundred thousand.  But for SF/F it was closer to a million.  And to “author who makes a living” it was even more difficult.  And then add in that English was my second language.  It was crazy.  Insane.

But I was home with a little kid, anyway, and I REALLY hated translation.  And, hey, I could always go back to translating in a few years.  It’s not like I could get less successful than I was at that moment.

So I tried.  took me five years of concerted effort to start publishing short stories, seven to novels.  And then my career crashed after nine eleven (Ill Met by Moonlight, my first-published (though Darkship Thieves was written three years earlier) book came out the month after 9/11.  It crashed so badly)) it was impossible to get back in.  But I’m really bad at giving up. Once I knew it was POSSIBLE I was going to keep beating at that door.  (That’s the second half of the family character; the stubborn.)  And things picked up.  And most years I even make a living at it.  Of course it’s impossible I’ll ever become a bestseller…  but it doesn’t mean I ain’t trying.

I’m using my history because other people’s I know is not mine to tell, but almost all my closest friends have something like this.  They’ve done the statistically impossible.  Heck, even my kids, once or twice.

I’m afraid I’ve got in the habit of disregarding “that’s impossible” which, yes, I know is crazy, but if I weren’t a little bit crazy, I’d never get anything done.  And I’m afraid I’m very stubborn, so any setbacks just make me try harder.

Is it worth it?

Who knows?  In the long scheme of things my books are probably forgettable and to be forgotten but I AM living in Denver, and I am a writer.

Whatever your crazy dream, you can do it.  The only thing that can stop you is an unwonted bout of sanity.  Don’t let it. I have the greatest faith in all of you.

Illegitimi non carborandum.


216 thoughts on “Doing the Impossible

    1. I actually have NO earthly idea. My knowledge of American geography at 8 was so accurate I thought Denver was by the sea. (I might have amalgamated it to Dover? who knows?)
      I just know that at eight I decided when I grew up I was going to live in Denver and write books for a living. The actual process of decision is long gone from memory.

              1. It is the cooperation and collaboration that makes this such a friendly environment.

                Besides, with so many people pissed off over Trump it is virtually a forced trick.

  1. “Dealing with a mule? Stubborn things, mules.”
    “There’s the ox…”
    “Oxen tend to be be stubborn, too.”
    “You could deal with Sarah…”
    “Show me the mule.”

    1. They may have meant it as a joke, but it is a pretty damn good motto anyway. Well, with a few caveats, like as if it’s the police pointing a gun at you it’s probably best to surrender, temporarily at least, but still. 🙂

      (I really can’t help it, especially when it’s a short concise tagline declaring or claiming something, even if it is something I basically agree with I still immediately start to think of the exceptions and situations when it will not apply).

      1. The fun thing about aphorisms is they’re all true, but you have to have the wisdom to apply the correct aphorism to the given situation.

        “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” vs “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” for example

      2. That’s a good reaction– test things, keep the good.

        In the case of that motto, it helps you identify the specific meaning of “surrender” for this; it’s not “give up,” but it is “do not fight this specific action.

  2. “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”
    ―George Bernard Shaw

    It seems an attitude Americans recognize as quintessentially ours. Of course, there is a great deal of Irish in the melting pot.

      1. or, slightly recast, the US Marine: “the difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer”. American boys, at least, mostly know this one; and it DOES affect attitudes.

    1. There’s also Robert Browning’s “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

      1. “Reach for the stars. You may not grasp them, but you won’t end up with a handful of mud either.”

        Have no idea who said that one.

        1. Dr. Google says: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” – Leo Burnett quotes from

        2. On the other hand, I also remember a quote that one of my college roommates had on his door: “Eagles may soar, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.”

    2. Shaw also thought those who disagreed with him as well as poor immigrants should be starved to death; but we’ll be thankful that plan never materialized…

  3. My parents moved far away from all their siblings when I was 2. So it’s just my nuclear family that’ll mess with me when they’re called home.

    Hopefully Mom and Dad have at least three decades left.

    1. My grandfather and two of his brothers, and one sister, moved to USA when they were young. Others stayed, grandfather came back to Finland. I have no idea why, but I suspect looking after old parents may have been one of the reasons. Great grandfather at least lived with them when my father was a child.

      I don’t have any stories of whys and wherefores – heh, except for the one which turned out to be fiction once I did a thorough google search and looked at the immigration and a few other papers which had been put online, father always told that grandfather and grandmother had met in USA and moved back when they already had one son, which son then moved back to USA when he was in his teens. However, seems that grandpa came back to Finland, got married here with a Finnish woman, went to get his about two years old son from USA after that… no idea if he had gotten married there and lost first wife, or if oldest uncle was a bastard, in the literal sense, or there may have been some sort of other scandal which made coming back to Finland seem like a good idea to grandpa :D.

      But whichever or whatever, the point is that sometimes obligations can destroy your dreams (especially back then, before WWI. And btw, I am still only a few years older than Sarah, father was the youngest child and my parents got married late, and I was born to them when mother was almost 40…). But except for them…

      1. There are about a billion quotes about never asking a woman her age; I imagine they apply to pohjalainens as well.

  4. Nothing is impossible. Unless you let yourself believe it’s so. Have to keep this in mind more and more.

  5. I’m alive and still have all my pieces; well, except my appendix and the piece that parents were religiously acculturated into having removed from male infants. Thing is, the odds of my having survived a multitude of episodes that should have ended in death or dismemberment are at least 9.7 out of 10,000; assuming a 50% chance of surviving any fatal accident. The actual odds are probably closer to 9.4 times 10 to the -7. (And people wonder why I believe in God.)

    You are the best there is in the universe at being you. With 9 billion of us on the planet, anyone who rises a millimeter above the crowd is someone of importance. When it comes to science fiction, it doesn’t matter if you’re forgotten in a couple generations. How much of the “science” of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells is relevant today? While you’re being published and read, you’re sparking the dreams of this and the next generation. Maybe that reader never goes on to be a pilot, or go into NASA, or even become an engineer. But maybe he or she is nudges by your stories to look up ideas in engineering, medicine, and the sciences. Maybe they just go tinker in the garage or basement.

