on projects

•23 November 2020 • Leave a Comment

I have many projects. Over the life of this blog, I’ve explored a number of different aspects of my engagement with my projects. What this number is, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s a reasonably large number. Even for this Project Blog, I have a page in the journal where I collect ideas for possible future blogs.

I’m not precisely sure why tonight has become the night of project contemplation. Perhaps it’s the fire in the corner of the room, orange flames dancing on logs that are slowly disappearing. Perhaps it’s a bit of wishful thinking, looking towards the end of the year which is still some weeks away. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my old friend and colleague, procrastination.

I’ve not devoted as much time as I would like to my mathematics recently, but in part that’s because the past few weeks have been devoted to teaching, and the teaching has (I think) been going pretty well. But come the new year, there should be more time for the quiet contemplation (that word again) of the warped geometric spaces I explore when I have the time.

A few years ago, almost four I think, I set myself a reading project – to read Sir Richard Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. It took a year, some Nights every day, and it sparked some interesting ruminations. The next year, I set myself another reading project and I read the complete Vonnegut.

Last year, I set a more ambitious target – read humanity from the beginning. I am still wandering through the streets and wild places of ancient Sumer, and I will be wandering there for some time yet, because there is much to see and much to read. I have learned two lessons from this. One is that ancient Sumer is a fascinating place, worth the time spent there. The other is, do the research before setting a reading project. And so while Sumer persists, I will spend the next month looking around for the 2021 reading project.

I haven’t mentioned writing projects, but there are many. Stories mostly written and (dare I say the words) the novel. This is where Procrastination has made its home.

The past months have not been helpful months for my relationship with my projects. But there is now some light, albeit the tunnel remains. I can see glimpses of space, and I can see the possibility of projects being brought to an end. And so, what can we say but, the work continues.

stories of Zen: the muddy road

•12 November 2020 • Leave a Comment

The past few years, and 2020 in particular, have been extremely hard on my personal practice of Zen. I am very much an amateur, doing some reading and some solo practice, and needless to say, recent events have proven to be very distracting.

One of my personal sourcebooks is Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a Collection of Zen and pre-Zen Writings, brought together by Paul Reps. One of my favorite stories is 14. Muddy Road. Two monks, Tanzan and Ekido in this version, are travelling after a heavy rain. They come across a swollen stream and a washed out bridge, and a young woman unable to cross. Tanzan, the older of the two, carries the woman across the stream and sets her down, and he and Ekido continue on their way. After some time, Ekido upbraids his older companion; they are monks, and they shouldn’t go near women. Tanzan then says, I’ve already set her down; why are you still carrying her.

I think about this story a lot. My head constantly buzzes with things other than what I am attempting to focus on at the moment, but more than that, I find it difficult to set things down and walk away from them.

The world at the moment is a swirling maelstrom of complications and distractions, of events far beyond my control to influence. Amidst all of the complications, it is hard sometimes to see clearly, what are the things to set on the side of the road and what are the things worth carrying. What are the things that need to be carried.

A small, non-political aspect of this is something I’ve written about before, namely the List of Things To Do. Like most others, I have my list of projects, some with deadlines and some without. I have set some (few) projects down on the side of the road and walked away, but I have difficulty even here not pausing and looking behind me, wondering what if I were to go back and give them one more chance.

I recognize that this is drifting away from the core of the story, and there are analogies that I am tempted to stretch and push beyond their capacity to maintain their internal cohesion. But I do sometimes think of Ekido as the angel on one shoulder, telling me what I should do, and then I think of the angel on the other shoulder, whispering that those things left on the side of the road still deserve my attention, and it is a difficult voice to still.

But still it I must. Each day brings new opportunities, new projects, new ideas and new possibilities, and yes new deadlines. However long I’ve carried them, there are things to be set down and left to their own devices, so that the weight of all of them doesn’t sink me into the road.

windows into the past

•25 October 2020 • Leave a Comment

Mom has been doing some cleaning over the past few years, and from time to time she sends me pieces of my past that she’s come across. Most of these relate to high school or university days (for instance, multiple copies of my university graduate programme, in a box on a shelf), but occasional she finds something properly interesting.

Over the weekend, she sent through a report written at the end of my second grade year, in the summer of 1972. I won’t go into the details, and it has been interesting to reflect on some of the points raised therein, but rather than these specific details, I’d like to spend some time perambulating around the fact of having such a window.

