(from Montage, The Toronto Mensa Newsletter, March, 2013)

Applied Mathematics

Feedback to this column is becoming an adventure. I started the last article with something deliberately neutral and inoffensive, the winter months. Before it was published I mentioned this theme at a Mensa gathering. There quickly ensued a heated discussion about a more equitable system of numbering dates in the calendar: eliminate 13’s and add more lucky 7’s? Eliminate 4’s and add  more lucky 8’s?

I’m sure someone can figure out how to do this, but I hope there is no such change in my time. I like to keep practical things simple, as in Flaubert’s quotation, translated from the French: Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your art.

I’m not sure what “bourgeois” means in this context. If it means “middle class” there is the implication that an artist can afford to live that way. If “bourgeois” had been translated I wouldn’t have had to figure out how to spell it. I suppose that was good for my brain, though.

The Brain

They say it is important to keep the brain healthy by creating more synapses. Learning new languages and doing certain kinds of puzzles help with this. I suspect I am benefiting my brain at the moment with the temporary use of a cane.

The cane’s real purpose is to keep me tolerably comfortable during the long countdown to hip replacement surgery. With the cane in my left hand I step normally with the left foot and then use the cane together with my right foot for the next step. The idea is to lessen the pressure on my right hip by putting some of my weight on the cane.

Doing so, however, puts unbalanced pressure on the left hand, arm, and shoulder, affecting my back muscles and posture. Of course my brain is affected, as well. After surgery there will be more changes: weeks of rehab, during which I will have to remember to avoid bending the new hip in certain ways.

Ultimately I will learn to walk normally and be able to behave like the energetic person I fancy myself to be. All these adjustments will surely refresh my brain, though likely in a more primitive area than the cognitive.

Health, Stealth

Everyone knows it is a good idea to maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight takes a toll on the body, in my case, raised cholesterol and unnecessary pressure on the joints. My doctors and I agree that I am carrying more than a mere 4 or13 excess pounds. But when I’ve mentioned this once or twice to others I’ve been met with an astonished look: You’re not overweight at all! And I am astonished to hear this.

I reflect on our changing context.  Looking at the people around me I don’t seem out of place. But in a photograph of my aunt’s wedding party in 1945 everyone is slim. And some are smoking in the photograph, even the pregnant person.

A woman I know recently lost weight, and I asked how she did it. I have to admit I didn’t really listen to her reply. I was being sneaky, hoping for a quick tip that would be picked up directly by the extra pounds. The pounds would just slip off quietly without any attention on my part. That hasn’t worked yet, but it’s still early days.


This column is currently my major prose writing: whimsy is serious work. I was happy to get feedback from a blog reader. Referring to my December 2012 post about the square cake, she pointed out that on a round cake one could arrange the candles in a spiral or an asterisk. That got me wondering: which is preferable, the prettier or the more rare?