follow tali on ...

the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
JUN
23

The Wall

I recently went through the experience of painting my first wall. Or, more accurately, I watched someone else paint the wall while I hovered in the background rather uselessly, offering to fetch any number of items—brushes, trays, rollers, snacks. I promise I did eventually do some of the painting myself, a task more satisfying than I would have thought, especially given how much prep work is required before you can even begin.

What amazed me about the wall was how much better it looked after we were done. And from just one measly coat of paint. The whole room was transformed, all the obnoxious nail holes and pencil lines gone, as if they’d never been there. Even though, technically, they were all still there. I don’t know, the whole thing just made me think about our own transformations, some of them superficial and really just band-aids to the problems we face (not necessarily good), and some of them completely genuine opportunities to begin again or try something new (almost certainly good).

The latter is the type of transformation I’m most interested in, the one I hope we’re all striving on some level to achieve. Some of these transformations are initiated by us, by our own actions, passions, and ambitions—or sometimes our desires to flee certain places or people who have ceased to be the assets to our lives that they once were. Other transformations are thrust upon us in ways we may not have chosen or wanted, and these offer their own opportunities to grow, adjust, and re-imagine what color, shade, or pattern might be the next path for us.

The comfort to me is in knowing that we’re still ourselves as we transform, all the layers and flaws and previous iterations still there, a perfect record of our past. It’s equally comforting that we can always revert back to these layers should timing or circumstances line up better for them in the future. So much about our lives is within our control—the things we choose to pursue, the ways we choose to spend our time, the people we align ourselves with. Even the jobs we have and cities we live in. The houses we buy. I fully acknowledge those things we cannot choose, and the heartbreak and frustration that often accompanies them. But in instances where transformation is within our grasp and feels warranted—or even essential—we can slap on a coat of something radiant and bright (or even just your basic swiss coffee white) and move forward, ever hopeful, ever determined, ever grateful.

JUL
17

The Traveling Salesman Problem

b2ap3_thumbnail_travelingsalesman_20140718-002930_1.jpg

As a person somewhat prone to annoying things like worrying, perfectionism, and overanalyzing (and also as a person who has seen If/Then), I’m fascinated by the traveling salesman problem, which has to do with determining the best way to make a series of deliveries or stops. I’m by no means a savant for college addresses, commencement or otherwise, but I came across one given last year that opens with this very dilemma, and the mathematician speaker pointed out just how quickly actually determining the “best” option becomes impossible.

With 3 stops, a salesman has only 6 possible routes. Pretty easy to identify the best, shortest one. With 4 stops, we’re up to 24. With 5, we’re all the way up to 120. By the time you reach 10 stops, we’re almost unbelievably up to 3,628,800 possible routes, and with 20 stops, that jumps to 2,432,902,008,176,640,000, a number of options that even if you had a computer analyzing at a rate of 1 Billion routes per second, it would still take 72 years to check them all.

OK, so maybe there aren’t *that* many possible paths we can take in our lives, but I do think we get hung up too often on wanting to determine the “best” path. The best option. The scenario, the job, the city, the spouse, the ultimate combination of circumstances that would be better than all others. What this address did was remind me that it’s simply impossible to know if the decisions you are making, the life you are choosing, is the one that would make you happier than any other. You can do your homework, sure, and you can make some educated guesses based on what you know about yourself and the thing you are choosing. But after that, it’s nothing more than the proverbial leap, and if you spend too long trying to guarantee you are making the “best” decision, you’ll paralyze yourself into doing nothing. Ever. And you’ll regret your lack of action.

Think back to your bible study days on this one, but remember the parable of the talents? The speaker of this same college address tied in this story rather ingeniously by reminding the students that the servant who (literally) buried his talent was cast out. Banished. Sent to hell. Or whatever. The point is, even though he didn’t lose a single cent of that money, the bigger thing at play is that he didn’t even try to do anything with it, so afraid he was of losing it. See, it doesn’t really come down to whether or not we screw up, but life has more to do with us actually doing something, regardless of whether or not what we did was the best possible thing we could have done.

We’ll simply never know what the Best Possible Thing is, so that thing you’ve been wanting to do, that thing you’ve been looking into, that thing you feel like a crazy person for trying even though it’s all you can think about, I say do it.

It’s either that or wait 72 years for the computer to figure it out for you.

Your move.