A work of fiction
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My therapist life coach told me that I should start blogging about my life. She says it will help me recover or develop a sense of self. So here I am introducing myself to myself. I don’t know where to start. The only place I know where to start is to begin with who I am and what brought me to start talking about my feelings.
My name is Jake and I am a 26 year old going through what I’ve been told is a quarter-life crisis (QLC).
The question “who am I?” has been increasingly harder to answer. Who am I?
Right now, I’m a traveling management consultant based out of Boston. Four years ago I graduated college. Five years ago I was dead set on getting my doctorate in philology, a subfield of linguistics. Six years ago I met Kyla. Seven years ago I published a theory named Eden which ignited the philology world. Before that, I was just a kid who couldn’t wait to explore the world and meet new people.
If only I could remember what it felt like to be happy with the few dollars I had in my pocket given to me from my adopted parents when I was a kid. Those were the days the world felt so limitless and full of potential.
Sometimes in order to understand the present you have to understand the past. I’m trying to put together the series of mistakes that I made in life that brought me to the point I am at right now.
“You’ll never look at me the same way you look at Eden.”
That’s what stands out the most from when Kyla broke up with me. It was March 1, 2007 at the Boston Public Garden. What a scenic and historic place to be broken up in, the country’s first public botanical garden. I have never looked at flowers the same way again. Every time I see one I can’t stop thinking about how one day it will wilt.
Earlier that day I got a text from her saying that we should get away from campus. It was warm enough and the snow had settled. I thought that it would be a good idea to take the T from Harvard Square to downtown Boston. I was pretty excited for the day since it had been a while since I got out of Cambridge. I had been so caught up with coursework and writing conference papers that it felt like a part of my life was just passing me by. While in class I started getting excited about the night and compulsively was checking my phone for Kyla’s response.
She said, “I’d love to go to Boston. Why don’t we go to Back Bay and grab a bite at your favorite used bookstore cafe on Newbury Street?”
That text got me really excited. We met right outside her dorm just as the sun was setting and headed downtown. It was one of those moments when I stopped to look at the sky and just thought that the world is so beautiful and filled with so many opportunities.
When we got to the café, it was about a fifteen minute wait to be seated. Kyla and I went through the language and history section. I thought there might be some interesting books I could skim. Nothing really piqued my interest. I did see a copy of Language in Thought and Action an overview book on semantics which I thought Kyla would enjoy. I got her a copy as a gift. I told her it was one of the books that motivated my interest in the meaning and use of words.
I don’t really remember what dinner was like. All I remember is eating my bacon macaroni and cheese. I’ve really tried to recall what our conversation was about, but I can’t no matter how much I try. The only thing that I remember her saying was, “why don’t you ever ask me about how I am doing?”
After a light dinner, we walked on over to the Boston Public garden. That’s when I started noticing something was out of the ordinary. Kyla was walking about a step or two further away from me than when she normally did. She also began to be more occupied with looking through the windows of the designer shops on Newbury Street than me or our conversation.
Only a few people were at the park that night. Kyla took a seat on a park bench overlooking the swan boat lagoon. I just was looking at the water waiting for her to say something. She always kind of led our conversations about our feelings.
She said, “You’ll never look at me the way you look at Eden. Even when it’s just me and you, somehow you always find a way for every conversation to go back to her.”
At that time, philology and linguistics professors were regularly calling me and emailing me to discuss Eden. I even got a couple of phone calls while Kyla and I were at dinner. Everything that was happening was a dream come true. Something that I put together in my spare time as an 18 year old in a library got worldwide attention.
“Well it’s not a person. It’s a program that I put on the internet. It’s also the name of the theory that I wrote using that program.”
Strike one. Before she said anything, I already knew Kyla wasn’t impressed with my response. Later on, my friend Michelle told me that I should have asked Kyla about her feelings. She said my response pretty much ignored Kyla’s “social needs.” Women, why don’t they just say what they want without obscuring things? I guess being a master of the history of language doesn’t necessarily make me a master of the meaning of words in a practical sense.
“Don’t you get it? I never feel alone with you unless we're talking about Eden.”
As she looked at me with those piercing green eyes, I saw a single tear go down her face. That moment felt like forever. I saw her begin to close her eyes in slow motion as she was on the verge of another tear. As her eyes were shutting, I knew it would be the last time she would look through me like that.
“Jake, I can’t. This. You. I can’t do this.”
I’ve replayed that moment so many times through my mind trying to understand what was going through her mind. I think it was pain and disappointment.
“Cheer up kiddo. Springs about to be here, summer will come next, and soon enough it will be the fall and you’ll be going abroad to Spain. You’ll be better off without me. It never really would have worked out between us.”
Strike two. Later that night, my roommate Paul told me that was a pathetic way of trying to act nonchalant and cocky. Truth is, I didn’t know how to react to a breakup. I didn’t really have any words to describe what I was feeling. It didn’t feel real. I started thinking about how every decision I made brought me to where I was standing. I also started thinking about how different my life was about to become. I would have more time for school. But then what about the future I had been daydreaming about? How would that change? I just waited for Kyla to say something.
She said, “Just give me a moment. Then we can take the T back to campus.”
I thought about it. I just wanted to prolong the moment. See if I could do anything to change her mind. Of course I thought I could make her realize how much fun we have together.
“It’s nice enough out that we can take the long walk back to campus. It’s really nice to walk across the river at night.”
That’s an example of too little too late. I put my jacket around her arms and lifted her up off the park bench. We walked to the St. Charles River the whole time not talking about much at all. It was quite the walk back to campus. Kyla spent most of the walk talking about some of the good times we had together. I talked more about how our lives will continue normally and we’d both be fine. We were both right there next to each other separated by the time between events we were talking about. While she was thinking about actual events, I was thinking about the hypothetical.
I dropped her off at her dorm right at the front entrance. What a calm night. A little past midnight as I was walking back to my dorm it started snowing. I walked back into my room and that’s when it hit me. I miss her.
I ended up going back to my dorm room and got drunk as hell and called her up. I had just been listening to the song Show you How by the Killers on repeat over and over. It’s a song which starts off as an answering machine message. My roommate told me that I took a guitar and was screaming into my phone singing along to the song playing on my speaker. I thought I was leaving a message on her phone but Kyla ended up being on the other line. I think she stayed on the call for about two minutes, enough to hear my entire rendition of the song.
Strike three. I’ll stop there, as I can name at least a few more strikes that would pretty much ensure that Kyla and I would never be romantically involved again. If only I could have felt something when we were at dinner, or at the garden, or on the river, or while this whole thing was falling apart. What an ending.
A few days later I got an email from Kyla. I assume it was her responding to my phone call from the previous night.
You’re the kind of person that doesn’t appreciate something unless it’s in the past. I really do hope you find someone who brings you in the moment. I just can’t wait any longer watching you fall in love with things that happened years ago. I don’t want to keep telling myself that someday it will be me.
It was the last time we exchanged communication electronically.
Maybe my life would have turned out differently if I hadn’t written the wrong name on the Valentine’s Day flower arrangement I ordered online. I accidentally addressed the box to Eden instead of Kyla. That harmless action made Kyla start questioning everything about me.
Who knows where she is right now. Not a week goes back that I don’t think about that night. I’m not really sure why.
I feel like no matter how much I try to see that my life has changed since that day, many times I can’t. For about a year I ran through that day to see what I could have done differently. After that avenue was exhausted, I thought of how I could avoid an event like that from ever happening again.
Now, I’m just unpleasantly but still pleasantly stuck in the memories of that day. It doesn’t help that I live in Back Bay pretty close to where this night happened. I also eat at that same used book store, stroll through the Public Gardens, and run across the St Charles River frequently whenever I’m not away traveling for my job.
For a while I used to talk to people about how Kyla was still on my mind. I did this until my friend’s wouldn’t really listen to me anymore. So now everything just goes unsaid in my mind. I guess that is until now that I am writing about it.
There was a time that the words be yourself actually meant something to me. It was when I had faith in the idea that people have their own identity. I thought identity was something that was unique to each individual. When someone would say a person is lying to himself, I would take it to mean that a person’s actions were violating their identity.
In college I would spend nights talking to Paul, my roommate, about existence. We would talk about what we wanted to accomplish in life. If we had free choice over the decisions we made in life. Most of the time we were trying to convince each other that whatever we decided to do had purpose. Those were the days, when we could actually convince ourselves that we were important.
Paul always knew how to put a positive spin on things. He was the kind of person that would wake up each morning and write in his journal, “how can I make the world better today?” He told me that he kept a journal with good things that he did for humanity and the world for rainy days. He said that there was going to be times in life that he would feel like nothing he did matters and he would like to have a journal to help him out of those moods.
“So your journal is a kind of time capsule anti-depressant?” I’d say
“Call it whatever you want Jake.”
I thought the guy was crazy for doing that. I actually teased him about it from time to time.
Now I wish I would have done what he did. My memories of the past are distorted to the point of incomprehension. I’ve forgotten almost everything that happened that brought me to where I am right now. I’m trying to piece things together but it's much more difficult than I could have imagined. How did my beliefs change?
“Jake, what do you believe in?” Paul would ask me all the time.
Back then, I believed people are good as long as you look deep down. Nobody wants to do things that are bad. I believed in objective truth. I believed in a lot of things that I don’t remember or feel anymore. I believed in passion, love, unity, all that mushy stuff.
The words: Good, Bad, Identity -- are now pretty much useless to me. I don’t know what they mean anymore. I’m unable to pinpoint when my belief system changed.
Here’s what I believe, my identity is heavily tied to the different roles that I have in life. When I was a student I had responsibilities that meant the world to me. They consumed me and I believed that I existed for the purpose of being a student.
Now life’s a bit different. I’m seeing a different side of the world that are a bunch of disconnected pieces. In any given week I’m in three cities going to work for different clients. My apartment is in Boston but since I’m rarely there, people have forgotten about my existence. Most nights are spent in impersonal hotel rooms, where I go to impersonal restaurants with impersonal coworkers. I begin and end the week with a bunch of strangers on an airplane.
I’m not part of a community. I’m a visitor to many different communities. All the relationships that I have left in this world are one-on-one. Living life in little pieces has made me realize that the community that you are a part of shapes your world view in ways that are beyond your own control. I see the nuances between people at different country clubs throughout the country. Each person seems like a product of the group of people they spend their time with. It’s called herd mentality. People conform to their surroundings. I’m no different.
The difference with me is that I have to conform to very different surroundings in the course of a normal week. I do management consulting for different companies. I blend in different cities. I blend in when I visit friends from college on the weekends. That’s all I do now, blend. Being unique is overrated.
The only time I don’t blend in is when I’m alone. I just think of the different existences that I have and try to create a narrative that connects them together. The more I travel for work, the less time I spend in Boston, the harder it becomes. The more it seems like I don’t have an identity. There are just a bunch of different roles I perform in society.
Each role that I have comes with a set of explicit and implicit responsibilities. There are certain ways I have to act at work. I act like I used to around my friends that I visit. Every time I see my friends I revert back to the person that they remember.
Who am I when nobody else is around? So where does that leave me when I am by myself? What is my role? What are my responsibilities? I just feel like I’m lost without any direction. It’s strange to think that nobody else can pick up on this feeling. Maybe, except Michelle.
Sometimes I just want something to believe in when nobody else is around and nothing is expected of me.
I’ll deny it anywhere else, but the reason I chose to major in philology is because I thought the word sounded cool. When I was a freshman in college I would tell the person I met that night I was studying a random major. The three majors that got the most attention were Gender Studies, Linguistics, and Philology. Most people I would talk to had never even heard of philology. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. It’s some obscure sub-field of linguistics. But you know what? Girls loved it every time I said I was thinking about majoring in it. So when it came to January 2005, when I was a second semester freshman, I decided to major in the subject. Who would have ever guessed I would have fallen in love with it. I did. Immediately.
phi·lol·o·gy : The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages. -Google dictionary.
I had a pretty good life when it was cool and socially acceptable to be poor. All you really needed in college was to be a little interesting and nothing else mattered, until senior year. I spent years cultivating relationships with professors and presenting at philology conferences trying to get accepted to Oxford’s doctoral program. I could daydream for days about how amazing it would be to take a shit in the same toilets as some of the smartest people that have ever lived.
Then senior year started. No longer was it cool when I told people that I was going to be a philologist. My life low happened when this one girl told me at a party “what are you even going to do with a career in linguistics?” I tried to tell her that there is a difference between linguistics and philology, but she wouldn’t retract her statement. I later looked her up on Facebook and saw that her name was pretty familiar. I saw her father was the philologist I looked up to the most, he was the definitive source on 19th century German language. I modeled my thesis after a conversation we had together at a conference, somewhat in attempt to be one of his graduate students.
That night was the beginning of the end. That year and in those months, out of nowhere the aspiring investment bankers and pro-athletes were all the talk of the school. That was a blindside hit. I think that’s the correct use of an American Football term? A metaphor if you will. I just started getting less and less attention from women my age.
I swear single girls were pre-filtering people they would talk to. “Not going to be an ibanker? Not going to be a doctor? Not going to be a lawyer? How about a management consultant? Ok, it’s not even worth speaking to you.” My stock value tanked because of my projected future socioeconomic class. That really hurt. I’m starting to understand how actual poor people feel. Trapped. Sure, I could focus my tactics on people younger than me – but that couldn’t shake my feeling of uselessness. Impotency.
