What the hell is water?

June 17, 2023

A few weeks ago, I was in Berlin for a couple of days. It was my first time there, so a friend decided to show me around town. It was sunny and bright, and crowded, not unlike my hometown back in India. As we rode our bikes around the city, I would get these ephemeral moments of nostalgia. I felt transported back in time when I would cycle home from Sunday basketball practice at Madhavan Park. It really was something.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, and no, it wasn’t Déjà vu. But if I could make a pithy contraction, it would be that places and moments can make you feel the same way you did, thousands of miles apart.

I’m a sucker for this stuff. I love answers that expose the premise of the question. I love questions that lead to more questions and somehow are the closest thing to any kind of resolution. I love the fact that words can make you feel a certain way, even though you don’t really know what they mean. I love that sometimes, the slower you read something, the more enjoyable it gets. There’s probably a less pretentious way to say that, but I’mma stick to the brain vomit for now.

Is this a narrative that I’m telling myself, or is it just recognition? If it is, I suppose there’s training and familiarity involved too. I don’t know if having more colors on your palette makes you a better painter, any more than knowing more words can bring depths to the human experience. But I do know that it gives you mobility in thought, and I think it’s nice to rest on that mobility.

This reminds me of the usability/flexibility trade-offs in programming languages where essentially, a language like C where “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” is far more useful than some extreme Functional Programming language, that doesn’t break but isn’t all that practical either. How hilarious would it be if the solution to designing cars that don’t crash, is to remove the wheels?

Oh and this why I think Paterson is a great f$*$ckin film.

At this point, I’m compelled to share a parable that DFW used in his commencement speech at Kenyon College.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?


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