    While they’re tinkering, they might discover something new. Yeah, the odds are against it. But most people end up having kids, and those kids watch Mom and Dad tinker. And bless me if they don’t imitate what their crazy old man or mom does. So it gets passed on. To borrow and paraphrase from the first Highlander movie: “Patience. You are doing well. But it will take time. There are generations being born and dying.” Think of dominoes, and Chaos theory. The small amount you contribute to the big picture now, may have enormous impact over time.

    And the really funny thing is none of us know what our purpose is, beyond the basics of growing and reproducing.

    1. Or her writing may inspire somebody else to start writing, who then perhaps has that child, or inspires somebody else to do something significant which will be remembered and got written on history books. You’ll never know.

    2. When I want a rationale for loving to read SF (other than entertainment), I cite the idea of keeping my mind flexible and my imagination intact. It doesn’t greatly matter that sometimes the physics is not credible.

  6. Ah, yes.
    My personal favorite is from Goethe
    “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men. ”
    I also like Emerson:
    “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

    For big dreamers, when you have to figure a way over, around, under or through obstacles, or when your life crashes and burns, and you have to chose between living with an impossible dream or curling up and dying, being stubborn and contrary is a survival skill.

      1. For real wilderness, there’s something to be said for that philosophy. It’s hard enjoy nature’s beauty when you find beer cans, soda cups, plastic wrappers, and cigarette butts.
        For metaphorical wildernesses of knowledge, however, I confess a taste for bushwhacking through the underbrush.

        1. There’s huge difference between “leave no trace” and “leave no trash”. When I was kid, camping philosophy was, you find a good camping spot, and if the previous occupants left a fire ring, build upon it and make it better so followers could spend less time building and more time enjoying. Clear brush, smooth out a tent site, leave the spot so it’s more inviting for the next hiker/camper. Leave no trace means take stupid g–d–n fire ring apart and throw the rocks in the woods so I can pretend, and the next person can pretend, that we’re the first to trod these untrodden and unexplored trails. Leave no trace is elitism at it’s apex. I’m not a fan of leave no trace, I am of leave no trash.

          1. Agreed 100%. I had many an argument with “Leave No Trace” fanatics in Scouts, and my answers were the same as yours.

          2. “Leave it better than you found it” works better for me. Fact is, you can’t avoid doing some damage, trivial or great; so do other things to make it better. Of course “better” means you know what the space is intended to be used for, so you can guess at the unstated (“..for the next person”).

            1. Yes, ‘make it better.’

              I don’t mind someone using some of the stash of dry wood we have near the loading chute; I really freaking hate it when someone takes the whole pile, uses it for the weekend, then scatters the bleeping stuff.

              If you find a stash of dry wood, use it, then gather more to replace it– and if, while hunting or fishing, you find where they’ve been limbing trees but haven’t torched the slash pile, grab some nice limbs and make a really GOOD stash.

              1. You’ve got to prime the pump, you must have faith and believe …

                But leave the bottle full for others …

                Wait, wha? There’s a “The Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp. ‘Imagine performing as the third person in the Kingston Trio….Does it get any better than this?’ Stan, a school principal at…catch this….The KINGSTON Elementary School in Cherry Hill attended KT Camp for the first time with his friend Jeff Meyers also from Cherry Hill, NJ.”

                … /watch?v=a2N5euNgklA

    1. Another one I have no idea who said:

      “Traveler, there are no paths here. Paths are made by walking.”

    2. My favorite is also from Goethe (although some say apocryphally so). “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

    1. Why I like Ryk’s Arena books-the thing about humans is they go “One-in-a-million? Let me give it a shot!” And that boggles the aliens. Not that humans are smarter or more creative, but that we take bigger risks than everyone else with a smile on our faces and hope in our hearts.

      1. Dr. Benjamin Franklin: John, really. You talk as if independence were the rule. It’s never been done before. No colony has ever broken from the parent stem in the history of the world.

        “It’s a million to one shot.”
        “So, you’re saying there’s a chance”

        Quote from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress which I cannot look up, when Mike tells Manny the odds against success.

    2. I prefer: “We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.”

      But yours is good too.

      1. “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer” was a popular slogan of United States armed forces in World War II, cited from 1942. The saying appears to have been popular in 1939; the philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) used it in November 1939 and the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) used it in December 1939. There are earlier examples as well.

          1. I pasted what copied. It appears to be the date given by Wiki. Looking into the matter there are several interesting quotes from Fridtjof Nansen:

            Alas! Alas! Life is full of disappointments; as one reaches one ridge there is always another and a higher one beyond which blocks the view.

            Never keep a line of retreat: it is a wretched invention.

            I demolish my bridges behind me – then there is no choice but forward.

            It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport.

            Scrolling down the site linked previously, we find:

            Fridtjof Nansen
            Norwegian explorer, 1861-1930
            “Never stop because you are afraid—you are never so likely to be wrong. Never keep a line of retreat: it is a wretched invention. The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”
            Quoted in Listener, 14 Dec. 1939

            Per Wiki: “In his youth he was a champion skier and ice skater. He led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, traversing the island on cross-country skis. He won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.


            “In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the ‘Nansen passport’ for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938.”

            Other, earlier, citations from the prior source include:

            31 March 1924, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 4, col. 6:
            “Energy is the ability to overcome obstacles. The difference between the difficult and the ‘impossible’ is that the impossible takes a little longer time.”
            (Dr. John Snape at the First Baptist Church, sermon on “Radium, or the Utilization of Energy”—ed.)

            10 November 1927, Clearfield (PA) Progress, “Right Angles” by Alexander Cairns, pg. 4, col. 3:
            And the only difference he knows between the possible and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer.

      2. I think that, or something very close to it, is also the motto of the company in the Heinlein short “- We also walk dogs”. It’s been a while since I read that, anybody remember better?

  7. Your post reminds me of the very important thing King Azaz says Milo must know before he sets off in Phantom Tollbooth–but which he doesn’t tell him until after everything has been achieved. It’s a wonderful scene towards the end of the book, and it profoundly impacted me.

    Thanks for the reminder that the impossible is only impossible until it is achieved.