So I abandoned Eden. You know, till this day I wonder if it was the right choice. I haven’t looked back since. It’s been about five years now. It’s when I realized that this pet project that I had would not bring me the socioeconomic status that I was looking for. Sure, it might bring me respect within my academic field... but it didn’t even win me a Rhode Scholarship. I’ve always been the kind of person that is all or nothing. It was time to call a loss a loss. I abandoned her. I haven’t checked on Eden since then.
That is when I decided I should apply for the two most coveted professions that I knew I had the skills for, investment banking and management consulting.
Paul helped me through all of the logistics of getting hired for these firms. You may ask, how? Paul came from a family of bankers and consultants, so he had been groomed for this position since before I knew how to speak my first word. Damn, till this day I do attribute a lot of the life decisions that I have made to his brain.
At the end of the day, I was a little bit too much of a wild card for all of the bulge bracket investment banks. One thing that I was surprised to see, though, were that all of the consultancies were trying their best to hire me. This was absolutely unexpected. Just a few months ago, I wanted to be an academic who traced language to it’s common origin. I guess people didn’t think that I was full of shit, because I told every interviewer that I was one step away from making that a reality. The only problem? The last few ‘intricacies’ of my research would probably take the rest of my life, take the most brilliant people I could imagine, and wouldn’t foreseeability make my net worth in the high millions. High stakes for no rewards right? I felt like a fraud landing that last statement during interviews.
People loved my story. By the end of the year, I had more job offers than I could decide on. So I decided based on a coin toss. That’s how I decide everything I can’t decide on instinct alone. Leave the rest to chance. Or so I thought.
I decided on a firm that is based out of Boston, because that’s what I was familiar with. It still has global reputation. Since then, my life has changed in ways I can’t really describe.
Now my life and thoughts are focused on things that I am forced to focus on. When I was in college, I was able to say what I should research and what I should ignore. Now I am told to make businesses more profitable. Everything I do has to relate back to that.
It’s really not different at all. I’m just pleasing a different master with different needs. Right?
Michelle is the last excuse that I have for a real friend in this world. Don’t mistake me for the kind of person who likes to burn bridges. I just have a tendency of fading into obscurity. You know that friend that you’d hang out with from time to time, relax with – but can’t quite remember when you stopped being such good friends? Yea, that’s me and I do remember when we stopped hanging out. It was probably when I was so obsessed and occupied with Eden or the girl I was currently dating to ask you how your day, week, or month was. If not, I was probably drugged in my room imagining conversations between past historical figures. My favorite people to talk to were definitely Frederick Nietzsche and Jesus Christ.
“God is Dead” - Nietzsche
“Says who?” - Jesus
But seriously, I think the two of them would have some phenomenal conversations.
I cringe every time I hear best friends are forever. Every relationship has an expiration date.
I’m just patiently waiting for my memories of Kyla to expire and fade so that I can continue life like I never knew her. There she goes again. I start writing about Michelle and somehow Kyla finds her way back in. Not this time.
Michelle called me last week to remind me that her birthday was coming up. She wanted to confirm that I’d be available on that day or if I was too busy “jet setting around the world in exotic locations.”
“Oh, please Michelle, you know I’m never actually busy. My entire external facing online life is a lie. Send me a calendar invite,” I said.
“Haha. Calendar invite? Ok mister corporate America. Can you give me your secretary’s number to go with that?” Michelle said.
See, we have this tradition of going to the Museum of Fine Arts every year for one of our birthdays. The tradition started when we had an art history class together our freshman year. I remember the day I met Michelle like it was a scene out of my favorite novella.
I knew nothing about art whatsoever and I had to write a paper on my reaction to a piece of art I’d seen in real life. This girl next to me always had something to say about all the slides on the board. I’d take a good look at her throughout the entire class period. I decided one day I should introduce myself to her. On this one November day she was arranging her notes as I was leaving the class. As I was walking by we caught each other’s eyes and I just stopped and smiled right in front of her. As she was adjusting her glasses I tapped her on the shoulder and said,
“Hey, I’m Jake. I’ve noticed you’re quite the art aficionado these past couple of months.”
“Um, I mean... I like art. You know I have the tendency of talking too much in class. Sometimes I forget other people can hear me. Oh sorry, I’m Michelle,” she said.
“If you knew other people could hear you, you’d also know the professor calls your name about 10 times each class. Glad to formally meet you Michelle.” I said sarcastically making sure she would understand my humor.
“Well compared to a person who I haven’t heard speak in class yet I’m a chatterbox,” she said.
That’s when I thought it would be the perfect time to ask her to strike up a hangout.
“Well. Not for a lack of effort. I really struggle with turning images into words and expressions. I’m more of a linguist. This class is eating me alive,” I said.
“I mean I didn’t mean to poke fun at you or anything,” she said.
It was now or never.
“Wanna see the campus art museum, I really don’t know where to start with this stuff. Maybe you could teach me how you react to artwork. I’ve tried reading all the books,” I said
“We could just catch the T down to the Museum of Fine Arts? I’m sure the stuff there is more memorable than the stuff our school has. You’ll for sure love something there,” she said.
I was shocked by her response. You know, I really did need help in this class. Thing is, I could have gotten help from anyone in the classroom. I just really wanted to get to know this Michelle girl. Listening to this girl contribute in class made me want to love visual art. I didn’t just want to be a spectator in her life. It all started with a casual hello.
We went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the first time in late November 2004. We had a blast. Michelle thought I loved the artwork there. I really just loved watching her talk about it. I could care less about the sculptures or paint strokes. It was her reactions to visual arts that I thought was artistic. She articulated what the paintings made her experience so elegantly. I closed my eyes and imagined the words she said.
So the tradition started. Ever since that day we’ve been going to the Museum of Fine arts for one of our birthdays each year. I have a September birthday she has a November birthday. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Michelle knows that I really still haven’t learned to love visual arts.
Here we were eight years after our first time in this building together. These museum meetups are a time where we step outside our own lives and examine it like it is a work of art. Michelle would always say, “your life should be your masterpiece, not something on a piece of canvas.” She says all these beautiful things without even knowing it. If only she would write them down.
This day was different than our other meetings. I was just gazing into surrealist paintings trying to get Michelle to describe them for me. She’s never been a fan of surrealism. After about an hour at the museum Michelle snapped.
“You’re always looking for someone to make you feel like you’re on a drug. If a person doesn’t make you feel that way, then you try to look for experiences that make you feel high -- usually in the presence of a female,” she said.
I thought that came out of nowhere. We had been seeing each other less in the past year. Maybe my demeanour was a bit more cynical. Maybe my smiles have been turned into grins. In that moment I thought to myself. This is the moment. This is when friendships fade.
“And why not with you? I don’t try to feel like I’m on a drug around you Michelle,” I said.
“I’m saying this as a friend. Seriously Jake. I worry about you. This isn’t about me. It’s about you. I never see you smile anymore. You used to be so excited about everything,” she said.
“Why are we friends again?” I said.
Sitting there I could already begin to feel this relationship expire. She’ll find some investment banker, fall in love – and I’ll be lucky if I even get an invite to her wedding. It’s the natural cycle of things. People forget about you. I started to feel dizzy. What could I do to recover from this conversation? Nothing. I just looked into the picture of Don Quixote by Salvador Dali on the wall. Before I could think of anything to say Michelle kept hitting me with hail.
“You know I liked certain parts of you more when you thought about philology all day. You were still calculated but you were artistic about it,” she said.
“and now?” I said.
“You’re all numbers, expected outcomes, if you could monte carlo method love… you’d be the first one in line,” she said.
Her comment regarding numbers hit me hard. As a consultant a lot of things boil down to numbers at the end of the day. Maybe I just took it to the logical extreme and made my whole existence about numbers. I thought she would understand, given what she does for a living. This conversation was tanking, I felt like I was being broken up with... but there was nothing to be broken up?
“Aren’t you the one that’s an economist? Plus online dating has already turned love into a numbers game.” I said.
Then Michelle did what she did best. Respond to things based on what she feels.
“Sure I’m an economist, that’s what I do for a living. It doesn’t define what I feel. What I think. How I act. Your passion for language words and history is what drew me into you in the first place. It was refreshing to see someone care about things other than numbers,” she said.
I stayed silent.
“Plus, don’t knock online dating. It’s actually a pretty good thing,” she said.
I totally didn’t expect our conversation to turn to one about the merits of online dating. At least we were able to pretend for the rest of the day that this conversation never happened. We went back to going through the different galleries while I listened to Michelle talk about the artwork that she loved. I almost forgot that I could feel her slipping away.
I walked Michelle back to her apartment a few blocks down from mine. As she turned around to go up her steps I said “Nice Bracelet.” She stopped and turned around.
“You gave it to me for my birthday one year,” she said.
“Yea, it was on your 21st birthday. Great time,” I said.
I just stopped there looking into her eyes. I was hurt by everything she said that day. I just wanted to say that to her, but I couldn’t. She was right. As always, Michelle broke the silence.
“You’re a man of contradictions. I just wished sometime you would accept that so you could get on with your life and grow up a little,” she said.
“Hey I’m grown up. I pay my bills, live in my own place,” I said.
“You’re good with numbers. None of that actually equates to anything other than that,” she said.
She handed me a card that’s been in her purse.
“Happy late birthday Jake. It’s been a while,” she said
Just then, I realized I hadn’t celebrated my birthday till then. Whatever kind of celebration you want to call it. I tried to think of something to say about how numbers affect the decisions I make.
“I play the odds,” I said.
“The odds play you,” she said.
Michelle really has a way of undermining me. She’s right about a lot of things though. She always has been. I still can’t stop thinking about some of the things she said. Actually, I can’t believe she told me that she thought online dating was a pretty good thing.
It really surprises me how many people use online dating websites. Each website has its own audience and niche. One in four relationships in the United States now begins online. That sickens me. Online dating has been around since the beginning of the internet, except it wasn’t called “online dating” back in the 90s. It started with people meeting in IRC channels or ICQ chat rooms under aliases such as AZNL33T85 and PRINSEZ86. It was such a 90’s thing for you to spell things in improperly. It was the cool thing to do for technophiles. For those of you who are too young to remember what I’m talking about think about AIM chat rooms. I can’t even think of a present day equivalent of a chat room. Do chat rooms even exist anymore? I’m sure they do on some parts of the internet, probably in video camera format.
I forgot to mention, I know a lot about online dating. It’s quite the story why I know so much about it. I’ve never actually used it myself though. I feel like it would be cheating if I do. Here goes.
At the turn of the century some guy had the idea that you could make a lot of money if you made a website that had people profiles you could search in order to date them. This initially only appealed to the people who were extremely tech savvy and very nerdy. Why in the hell would an average person spend days searching these anonymous profiles, most of which were fake, trying to get some person’s attention when they could just go to a local bar?
Boom. Online dating was born. Websites were started and now these places started displacing chat rooms as the de facto way to meet a person of the opposite sex on the internet. You know, things worked but people dissatisfied with the signal to noise ratio on these websites.
A few years later a group of computer scientists came along and said, “We’ll make computers match people up together automatically. Numbers don’t lie. We can map people together based on their interests and personality.” These computer scientists turned self-proclaimed love doctors believed that the world would be a better place if a computer could find your mate for you.
These people were convinced that a computer could do a better job at pairing people up than you could. They believed that trying to meet people in real life was too messy and unpredictable. How could you meet more than a few people per month? There was just one catch, how do you get the first people to an empty party?
So they devised a questionnaire filled with tons of questions. They ran ads saying we will successfully find someone for you on our dating website based on the results of our ‘proprietary algorithm.’
What they really did was match people up on a likeness scale. These scientists thought that the idea of ‘opposites attract’ was complete bullshit. So they paired people up on how alike they said they were. That was their master algorithm: date a person who is a lot like you.
The most surprising thing about this whole ordeal is that it actually worked. Online dating companies started running ads about success stories and people ended up getting married by the bundles. You know, I still don’t buy it. I believe the reason why this rudimentary pairing process worked was because the kind of people who went on these websites already pre-committed to a relationship. It’s the damn confirmation bias.
For years online dating started gaining more traction. Advertisements said that they were able to pair you up with someone you can fall in love with or your money back.
Things were all great in the online dating world until YinYang came along in 2006. It was a dating website started by a Harvard Economist and a couple of M.I.T. computer scientists. They thought that they whole questionnaire part of the process was troubling. Why? Because they believed that people did not know themselves. They didn’t think people knew who they were or what they wanted.
For example, here’s something I would say about myself.
“Hi my name is Jake and I am a 26 year old male. I’m organized and neat. I like romantic comedies and long walks on the beach. I’m looking for a girl who could share my passion for linguistics.”
This is what YinYang would say about my self analysis,
“Um, I don’t believe a single word you just said. I’m going to observe you for the next week to gather my own opinion on what kind of person I think you are and what kind of woman you would be into.” That’s what the YingYang people would say about my little segment on myself.
The YinYang website still had a questionnaire that they say maps people to their potential mates. Seems all the same right?
No. Not in the least.
YinYang only used the questionnaire as 5% of their matching algorithm. You know all those questions you answered? They really didn’t care about what you said about yourself. They only wanted you to believe that they cared about what you had to say about yourself.
What does that mean? It means that YinYang believed people were only 5% knowledgeable about who they were and what they want. So you might ask, what’s the other 95% of the matching algorithm? How do they recommend people for you to date?