These occasional reports, this recent one and others previous, as close as I will ever come to having a conversation with the young Jimmy, on the cusp of 8 years of age, a time long enough ago that my memories resemble snapshots of moments more than moving pictures. And for those incidents that are formative if only because they’re the moments and memories that persist, we have to accept the possibility that decades of reviewing those memories have corrupted the tape.

I think about this whenever I read history. I’ve recently finished The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark, a detailed account of the discussions and deliberations that took place across Europe in the few years leading up to the beginning of World War I in 1914. I enjoyed the book and the exquisite level of detail, but even here we have only what was written down and what survived, and we can only speculate on the conversations of which we have no record.

The farther back we go into our collective human history, the more pervasive an issue this becomes. The written record becomes thinner as we go back through the decades and centuries and millenia. And it’s not just that the record becomes thinner; it’s that what is written becomes more focused on particular areas of our past lives. This might be why we appreciate the individual voices from the past that sometimes arise, in documentaries for instance.

It’s this I think that lead to the reading project I set myself a couple of years ago, to read human writings from the beginning. I am still wandering through the streets of ancient Sumer. I listen to stories whose context I don’t yet understand. I wonder about the events and beliefs that sit behind these stories. And I ache to know what stories we told to each other and our cousins, sitting around fires tens of millenia ago, and what echoes of those stories still inhabit our stories today.

some useful images

•23 May 2020 • Leave a Comment

Over the years, I have accumulated what I feel are some useful images, that I used to help me make sense of some frequently encountered aspects of life and work.

1. One of the twelve labours of Hercules, traditionally the second, is the slaying of the hydra, a multi-headed serpent. (And I hadn’t realized that in some tellings of the story, the hydra was created purely to defeat Hercules. The things we learn.) For all but its one immortal head, two new heads for the hydra would grow in the place of each head cut off, and it required Hercules using a torch to cauterise the stumps to prevent them regrowing.

The image that came to mind is of email as our own personal hydra. For each email to which we send out a response, we then have two (or more than two) additional emails in the inbox. And what I don’t have most days, is a torch.

I do like as well the version of the telling that includes Hera sending a giant crab to distract Hercules, once she sees him prevailing with his sword and torch. It’s tempting to speculate on what the giant crabs that wander through my days, and who is my Hera.

2. Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a wasp whose larvae take control over its prey spider. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a fungus whose larvae take control of the behaviour of its prey ant. I’m sure there are others, but there are days when I feel that aspects of the roles I play are treated me like the spider or the ant.

It’s an interesting topic for ponderation, because it’s something many of us have felt; that we are acting, but without knowing fully what’s causing us to act.

The next step in this ponderation is to start identifying what I might do to prevent the wasp or the fungus from taking hold in the first place. This I think is a negotiation that I need to have with my work; I understand that in the workplace, I am subject to forces that are not entirely (or even partially) within my control. But I also feel that I can learn to moderate, though perhaps not entirely control, these forces. This will require understanding them more deeply than I do now.

3. Surströmming is a fermented tinned Swedish fish product, a newly opened can of which is believed to be one of the most putrid foods on earth. Cans of this should be opened under water.

Every once in a while, we come across complicated issues in our professional lives. Some of these are complicated only because they’ve been allowed to ferment over time, whereas others are complicated just by their nature.

The image I take here is the need to be careful in unpacking these issues, so that they do not explode once they’re punctured. Or if they are going to explode once punctured, then at least under water, they’re under some small amount of moderations.

The interesting questions then become, how can we tell whether the issue we’re dealing with is one of these cans, and if we decide that it is, what is the under water that we then need to open it safely, so as not to do wider damage. These will be different for every issue, but accumulated experience gives us tools to help make these decisions.

4. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy saga, Zaphod Beeblebrox at one point finds himself inside the Total Perspective Vortex, which shows him his place in the universe. [SPOILER ALERT] Fortunately for Zaphod, he was at the time in a bubble universe created solely for him, and the Vortex just reinforced the view he had of himself.

So what is the Total Perspective Vortex of academia, or of aikido, or of writing, and how can we without creating our own bubble universe, how can we survive these Vortices?

Each of these areas has multiple Vortices and each Vortex is its own swirling maelstrom. For me, the best way to survive the Vortices is to never enter them in the first place, as escaping a Vortex requires navigating a labyrinth, and we may not have been unspooling the thread to allow us to find the exist and we don’t know what our Minotaur might be, if you’ll give my mixing of images.

a meditation on things I have read

•10 May 2020 • 2 Comments

Some long time ago, I read a story that rang a chord that’s continued to echo through the years. The story was set in a society in which everyone wore masks, in public and if I remember correctly, in private social occasions. They wore different masks for different moods and different situations, and no one showed their biological face, for lack of a better term. Unfortunately, as has happened before and will happen again, I don’t remember how long ago I read it, or where.

