THE IMPORTANCE OF NOTHING


Nothing is more interesting than nothing, nothing is more puzzling than nothing, and nothing is more important than nothing. For mathematicians (not me), nothing is one of their favorite topics, a veritable Pandora’s box of curiosities and paradoxes. What lies at the heart of mathematics? You guessed it, nothing.

We have heard that when zero arrived in Europe it was treated with suspicion. We don’t think of the absence of sound as a type of sound, so why should the absence of numbers be a number, argued its detractors. It took centuries for zero to gain acceptance. It is certainly not like other numbers. Zero as a symbol is part of the wonderful invention of ‘place notation.’Early notations being Roman numerals. Try doing arithmetic with those. So the symbols were used to record numbers, while calculations were done using the abacus, piling up stones in rows in the sand or moving

All of this is of course way over my head. I appreciate Zero when it is added to other numbers in my checkbook. The more zeros, the better. Math and I, while not complete strangers, are hardly friends.

Word games are almost irresistible when you talk about nothing. Nothing is well, nothing. A void. A total absence of thingness. Zero, however is definitely a thing. It is a number. It is, in fact, the number you get when you count your oranges and you haven’t got any. Or you get to the check stand in the grocery store and find your wallet has nothing in it. Of course. like many things in life, zero needs the company of something to make it work. It’s like a marriage which started from the illusive nothing.

The Jerry Seinfeld sitcom, one of the most successful shows on TV was, in their own words, about nothing. From there, they showed that most of us lead perfectly normal lives about nothing. If you check the pages of the average diary, the day’s notations say something like “nothing happened today”.

Of course in the normal course of things, something happens every day. There is no void in Nature, no matter what the mathematicians say

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EVERY WOMAN HAS ONE


Throughout history the ubiquitous female breast has been exposed, exploited and envied. From the under dressed native women in the Polynesian islands to actress Jane Russell, for whom Howard Hughes is said to have designed a bra, the breast is a subject of interest. Those who do’t have them, want them. Those who have them, want them bigger.

Olivia de Haviland, star of “Gone With the Wind”, while living in France for a time, wrote a humorous book, “Every Frenchman Has One”. I read her book with interest because a cousin now lives in the house de Haviand resided in during the filming of “Gone With the Wind”.

Apparently the difference between the French and the American view of the bosom can be summed up this way: the American philosophy is of the Bosom Rampant, while the French subscribe to the principle “The Bust Trussed.”

This attitude became clear to her, expressed in the world of couture. She was faithful to the House of Dior as it went through a series of three head designers. She found it a question as to which one tried the hardest to flatten her bosom. Not permanently, just under a dress.

She wrote “The whole thing started at my first fitting on my first Dior dress. There I was standing in the fitting room, half undressed, in merely my stockings, my slip and my bust, and the next moment I was fully clothed and bustless. At first I couldn’t think where I’d gone to. Then I was struck rigid by the idea that some sort of instantaneous and lasting transformation had occurred and that I’d suddenly lost forever what is every girl’s pride. Springing out of my paralysis and into action, I looked frantically down m,y decollete to see what had happened to me. Fortunately I was still there, both of me. But bound and gagged. By a framework of net and bone. The dress’s basic foundation.

“You mustn’t think, here, that I have one of those overexuberant superstructures that really needs lashing to the decks to keep it from going overboard. No, no not at all. It is, rather the sort that you might call appropriate, quite becoming, so it’s been said. Neat but not gaudy. But try as I may, I have never been able to convince the French that the American way is better, and they have always won the War of Containment.

“Of course, I know just as well as you do, that back home in the States, if a girl’s got a delicate, elfin 32, she has no chance but to commit suicide. If she has a tender, swelling 34, she can however, enter a nunnery. If hers is a warm and promising 36, there’s hope. On the other hand, with a cummbersome 40, Hollywood is bound to find her. And with anything over 42, national adulation is assured.”

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“But I must say I do look darn well dressed. And I’m beginning to accept the French notion that a girl’s bust is really more important when she’s got her clothes off tan when she’s got them on.’

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?


The gardens are bursting into bloom and leaf with more rain in sight. The old song “Wishing Will Make It So” has proved once more that someone is listening.

Small words are usually harder to define than long ones. I recently read that a group of lexicographers were revamping an obscure dictionary and found all the short, throw-away words like “a”, “the” “as” etc., were difficult to define in a simple way, but the long hard to say words were easy to break down. I am reminded of Bill Clinton’s use of the word “is” in his defense: “It all depends on the meaning of the word “is”. What does that mean? What’s wrong with “if”? “If only I hadn’t taken that position.” Well, History will debate it for a few years and then forget about it.

Dr. A once told me that he couldn’t decide whether I was clever or smart. Either way I was in trouble. A rat can cleverly avoid capture in a trap, but does that make him smart? If he was smart he would eat the large block of cheese in the cupboard before it ever got to the trap. We once had one who quietly ate an entire gingerbread house without disturbing the box it was in, and leaving one piece of candy as a parting thank you. If I were clever I would invent ways of doing simple jobs in a simpler way. If I were smart, I would be rich and famous and wouldn’t need to worry about being either smart or clever, because I could hire it out.

Our use of words is important. Some words often mean one thing to one person and something entirely different to another. A young girl dating a hormonally active boy may say “NO”, but the boy hears “YES”, to her dismay. Today we sometimes sprinkle our conversation with words from another culture. Our son-in-law instructed the Mexican gardener to remove some moss growing in his flower bed by saying “No Mas” which the gardener rightfully heard as “No More”, and took our the entire bed.

My husband refers to one side of the house as “the front yard, but clearly the address in on the other side of the house which makes it the front yard.

Mark Twain was a pretty good wordsmith and story teller and modestly claimed to know how a story ought to be told, being frequently in the company of other writers and story-tellers. Their use of words was their livelihood.

According to Mark Twain there are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind–the humorous. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

Already we can see there is a difference between humor, comedy and wit. Yet they all amuse.

“The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. The humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art–and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story was created in America and has remained at home.

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the ‘nub’ of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

“Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretense that he does not know it is a nub.

But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you—every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation points after it, and sometimes explain it in a parentheses. All of which is very depressing, and one want to renounce joking and lead abetter life.”

(Parts taken from “How To Tell a Story” by Mark Twain)