    1. Even though it is a children’s book I think perhaps re-reading it tonight might do me some good…thanks for reminding me of that book.

          1. “It’s for children” is one of the laziest excuses for why a book (or movie or TV show) sucks out there. Children are just as capable of recognizing bad books as adults.

              1. “This book sucks.”

                “But dear, it is a Newberry Award winner.”

                “Well then, the Newberry Awards suck.”

                1. After a certain year Newberry Award winning is equivalent to Hugo Award winning is after a certain year…and the Newberry year is probably earlier.

            1. I did not say it sucks…in fact I was acknowledging its value beyond its target audience.

              I do, however, find it bothersome that of late much fiction aimed at 10-15 years is regular adult fare. Most books targeted at that audience concern issues faced at that life stage. That many 30 and 40 somethings are dealing with teen angst issues in themselves (as opposed to parents looking for reminders in order to deal with their children) is troubling to me.

              Then again, the reclassification of books aimed at adults because of young protagonists is just as troubling. The Earthsea books are now sold as YA which at best only describes the first and then barely.

              Adult culture distinct from children’s culture is a valid thing which is being destroyed from both directions: everything must be kid friendly and kids are just mini-adults.

              In fact, I was planning a radio show based on that premise at one point but my partner moved away.

              1. Is it that they’re dealing with teen angst, though?

                I’m a fairly unapologetic consumer of kid’s media, and a lot of the appeal isn’t that they’re dealing with the same issues as me, but… well, it’s kind of like the authors (some of them) aren’t afraid to make the world a nice place. Or their heroes unironically, unabashedly good.

                It’s just a lot less exhausting to live there, y’know? I don’t really give a damn about the grander societal implications of my refusal to grow up. In the end… I just like princesses and ponies. *shrug*

                1. Most of the modern YA I have heard people rave about is nihilistic as hell such as His Dark Designs or The Hunger Games. Someone mentioned Heinlein’s juveniles below and I still reread them. However, I have yet to seem them in modern YA fiction

                    1. So, Kip & Pee Wee grow up and have twins who, at age seven …
                      a) go visit their godmother Thing
                      b) save the universe
                      c) rescue Mom & Dad’s marriage (Dad being too humble to believe Pee-Wee’s adoration of him … and too involved in his work advancing the mathematics they’d brought back …)
                      d) all of the above
                      e) defend the Universe’s Time Line from collapse set off the Big Bang

                    2. Not actually fan fic, just same feel. That said, my biggest regret is I never asked Ginny if I could do a grown-up Kip and Pee Wee novel. She might have said no. Probably would have. BUT the fact I was too big a wuss to ask rankles.

                  1. Come to think, I have bounced off modern YA pretty well, and the younger stuff I consume is either old or not books.

                    (But I do love Tangled. And My Little Pony.)

                2. A lot of the “mature” writing is just… cheap. The author cheats to make stuff go bad, because that’s “more realistic.” (bleeping excuse making)

              2. I tend to prefer juvenile fiction because it is more hopeful than adult fiction, and tends to contain less gratuitous sex and social justice.

                1. And it has more of the fun of adventure, than the misery of adventure, even when the protagonists’ situation is truly dire.

                  1. Interesting…the reason Friday is my favorite late Heinlein is I consider it “a Heinlein juvenile with a little sex thrown in” making it a perfect mix of late Heinlein and early Heinlein.

                    1. That is probably the best description of Friday I have heard. Yeah I still have problems with the sexual relationships being totally unrealistic (not for Friday, she is about the only character in any of Heinlein’s novels that actually comes across believable for me in that department, but for all the other characters involved) but I can glide right on over those little bumps in the storyline, because there is an actual plot independent of them, and it is GOOD.

                2. I don’t know about less sex, although from what I’m told of certain literary genres they might as well be writing p0rn, but I am sure the sex is less tediously graphic in its description.

                  1. Compare Heinlein Juveniles and his later grok stuff. Juvenile fiction tends to look upward and outward. Looking inward makes people slaves of voluntary body functions.

                    1. Try Andrew Klavan’s Homelanders Trilogy (plus 1) — it is Thriller rather than SF but is a good exercise for all that.

                      Charlie West just woke up in someone else’s nightmare.

                      He went to bed an ordinary high-school student. He woke up strapped to a chair, covered in blood and bruises. He hurts all over. And a strange voice outside the door just ordered his death.

                      The last thing he can remember, he was working on homework, practicing karate, day-dreaming of becoming an air force pilot, writing a pretty girl’s number on his hand.

                      Now the police want to arrest him for the death of his best friend. And a team of ruthless killers is rapidly closing in for more drastic measures. He’s desperate to survive. And to discover what happened. The truth of the matter is more incredible—and more deadly—than he could ever imagine.

                      The entire four-novel adventure—now in a single volume.

                      “Action sequences that never let up . . . wrung for every possible drop of nervous sweat.” —Booklist review

                    2. compare Heinlein to any contemporary romance. He still didn’t have anything in the way of sex. Compare later Heinlein to MODERN YA. Modern YA has a ton more EXPLICIT sex.

                    3. My book is technically YA. And there’s all of one kiss in it (not even by the protagonist.)

                      Of course, I’ve been selling it to my friends, who like it as adults. The designation is odd, but hey, whatever sells.

                    4. Doesn’t looking inward typically result in getting one’s head stuck up one’s bum? Although, for certain feminist authors …

                    5. My problem isn’t with the explicitness of the sex in Heinlein’s later novels. It isn’t explicit, in most cases it is just mentioned not described. It is in the unrealistic portayal of human emotions involved. I bounce, HARD, off of the idea that everybody can screw everybody and nobody gets jealous, nobody gets their feelings hurt, and nobody feels left out (okay, I don’t recall a single person rejecting another persons advances in any Heinlein, so maybe nobody does get left out, but that is totally unrealistic, also). Can you find one or two people where that is true? Sure, I’m sure you can, but jealousy is a basic human trait, at least as basic as anger and fear; it isn’t going to just go away as long there are still humans.

                    6. *snaps fingers* — that’s it!

                      He wrote romantic interaction the way that it seems like a lot of guys think it should work– almost like a sub-group of physics or something without cost or complication or even maintenance…..