Machine learning. Yep. If this answer sounds to you like artificial intelligence, it’s because it is. The algorithm is changing every day based on past results. Don’t worry it’s none of this The Matrix stuff. Machine learning is used on all the major search engines online, that’s how they “learn” what relevant ads to show you after you type a query. Applied to online dating, the results can be explosive.
You’ll notice that YinYang doesn’t recommend ‘matches’ until after you spend 60 minutes on the website “looking around and examining its functionality.” They also tell you they do this to discourage fake accounts. If you were a fake person signing up for an account, you could make hundreds of accounts in an hour. Well that gets discouraged if you have to surf around and examine the website for yourself. But there is more than meets the eye.
What they don’t tell you? The entire time you are surfing the site they are recording so much information on you it’s scary.
What kind of internet browser do you use? Are you a Mac or a PC person? What queries are you entering into the search box? How much time do you spend on each person’s profile? How much time do you spend on your own profile? Where on the page do you click your mouse, how long do you keep the window active before you switch tabs, what time of day do you log in to, what mobile device do you check the website on. Whose profiles do you spend the most time on? What are the occupations you are searching out for potential mates? When evaluating other people’s profiles do you look at the about me section or pictures section more? The list goes on and on and on. Everything gets logged and categorized.
So okay, you might say… they have all this information. So what? I’ll tell you what. They combined forces with a couple of experts from Stanford and created what they called LoveRank. They use very complicated algorithms to match people together.
For example, say I spend my time looking at blondes on the website who are mainly veterinarians. YinYang will look for a blonde veterinarian who is looking for a management consultant who has a peculiar interest in the humanities like me. Then they will match us together. This of course is hypothetical as I do not use these sites. My example was also overly simplistic. The ways they actually pair people together are downright scary.
YinYang pretty much exploded and started taking market share from all of their competitors. People go on there every day not knowing that their actions are what are being used to map them to someone else.
You may ask how I know all of these things. The year after I graduated college was when YinYang was getting really big. Like really big. People were leaving the other major dating sites pretty rapidly to join YinYang. The other companies didn’t know what to do, except for to emulate YinYang’s matching algorithm.
My first consulting engagement was to bring the Titan of online dating sites to the YinYang era. Yes the CEO actually called it the YinYang era.
My first order of business was to convince the CEO that this was the “Machine Learning Era.” My Firm’s partner leading this engagement kept repeating this phrase every time I’d see him on a call with clients. He made sure to include it in every PowerPoint presentation I had ever seen him do. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be esoteric – here’s a definition I pulled from Wikipedia. It’s the second time I’ve used the term.
Machine Learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, is a scientific discipline concerned with the design and development of algorithms that allow computers to evolve behaviors based on empirical data, such as from sensor data or databases. - Wikipedia
Once we got that point settled with the CEO, I began hacking away. I was paired up with their data scientists and started looking at aggregated data that they had collected over the last few years from their users. I spent months using fuzzy logic and neural networks to make inferences on how I think people should be paired up.
That’s when I met Punjab. He was this rock star from Bombay who could make computers track anything his imagination wanted. Even better, he knew how to turn my imaginative ideas into computer code. I remember staying up all night talking to him over the internet during his workday so I could get ready for presentations in the morning.
So now you think on top of everything else I told you also think I exploit outsourced labor? Not quite. Punjab lived in Bombay, but he was employed by my firm as a US worker. He went to Stanford, naturally, and has a Ph.D. in computer science. He spent a few years working R&D at my firm until he realized he really didn’t like the USA that much. He packed his bags ready to go back to India looking for professorships there. A few of the Partners at my firm flipped. After a little back and forth, they agreed to pay Punjab US salary plus true up taxes and relocation to India. He works remote for us from India now. I think he made out pretty well on his decision.
In four months’ time we implemented what I called Genesis at this online dating website. Our goal was to pretty much emulate the algorithms that YinYang was using to pair people together. I think we accomplished that and more. You know, I had some crazy ideas on how people should be connected.
Punjab and I made out like heroes. Month after month, we saw that people were flocking back to this website ready to get some action on. Oh and to Michelle’s point, not a single Monte Carlo method was used in Genesis. Everything was modeled via machine learning and data mining. Nothing was hypothetical. I still can’t get past that statement from last month at the Museum of Fine Arts.
I kept working with Punjab wherever I went and we did some work for some Wall Street banks automating many of their financial modeling procedures. Some of the bankers weren’t too happy as I was making their job obsolete. When I was in the elevator one day some junior banker looked at my shoes and said, “Doesn’t it suck that if your salary plus bonus doesn’t put you at the top tax bracket?”
I thought to myself, “since when are Bruno Magli shoes considered thrifty? Maybe it was my Hugo Boss suit?”
I really hope that banker’s best skill was the one I had just automated with Death Star. It was a little asset developed for mergers and acquisitions.
A few months passed by and word eventually got out about Punjab and I with the dating sites. Soon all the major competitors were asking us to re-haul their dating algorithms. So we did. I spend the next year and a half bringing Genesis to other companies. Based on the demographics of the users the website had and the underlying technology of each website, I tweaked the algorithms here and there.
So I guess now I’ve explained why I have such a distaste for online dating, I feel somewhat responsible for all of these people making bad decisions and finding their mate online. Whatever happened to looking someone in the eyes and just being stunned by their presence? Instead, now what we have is a system where your online actions determine your future. Doesn’t that take away from the magic and uncertainty of life? Online dating is too efficient. It’s emotionless.
I also can’t use it because any attempt for me to use it will not work the way it’s intended. I could game the system every time I log on, as I’ve developed so many of the techniques that match people together. It’s like taking a personality test in which you wrote the tests and answers. You’d score however you wanted to score. Oh well, it’s not something I ever wanted to dabble in anyway.
Too bad I signed all these non-disclosure agreements on my work. I would have loved to tell Michelle that I helped shape online dating as we know it right now. Well, even if I modeled a lot of the work off YinYang. That would work her up wouldn’t it?
As much as I dislike the idea of online dating I did have fun mapping those relationships between people, their actions, and their potential mates. It reminded me of the days in which I mapped the relationships between words, languages, geography, and time with Eden. So what, I’ve always looked at numerical patterns to explain the world around me. There’s nothing wrong about that.
Whatever happened to the days that the world was full of excitement and possibility? When I was a junior in college it felt like every day was an opportunity to change your life. Maybe it would be that day when that side project you were working on got noticed by others. Maybe it would be the day that you found out about this awesome activity to do around campus. Maybe it would be the day you met the person who you would never forget. Every day was full of hope and excitement of what the future could and would bring. Sure some nights I would go home empty handed, but at the end of the day I couldn’t wait to see how life played out.
At least I experienced happiness in life at one point. That’s what I keep telling myself every time I drink by myself at an airport bar or on the airplane. At least life was unpredictable and exciting at one point.
The day Kyla and I met in September 2006 is something that still hangs over my mind like a dream I just woke up from. If I could have died that night, I think I would have lived a complete life. I was just beginning my junior year of college.
It all happened on what seemed to be a standard Friday night. In the past year, Paul and I had used Facebook to crash parties where we knew a lot of the girls we were interested in rendezvousing with were going to be at.
A little background information, Facebook was still a pretty crazy place when I was a freshman and sophomore in college. I thought one of the coolest untapped features of Facebook were Events. It was the first time that party invites were being sent online for the public to see. A little known thing about Facebook events were that many people made their party’s public. Since then, these privacy issues have been addressed. I would spend the first half of a week finding out what parties people I wanted to randomly meet up with had confirmed reservations to. Then, in passing, I would talk to these people saying “hey I heard about this party on Friday, you going to be there?” The girl I was trying to get to know better would then say, “oh yea, you heard about that party?” I can’t believe more people didn’t do this to meet people.
Paul coined the term, “calculated spontaneity.” That’s what we were. Paul and I would go to parties with the intention of meeting up with girls that we wanted to get to know better. I was Paul’s wingman whenever he wanted to get to know a girl better. He did the same for me.
It was a rare night when Paul and I didn’t have an agenda for the night. One night we just went to a party for the hell of it, because one of our friends lived off campus and was throwing a massive kegger. It was nice to not use Facebook to try and meet somebody else. We were just hanging out with the guys.
Paul and I were smoking cigarettes while drinking whisky outside trying to look cool on this normal September night. We were talking to each other like we usually did about things that we thought were deep and emotional.
“Jake, you know what makes us a great match?” he said.
“Oh I feel like you’re about to get philosophical Paul,” I said.
“We hang out in groups of two. Anything more than two people is a crowd. Anything less than two people is lonely,” he said.
“You’re more coherent this time than the last time you mentioned something like this. Want another cigarette?” I said.
“Jake. Seriously, think about it. We have met so many women in the past year. It’s because we hang out at the side of a party smoking cigarettes. I know it sounds strange, hear me out. If you were by yourself at a party drinking and smoking by yourself would anybody come out and talk to you? Conversely, if a group of people were drinking and smoking amongst themselves would anybody else come and talk to them unless they wanted a cigarette?” he said.
“I feel a theory coming on Paul. I’ll answer no to both of your pseudo-questions,” I said.
“We make it easy for other people to approach us. We exhibit the optimal group size. We are different types of people. A foil if you will. Have you heard of the Nash Equilibrium?” he said.
“Oh here goes. John Nash. Yes, I’ve seen the movie A Beautiful Mind and yes I’ve taken a few economics classes. I think you used the Nash Equilibrium wrong Paul, as we communicate with each other. I think you meant to say that our friendship and the way we hang out encourages us to meet people of the opposite sex without competition?” I said.
“You always get me on technicalities. I’ll keep it simple. You like the exotic girls and I want a girl next door. We’re the perfect combination of people,” He said.
I’m not going to lie. Paul’s a good guy. He’s the best male friend I have in the world even though we don’t speak regularly. I’ll never forget how he told me he wanted the girl next door. Nor will I ever forget how he told me I wanted an exotic girl. Now he is married to his college sweetheart he met shortly after this night. That night was one of the last nights I saw Paul act in a manner that was so individually focused. I’m honored to have seen how great of a person he could be to a friend.
That’s not the point of this, though. I’m trying to explain how I met Kyla. I feel like I always get sidetracked when trying to write about her.
During Paul’s little soliloquy that night a girl bumped into my shoulder. A part of me wonders what Paul would have said that night had our conversation not been interrupted.
“You know smoking kills,” she said.
“So does secondhand smoke,” I said.
“I know, I think I should head back inside,” she said.
As she said that, she took the cigarette out of my mouth and stomped it out with her foot. I looked at Paul and then I grabbed into the contents of my back left pocket where I kept my cigarettes. I took another cigarette out and lit it. I looked into this girl’s eyes and said,
“Hey I’m all for health, but please tell me why you had to violate my personal space like that? By the way my name is Jake.”
“I’m Kyla. Tell me something about yourself I don’t know already,” she said.
“I like linguistics and you were interrupting my conversation with my roommate Paul. Isn’t that right Paul?” I said.
“You’re Jake. You have this project Eden going on. You like whisky right? Oh wait, this is the third time I’ve met you this year and you won’t remember the next. I’m just running an experiment on how many times it takes you to remember me.”
I can’t tell you what went through my mind at that moment. Of course I knew who she was. She was in my freshman level Ancient Languages class. Well, a class I took for one week. I never forget a face. I stayed silent.
“Come on Jake. I don’t know how, but I’ve met you a few times over the last few weeks. Every time I see you, you’re wasted beyond belief. I’m just making a point here. It was nice knowing you,” she said.
I knew she was the girl from Ancient Languages. I tried to think of a response quickly.
“If we’ve met so many times, what do I say next,” I said.
“You’ve always just told me until next time. Then you disappear,” she said.
Ancient Languages was a course I dropped my first semester freshman year. I dropped it because I got into an economics class I was dying to get into by a world renowned econ professor. Thing is, I remembered who Kyla was.
“You took Ancient Languages last year. I remember you contributing to group conversation before I dropped the course,” I said.
“Wow,” she said.
“So you do remember,” I said.
“I just never thought you did. I didn’t think we even interacted directly,” she said.
That’s how I formally met Kyla outside of a forced academic setting. It had been two years since I had seen her in that class. I couldn’t forget her, though, and I let her know that. The next day I felt like it was such a mistake to reveal so much so quickly.
Kyla and I spent the rest of the night talking to each other about how the past two years had turned out. Truthfully, we didn’t know anything about each other. At the very least we did acknowledge each other’s existence two years prior even though it was just a chance happening.
Over the course of the night she told me that the Ancient Languages course depleted all her interest in linguistics. I told her, even though I dropped that course, my main focus in life was linguistics. Of course, Eden came up that night. Near the end of the night I asked her,
“So, have I been like this every time I have met you?”
“No. I never would have expected so much from you. I thought you were just a guy who toyed around with the people around him. So I have been trying to toy with you,” she said.
This whole time I forgot about Paul. I told Kyla I would get her another drink and then looked around the house for Paul. Turns out, he was having a blast with some of our guy friends right by a keg. Paul gave me a salute. That meant that it was just me and Kyla for the rest of the night. It was getting pretty late. Before I knew it, it was past 2am.
“So, we’ve been sitting here for the past few hours discussing things that happened in the distant past,” I said.
“It’s pretty late. I need to start getting home but all my friends already left,” she said.
I took that statement to mean the oldest trick in the book.
“I’ll walk you back. You told me you live on campus right? Want to take the scenic route?” I said.
