I dream about places with water. When I biked around San Pablo reservoir a few weeks ago, I found it terrifyingly less than it was before. I hadn’t seen it ages; the water sat low and still. The former shores were rimmed in white, like the salt that perspiration leaves on clothing. I wanted to take a picture of San Pablo reservoir and force every Californian to look at it. We are so used to having everything–from the redness of the year-round tomatoes to the intuitive ease of turning on the faucet and watching clean water run out of it. We are blind to disaster because we don’t know what it is.
We are also blind to familiarity. Or at least, I am. I explain LC circuits to students, over and over. It’s kind-of fun. I wake up early and get excited by how smart my professor sounds when he talks so quickly and so intelligently and so Britishly (quantum dynamics explores all possible trajectories!) but later, I struggle with my motivation and my homework. I read the title of a paper, but beyond the first few sentences I lose interest. I’m sure I’m missing things that I should be seeing, but everything just passes by. I’m trying to find something to do; I have at least ten tabs open on my browser, most of the time.
Social media permits you the illusion that you are not losing touch with the people you loved. This winter, I went very far away, to places with water, to see people in person. I went from somewhat-familiar company in a very familiar place to very familiar company in an only somewhat-familiar place. I laughed with my friends. I remembered I have friends! I used the small toilets. I ate the cheese and the bread. I rode a tire swing like a eight-year-old. I tasted that strange and frustrating high I feel when surrounded by a language I do not understand. I saw wonderful things, like famous art, like mountains, like teeth I recognize. I saw gruesome things, like famous history, like dog shit on the sidewalk, like the preserved bones of saints. Being photographed by a hundred iphones.
Today, in Northern California, it rained. For a while it was the even real rain, the kind in my dreams. I had felt like writing for a while, but doing something not-physics would pang me with guilt. Doing physics is a bizarre privilege. I have no material problems– the problems I spend time thinking about are all on scale tinier than I can really even imagine. It is dangerous to trick oneself into thinking that while death and drought can distract, it all comes down to the movement of charge. To be better at physics, I have to do not-physics, too. I have to remember how I used to think.
The meteorologists say it’s not enough. They are right. Nonetheless, the world looks new in the rain.