                    7. As I understand it, guys don’t get the same jolt of oxytocin following copulation. Maybe the feminazis need to pass a law mandating that.

                      In the name of equality.

                    8. Can’t be that– the, er, “problems” crop up well before anybody reaches that stage.

                      Heck, if that was really the big difference, college girls wouldn’t be getting themselves drunk before putting out, just after.

          2. *nod*
            A “good kids’ book” means that it doesn’t have ‘adult themes,’ not that adults won’t care for it.

            My Little Pony manages that– so did the animated Justice League America.

  8. “As the cheering continued, Rhyme leaned forward and touched Milo gently on the shoulder.
    “They’re cheering for you,” she said with a smile.
    “But I could never have done it,” he objected, “without everyone else’s help.”
    “That may be true,” said Reason gravely, “but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you *will* do.”
    “That’s why,” said Azaz, “there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.
    “I remember,” said Milo eagerly. “Tell me now.”
    “It was impossible,” said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.
    “Completely impossible,” said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.
    “Do you mean—-” said the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.
    “Yes, indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone—and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
    And for the remainder of the ride Milo didn’t utter a sound.”
    ― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

  9. There was a post in the Diner about building work ethic in a kid bored in school. This is why that is important.

    I never developed that ethic having cruised through school and “impossible” stops me all the time.

      1. My self-challenges tend to be very obscure, and the kind of things nobody outside my own head knows anything about. For instance, that book I just published was something my husband had no idea that I’d written. I kept it secret for something like eight years (I swear I’m not a writer. Most of that was sitting on it because having kids took up all of my headspace. If I were a writer, work on it would have happened because it would have needed to.) Then I managed to get a publisher involved, and told him—and I probably should have told him sooner, since he came up with a good path for the sequel.

        Why was it important? I dunno, maybe to prove I could keep a secret from someone I was in daily contact with. Not about anything critical, though, that’s bad for a relationship.

      2. Same here, but at least while I was in school the challenges I invented often tended to in the shape of NOT getting in trouble for doing X.

        1. um… “come in on day of test, after missing months. Ace it.” “Make sure you NEVER read assigned books. Answer test. Ace it.” And in high school “write novel while in class. Still ace class.”
          I was not as dedicated or hard working as my kids. We’ll say that.

          1. I did all of those except write a novel in class. But my challenges usually involved things I was doing when I wasn’t reading assigned books or showing up for class, and the real challenge was how not to get in trouble for doing them.

          2. Generally speaking I’d read the whole assigned book the first night and then raise my hand every time the teacher would ask, “So, what do you think is going to happen when…”

              1. I can’t remember where the article was, but sort of like the female teacher who had a male student who eventually admitted to her he wasn’t reading some of the books, he read the clift notes because he didn’t want to consume that mind-food? (not the way they put it) She wrote the article because he was one of her best students, even though he was a close-minded backwards horrible conservative type person and thus obviously stupid. ( 😉 )

                  1. You didn’t have internet to get free summaries, and I don’t even what to think about what it would cost to actually buy them.

                    1. yep. So I developed “A method”. My best test was when I’d only managed to read two pages of the gorram thing. (It was a book written by a communist and the two pages were nauseating enough. They were a prologue.) Since I’d only read two pages, I went on the prologue (which was something impossible, a snake crawling towards the sun, then dying insta-fried when it reached the sun. Which doesn’t even happen.) as a metaphor for the whole book. Got an A. Glad I never read the book.

                1. I’m lucky. I had good teachers, who weren’t afraid to …teach. There were some who were teachers because, I think, they were fond of the power trip knowing they were influencing lives, and they were the shitty ones.

                  Then there were the few who liked being teachers because it let them relive high school. Ugh. Bad enough I had to deal with petty teenage bullshit from actual teenagers, but when I had to deal with a teacher or three that hated that I refused to, and could NOT conform…

                  “You shouldn’t show you’re too smart. Boys won’t like you.”

                  Me: “Then I will find a man worthy of me. Probably a foreigner.”

                  *enraged expression*

      3. I would argue that is why you’re a published author with a successful marriage and two kids and I’m a guy who bitches about stuff on the Internet.

    1. I’m just getting to being willing to try at things myself. I’m only thirty, but… it seems like any time works, really.

      I’m frightened as hell most of the time. But that’s always been true. I’m finding it’s better to be frightened in anticipation of something than of nothing.

    2. Same problem. Or similar. I always felt guilty doing fairly well without working much for it in school, that I had to be cheating in some way, and was afraid somebody would find out that I was a phony. So I guess I have been afraid that I’d achieve something, and that would then happen, somebody would find out that I didn’t deserve it. I was taught that you get rewards for hard work, not for showing up, but because I could in school get quite a lot mostly just by showing up – I finally took an IQ test when I was 40, and had started to wonder why my old classmates always talked about how much work school had been for them, especially the last years, and how in hell could I have done pretty well without all that work they had needed to put in it.

      But I have never been completely able to achieve those good work habits. I try, and I am slowly getting better, and I have and do work hard when it’s something physical since about my 20’s, but I still have problems with intellectual tasks. I guess I’m still scared that what may seem fairly easy for me isn’t really, that the problem for me may be that I just can’t comprehend it well enough and so simplify it, and that somebody might find out. (Plus the winter problem, there is the about 3 month long hiatus every damn winter when I can’t do intellectual work because I can’t concentrate, and getting out of that and starting to work again always takes longer than it would have to in the spring).

      1. That is absolutely me. I always did well, or well enough, in school, without any need for discipline, hard work, or the development of a work ethic. And I was in the gifted track since elementary school. Always the poor kid in with all the doctors/teachers/lawyers’ kids in that track, too. And now it’s completely frustrating to me because I NEVER developed (or needed) the habits of discipline that would now be very helpful to me. I’ve always just relied on a good memory and a cursory glance over the material before exams. And it’s always worked for me.