“As long as the scenic route doesn’t involve going through graveyards, she said.”
Kyla and I took hours to get back to her dorm that was about half a mile away. We walked to the St. Charles River, walked past the Business School, and pretty much covered so many miles of land that we didn’t have to traverse through. We were chasing the sunrise.
That night was the first time I saw the sunrise in the arms of somebody else on the Charles River. We had breakfast on campus before I dropped her off at her dorm. I don’t remember what we even talked about all night except it seemed to mean the world to me at the time. I slept the rest of the next day. Paul woke me up at sundown and asked me how the previous night was. When I spoke to him then, it was the first time that I told him about Kyla. It was a story that I would repeat so many times until people wouldn’t listen to me anymore.
I know, I have been sounding jaded lately. I’m trying to be positive. It’s hard, though, when I remember times from the past that usurp anything that I have experienced recently. Sometimes I wonder if I experienced too much too soon in my life. Oh well. That night and the six months that followed are times that I do no go a day without thinking about. It’s just disheartening to think that nobody else other than me in this world remembers those days.
Holiday season is the one time every year that I have all the time in the world to think about how my life has progressed. I know many people who work all year to savor the holiday season. I’m not the opposite, but I am nervous about it every year. Maybe it’s because I never quite know how I am going to react to the increased free time.
The extra free time does lend itself to some new opportunities to do things that are out of the ordinary. Some of the most memorable events of each year have happened during the holidays. Now that it’s the time of year again, it does make me think about memorable events from the past few holiday seasons.
Four years ago Michelle helped me do the interior design for my apartment. She couldn’t take that the only things that I had in my apartment were an airbed, bookshelf, nightstand, and desk. I hadn’t put any effort into making my place habitable. That’s what happens when you rarely spend any time at home. The way that I saw it was that once you make the decision to furnish your place, you’re locked into a certain style for a long time. When my apartment was bare, I could let my mind wander and think about the possibilities of how I was going to decorate it.
Michelle wanted to put an end to my indecision. After our yearly visit to the MFA that year, I had her over for a few drinks. We sat on folding chairs while looking into the open space between us. Our voices would echo off the walls the place was so empty.
“You’ve been here for about six months already and you haven’t made an effort to make it look like someone even lives here,” she’d say.
“I’m a minimalist,” I’d respond.
“You need help. This will be fun come on. Jake, you would love this place so much more if you could call this place home,” She said.
We went back and forth through emails and meeting sessions mapping out my apartment and designing what the place would look like. With Michelle’s help, I settled on a very Scandinavian look. I ordered all of the furniture and had it delivered by mid-December. I thought having the holiday season to set some furniture would be a great idea.
That never happened. By the time the holidays came I felt so lazy that I would just sit around in my apartment daydreaming about the past and future. All of my furniture and decorations sat in the corner of my apartment untouched. Before I knew it, the New Year passed and I hadn’t set up my apartment. Shortly after, I had to go back to work and continued traveling. To this day, Michelle still teases me about how I don’t know how to follow through on so many activities that I start. I don’t really mind it when she pokes fun at me as long as she doesn’t mention Eden.
Three years ago Paul came over to Boston to tell me that he was going to get married. I told him he could have saved the time and called me. He was an investment banker working in Manhattan at the time, I knew that time was something that was extremely precious to him. He told me that I was missing the point.
“Jake, I came here to ask you to be my best man.”
I just looked at him for about ten seconds in silence. The whole time I was thinking there was no way in hell he was being serious. Why me? Hell, we barely even spoke anymore. I guess all those times we spent together in college talking about life must have stuck somehow. Also having a newly minted fiancé and working God knows how many hours per week might not have been conducive to new interpersonal relationships.
“Of course I’ll do it Paul. This is absolutely unreal,” I said.
I gave him a hug and went over to my liquor cabinet to pour out a Jack and Diet. I brought him a folding chair to sit down on.
“Hey Jake, you do a redesign of your apartment recently? It seems like you have furniture all in a corner over there,” Paul said.
We spent the whole day talking about how life would change. Paul helped me move my furniture according to the blueprints Michelle and I designed a year beforehand. By the time we were done we decided to call up a few friends we shared from college who still lived in Boston. We went out and hung out just like old times. Those types of days just don’t come by as often as they used to.
Two years ago I went to Paul’s wedding and gave a toast. I spent months thinking about what I should say. I didn’t get very far until the weeks leading up to the wedding. When it finally came to speaking at the reception, it was absolutely unreal. Life was changing for Paul, but not me. I’ve been seeing people embark on the next stages of their lives and I’m really happy for them. I just feel like I haven’t gone anywhere.
Paul’s wedding wasn’t during the holiday season but it happened close enough to it. His wedding was in Chicago and the reception was at Union Station. It was a smashing party thrown by his wife’s traditional Catholic and conservative parents.
Michelle and I went together. Michelle and Paul never were close friends, but they did acknowledge each other’s existence, especially since we would all spend so much time together in our dorm room. If it wasn’t for Michelle, I think that night would have had the potential to be catastrophic.
Paul warned me that it would happen and yes, Kyla was there. She was dating, now engaged maybe married, to a Senior Analyst Paul worked with. The guy actually didn’t seem half bad. He was taller than me, more athletic than me, funnier than me, so at least it made me happy to know that Kyla has good taste in men.
Halfway through the reception Kyla and I bumped into each other while getting drinks. Kyla and I would run into each other on campus randomly throughout the last year of college but we never said anything of value to each other. I would generally be smoking on a bench on campus and we’d say hi but never get past a few lines of conversation. That time was the first time since that catastrophic night that I would look straight into her eyes.
“Jake, it’s been years since I’ve seen you. My boyfriend told me that you were going to be the best man. Nice speech, you’ve always been very articulate,” Kyla said.
“Thanks. Who would have ever guessed that this would be the place that we first saw each other after graduation huh?” I said.
People tend to overvalue the probability for coincidences happening. Believe it or not, even though this world is vast and expansive -- social circles are not. Your friends of friends will drive much of the social interaction and people you will meet throughout your lifetime. The internet has only accelerated this trend. Even knowing that little fact, it still was surprising to see her in person again.
“Small world. Paul says you’re a management consultant. Whatever happened to your interest in being a professor?” she said.
That’s what everybody who hasn’t seen me in a long time says. Weren’t you supposed to be this or that? It’s that feeling you get with people when you haven’t seen them in a long time, you want to pick things off right where they left off. If you’re close enough friends that’s possible. The rest of the time, it just leads to an awkward exchange where you update each other with your lives. Then you try to bridge the gap between the person who you remember and the person that is standing right in front of you. Thinking about being a professor made me think about a distant past. I glanced at Kyla thinking about that night at the public garden.
“That ship sailed a long time ago,” I said.
Kyla and I walked over to the edge of the dance floor where Michelle and Kyla’s boyfriend were waiting for us to bring them the drinks they ordered.
The conversation just seemed hazy and unreal, like this wasn’t the way that Kyla and I were supposed to interact with each other after all this time. Part of me just wanted to tell her about all the nights I spent thinking about her, about how I’ve been daydreaming about the day we saw each other again for years. In the moment, things felt so much differently than I could have imagined. This Kyla right in front of me felt so different than the person I remembered. She was gorgeous, our conversation was effortless, but something was missing. It didn’t feel like her eyes pierced into my soul anymore. Maybe that’s too much to expect from a person.
All the things that I had been planning to say had I met Kyla again evaporated as I was speaking to her. I spent weeks thinking about this rendezvous. “Have a great night Kyla,” I said.
“How long have you and Michelle been together?” She said.
Before I could answer her, Michelle grabbed my hand and took the cocktail I picked up for her. We went over to some of Michelle’s friends who were dancing together in a circle. Weddings are her thing. She gets extremely emotional seeing people be happy together. She loves thinking about fairytale endings.
I spent the rest of the night going back and forth talking to Michelle and some friends I hadn’t seen in years. Every once in awhile Kyla would drop by and say or a word or two, but we never had another sustained conversation.
I found Paul in the corner of the room with his Dad. I’ve never seen him so happy. When Paul’s dad left our little circle Paul told me,
“Jake, you can spend your entire life chasing a girl like Kyla or you can go for Michelle or a girl like her,” He said.
“Michelle and I are as platonic as it gets. Kyla and I are as fictitious as it gets,” I said.
“You forget that people actually like you. I have to remind you that you’re my friend. I think you’re scared of actually acknowledging that you mean something to other people. Really, thanks for the speech. Thanks for everything. I’ll never forget it,” Paul said.
His wife came over after our little emotional exchange. Damn, they looked great together.
Everything about that night was perfect as long as I forget about Kyla. It’s strange, I can’t describe just how that situation with her was a letdown but it was. I wasn’t quite disappointed, Kyla was friendly, we made some conversation, but something just felt strange about the time we met. It didn’t evoke the sense of passion I thought it would in me. Maybe she’s better in my imagination and memory. Thinking about that is a little sad. Who is Kyla?
One year ago Punjab came over to the United States to show his wife around the city that he used to live in. Even though I had been working with him for almost three years, it was the first time that we met in person. I’d seen pictures of him from the firm’s website, but seeing him in person was something new. First of all, his voice sounded much different in person.
By then it was nice to invite somebody into my apartment when it was all furnished and homey. It’s something that I don’t do often. Punjab and his wife started talking about their travels around the world. They told me that I should visit them in India when I got the chance. That’s when it hit me, even though I hadn’t met him in person until then Punjab was one of my closest friends.
It’s a pretty brief memory of what happened last year, but it’s what sticks out the most.
When thinking about recent years, I’ve realized that the things that I remember the most are the life events of other people. I know you shouldn’t draw comparisons between your life and the life of others, but I don’t think anybody I know have seen anything of value from my life in the past few years. The only thing I can think of is the changing state of the interior of my apartment. Other than that, I have had no life events.
Michelle said that people used to come to spend time with me because they’d experience a person who was so full of adventure and conversation. Now it seems like I just play a secondary role in even my own life. When it comes to life events, I experience them vicariously through the other people: Paul’s proposal, Paul’s marriage, Punjab’s vacation. It’s sick. I’m nothing but a secondary character in their lives, but they are the primary source of the recent memories that I keep close to me.
This year, I’m trying to do something a little new. This is my fifth year in my apartment in Boston. Today was the first time that I have ever bought a Christmas tree and decorated the place for the holiday season. It’s not that interesting, but it’s the one milestone that sticks out from this year. I took a picture of myself by the tree and e-mailed a Christmas card to all the friends I haven’t talk to in a while. That’s a start. Happy holidays.
Writing that Christmas card might have been the single best thing I have done in the past year or two. A few days after I emailed the card, I got an email from one of my college friends Brandon. I hadn’t seen him since Paul’s wedding two years ago. He told me that he was organizing a beach house getaway for a New Year’s celebration in Key West. He said Paul, Paul’s wife, and pretty much every guy in my core group of friends in college were going to be there. I don’t get invited to non-work related events very often, so I confirmed my invite on the spot. There was really nothing to lose. Plus, it would be great to get away from the cold weather in Boston and go somewhere more tropical. I’ve always heard that the Florida Keys were a place worth visiting.
Brandon was the epicenter of my social group in college. He was everyone’s friend. I don’t know if he realized just how much I appreciated his social grace. If it wasn’t for him I probably would have been having a date with whiskey in my apartment on New Year’s Eve waiting to go to a club where I could find some girl to commiserate with. Just thinking about the past two New Year’s that turned out that way still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I haven’t belonged to a group of friends since college. In a sense I still consider myself part of Brandon and Paul’s group, but my existence lies on the fringe of it. By fringe, Paul is my only point of contact to knowing what’s going on in everyone’s life. He updates me with what he hears from everybody and I assume he tells everyone else what’s going on with my life. Everything else I get from my Facebook news feed. People always talk about what it feels like to be the person who was left behind. Actually I don’t think being the person who gets left behind is that bad. What’s really tough is to be the last person that remembers. I keep telling myself that people have already forgotten about my existence.
This trip could be one of the last chances that I had to re-incorporate myself into my group of friends. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I would say to my past friends if I had one day to spend with them. I don’t get out much so I have to make the moments memorable. I always wondered what would have happened if I didn’t fall off the face of the earth after Kyla and I went our separate ways. It’s impossible to go in the past, but I guess it’s never too late to try and pick things up where they last left off.
I booked my flight to take off on Friday December 28th. The party would be a whole weekend in Key West. I flew from Boston, had a layover in Miami, and then flew into Key West. Thank God I’ve amassed a ton of airline miles because by the time I looked at ticket prices, they were already thousands of dollars. It turns out that Paul, Brandon, and everyone else had been planning this trip for months. In the past I would have taken offense that I wasn’t invited until the very last minute. Now I just counted it as an amazing coincidence. No matter what happened, spending time with people who at once meant the world to me would be better than lingering in the middle of a club filled with strangers in the dark.
I was the first one to land in Key West after Brandon. I took a taxi to the beach house. It’s then I remembered just how great of a host and party planner Brandon was. The place that Brandon rented out was this three story house with an expansive deck that looked out into the beach and ocean. As I got out of the cab he came out with a couple of Bloody Mary’s and rushed out,
“Jake! It’s been forever man!” he said.
“Brandon. Yea, you know I’ve been kind of away from the world for the past few years,” I said.
“You got any new music? I always liked sitting down talking to you while listening to the newest tunes you had,” he said.
