Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Personal Taste of Wonderland

It is a brick building, an old building, five stories high and full of rooms and mysteries that I will never know. It is a world of its own, full of tea-drinkers and puzzle-solvers, men in collared shirts who feel quietly important, offices and rooms for learning that have chalkboards, not whiteboards, with real chalk and erasers.

The first floor is more like a basement, in terms of access to the outside, and houses the locked door to a Foucault pendulum, which is suspended from the ceiling and has been inactive for years.

The second floor is the main floor. One major entrance leads to the landing between the first and second floors, and the other, on the opposite side of the building, leads straight to the second floor. On the second, third, and fourth floors, between the two flights of stairs heading towards and away from each floor, there is a row of chairs. That row on the second floor is especially good for sitting. It is prime for watching people, the people who belong to that place and the people who don't, and it has a view of that second main entrance, the ramp that goes straight to the second floor. There is a brick arch over that ramp, which connects to brick ceiling and brick walls and the rest of the brick building, and sitting in that row on the second floor allows a perfect view of the slanted natural light on the large alcove beyond the arch. You see, when walking into the building, from that ramp, the main doors are to the left of the arch. When sitting in that row of chairs inside the building, the main doors are directly in front of you, placing the arch beyond the doors and to the right, sunlight slanting in like something magical, something unreal. Especially, it is something beyond what one expects to see in this city.

The first through fourth floors all have normal purposes, but the fifth floor is small, tiny, in fact, and holds only a door to the roof, a door to a room of excess furniture, and a door to the place of the building's inner workings. The floor itself is merely a partial room with a brick floor, good for thinking alone. It is the one place that I can find true solitude in the middle of the day.

There is more to this place than just the physical building. To breathe its air, to learn of its world, to meet its true inhabitants, is to begin to fall under its spell. I have breathed this air, had tea with the puzzle-solvers and believed I too belonged there. But I have not visited it for days now, and in breathing the air that is fresh, I begin to wonder--is that the world in which I belong?

They did welcome me. Oh, how they welcomed me. It would take work, to join them, but it was perfectly possible, even for one so young and ignorant as I. And others congratulated my choice--to have a woman among them would be marvelous, and unexpected. I received smiles, I received guidance, I was handed a perfect plan for solving the puzzles with them, for the rest of my days if I chose. I need give up no other dream, merely the time and money it would take to gain the necessary skills. And then, I could live in their world for real.

But I have not visited for days now. Maybe weeks. I have been thinking. As fresh oxygen reaches my lungs, instead of their stardust, their chalk dust, I have begun to wonder if that world is where I belong.

What I want to do is to do as I am doing now, at this very moment, as I am putting these letters in this order. I want to write. "How vain it is," spoke Thoreau, whom I seldom believe but for this, "to sit down to write, when you have not stood up to live." I want to live in all worlds, to experience all good things, and to breathe the beauty of every good place. This world of brick and puzzles and magic, which I have grown to love, will never be thoroughly known to me, for I have other worlds to taste, and other beauty to see.

This building is the Math and Physics building at my university. It means nothing to so many students; it has been Narnia and the Wardrobe itself to me. I briefly thought I should do this for my life, that I should get a Ph.D. in mathematics, that I should be one of these professors, living in my office every day, solving puzzles for the world and teaching students how to solve puzzles of their own. It sounded beautiful, it sounded perfect. The epiphany hit me as I sat within that building, breathing in its spell. As I rule, I don't trust epiphanies, but I chose to trust this one anyway.

But I have not visited it for days now, and I can breathe air again. So back to my original plan I go. I would like to be a writer. I want to solve puzzles in my free time, of mathematics or cryptography, but if I never have the time for such things, I want writing and exploring to be the main takers of my time.

I don't much care whether you disagree with me. I have missed breathing proper air.


K Throbbs said...

I figured it out with "the first floor is more like a basement." You forgot the door to the 2.5th floor, my personal favorite.

Anyway, I know I'm guilty of forgetting how much time we can have. There's time for hobbies and changing your mind. Changing careers even. So pick something now and change it when the time comes. That way you're always happy.

Rae Botsford said...

You know, I'm not sure I'm familiar with the door to the 2.5 floor, but I don't doubt it exists. Is that one by one of the awkward outside classrooms? I love that building so.

You are right, regarding time...assuming I don't die an untimely death, I have decades ahead of me for various uses. Still, it is difficult to finally decide something, to make a leap, to turn the page in a choose-your-own-adventure book without marking the decision page for backtracking later. It feels very like diving off a cliff and hoping the water is deep.