        1. I wasn’t, there was no gifted track here when I was in school (still isn’t) and I suppose there is a good chance nobody ever noticed I might be partly because it wasn’t something that was tested or paid attention to. And everybody kept telling me I was like everybody else when I tried to wonder if I was in some way different (all teens think that, but you’ll grow out of it…). Part is probably due to some elements in Finnish culture, stronger then than it’s now but it still exist, Lutheran religion is kind of strong on humbleness, and elevating yourself in any way above others is seen as bad so yes, I felt rather guilty, and ashamed, and still do to some extent, when I dared to wonder if I might be, shudders, better than most of the people around me in some way.

          So I have a rather complicated relationship with the IQ thing, (defensive about it, ashamed of talking about it yet kind of need to talk about it because it’s there, and it’s me, and I still don’t quite know how to deal with it, and ashamed I haven’t done better in spite of having it, and, well, I’d hate not to have it or lose it too – which sort of happens in winter – and lots of that kind of a mess) and that I guess may be one of the things which makes this difficult for me.

          Physical work does not have that complication so I did learn the good work habits when it comes to that much easier, intellectual… I don’t know, maybe I am still sort of scared to “show off” there while also wanting to do exactly that, except some internal critic keeps telling me it would be bad.

          1. Talk to your doctor, the shutting down in winter may be SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder,) which affects even some people in lower latitudes, especially shift workers. The most common treatment is a high-intensity full spectrum light that you stare at for half an hour a day. I’m not as severely affected, so I get away with a full spectrum bulb in my desk lamp, and by the chair where I read.

            1. It is, I was diagnosed about seventeen years ago. The light helps, as well as vitamin D (if I take rather big doses – yes, I also take vitamin K2). But while that treatment has gotten it about half better, they do not eliminate it. I’m still working at half speed if that in winters. The doctor who originally diagnosed me told me that I seem to be in the rather small minority who gets about the worst possible version of SAD.

          2. “I felt rather guilty, and ashamed, and still do to some extent,”

            There is an almost unacknowledged undercurrent in the U.S. culture around intelligence that you’re not supposed to talk about how intelligent you are. I think a large part of it is because of braggarts—you say you’re intelligent, there’s a good chance you will do something to prove otherwise.

            That undercurrent is so damned strong that I have difficulty talking about being in the gifted track back in elementary school. As in, unless I know that I’m not going to get pounced on, it’s something I just don’t talk about directly. I might hint at it—saying that I stayed with the same classmates for five years, and that we moved as a unit—but outright stating that I was there is hard. And almost impossible on the internet. (Hi, internet!)

            Of course, as I like to say, I was the gifted kid, but my brother is the (literal) rocket scientist. (“My brother’s a rocket scientist.” “Oh, so he’s really smart, then?” “Um… he designs rockets for space probes. Rocket. Scientist.”)

            1. Opposite direction but similar experience I think most of us have had here:

              *talking about something*
              *other person gets mad* “You think you’re so smart!”
              *puzzled* “I know I’m smart, what on earth does that have to do with what we were talking about?”

              Not what is actually said, but it gets the idea across.

              1. Oh gods. This. SO MUCH THIS. And now I just don’t want to deal with people much any more.

                Then when I do, because there’s this buffer of the Internet or MMO between me and teh rest of ’em…

                “You’re really smart, wow, lots of people must look up to you.”

      1. A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I highly recommend reading it with the James Thurber illustrations if you can. I was quite young when I first snagged it off my parents shelves. It caught my imagination.

  10. I haven’t become a librarian but I have done something else. I’ve married a man that I love and live far, far away from my family in a totally different culture. Like Captain America, I’m from Brooklyn. I married a man from Alabama and we live near Dallas (TX). I went from a Jewish neighborhood in New York City to a Southern, Texan, American neighborhood. When Steve and I visited his niece, her husband, her children and his sister in a hunting cabin in the middle of nowhere, MS (probably 50 miles from Madison, MS) I felt how different my life was from anything I thought it would be. I also discovered that I wasn’t the first to make this journey. My niece’s husband Ray, who is from MS, told me that one of his ancestors was a Jewish woman from NY city.

  11. My condolences on the death of your relative. May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

  12. I love when I find a series of videos on youtube where the person seems to have no idea what they are doing (or at least only a vague idea) but they put themselves out there and achieve something in spite of that.

    In one such video series I watched a young fellow build an electric guitar. Not from a kit or anything – from bare pieces of wood. With hand-tools and (very few) basic power tools. AND SUCCEEDED!!! It turned out to be a rather nice guitar. I was amazed.

    Since then, I’ve been inspired by that and built a couple guitars of my own. Although, I admit that I cheated and bought kits that had the hardest stuff done FOR me. Maybe one day I’ll have a work shop and will try to build one from scratch… maybe… It doesn’t seem so impossible anymore. 🙂

    1. Interestingly, I am deployed to Kuwait right now where, for whatever mysterious Army reason, there is a very nice woodshop, open to everyone, with a full-time staff of instructors. I have now seen two people there working on electric guitars. And I am finally learning to do the woodworking I’ve longed to do for at least 30 years. Which certainly was not something I ever expected to get out of a mobilization.

      1. Oooh, chance to share this:

        ❤ Lovely– dad says "that's classic Castilian style… Spanish music." (he was translating to my five year old)

  13. Of course you must realize this is all a dream. You were surely hit by a stray bullet fired at a street protest that day when you were to play badminton. You have fantasized that this whole impossible dream of really going to America, meeting your dream beau, becoming a writer, and moving to Denver happened as your brain starves of oxygen and the last of your life ebbs out of you. The pain and panicked words of your friends having faded into…

      1. I prefer Ray Bradbury’s, Crysalis. “He soared up quickly, quietly — and very soon he was lost among the stars as Smith headed for outer space…”

  14. Scientist determined that there is insufficient wing surface are compared to the mass of the body of the bumblebees, and therefore bumblebees cannot fly. The bumblebees has never read the scientists’ reports, and so flies off, in blissful ignorance.

    And my favorite number is 17.

    1. For values of “scientists” being “university professors with grant money.”

      SEE ALSO: “Global warming.”

    2. The thing that always seems to get lost with that story is that the scientists in question were doing the calculations for a fixed wing, not the mobile wing of an actual bee, and they weren’t saying that bees themselves couldn’t fly. With a fixed wing, there isn’t enough lift, but that wasn’t “proof” of anything but that a bumblebee isn’t a good design for an airplane.