“I have a few new things on my phone let’s catch up,” I said.
Brandon is the kind of person that just bleeds charisma. Maybe that’s why everyone loves him. He’ll draw you into a conversation and the next thing you know you’re talking nonstop and laughing in unison with him. Seeing him reminded me of when I could hold interesting conversations. Maybe it was Brandon just bringing it out of me. He told me what everyone else was doing and how they would be arriving in the next few hours. Eventually he brought up the topic that I have been very evasive about in the last few years.
“Jake, have you worked on Eden recently?”
“No. Haven’t touched it in over five years. I always told myself I would get back into it, but everytime I try I can’t even get past the login screen on the website,” I said.
“That’s a shame,” Brandon looked into the ocean.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well. I actually have used it a few times in the last year. It all began when this Chinese girl told me that since Chinese and English are such different languages, so many things get lost in translation,” he said.
“I really don’t follow what you’re saying Brandon,” I said.
“She said the languages are so different because they evolved from different sources. The girl tried to convince me that it meant that our thoughts are fundamentally different,” He said.
“I still don’t understand what you are trying to tell me,” I said.
“I went to Eden. I used your website to show her how Chinese and English actually had a common heritage. I showed her your project and how it shows how all language originated with some African tribes,” he said.
“You know nothing I made actually proves anything. It’s all fuzzy logic and conjecture,” I said.
“Well she bought it. She actually was very interested in your work,” He said.
“Where is she now?” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know Jake. We ended our little thing about six months ago. That’s not the point. I genuinely think what you did in college is interesting. I never got why you were obsessed with this Eden thing until then. Now I get it, you were doing something incredible,” he said.
I really couldn’t take all of this talk about Eden. It was making me dizzy. As I got up to get a cup of water I heard footsteps coming up the front stairs. It was Paul and his wife. His arrival was a great opportunity to switch subjects. I’m glad that was the last time throughout the weekend I had to talk about Eden. As more of my friends started arriving, I slowly started slipping back into somewhere in between nostalgia and glee.
We had the music turned up loud, relaxed on the beach, talked about old times, and caught up on each other’s lives. To my surprise, I hadn’t been quite forgotten. At times, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed like most of my friends were getting a strong grip on their adult life while I was still riding the wave of what I decided to do immediately post-graduation. Todd was getting settled in the suburbs to run a law practice, Zack was starting his residency in California, Paul was married, and Brandon recently transitioned to venture capital from investment banking. I guess the only thing that I was thinking about was seeing if I could ride my success to Partner at my consulting firm. I really haven’t thought of what I want to be when I grow up. Paul gets a laugh every time that I tell him that. “Look in the mirror Jake and you’ll see a man that’s not too young.”
As more people started arriving, Brandon started pumping the music louder and louder. Brandon asked to see my phone so he could play the electronica that I had for the guests. I forgot that when Brandon has people over, it’s rarely a small gathering. I started seeing girls I haven’t seen in ages. Apparently, our house on the beach wasn’t the only reunion going on. Brandon planned this event with some other groups of girls we knew in college. If I was nostalgic earlier in the day, I really felt like I was back in college then and there.
When I was playing ping pong of the backyard of the house I heard someone’s footsteps ruffle behind me.
I turned around to see who it was. It was this tall blonde girl named Crista I haven’t seen since graduation. Crista was roommates with Michelle for two years. I remember going over to her apartment waiting for Michelle to get home all the time. I’d sit on her couch, she’d make me coffee and listen to me vent about all of the issues I was facing at the time. She’s always been a nice girl, but we never really knew each other well enough to speak to each other if it wasn’t for Michelle being the glue between us. Crista and Michelle have been extremely close until now, so I generally get the 411 on her life every so often.
“Crista! It’s been forever. I heard you’re out in San Jose now, how you like it there?” I said.
“It’s a lot different than New England that’s for sure. I love it though, everybody’s so relaxed.” She said.
After I beat Brandon in ping pong, Crista and I spent the next couple of hours conversing. Thankfully, I didn’t have to talk to her about Eden. She must have remembered the days that I told her that I wish people would stop bringing it up in conversation our senior year. After a few drinks, I grabbed a six pack and took it to the beach with her. We watched the sunset and walked around. Just a few weeks ago, I would have never thought that I would be able to reconnect with most of the people who were important to me again.
As Crista and I were about to go back inside she asked me,
“Jake, I’ve been meaning to ask you about Michelle.”
“What about her? I’d assume you talk to her way more than me, “I said.
“Well I haven’t talked to her in about a month, but that’s not what this is about. I’m just wondering, why did you never go for her?” She said.
“You do know anything I say is probably going to go straight back to her right? Come on, she doesn’t think of me like that.” I said.
I started getting really uncomfortable. Was this a trap? Why would Crista bring this out of nowhere?
“I’ve just never got it. She liked you, I thought you liked her, but she was always so concerned about you always being in a flavor of the week fling. After Kyla, she just gave up because you wouldn’t stop talking about Kyla,” she said.
I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. Was she joking around? But wait, Crista has always been pretty serious. I recalled the memories I had of when Michelle and I were having a casual lunch and I was resisting the searing pain of asking her back to my room so we could “dry hump just to see where it goes.” I was always so good at resisting Michelle because I was so scared of losing her in my life. I always felt great around her.
“I guess I was always too scared of rejection, especially since we got along so well,” I said.
“Well just saying, up until recently she’d talk about her attraction to you,” she said.
“Can you be a little more descriptive?” I said.
“Grow some balls Jake. Take a risk if you want. I already said too much.”
After about a minute of silence Crista I and started talking about the sunset and how beautiful the Florida Keys were. We went back into the house, spoke a bit more and then went our separate ways. Brandon came up to me and said, “where have you been, some things never change you’ve always been the one to pull a Houdini. I want a rematch in ping pong.”
I went to play Brandon in another round of ping pong. I couldn’t shake thinking about Michelle though. Did I have any regrets about ever putting a move on her? Even though I’ll admit I’ve always found her gorgeous and super intelligent, I had no regrets. I don’t think I’ve ever been mature enough to handle a relationship with her. But what if I tried to court her now? I kept thinking about how she was wearing the bracelet I gave her on her 21st birthday last month when we went to the MFA. I just kept thinking about that moment over and over.
I wasn’t fully able to focus on the ping pong match, Brandon destroyed me. I took the opportunity to make my rounds to everyone I hadn’t talked to yet and hear what they had to say.
That’s how the whole weekend was. It was beautiful to finally look into the lives of other people in a non-professional setting. We spent the weekend on the beach and in the house relaxing without a care in the world.
I forgot to mention, Key West is wild on New Year’s. The main streets are extremely crowded with a bunch of people raging like there is no tomorrow. Surprisingly enough, I took the rest of the weekend moderately easy on my body. I couldn’t stop thinking about Michelle.
As the clock winded down to the New Year, I realized that I hadn’t thought of any resolutions. I thought quickly and said, “I’m going to stop wallowing in self-pity and start actively making steps to feel happy again.” As the clock hit midnight I saw most of my friends get paired up sharing the moment with each other. Paul looked at his wife and gave her a cute kiss. Crista was with her group of girlfriends taking pictures they put on instagram. Brandon came up to me and said, “I’m glad you made it down here Jake. Isn’t it always fun when everyone gets back together?” I told him it was about time to get back to reality. That’s when I thought of another new year’s resolution. I would actively try to keep in touch more with my friends. This trip made me realize that I still did have interpersonal relationships with people.
I spent the night reminiscing with everyone back at the beach house realizing that this was the first time in years I had made it to a group trip. The next morning, I said bye to everyone slipping in that I would try a little harder to keep in touch. Everyone made quick remarks that they know I’m not that good at keeping up with people, but they heard about all the details from Paul.
I had to take a flight straight to Boston in the afternoon to get ready for a client presentation in Manhattan the next day. When I got back to Boston, I realized I should plan out to see Michelle. When I got back home, though, I spent most of the day in my bed thinking about the possibility of seeing Michelle again and how great the past weekend was. Ah, I shouldn’t rush into things so I’ll plan our next meeting for some time in the next month. Who knows, if things go really well we possibly could spend Valentine’s Day together.
It’s been about a week since the New Year and I just recently had another meeting with my therapist. She’s happy about some of the progress that I’ve made in my life, but she warned me that some of the elated feelings I have now might be a result of the New Year and seeing people that I haven’t seen in a long time. She said that I would have to actively work on my relationships and self if I want to continue feeling well. The one thing I didn’t want to hear was that she believed that one day I should revisit Eden as she believes I haven’t gotten closure with it. As for Michelle? I didn’t talk to my therapist about her.
Happy New Year. I hope this year brings me answers to questions I have been asking. By the way I scheduled a catch up with Michelle for the end of the month. True, I could have done it sooner but I have to travel a lot in the next few weeks to catch up on work.
“What if one day we found out that all the languages spoken on this planet derived from the same source?”
I heard her say that in one of the first classes I attended in college. I responded to her and said, “That sounds like an interesting idea. Are you trying to suggest creationism? That idea makes me think of Adam and Eve.”
“No, I don’t think so. I think this idea works whether you believe in creationism or evolution. If the world and humans were created, then humans could have had one ancestry. In the case of evolution, maybe language was such a survival advantage that the only lineage of humans that survived were those that adopted language at some point.”
I looked at her in disbelief.
She said, “I just believe it’s that you cannot separate language from our ability to think. I haven’t really thought about this a lot. This is just my reaction to what I think language can be. Isn’t that the topic of today’s discussion?”
I clenched my jaw. I ended up dropping that class, Ancient Languages, after the first week. But, what Kyla said that day would influence my thoughts and actions for the years to come. Ever since that discussion, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said. For some reason, that question drove all of my thoughts in my spare time. How did language begin? After all it is language that allows humans to express complex thoughts to each other. It’s language that allows us to communicate feelings and ideas to each other. Without it, wouldn’t we be alone? Would we even understand what the concept of what it means to be alone if it weren’t for language?
A part of me always regretted dropping that Ancient Languages class. What I would have done to have another conversation with Kyla. I never even introduced myself to her in that class. I just caught her name during roll call on the first day. My ‘conversation’ with her was just a reaction to what she said. She was sitting about two rows in front of me so she might have never even caught sight of my face.
For the next few months, I’d think about Kyla whenever I would find myself daydreaming on a bench on campus. Maybe I would finally run into her again. I’d introduce myself, say I remembered her from our first day of class and then maybe we would be able to get coffee and speak about linguistics.
That never happened.
I didn’t seriously start thinking about linguistics until my second semester of college. I took a course called Algorithmic Language Processing that changed my life. That course was all about making a computer understand conversational and written language, much like online translators and search engines. Understanding language in a way that makes mathematical sense is a complicated task and this is what this course taught us students to do. My professor was the leading researcher on Natural Language Processing in the world. That’s when a computer can take conversational text and figure out what you are trying to communicate.
The point of this Algorithmic Language Processing class was to take Natural Language Processing to the next level. My professor believed that all languages were extremely similar. Some people believe that language shapes the way you think. You hear people say, “There isn’t a way to say what I mean in this language” or “this idea doesn’t translate well from Japanese to English.” My professor thought this was bogus because he believed that language was an extension of a human brain. He also believed that human beings share neurological circuitry such that we feel the same base set of emotions.
Throughout the entire semester he argued that every spoken language shares the same base structure. He developed algorithms that statistically showed the similarities between the semantic reasoning, classification, tokenization, stemming, tagging, and parsing of different languages. That class was as much of a mathematics and computer science class as much as it was a linguistics class.
I haven’t properly introduced Professor Craig. I was entranced by his work. Maybe it was him that introduced me into linguistics and then into philology. I would go to his office hours to talk about language and words. We would go to coffee shops where his graduate students would discuss their research amongst each other.
One day at a coffee shop, I proposed a conjecture that was even more radical than what he taught us in Algorithmic Language Processing. I told him that I had done some preliminary work showing that it may be possible that all of the spoken languages came from a common lineage. That got Professor Craig’s immediate attention.
He said, “That sounds like a fantastic idea -- but how do you propose you could ever gather enough evidence to support such a claim?”
I took out my computer and showed him a rough program I built using some of the equations I studied in Algorithmic Language Processing. I told him that I downloaded 10,000 books and works of text from the university library’s website. These texts spanned thousands of years beginning with the first documented form of language. Then I used his algorithms to show the statistical similarities between different language structures over time.
Professor Craig interrupted me and said, “I’ve attempted to do work like this before, and then I stopped. I could find similarities but that’s not enough to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt.”
I knew he was going to say that. I had been working for months on one algorithm. Now it was time to show him what I developed. “Professor, I’ve loved your course so far. I want to show you an algorithm I developed. It’s called Eden,” I said. I started to sweat. I had been spending a good amount of my free time glued to my computer and textbooks trying to turn language into a series of computations that could be used to show how language has evolved geographically throughout the planet over time.
“Jake you have my full attention,” He said.
I opened up a file that contained the Eden algorithm.
Before I began college it was always my dream to be a programmer like Bill Gates or Steve Wozniak. I would spend nights tinkering with a computer making programs. By the time I went into highschool, I was writing algorithms because it allowed me to compete in programming competitions. I loved computers. That is until I fell in love with language which led me to study linguistics in general. Then I fell in love with words which led me to focus on philology.