As a side note, before going back to the main theme, it would be lovely if there were a searchable database of stories. Stories like the one mentioned above, or others that I’ve remembered and written about, that I would like to go back and reread, but I don’t know how to find them. I don’t know if we could build such a thing,

As I remember, the story contained no memory or explanation of why this society had come to this point of wearing masks. But in light of our current circumstance, I can see a path along which a society forget its faces.

For a bit of time, we may well become such a society, wearing masks in public, and though in retrospect we could easily have imagined it, one path to such a society is less mucky than it used to be. Masks are becoming more common, required in some places. In the darker corners of our imagination, we can speculate on a path through time along which masks become acceptable, a fashion statement of sorts, and fashion can develop an inertia.

But I don’t want to spend too much time speculating on masks; we’ll see over the coming months and years how our future develops.

Rather, I’ve become curious about the prescience of science fiction. This half-remembered story of masks is one, which might or might not predict some aspect of our future.

But this led me to another moment of connection between our world and a fictional world, this time the remade Battlestar Galactica. Dirty Hands is an episode in series 3, about the refinery ship that’s part of the human refugee fleet. Those people who happened to have been put on that ship during the initial flight from the Cylons became essentially trapped, working the dangerous jobs on that ship solely because of fate and regardless of their talents or desires.

Watching the news struck a chord with this episode: stories of health care workers, those people working in stores and delivering groceries, warehouse workers. People who have to be at work, rather than working from home.

And from here, it is only a few steps to our modern variant of India’s Net, the interconnectedness of all things. One evening, I contemplated the services that support our modern world, and our dependency on all of them, much as the Galactica and its fleet were dependent on the refinery ship.

In a sense, this extreme interconnectedness and dependence is a symptom of the world we’ve built over time. I don’t grow my own food and I don’t weave my own cloth, I don’t generate electricity and I didn’t make the bricks of which my house is built. I am but one node in some vast interconnected net.

the rise of the machine world 2, with teaching

•26 April 2020 • Leave a Comment

Each year, I realize that little bit more how much I love teaching. I realize how much I enjoy taking a small piece of the mathematical universe, digesting it and showing my students all of the strange and wonderful flowers I have found growing along the sides of our path. I am reminded of how much I enjoy the engagement with students, inculcating in them in the joy of mathematical exploration.

What does this have to do with the machine world? Through one lens, it can be viewed as a manifestation of an old story of Issac Asimov, The Feeling of Power. These days, a retelling might result in a cautionary tale a la Skynet and the Terminator, or Colossus, of outsourcing aspects of how we understand the world, and gifting the machine world with dominance. When it was written, though, while it was a cautionary tale, it was a hopeful tale, with humanity slowly, painfully, discovering its gifts.

And what does all of this have to do with my teaching? One of the readings I give my students is The Feeling of Power, because I like to be reminded each year and I think it’s a story worth everyone reading. We make us of our colleagues in the machine world, to undertake calculations beyond for reasons of practicality our ability to do ourselves. But I make use of the machine world with the understanding that we might get out answers to our questions, but we still need to provide for ourselves the reasons why those answers are actual correct answers to our questions.

Mathematics has for some time been an experimental science, wherein we can use the machine world to conduct our experiments, under our direction. We take the outputs from these calculators experiments and we can then formulate conjectures about the behaviour in situations far beyond our ability to calculate, and we then try to construct the arguments that allow us to pierce the veil of the logistically practical and make statements in truth about the infinite.

And this is what I work to share. The deep intellectual joy we can find in our quest, in our exploration of the infinitude of possibility. The harnessing of the power of the machine world to assist us in our quest. The use of language to provide short cuts along the path of understanding, and the exploration of the subtleties of that use of language.

And now, I go to write the next lecture, the next episode for my students, taking them a bit further along the path.

how the little green men might defeat us humans 5

•13 October 2019 • Leave a Comment

Up to this point, we’ve been exploring this general topic by considering human internalities: what are the aspects and traits about us as humans that might provide ways for the little green men to bring us to our collective knees.  We will come back to these internalities, as there is much much more to explore, but today, I would like to consider some of the externalities that could be brought to bear.

I have not done much in the way for formal research, on this post or on the others in this particular series.  There is a lot of research to be done and it is research that should be done, but I’m taking the opportunity to speculate, pulling from my memories ideas that have stayed with me, variants of some of which I’m trying to work into my own writings.