    3. That one was simple. They finally built a camera that would do very very fast slow motion, like several thousand frames per second, and, lo and behold, the bee was just flapping its wings many times faster than they thought possible.

  15. There’s an anecdotal story about a couple of math professors who stayed late in a classroom working on a particularly difficult research problem. They forgot to erase the board before they left. The next morning, a Calc 1 student came in, and assuming that all that stuff on the board was the homework assignment, proceeded to solve it.

    My computational geometry teacher back when I was an undergrad had a similar philosophy: every homework, he would include at least one unsolved problem in the subject. He was interested to see what his beginning students would do coming at these problems with no preconceived notions of how to solve them and no idea that what they were being asked to do was, if not impossible, then at least very, very difficult.

    1. My algebra teacher in high school did that. Unfortunately, she was the only one who did so, even after we were taught how to do the ‘official’ way of doing stuff.

      College and a teacher who hated teaching ‘minor subjects’ murdered my love of math with a broadsword in the shape of One True Equations and “You don’t need to understand why, just apply the equation, and solve it!” so completely, I have difficulty with basic math now.

  16. I read Enid Blyton when I was young. Her books were very hard to come by (I lived in Ohio during the 1950s), but they were excellent.

    For me, the impossible dream business involved Disneyland. I’d see it advertised on TV and naturally ask about going, to which my dear mother would reply, “Disneyland? That’s way out in California!” Complete with italics and exclamation point. To which I would say, “So what?” While I had no real concept of the distance to California from Ohio, I never received a cogent answer as to why we couldn’t take a month or so off and drive out to California. As I got older, my interest in making the trip out West faded, and the furthest I got was Taos, New Mexico.

    I’m glad you made it to Denver.

  17. “Illegitimi non carborundum?” Um… “Don’t let the secret society make smudgy copies of you?”

    1. Sadly, we’re going to see the Usual Suspects appropriating the term very soon, with the new The Handmaiden’s Tale miniseries.

      1. Gag! The most wrong headed feminist paranoia and ignorance and dislocation from the world.

        I’ll get more enjoyment out of Green Lantern.

      2. Whattya mean, “we’re going to see”? The only way I watch even one minute of the new The Handmaiden’s Tale miniseries is if I get wired up like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

        Oh – you mean we’ll see it being misused? So, what else is new?

        N.B. – not my actual likeness

        1. That was, for many years, my favorite movie.

          “A Clockwork Orange? That’s some kind of sex and violence thing, isn’t it?”

          “No, it’s about what happens when you have nationalized healthcare.”

  18. Sarah, My condolences on the loss of your relative. Hate to lose the good ones, but it does come with getting older. When I was 16 and announced to my father that I intended to become a writer, his response was to do some research and come back the next day with the statistic (he may have made it up, but it might well have been true) that only 400 people in the US made their living by freelance writing. My 16 year-old internal response was, “Cool. I’ll be among a real elite!”

    1. Since each iteration of cellular telephone technology seems to lose fidelity of the “telephone” part, I hold on to a phone until I can’t buy replacement batteries for it any more, or the local towers turn off support for whatever protocol the phone uses.

      Some years back I had a seven year old phone, and had the shocking realization that the majority of numbers in the dialing directory were for people who were now dead.

      I promptly named it the “+10 Cellphone of Doom”…

      1. TRX, “Cellphone of doom”–LOL. Losing the elderly ones hurts, but it especially hurts losing those younger than us, including 2 of my wife’s 5 first readers on her first novel before she was able to put it up on Kindle.

  19. The thing is (I know I say that a lot), picking an impossible’ goal is fine, but you have to pick paths that work. And the more they diverge from the received wisdom of the day, the better.

    That poor shmoo at the ‘Occupy’ protests who wanted to be a puppeteer … he was fine until he bought into the received wisdom which hold that anything you want to, you get a degree for.

    If he’d hitched to LA amd gotten a job running coffe for Jim Henson Studios, he’d have his arm up a fuzzy monster’s bottom as I write this.

    And there are things which are impossible. I just don’t have the talent to be a comicbook artist. I tried. I practiced assiduously for about a decade. I got to the point where I could do the occasional picture I was,proud of. But I wasn’t consistent, and never got closer to consistent.

    I still draw, some. I have a small fascility with it. But I wasn’t good enough to go pro.

    Thing is, if I had wanted it badly enough I could have managed something. Plenty of the Underground comix artists have no discernable talent. They got published. Nicole Hollander is an awful artist. Good writer, though, especially for a Feminist (but she got in before it became necessary for anyone wanting to profess Feminism to have a lobotomy). But i wanted to be as good as Jack Kirby, and it wasn’t in the cards … or the genes.

    What it turned out I REALLY wanted to do was support my Lady, emotionally. She is my best friend, and my determination has held us together when most of the families of her fellow patients have blown up. (Survivor of childhood abuse, of many kinds).

    What I really wanted to be was still married after 30 years.

    Impossible, by the odds.


    So, think about the impossible things you want, AND BE PICKY!

    1. Nothing is impossible, but for some things, the length of time required to gain expertise is longer than a human lifespan. I will never be a star basketball player; as this was never even a fleeting thought for me, this was not a problem. I will never be a big stage actor (though I currently know at least four actors on Broadway, three of whom are my exact age.) That one was a cold calculation when I was in grade school, knowing that I didn’t have the drive to overcome my natural handicaps*. But I am an artist. Easy path for me, hard for others. Do I make a living at it? Well, not right now, but the job at the photography studio counts, in my mind.

      *I’m tall and not “pretty.” I’ll take other descriptors (I like Granny Weatherwax’s “Handsome, considering,”) but not pretty. And if you don’t realize how that’s a handicap, you’ve never had to deal with a casting director who goes for a “look” (standard) over talent—and the majority of low-level and mid-range companies tend to be limited in their outlook. Someone else could have succeeded with this but it would have broken my heart, so I stick to community theater to keep it fun.

      1. My cardiologist agrees that I can kiss my NFL career prospects goodbye. Probably my Olympic Gold Medal in gymnastics, too. It’s probably a good thing that that those were never high on my list of my ambitions: It would likely have killed me to try. (HOCM, for the medically literate).