As the algorithm was running, I was explaining to Professor Craig my background on programming algorithms. In advance, I apologized for using some of his Natural Language algorithms that powered Eden. Before I showed him some results that I found, I asked if he had any questions for me. Professor Craig just looked at me, half like I was crazy and half in bewilderment.
I told him that Eden was a set of algorithms that tracked semantic reasoning, parsing, classification and structural changes in languages over time. Each book or piece of writing that I had loaded into the program had a date, language name, and geographic region associated with it. What Eden did was to calculate the formation of complex sentences, verbs, and idea structure as a formula. It was something I hacked together in a couple of months so a lot of my calculations weren’t quite scientific. But I was able to show how language structure has evolved consistently through time. Without going into the details, I argued that I thought I came up with enough preliminary data to show that there is a possibility that all the languages spoken on this planet came from a single tribe that once lived on this planet.
I knew Professor Craig must have thought I was insane, but he kept listening to me in that coffee shop for over an hour. By the time I was done showing him the work that I created, it was night. I asked him if he had any questions. He leaned back on his chair and ordered another coffee. I started to get nervous. It was just then that I realized that all of his graduate students were around the table looking at me with their eyebrows raised. They had been there for the past two hours.
“Jake, I’d like you to do research with me. I’d like to see what you’ve done. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll let you use any of my work and you can own the research you do. I’ve been looking for something like this my entire life.”
It was a start of an amazing mentorship. I spent the summer in Boston working with Professor Craig. I spent months cleaning up the algorithms in Eden. I also started adding more and more written sources to the Eden project. Eventually, I struck up a deal with my university to be able to access all of their online texts to analyze language structure.
In the course of the next year, I turned Eden into a massive machine learning project. Eden’s algorithms would change based on the results it found. Eden would automatically scan any texts my university owned and use that as a part of its internal language base.
As I continued to build out Eden, I kept working under Professor Craig. He helped me publish results based on the findings I saw on Eden. He also helped me talk at conferences. Eventually I made Eden available to anybody who wanted to use it on the internet.
The attention was great. I felt like I was progressing with my life at such an amazing pace. I was totally engrossed with this project which I thought could get me into any graduate school I wanted to go to. I was doing something that never happened before. It was exciting and was a rush.
Then things changed.
I finally ran into Kyla again at a party during my junior year of college. I just wanted to see if she could even remember who I was. I introduced myself to her, stumbling around drunk as usual. We chatted and talked. I told her that I was doing a philology project called Eden. I told her that I was trying to map all the languages to a common source. I was so excited to see if she remembered that first week of college. She told me that the only thing that she remembered about me was that I came in on the second week of class and gave the professor a form saying that I dropped the class. Apparently after I left, the professor asked if anybody else wanted to drop the course they were free to do so. Kyla said that she wished she would have taken up the professor on her offer.
I began talking about Eden hopefully trying to stir up the memories of her comment on that first day of class.
“That’s pretty cool,” she said half not listening to what I was saying.
“Haven’t you ever thought about it. You know if all the languages that we have spoken come from a common source?” I said.
I was trying to see if she remembered the discussion on the first day of ancient languages.
“Not really. The only thing I really remember about ancient languages is that I really disliked it.” She said.
My mind was blown that this one girl that ingrained this idea in my mind did not recall this conversation that shaped the next two years of my life. Wasn’t the joke really on me when Kyla told me that she met me plenty of times before I finally recalled her name that one night we spent the night going around the St. Charles River? During the whole time I dated her, I kept hoping that one day she would remember the first day of Ancient Languages. I was trying to make her recall that memory by talking about Eden, by giving her semantics books, by spending time with her talking about language formation. None of it rang a bell and she was clueless about my endeavors to try to make her remember about a moment that changed my life.
Every time I worked on Eden after Kyla and I broke up, I just saw her shadows everywhere. Maybe I should have told her about the comment she made in Ancient Languages. I can’t change the past, but at the time I wasn’t prepared to handle the lack of enthusiasm and drive that I had after she walked out of my life.
Kyla said, “You’ll never look at me the same way you look at Eden.” I still cringe thinking about how much of a sick joke that statement it.
Eden began and died with Kyla. I’ve said enough.
After a whole month of procrastinating, I finally got around to calling Michelle to meet up with her again. By this point it’s been a couple of months since we’ve seen each other. In my defense, I’ve been escaping from the New England winter by going to Miami a couple of times in the past month for the weekend. I fell in love with Florida ever since New Year’s in the Florida Keys. One of my coworkers lives in Miami so he’s been showing me around the nightlife of South Beach. It’s funny, even though I was being introduced to new people quite frequently I couldn’t stop thinking about Michelle.
Every so often I would think that I caught a glimpse of Michelle in a public place. Of course it wasn’t her, I was in a different geographic region that she was in. When I realized I was having these strange thoughts, I recalled some memories from college with Paul.
Paul would talk about how our thoughts and desires shape the way that we experience the world around us. There are so many things happening at any given moment that your mind has to filter most things out. What you’re left with is a highly subjective version of the world and what is happening around you. Whenever Paul would share his philosophical thoughts with me it made me feel alone, like I was the only person experiencing life the way I see it. Paul thought that there was real beauty the way he described the way an individual experiences the world. He believed that since every person experiences life in such a different way, isn’t it beautiful that people can have relationships with each other and have common experiences that matter in an enduring way? I still think about what he told me on his wedding day,
“We’ve been friends a long time Jake. We’ve had many common experiences but more experiences where we have been apart. Isn’t is amazing then that you and me can both agree that we’re great friends? Isn’t it amazing how we remember many of the same memories out of all the possible memories we have? That makes me believe that this world isn’t a random place. Relationships and friendship are beautiful things,” Paul said to me as a newlywed.
All of these thoughts about non-randomness and the importance of friendship made me think about my relationship with Michelle. I bet she would agree that we are extremely important to each other. I would go as far to say that her and I have been attracted to each other in the last few years. It was time to actuate and articulate the flickering thoughts and desires that I’ve had about her for the past few years.
So here I am back in Boston attempting to meet up with her. I instantly saw the influence that she’s had in my life when I swung my door open. The arrangement of my apartment is all due to her. I called her on Tuesday to see if she was available for Friday night dinner. I told her I had a few things to talk to her about and that I wanted to update her with my life.
“Of course! It’s been too long. Hey, I’ve been feeling kind of bad about how we parted last time. Let’s just pick things up right where they left off,” she said.
I got excited. Come to think about it, I haven’t really been in contact with Michelle much since that day at the MFA. We decided on this Italian restaurant close to where we live. I spend the better part of the week wondering what things I would say to her. Maybe Crista had already tipped Michelle off about our conversation over New Year’s? Michelle did seem really excited to hear from me. My heart was beating faster throughout the week every time I found myself daydreaming about the next time I’d see Michelle. Sometimes I’d feel nervous and at other times I would feel excited.
I flew into Boston Thursday night from Raleigh, where my new client was at, and immediately couldn’t wait for the next day. Before I got ready to meet Michelle even the trivial things that I never thought about were starting to be major decisions. What cologne should I wear? What jacket should I wear? Jeans or slacks? Every detail mattered.
I met Michelle at her front door and saw her smile at me. She looked stunning. She came up to me, gave me an embrace and a kiss on the cheek. I was careful not to breathe too close to her because I had a few shots of whisky to get me relaxed right before I went over to her place.
“Jake, so great to see you,” she said.
“Can you believe we haven’t seen each other after our yearly art museum meeting?” I said.
“Yea so much has happened since then, I have to tell you all about it,” she said.
We walked over to the South End to this Italian restaurant and were seated promptly. We had a tiny table by the front window where I could see the fresh snowfall outside. I ordered a bottle of wine and Michelle and I just started speaking like old times again. I decided to test the scenario that I was walking into out a little bit.
“Michelle, did you ever hear that I ran into Crista over New Year’s,” I said.
“Oh yea, she said you two had a great conversation. She’s always been a fan of you,” Michelle said.
I didn’t know how to read Michelle’s answer. Had Crista updated her on the conversation that we had? Maybe Michelle already suspected that I was going to make a move? I decided to play the conversation safe and just talk about how I’ve been proactively trying to be happier on a day to day level.
“That’s great. You know you do seem so full of energy and excitement today,” she said.
The waiter came back for our orders. I ordered some frutti di mare with fra diavolo sauce. Michelle got the butternut squash ravioli. I just kept looking in her eyes while speaking to her, sipping my wine, eating bread, and talking about how we needed to see each other more often.
I was exactly where I wanted to be right then and there right in front of her. People I know have this preconceived notion that it is amazing that I get to travel to many different locations in a given week. They also tell me that they are jealous of all the traveling I do. In actuality, I would give all the traveling up if I could just feel like I was exactly where I wanted to be instead of just feeling like I should be somewhere else. That’s getting ahead of the situation I was in. I needed to snap back to the music, the restaurant, and Michelle right in front of me. How could I have been so blindsided by the memories of a girl I dated years ago that I did not realize just what an amazing person I had been spending time with for the last few years. My life could have been entirely different with Michelle, but you know it’s better late than never.
I saw Michelle pull back her sweater and she was wearing the bracelet I gave her on her 21st birthday. Immediately, I thought about all the hints she gave me throughout the years.
The food was brought out promptly and as I was eating Michelle finally said, “I have some big news.”
“What is it?” I said.
“So I’ve been really serious with this new guy. I want you to meet him tomorrow. He couldn’t make it to dinner because he’s speaking at a conference tonight at BU just a few blocks from here.”
My stomach sank. Suddenly I wasn’t hungry at all. I had to force myself to chew and swallow each bit of food on my plate. I also had to force myself to pretend I was interested in Michelle telling me all about this guy I wish didn’t exist or ever meet her.
Oh give me all the details. Where’d you meet? What’s this guy like and what does he do?” I said.
Michelle told me that she met this guy online. He was just finishing up his Ph.D. in Anthropology at BU. His research was on tracking the evolution of clan based behavior in pre-societal and current social structures. Michelle kept going on and on about how me and him would get along so well. She told me that I had to meet them tomorrow over drinks. I remember every detail that she told me about him. He took up the remainder of our conversation. After the waiter brought us the check, I realized that I didn’t know what dating website they met on.
That would be the total stinger, for me to have written the algorithm that paired them up.
“Just wondering, what online dating site did you two meet on?” I said.
“YinYang, it’s actually really good Jake, she said.
At least I technically had nothing to do with them two meeting.
“I’ve heard good things about that website,” I said.
Even though I was present for the rest of dinner, I wasn’t actually there. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the events of the day. I don’t remember anything I said or anything Michelle said, which all related to the new guy she was dating. I do remember everything that she told me about him almost to the point like I felt I knew the guy. The worst part about it is that I really liked everything she told me about him, except for the fact that he was dating Michelle. I stayed calm and just put on a mask. I couldn’t do anything but be the supportive friend just like I had been for the past almost decade of my life. If I acted in any way other than that, it would be entirely inconsistent with the person I had established myself to be in the friendship between me and Michelle.
Whenever I’m about to act in a way that’s out of ‘character’, I just hide behind a mask and start acting. Some things are better left unsaid. Even though my chest was burning as I was asking Michelle to keep on telling me about her boyfriend, I couldn’t let her know about my previous intentions for the evening. Nor could she know that I’d been daydreaming about her non stop when she had been meeting, getting to know, then dating this new guy.
After I walked Michelle home, I watched her walk up her steps. As I walked away I saw her turn on her apartment lights. Then I thought to myself, in about an hour Diego would be walking in and being exactly where I wanted to be. Until tomorrow, he’d be a mystery to me. Oh yea, except for the dozens of pictures Michelle showed me of him on her phone.
I had experienced this all before. As I was walking towards my apartment I passed by the used bookstore that Kyla and I shared our last meal in. I grabbed a coffee from that bookstore to keep me company down the cold walk outside. Suddenly the events of the two nights converged and I felt like I was watching the past happen like I was an outside observer on my own life. I imagined the events of the dinner I just had with Michelle and the last dinner I had with Kyla happening at the same time while I was walking down the sidewalk of Newbury Street. Life is full of surprises isn’t it?
At that moment I thought it would be fitting to walk back to the Public Garden so I could overlay this experience on top of the memory I had with Kyla the last time I saw her there. I kept sipping my coffee on the way there and just sat there thinking how delusional I had been this entire year. The worst part about this scenario is that I built it up in my imagination so much.
I wanted to feel pain. I wanted to feel loss. I wanted to cry and feel like my life was falling apart. But I didn’t feel any of that. I felt quite calm, a little disappointed but not sad. I just looked over to the swan boat lagoon and felt a little empty. I didn’t feel lonely, just empty. Not in the sense I was sad, I just couldn’t really think about anything.
I sat on the same bench that I was on when Kyla broke up with me. I imagined that somewhere, somehow, within the mysteries of time I was sitting next to Jake as Kyla was just breaking up with him. We were separated only by time.
“Hey Jake, the next six years are going to be pretty wild. You’ll be back here again but you’ll be thinking about a different girl. Funny the ways things work out right?” I said, imagining speaking to a younger version of myself.
Oh well. At least I didn’t write the algorithm that paired them together. Now that would be pretty bad right? Thank God it was YinYang.
“Please don’t lose hope Jake. Stay strong for the both of us and make it through those next six years,” I said as a tear went down my face.
I sat there on that bench for the next few hours and thought about the word opportunity. I always thought of myself as a person who seized the opportunities that were in front of me. That night, in no way could I say that I didn’t take advantage of any opportunities. I graduated from a great college, I was on my way to a great career, but somehow I felt like I didn’t make the most out of some of the opportunities that weren’t directly presented to me.
