Why my reach must exceed my grasp

It has nothing to do with heaven.

I’ve observed that I persistently fill any available time with new adventures and activities. It’s not that I don’t like being alone, or idle, in itself. But sometimes I take on a bit more than I can handle, and something doesn’t get done, and I’m disappointed. So the question is, why do I keep doing this? Why not just sit back with a reasonable status quo and let it tick along?

The answer seems to be that I need to be challenged. It’s not just that I like to be challenged. I need to be pushed. Courses often give you this push, forcing you to spend hours working on homework or preparing for exams. Deadlines at work provide pushes, too. But in the absence of that sort of external force, I cannot resist imposing my own push on myself. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I go further than I thought I could, or achieve more, even when there is risk of failure — perhaps even more so when there is risk of failure. And sometimes I do fail (or at least dissolve into a puddle of stress). But somehow I keep coming back for more.

I sometimes despair at this tendency, since it seems inevitably to ratchet up my stress level. But I think I can at least articulate why I do it, and little self-knowledge goes a long way.

I’m constantly worrying away at my boundaries. How high can I jump? How fast can I run? How many degrees can I get? I like to live right at the edge of my capability, right at my limits. I like to know that there are limits. I like to be pushed to exceed those limits — and maybe even to expand the limits in the process. In taking on more commitments, maybe I’ll be forced to find ways to be more efficient, which will extend my time-reach. Maybe I’ll find more ways to trade money for time. Maybe I’ll learn the tricks needed to run faster, jump higher. Some core part of my being rejects a static existence, a single fixed optimum that solves “enough” of what’s out there. What’s existence for, if not to continually get better?

It’s time for bed. I’m off to slay dragons in my sleep.

Socks are chiral

Left glove, right glove.
Left shoe, right shoe.
Left sock, right sock?

Socks generally don’t care which foot they’re on. That is, even though our left and right feet are shaped differently, socks adapt. They go both ways. So it isn’t often that you have to think of the “handedness” of a sock.

Times have changed!

I recently started knitting another sock. I got through two inches of ribbing and then shifted into regular “stockinette” stitch for the leg of the sock. But instead of knitting around and around and around, I found I had to purl around and around and around. This seemed odd. I was pretty sure that I was knitting the last time I made a sock… but now I had to purl? (Not only that, but purling is (or feels) slower than knitting, for me. Vexing.)

Then it hit me. A sock is knit as one long spiral, around and around. So if you start going clockwise around the outside of the sock, you’re going to be knitting. But if somehow you start by going counter-clockwise, as I apparently did, you’re going to be purling. That is, socks are chiral! They either twist to the left (clockwise) or twist to the right (counter-clockwise). The yarn, I mean. Once the knitting/purling is done, you can’t (or at least, I can’t) tell the difference, and yes, the sock will still fit either foot. But the chirality is still there, buried deep in the sock fabric.

I’ve now made it down to the heel flap, which involves alternate rows of knit and purl. Aha! I think this means that I can correct my error, if I end on a knit row instead of a purl one, enabling me to knit the rest of the way down the sock. We’ll see!

Update (10/12/07): Yes! It worked! I turned the heel and now I’m back in the regular, clockwise (left-handed) mode. Whee!