        1. I have a fully developed plan for achieving my dream of an Olympics Gold Medal in Gymnastics, but I have yet to accumulate the quantities of lead that are necessary to bring it to fruition.

          Surprisingly, it is very similar to my plan to achieve Olympic Gold in multiple swimming events.

      2. That’s at least one of the reasons I find British TV series interesting – not all the characters are “beautiful.” Some are.. well, they look more that fellow down the street a ways. Will never win a beauty contest or such, but there’s nothing really wrong with him, either.

    2. They probably don’t do that anymore, but you can look up the IMDB for some great British cinematographer and its, started out tea boy, then delivering still photos, then holding the clapper, then measuring for focus, then assistant camera operator, then camera operator, then lighting cameraman, i.e., cinematographer.

      1. Intern-> production assistant -> second AD – > first AD -> director still works, tho most people stay as first AD because you work more that way.

    1. It’s a choice. We all have off days. But I can’t see living a life of grey goo. floridaeditor I have no idea how you can be so pessimistic. What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning if you choose to be negative? There are some wonderful quotes from C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair about not giving in to despair. And keeping going while things look bleak.

    2. Because pessimism leads to despair and apathy. Well, it does so often for some of us (there are good and bad to be drawn from both pessimism and optimism- irrationalities of either are to be avoided).

      I am a natural pessimist and depressive. Pessimism is *easy mode.* It takes no effort to see the dark side of things. How bad things are, how they can, and will get worse, what mistakes we have ourselves made, what bad things have happened that we may have had no control over, but happened to us nonetheless. Pessimism leads to depression and apathy because that feeling of being unable to control our lives saps energy and destroys volition. It leads to a passive life of sadness unrelieved by any joy, unchecked.

      A healthy amount of pessimism I’d describe more as realism. Seeing things for what they are, neither rosy coloured nor shades of darker grey. It’s the “plan for the worst” side of that famous quotation. It serves as a check on wide-eyed and unbridled optimism- not that this is a problem for most people on this blog, I would guess. *grin*

      Optimism takes *work* for a natural pessimist. The first step is believing that things *can* get better. It’s grasping that volition with both hands, and realizing what you hold is personal responsibility. That means owning both faults and virtues. That means you can and will have down days, but wallowing is something the pessimist can afford to allow himself. The extreme pessimist gains nothing because he takes no risks. With optimism, much more is possible. Failure included, by why let that stop you?

      In the larger picture, we can be optimistic because things could be *much, much worse* and they *aren’t.* We live in the best country in the world, and are largely free to succeed or fail based on our own effort (not as much freedom as we’d like, but we’re working on that). We can have hope because not only is the alternative too terrible to contemplate, but we *know* amazing things are possible because people like us have done them before. We hold our heads high because despite all the foes trying to drag us down into the miasma much of the rest of the world seems mired in, our country remains.

      Despair is a sin. Hope, defiant hope, and hard-headed, practical optimism is what makes life worth living.

      1. Aye! Realism is dismissing the “marketing gloss” as being gloss (and sometimes it’s matte that is actually desired…) and while being occasionally down is understandable, it’s a lousy constant. And can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        A fellow is at work. The workload varies. Sometimes it’s easy… so he slows down to take it easy.. and then gets upset he’s running late. Sometimes there’s a lot to do, but since he’s going to be behind anyway… yep, slows down again. Helluva life.

        Another fellow sees a light load… and goes at about normal speed and finishes things on time or maybe early, and maybe gets a bit ‘extra’ done. When the workload is heavier.. he speeds up, “rising to the challenge” – he might still run late, but at least he tried.

        And when those two get put together…

    3. You know the old joke about an optimist being a kid whose response to horse poop is excitement that it means there’s gotta be a pony around here somewhere?

      They’re right.

      It doesn’t get rid of the poop, but there can’t be horse poop without a horse somewhere.

  20. I had a list when I was six– go to college and travel. There were a few other things, but those were the most important. On the very bottom of the list was to be a writer. I was 40 before I received my BA. I was almost fifty before I published my first book. I got my travel fix by joining the Navy at 27.

    I do have dreams still– I want to live in a small house near the beach where I can write and watch the water. I want to write there– and have enough money to eat at the little local restaurant done the road. This one is impossible for many reasons– so now I will be happy living in a third floor apartment, watching the clouds cross the skies, holding a small black dog– and writing.

    When I was six, it looked impossible that I could do those things that I wanted with every beat of my heart– I did it… but I also had to break away from an entire culture to do it.

    1. I cannot recall ever having but one great goal in life; And when I die and when I’m dead, dead and gone, there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on. er, I’ll have caught up on my reading.

          1. In that case, hurry up and finish all of them. 😉

            You might only have 75 more years to write, allowing for advances in medical science and your son’s enlightened self-interest….

            1. No, her sons are going to develop the Golden Throne, from which Sarah will write novels until sometime in the 30th millennium….

    2. I don’t know if I have any dreams left. That’s not depression, that’s the same as you can’t build a perpetual motion machine due to those pesky laws of thermodynamics. I can’t sing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rein* but I keep plugging along. Most of what I do now is plugging. “Hey, here’s an idea. Let’s try it and see where it goes.” Most of the time nowhere, but it’s an interesting ride.

      *That song is the music for some kind of snack commercial. Funny choice because that song is the unofficial song of the French Foreign Legion. So, eat this and you’ll want to join the Foreign Legion to forget?

      1. Pepsi advertises in many places. This generally makes sense: keep the logo visible, reminding of the product. One item Pa had (and he drank Coca-Cola by preference…) was a trash can… in Pepsi paint. That one puzzled/amused me. Were they saying their product is garbage?

  21. When it comes to doing the impossible, we *do* need to keep one thing in mind: some things *really are* impossible. When I was taking a geometry class, I spent hours trying to trisect an angle using only a straightedge and compass (I thought I succeeded, too, but after trying to prove I succeeded, and looking closely at my construction, I saw that I did not), and later in college, I tried to integrate e^(-x^2) in terms of “elementary” functions.