For the rest of the night I thought about the word choice. I thought about how the expectations of other people have dictated the choices that I made and the opportunities I sought out. I also kept thinking because of some of the choices I made, I abandoned or failed to see opportunities that I should have pursued.
When I’m at a loss of words, I start spending lots of time thinking about specific words and their meaning. Not just the meaning from a dictionary point of view but what the word means to me in my life. It’s one of those habits from philology that just won’t die.
As my fingers were starting to go numb from the cold, I walked back home with my empty cup of coffee.
Shit. Back to the drawing board.
It kills me that I consider myself to be a very level headed person who plays mathematical odds when it comes to the decisions I make in life. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Michelle was right when she told me that “the odds play me” a few months back. I thought that I was able to get where I am in life right now by systematically playing it safe and betting on the path of least resistance for success. That would explain why I decided to go into a corporate career as opposed to an academic career in linguistics where I would probably never be successful in right?
The night after I met Diego, I did something very uncharacteristic of myself. I started thinking I’m not quite as rational and level headed as I thought. Bear with me here, I bought my first lottery ticket. I spent two dollars on one. You may agree or disagree with me, but for years I have been rallying that buying lottery tickets is a statistically losing proposition that masochistically caters to a person’s sense of hope. The same goes for roulette or slots.
I felt so out of place buying a lottery ticket that I put on a sweatshirt, hid under my sunglasses, went into the convenience store, filled out a ticket, and left before anyone could see me. Buying the ticket wasn’t the strangest part, the couple of days afterwards waiting for the drawing were. For a good 48 hours, I convinced myself that it was possible, if not probable, that I would hit the jackpot and finally achieve my financial goals without having to work another day in my life. Then I could retire to do anything I wanted to do. I thought about what it would be like to write the next American novel, sail around the world, spend time studying words… oh hell then I started daydreaming about how amazing it would be if I could give Eden another stab.
I didn’t win the lottery. Was I upset? Yes, I was upset that I started actually thinking about Eden again. Also, I’m upset that maybe the decisions that I make aren’t always grounded in a statistical understanding of maximizing my outcomes. What was I even trying to maximize these past few years? I have maximized my economic potential given the cards that I was dealt my senior year. Did I maximize other things though? I like my career and the friends I talk to. The couple of things that are missing are a romantic partner and Eden.
The romantic partner issue is my fault alone. I’ve come to realize that I do like to live in a fictitious world in which I spend time daydreaming about a girl who I believe exists in real life. Truth of the matter is I like spending time in my daydreams more than I do with the person that exists in the real world. I came to this conclusion after I talked to my therapist about my last encounter with Michelle. She found it especially interesting that I juxtaposed my memory of her and Kyla the way I did. My therapist said that I’m spinning my own story in which I function as the antagonist to all my goals. I’m still trying to wrap myself about that statement. I’m not sure I believe that my therapist knows me better than I know myself.
You might have caught onto something I said earlier. Yes I finally said it and admit to it, I miss Eden. But why, I really can’t think of any rational reason to why I miss the days that I worked on Eden. I just do, it was something that I enjoyed. It gave me satisfaction in ways I can’t describe.
A few days ago the feeling of nostalgia started overpowering me so much that I decided to take a walk back to campus. It only takes about fifteen minutes to get there from my apartment via the T but it’s been at least two years since I have been there. Two years ago I only went there to go to this one Tex-Mex restaurant Paul was so fond of. I guess my memories of college are so interlaced with Eden, I don’t know how to revisit them so I just have been trying to shut them off fully.
As I walked around campus, I found myself slipping away into memories of the first time that Michelle and I walked around at night along the fresh snowfall. Unsurprisingly, the campus was pretty dead and there we were treading through the snow trying to find some hot chocolate to warm us up.
My memories of Michelle and Kyla were interrupted as I passed by Boylston Hall.
Right then I stopped what I was thinking about, went up the steps leading up to the front doors and stopped about halfway up to sit down on a bench. I sat there realizing that I spent so much time in Professor Craig’s office as an undergrad. Sitting down I remembered about a conversation we had a few years ago right on this bench.
Professor Craig and I would talk about life all the time. Our conversations would generally start on the topic of languages and words and hours later we would end up talking about life in general. Why are we here? How have humans attributed meaning to concepts and been able to communicate that meaning to others? It was a different time in my life in which I was searching human history looking for things to describe my place in the world.
Professor Craig told me once, “You’re young! You have your whole life ahead of you. Aren’t you excited to do something? What do you dream about?”
“I find it strange how people use youth as an excuse to dream. What does it even mean to be young or to be old? What kind of difference does that make on the self?” I said.
Then Professor Craig said something that used to be a part of my daily inspiration, but then ended up being a source of despair.
“People use the words young and old to describe physical and mental conditions. I think the most important distinction between being young and old is in your mental state. Someone is old when that person focuses more on their memories than their aspirations.”
That’s when it hit me. Lately, I thought I hadn’t aged in the past few years. I thought that since it seemed like no time passed since college, I was stuck in some sort of arrested youth. It turns out, I’ve become old. I’ve failed to create new memories or aspirations. I’ve been waking through life accepting many of the decisions I’ve made and constantly reliving the ones that I’ve regretted.
The last time that I could remember the burning desire to accomplish something was when I was working with Punjab on the algorithms for online dating websites. Before that, it was when I was working on Eden with Professor Craig. I wonder what would have happened to it if I didn’t pull the plug on its development.
I haven’t even checked the website since my senior year of college to see how it was doing. I transitioned Eden to Professor Craig before I graduated. While I was on the bench I took out my phone and typed in the web address for Eden, out of curiosity.
I was greeted to a new slick mobile website. I played around with different languages and expressions for a few minutes and thought that the application was much faster and the statistical mapping was much more accurate than I last remember. After a while, I thought of a few ‘linguistic edge cases’, expressions which would make Eden return nonsense because the computer program couldn’t decipher the meaning of what was entered. These edge cases are what made me frustrated with Eden. I fell in love with Eden because I was mapping human languages in a way that was never done before. I got frustrated with Eden because as I kept improving the system and theories behind it, more and more time wasn’t focused on creating new things… it was focused on fixing things that were broken. To my surprise, this version of Eden handled all the edge cases that I remembered with linguistic and statistical beauty.
I stopped and looked at the snow around me. How could I have been so far removed from something that I thought was dead? I thought that Eden died with me but it turns out it was kept alive by a person who really believed in me throughout the years. Great mentors are hard to come by and when you have them you should hold onto their advice and friendship as long as you can.
Professor Craig must have been working on this. From the main website, I found an Eden Blog. It showed that Eden had been referenced in hundreds of linguistics articles throughout the years. The blog also demoed the new functionality that had been implemented into the Eden project. There were new algorithms that mapped languages to advanced linguistic concepts. Some of the things were things I never thought possible, some were things I dreamed about implementing one day back in the day.
I finally hit the about page on the website. It had been changed since the last time I modified it.
Welcome to Eden.
Eden allows you to understand how human beings have connected with each other since the start of written history.
Jake Parker – Founder and Owner
Craig McIntyre – Lead Researcher
My name and title hadn’t been removed from the page. Surely this had to be a mistake. I was finally interested in seeing how Eden had transformed. Even though my name being the founder of Eden was a mistake in the page, it still made me tear.
While I was on the bench, I sent Professor Craig an email stating that he needed to update the about page on Eden because my name was still on there. I also asked him if he wouldn’t mind meeting up to discuss some of his new research. It would be great to catch up.
Why do crazy thoughts always run through your mind while you’re sitting on a bench in the middle of the snow? As I sat there I thought about the irony of a few of my thoughts. While I was thinking about Kyla these past few years and Michelle more recently, these women have been moving forward in their happy and fulfilling lives. I’ve only taken part in very small snapshots of their lives but I decided to make these snapshots the focal points of my life. I’m a secondary character to them. But they became primary characters in my narrative because I spent so much time thinking about them.
While I’ve been keeping myself company and feeling sorry for myself, somebody took the work that I started and created something beautiful out of it. Professor Craig really turned Eden into what I wanted it to become but I didn’t have the discipline or drive to continue working on it at the end of college. I guess he never forgot about me. Here I was telling myself that he mentored so many students, he taught so many classes, and that my work with him was something that he had long forgotten about. Something must have stuck.
Things in life have a weird way of coming full circle don’t they? Lots of things go unnoticed and unfinished but those things that do come back have a way of stinging you.
The ride back home was sobering to say the least. I thought about a lot of things that I didn’t give enough thought recently. Most importantly, I started to think about the word legacy.
The word legacy is very interesting to me because of the many different contexts it’s used in. Most people like to use the word to describe something antiquated or something that is left as inheritance. The way I thought about the word was to think about the gifts that I would leave behind to the world after I die. At the back of my mind it was always Eden.
Sometimes the remnants of what you leave behind grow into something you’d never imagine. The word remnant sounds so archaic and irrelevant. Let’s try this again.
Sometimes your legacy grows into something you’d never imagine. Okay Eden wasn’t my legacy yet, but I was intrigued if there was any room for me to get involved in the project again.
The next morning I got an email from Professor Craig
Jake – Great to hear from you! Come over any time after 3pm if it works for you today. I’ll be in the office until 7pm. If not, I’m attaching my office hour’s schedule. I’m usually here until 6pm every night. If you’ve got the spirit for it, I’ve got a lot to update you on. Hope you like the business world, you’re still doing consulting? I can’t wait to chat.
I usually work from home on Fridays, so the entire day I was thinking about what I would say to Professor Craig. The suspense was killing me, the adrenaline flowing through my blood allowed me to razor focus on the outstanding assignments I had for the day so that I could give my full attention to Professor Craig at night.
At about 5pm I turned off my computer, walked outside, and got ready to meet Professor Craig for the first time in almost five years. I hadn’t been this nervous in such a long time. Worst comes to worst, I would finally get closure with Eden. As you can tell, closure isn’t something that I do that well. It’s terrible, when you let things linger as a part of you always stays in the past when the world around you is in the present. It was finally time to face something that I’ve tried to block out for so long.
I walked down the stairs of my apartment feeling like I was marching towards something important but I couldn’t quite place what it was. My instincts started kicking in and all the thoughts extraneous to Eden started fading out of my mind. I thought to myself, I’m coming home. If home doesn’t take me back, well then at least I’ll be able to put this experience behind me.
I texted Professor Craig that I was on my way to campus, in thirty minutes I’d be back in his office. He texted me back, “you might want to grab a cup of coffee before you come in here.”
En route to Professor Craig’s office, I hesitated while passing by a local bar. For a few seconds, I wondered whether it would be a good idea to pound a few shots to numb my senses a little before seeing him for the first time in years. That’s when it hit me I’ve been consistently drowning out my feelings in important times recently. So I darted in the coffee shop instead.
The warm cup against my hand helped to fend of the Boston cold. Winter affects people in different ways. I caught the T to Harvard Square and began think about feelings and desires I haven’t experienced in a very long time. It’s like the tunnel I was in was flickering me back to a different time and place where I was excited to see what the future holds.
It’s been awhile since I've daydreamed about the future. I've been stuck thinking about memories of the past almost incessantly these past few years. It’s not that out of the ordinary so I’ve heard. Many people have a hard time adjusting to the pace of life post-college.
You spend your entire childhood dreaming of what you are going to be when you grow up. When you finally grow up, you start thinking about all the shit crazy moments where you were forced to make decisions you didn’t quite fully understand. That’s been my experience anyway.
As the T passed over the St. Charles River I saw Boston fade away and Cambridge come into view. Boston and Cambridge are only separated by a bridge about a third of a mile long. Physically it’s not much but to me it’s the world. To me Cambridge is college and Boston is everything else.
When the train passed into Cambridge the memories which I’ve tried to block out for so long found a way to permeate into my conscious thoughts. Did I mention that I avoid going back to Cambridge as much as possible? Twice in two weeks sets a record for me. The train went into a tunnel after passing the river. While underground I thought back to a conversation that I’ve blocked out of my memory.
“Eden could be the legacy you leave for humanity and future generations,” Professor Craig told me on graduation day.
That was the day I told him of my plans of ditching academia entirely. He supported my decision wholeheartedly. He even told me, “Jake if you ever need anything or you change your mind, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m probably going to be here well past emeritus days.”
It was painful to leave all the work that I dedicated my life to behind. Do I regret it? As much as I want to say I do, I don’t. I couldn’t continue working on Eden burnt out and uninspired. If you would have seen me during my last year of college you would understand what I’m getting at. But I’m that friend you forgot about, so you probably didn’t see me.
“Stars burn most brightly right about when they are about to burst,” Professor Craig said.
How do things go from being your inspiration to something you’re tormented by? I’m just starting to understand what Professor Craig meant about the whole stars thing.
I think he was referring to a supernova. What a beautiful word. It was coined in 1931 to describe the phenomena of a star exploding and possibly outshining an entire galaxy before it dies out. Over the period of a supernova a single star can emit as much energy as our sun emits throughout its entire lifetime.
“You’ve done more in four years than most other linguists do in a lifetime. Take time to do something else. Sometimes you have to leave something you created and love. Only time will tell if you can ever come back and love it again,”
Professor Craig would always find a way to relate every conversation back to love. That was the way he determined what was and wasn’t important in life. Why am I coming back? I took a sip of my coffee as the train was slowing down.