    Both of these are proven impossible by mathematical theorem; indeed, I now have a book or two that proves the impossibility of the geometric construction.

    Having said that, it’s also good to know that what might be impossible one easy, is easy another. Angles can be trisected by a protector just fine, for engineering purposes at least. Integrals can be calculated (trivially, I might add!) using infinite series, or by numerical approximation. One person once asked how to optimal network routes for users of a chat service, who was told it was impossible, because it was an “NP-complete” problem — which is strictly true, if you’re looking for an absolutely optimal solution — but someone else complained that this answer is unnecessarily discouraging, because while it’s strictly impossible (to the best of our knowledge), there are solutions that aren’t completely optimal, but are sufficiently optimal for most people’s needs.

    Sometimes, it’s good to know that something is impossible…but it’s also good to remember that sometimes something is impossible because we’re limiting ourselves with unnecessary constraints.

    1. I see a lot of that in newbie engineers. They only want perfect solutions. If they can’t find one, they declare the problem unsolvable and quit.

      Some of this, I think, is from modern coursework, where there is only one correct answer, arrived at through approved input data and computational methods. Back when students used graph paper and slide rules, they learned approximation and limits by assmosis. But the new guys are handicapped in ways they don’t even understand.

      1. This boggles my mind.

        Mathematicians have every right to expect perfect answers. It’s what they do.

        Engineers, however, are the ones who are supposed to come up with work, and let mathematicians play “catch-up”. A good example of this is “finite element analysis” — doing computer simulations on complex objects by breaking them up into small, simple objects — which an engineer started doing to simplify the design cycle. It took mathematicians a couple of decades to prove that doing this is mathematically sound.

        (I’m not sure what would have happened had it not been mathematically sound, although I suspect that mathematicians would have likely found that it was mathematically sound under special conditions, but if you stray from those conditions, your project might literally blow up in your face…)

        Indeed, it can be argued that statistics and tolerances are designed so make wiggle-room for the fact that perfect designs can’t possibly be made!

        What are we teaching engineers in school these days, anyway?

        1. Poor engineer students, never having heard any of the variants of the-scientist-and-the-engineer jokes we all (most?) used to learn. (for those who haven’t – In general, the scientist shows how a desired result cannot be achieved exactly, engineer answers “but I’ll get close enough” and does it.)
          Useful life lesson: engineering IS partly art.

          1. One of my favorites: A psychologist is studying the differences between a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer. He gives them a problem: an empty bucket set in concrete, to be filled with water. Another bucket is provided.

            All three subjects solve the problem the same way: they take the provided bucket, fill it with water, and dump it into the bucket set in concrete.

            The psychologist then tries it again, only this time, the provided bucket is half-filled with water…

            The physicist works out a lot of equations, fills the bucket exactly, and then proceeds to fill the concrete bucket with water.

            The engineer grabs the free bucket, fills it until it overflows with water, and then proceeds to fill the bucket in the concrete.

            The mathematician sits down and thinks…and thinks…and thinks…and then jumps up and says “Ah, ha! I’ve got it!” and dumps out the water in the free bucket. “I have reduced the problem to one that’s previously been solved” and sits down.

        2. Thing is, mathematically valid is not the same as useful.

          It’s impossible to build or use perfect mathematical models of reality. (Classical physics is a useful approximation for some problems.)

          Computerized mathematical models can wander off into crazy land faster and less obviously than doing stuff by hand. (You can still easily get crazy results by hand.)

          You need to work with mathematical models enough to at least get the idea that they can go bad on you, and that you need to pay attention. At the same time, you also need that “don’t keep or trust the excessive precision that the calculator gives you” lesson.

          1. The physics that lit up New Mexico, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki was “not even wrong” by modern standards, but it was a close-enough approximation to get the job done.

            For that matter, people tend to forget that Newtonian physics fits the human-observable universe 100%. It’s only when you use instruments to probe the hidden edge cases that its flaws become apparent.

  22. Silly question, I realize, as it is impossible anybody would be so moved by a John Denver song (although to be honest, the prior* West Virginia official state song was sooooo bad that Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads couldn’t help but be an improvement) but as Rocky Mountain High was released in 1972, could that have implanted the state in your head?

    * For those unafraid:

      1. And apparently by stripping it down to its roots the song can actually be made to sound all right.

        For certain values of all right.

        Yes, I love my natal state but I despised the state anthem. If they had taught us to sing it <Iright instead of like poncy 19th Century parlor performers … well, most of us still wouldn’t have liked it, but we wouldn’t have desperately grabbed after that demmed John Denver song.

        And I will admit that North Carolina’s state anthem isn’t getting sung in many bars. OTOH, we’ve got a state toast, something of which no other state can boast:

        Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
        The summer land where the sun doth shine,
        Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
        Here’s to “Down Home,” the Old North State!

        Here’s to the land of the cotton bloom white,
        Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
        Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
        ‘Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!

        Here’s to the land where the galax grows,
        Where the rhododendron’s rosette glows,
        Where soars Mount Mitchell’s summit great,
        In the “Land of the Sky,” in the Old North State!

        Here’s to the land where maidens are fair,
        Where friends are true and cold hearts rare,
        The near land, the dear land, whatever fate,
        The blest land, the best land, the Old North State!

        1. Sometime in the 1940’s, Dodd Mead & Co had the idea to publish a series of books they called The Sovereign States; State biographies written by writers from the States in question.

          The only practical consequence of this decision seems,to have been the publication of HAWKEYES by Phil Stong,(about the State of Iowa).

          It’s a pity. It sounded like an interesting idea.

    1. The song doesn’t sound too bad (even in its most abominable version), but I have the advantage of hearing this for the first (and maybe even last) time.

      A few months ago I was trying to look up the Utah State Song, “Utah, We Love Thee”, so I could have my kids hear it. In the process I came across the new Utah song, “Utah, This is the Place”; “Utah, We Love Thee” was adopted as the “State Hymn”.

      According to Wikipedia, it was written beckaus 4th Grade students wanted a song that was “fun to sing”. Too bad it’s an evil abomination of sappiness and ick.

      (Arguably, “Utah, We Love Thee” is sentimental dreck too…it’s not nearly as bad as what replaced it, though.)

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