Gravity. That’s what this whole thing felt like. I was getting pulled back in.
The doors of the T swung open at the Harvard Square stop. My half-drunk coffee was going lukewarm in my hand and I didn’t need the extra energy so I decided to throw it away at the closest trash can. I walked up the steps to ground level and took the quickest route to Professor Craig’s office. I didn’t want to be late. I only had a few minutes before thirty minutes had past.
Walking into Boylston hall was like stepping back and experiencing a previous version of me. I flashed back and saw the youthful exuberance I had but then I also was reminded of some things I forgot about. People tend to glamorize the past, but I was just reminded of so many memories of youthful recklessness and selective apathy that now seems so distant from anything I’ve recently experienced. Maybe Professor Craig was right when he told me I needed time to explore other things. Coming back it made me realize that I did mature in a way or two since college.
I took my time walking down the hallways and then finally arrived at Professor Craig’s office. The door was wedged open just like always. Before I knocked to announce my arrival, I looked at the articles he had pinned on his corkboard by the wall. I quickly glanced and saw references of Eden. I took a deep breath and knocked.
“Yes? Come in.”
I stepped inside. His office was the same as I remember it. I looked at the corner of the room, where Professor Craig kept pictures of him and his past graduate students. We had a picture together there which I guess he never took down.
Why did I always feel like I abandoned Professor Craig? For the past four years I thought that somehow I let him down and that he was ashamed of me. I felt that I disappointed him because I never continued my study of philology. Judging by his welcoming spirit, I’m thinking that I was wrong about that whole train of thought. We looked at each other like no time had passed at all between our last conversations.
“Professor Craig, it’s been a while. How have you been? Still doing computational linguistics?” I said.
It was the only thing that I could say. Sure, I could have tried to update him on my entire life but I felt like there wasn’t that much to say other than to ask him how he was doing.
“Jake I was wondering when I would finally see you again. I was actually going to contact you before the semester was over because I wanted to showcase how much the ideas you had in your college dorm room have trickled down to the linguistics community. I know you didn’t leave Eden on the best of terms,” he said.
Professor Craig always knew how to make you feel important and understood. I tried to divert a serious conversation by just answering in a way that didn’t leave me too open to an emotional response.
“Who would have thought right? I’ve been doing the whole management consulting thing. I’m told I’m pretty good at it. Honestly, I still do think about Eden from time to time. Last week was just the first time I checked it since graduation. I could never get myself to go back before that,” I said.
“I wasn’t wrong when I told you that Eden could be your contribution to the world. It took me over a year and a whole team of grad students to decipher what you were even doing with that computer code. Since then we’ve been working on honing in some of your initial theories,” he said.
Professor Craig later told me that he was waiting a few weeks to contact me because he finally got to a point where he could take Eden no further. He wanted me to take another look at it to breathe some fresh air into the project. For the past four years he had been working on bringing what he thought was my vision to life. Apparently no other graduate student or linguistics professor had any other ideas on how to radically improve Eden anymore. For that, Professor Craig said he needed another burst of energy from me. If I wasn’t able to provide another creative burst, he would finally consider the project finished.
The talk of Eden seeped into us talking about life in general again. Like always I told Professor Craig about the intricacies of my life. I told him about how I felt like I was a secondary character in my own life. There was nothing in my life that I was doing that could ground me to time as all I felt like I was experiencing were a bunch of disconnected moments. As always, I got a little emotional.
“I’ve been floating around feeling like there’s no gravity to make me feel grounded,” I said.
He was like a father to me. I think that’s one of the reasons why I avoided him for so long. In the back of my mind I always knew the advice that he would give me if I updated him on my life. He would be proud that I was doing well in my career but wouldn’t stop at those superficial questions. Most people I know don’t dig that much past the surface. If I say I’m working at a prestigious consulting firm and that I’m on the fast track to partner, they’ll automatically assume that things are going splendid for me. Not Professor Craig. Within a minutes of conversation, he was already listening to me describe my identity crisis.
He just sat there listening to every word that I said. It doesn’t sound like much but something about the way Professor Craig listens just makes you feel understood. Also, when you’re around him you can’t help but come to conclusions about your life that seem like they are self-evident but come as a result of complex introspection.
“It seems to me like you’re doing great Jake, except you’re missing a little something. I think that something is personal meaning. You know your external facing responsibilities, but what do you do entirely for yourself?” He asked me.
His words always sunk into my thoughts.
I stayed silent. While I was silent, Professor Craig took the opportunity to show me the new source code for Eden. I hadn’t programmed in a long time but it didn’t take a genius to realize how much improved the product was. The algorithms had been cleaned up and everything had been rewritten. It was so new and exotic that I couldn’t help but get excited.
“How can you say I own this, I don’t even recognize the code anymore,” I said.
Eden had grown up without with me.
“Everything was built from your original ideas. We wouldn’t even know this was possible without your work. Do you think that Bill Gates still knows the intricacies of Windows code? “He said.
I don’t know what felt worse. Leaving Eden or coming back to an Eden I barely knew. I started getting overwhelmed and couldn’t focus anymore.
“Jake, I know it’s a lot to take in,” Professor Craig said slowly.
“It’s just that I don’t even know how I can help out. What you and your team have done is beautiful,” I said.
“I’ve never met anybody with your pattern detection skills,” he said.
“Funny you say that, I can’t help but get myself out of the same patterns in my life that lead to disappointment,” I said.
“It’s only because you want to feel the way you do. You’ve always known that. When you’re ready to grow up you will.”
That’s the second time someone said that to me in the last few months. What is it that inspires people to tell me to grow up? I don’t think I’ve told that to a person since I was in high school.
I thought for a while. A career in academia was so far gone that it wasn’t even a possibility anymore. But maybe, I could do a little something with Eden on the side. It could be like a hobby. After some hesitation I told Professor Craig that I would take a look at Eden and see if I could incorporate it as a hobby of mine. After all, I didn’t have a single hobby.
When I’m constantly traveling for work I can’t help but feel that I spend so much time between the places that I want to be. Maybe Eden could close the gap a little.
But how would I even get back into studying and analyzing languages? Did I even have what it takes anymore? All these questions kept piling up and before I could overload myself with doubt I committed.
“I’m in. Let me see what I can come up with.”
Professor Craig looked at me and pumped his fist.
“I have faith in you Jake. I think you’ll surprise yourself with the things you can do. I just have this feeling about it.”
Was I scared? Sure. Was I excited? Extremely.
Professor Craig invited me over to have dinner with his family. He told me that his high-school son had wanted to meet the person who created Eden. Everything was strange, but something about the gravity of the situation kept me steady on the ground.
We walked back connected like old times and I felt like I had no idea what was to come next.
I know it’s crazy, but something about this feels so familiar yet so new.
The last eight months have flashed by so quickly. One year ago, when I started this blog, I put a reminder on my phone for one year later that said, “reread your journey.” I thought that I was at the end of the road a year ago. I found it difficult to find things to live for. I spent more time sulking in my distorted memories than absorbing the beautiful things happening around me on a daily basis. When I first saw the reminder on my phone, I first thought that I wouldn’t find much content in this private blog since I only wrote in it for four months. I wrote most of it while drinking by myself on a first class airplane seat commuting back and forth to work. I’m sure it looked somewhat strange when the passenger next to me caught a glimpse of my bloodshot eyes.
Like Eden before it, I discounted the importance of my work. Rereading this collection of journal entries allowed me to see how I was able to climb out of a period where I was wasting so much time being my own worst enemy.
Sometimes to understand the present you have to understand the past.
Rereading this made me think about randomness again. I’ve written about 25,000 words describing my journey to rediscover Eden. Those words are nothing but a collection of alphanumeric characters and spaces. Reading it, though, instills such a powerful sense of personal meaning. In this world that’s so large and vast, isn’t it amazing that I can find things that matter to me in a very unique way? I’m starting to sound like Michelle, Professor Craig and Paul now. Not quite, I still have some of my pessimistic tendencies. I just don’t think those tendencies are what I should focus on while I’m saying goodbye to this blog.
Yes this is the final entry. I began this blog trying to understand why I was so caught up with Kyla years after she exited my life. A few things happened here and there and I finally realized that I was repressing my desire to see Eden again. You may wonder what’s up with Kyla? A few months ago she gave birth to her first child. That’s all I have to say on the matter. I won’t ever forget her but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever talk to her or see her again. Some things are best left untouched.
It was unfair of me to blame her for all of the issues that I was facing at the time. Like I said I won’t get into the specifics, but she really was great. I was too obsessed with other things to realize that. My therapist told me that I put unreal expectations on her. In my mind she was the one person behind all of Eden’s inspiration, even though she didn’t know it. She existed as an idea in my mind, not a person in this world. I never really tried to get to know who she was. Instead, I tried to force the image I had of her in my mind to her. It’s not a surprise that was met with a lot of resistance.
I also realize the Michelle story was left somewhat unresolved the last time that I wrote here. I was disappointed about how the whole thing happened but I’ve seen her from time to time.
I’ve actually seen Diego much more than Michelle these last six months. Remember how I said he tracked clan based behavior and social structures? We’ve been working on incorporating Eden into his research. He’s also been giving me some great ideas on how languages developed from an anthropological perspective. Those ideas have been incorporated into Eden. We’ve turned into quite the unexpected duo. One interaction that stands out from when we were drinking together is,
“Diego, I’ll cut your balls off if you repeat the following to Michelle,” I said.
“You got some dirt on her or something Jake?” said Diego.
“The night before I met you, I was eating dinner with Michelle in attempt to date her. It ended up being a night where all she did was talk about you. The more she talked about you, the more I started drinking heavily. Congrats buddy, she’s excellent,” I said.
We sat there just looking at each other for a while until Diego said “that’s something to drink to!” I know that was a very weird interaction, but rest assured we’ve been buddies ever since.
Michelle and I went on our yearly trip to the MFA last week to celebrate her birthday. We’ve been slowly seeing each other more often. While looking at some Chihuly pieces of work Michelle took out an envelope.
“Jake, I have something for you. It’s a wedding invitation,” she said.
“Congrats,” I said not shocked about the situation at all.
“I’m proud of you. There’s this ambition and focus that you’ve been exhibiting ever since you started working on Eden again. I knew you’d always come back,” she said.
That moment made me think that I was wrong about many things in life. One thing in particular was that “all relationships expire.” Who would have thought I would have been invited to her wedding? Truthfully, I’m happy for her. She’s incredibly happy. Are there moments in which I wonder what if I made a move on her beforehand? Actually, not anymore.
As for Eden? Since I met with Professor Craig I have been working on it. I haven’t been developing algorithms for it per se. I still have my full time job at the consulting firm. So how have I been working on Eden? This one requires a little explanation.
Shortly after I met Professor Craig, I had to fly out to India to meet with Punjab to work on a client in Bombay. I spent two months there doing a strategic assessment. I got to know Punjab very well after hours and he told me about new cutting edge algorithms that data scientists were developing in the open source world. We began discussing about Eden and I gave Punjab a copy of the source code.
“Be careful with this stuff Punjab, it’s my life’s work. I don’t want it in the wrong hands,” I said.
“Don’t worry Jake, I’ll just take a look on how these algorithms work,” he said.
Punjab came back to me two days later and told me he didn’t sleep at all. He told me that Eden was occupying his spare time.
“What you have done here is somewhat amateur from a data scientist point of view, but I’ve never seen such unique algorithms. Your theories have implications in more than just the linguistic sense. Look at some of the Eden algorithms I used to solve some pure math problems, specifically in manifolds,” Punjab said.
Punjab spent the next two weeks trying to convince me to open source the entire project. What that means is to put the source code freely available online so other people can use it as they please. He also told me that there were computer scientists around the world that would love to contribute to the Eden project.
“It’s just my little contribution to the world Punjab,” I said.
“This is bigger than you, please consider it,” he said.
Punjab and I talked about how I had the experience to lead an open source project due to my years of consulting experience. He said that instead of writing the program myself, I could draw on the world’s talent to bring Eden to the next level. He said that I could then serve as a strategic director for the Eden Project. After much discussion I agreed to look into it.
After I flew out of Bombay, I met with Paul and Brandon in San Francisco for a couple of days before I went back to Boston. The purpose of the trip was to ask them how to open source Eden. They worked in Venture Capital, mainly dealing with technology companies, so I figured they could point me in the right direction. Little did I know they would take a personal interest in helping me figure this all out.
Long story short, with Professor Craig’s approval, we open sourced Eden. I opened it up for any linguist or computer scientist to contribute to the project. In the last six months Eden has become the Wikipedia of the history of language. You have to see it to believe it.
Professor Craig told me last week, “Jake... I’m just going to say, I knew you had it in you. You’ve come back better than ever. Who ever would have thought that what Eden needed was a project manager as opposed to a brilliant linguist to bring it to the next level. I’m proud of you.”
Professor Craig and I see each other a couple of times a month. He helps me write some linguistics papers based research I put together using Eden. That’s what I’ve been spending much of my free time doing. It’s fresh and exciting. What’s the most exciting thing is to see Eden growing without my direct input.
As for me? I still have a few issues. Those are best saved for later though. I meet with my therapist once a month to discuss them. Right now I just want to celebrate the last year of my life and end where I started.
My name is Jake and I’m a 27 year old management consultant. I’m interested in philology and manage the Eden Project.
These past six years have been a wild ride. Here’s to future.