Perhaps for instance the little green men, who might be none of the above, come to our solar system but remain out in the Oort cloud.  If they were able to calculate sufficiently well, which one would hope they would be able to, then they could be patient and drop well-aimed rocks from the Oort cloud into the inner solar system.

Here, we encounter a potential discussion of aesthetics.  Might they reshape the rocks into shapes or compositions of relevance or importance to them, or would they use the rocks in their raw shapes?  Might they accept the greater challenge of playing billiards with the moons and planets, for no reason other than that is what they feel like doing?  How much damage, for instance, might they be able to do with a single well-aimed rock? And yes, I recognize that this this is drifting into supervillain territory, but I think that might be unavoidable given the topic at hand.

There are variants of the dropping a rock theme.  One that I have never been able to get out of my head is the narratively simple but physically challenging variant of attaching an engine to a rock and accelerating it to some appreciable fraction of the speed of light.

I think the reason this sticks with me is that all of the disaster movies that I love that involve asteroids and meteors, like Deep Impact and Armageddon and Meteor, and the innumerable others, always give us the time to react, to build and equip a ship to go forth and meet the offending rock.  But with a rock moving incredibly fast by our usual standards of movement, there would be no such opportunity.

There is another idea lurking in the bushes here as well, the idea that if something is difficult given our current capabilities, then in some sense it’s legitimately and properly difficult.  I come across this from time to time among my students, more the mathematics students than the aikido students, but I am less and less willing to accept that it’s true. We practice, we evolve our understanding and as we do so, our threshold of difficulty changes.

But there’s more than dropping rocks on our heads.  One of my favorite movies from my early days is the Andromeda Strain.  An alien microbe, for lack of a better term, finds its way to Earth via one of our own space probes sent to collect (as we’re now doing with comets, but that’s another exploration entirely), and it starts misbehaving, at least for a time.

Given the technologies that we’re currently developing, it would be relatively straightforward for an alien species to hire the expertise of human genetic coders to so nefarious things, and it wouldn’t even be necessary to attack humans directly.

Some of these things might not involve an external agent.  A book that I dimly remember, and that I need to read again, is Toolmaker Koan by John McLoughlin, which as I remember it explores the basic issue of civilizations developing tools and technology more quickly than they develop the ethics and sensibilities about using those tools and technologies.

This is an issue that we read about every day, and have since we first developed the ability to sterilize the surface of our planet.  Artificial intelligence might one day find its way into this list of tools and technologies, to go along genetic engineering, nuclear power and even perhaps the internet.  I would probably put human psychology on this list as well, and I would be interested in knowing what things you would want to add to this list.

a reflection on the shapes in the universe

•5 July 2020 • 2 Comments

There is a shape. There are of course infinitely many shapes, the universe being the wildly complicated place that it is, but this is a particular shape.

This shape has shadows of circle, triangle and square in three perpendicular directions, when illuminated by a bright light. It’s a simple shape, akin to a wedge or a door stop.

The circle, triangle and square are important shapes in some theories of aikido as basic shapes that we use as a scaffold for our movements, but that exploration is for another day. I mention this here because this is where I first encountered this shape, and this shape is the starting point for the thought I’ve set myself to start exploring.

Let’s start with an obvious statement. Most shapes, when illuminated in three different directions, have three different shadows, and so having a shape with three different shadows is not a surprise.

However, even here, there are mathematical questions lurking in the shadows, as it were. For instance, suppose X is a shape whose shadow in every direction is the same; what can we then say about X? A lot of work has been done on this question, and perhaps one day I’ll gather myself sufficiently to produce a summary. But as a teaser, while circles and spheres have this property, other shapes do as well.

We can also shift our perspective and view this question from a different direction, and this is what I would like to explore here. Our starting point is the observation that the question we’ve set out above has a direction to it. We start with a shape, we shine a light on it from different directions, and we see what shapes emerge as shadows.

But we could also ask, take three shadows. Does there exist a shape whose shadows in three (perpendicular) directions are these three shapes? Just asking this question, we are taking our original question and we’re inverting its direction.

My intention here is not to answer this inverse question, as I haven’t yet done the work I would like to do to understand the answer well enough to explain it here. That is for another day.

But looking back, I can see echoes of this question ringing though earlier days. This is in some sense the basic question of Rashamon: the testimonies of the different witnesses are the shadows, and we wish to understand the original shape, the event witnessed.

This is also a basic question that underpins the foundation of my mathematical life. Looking back, there are several questions that I have explored through a number of different papers. For one, the limit set intersection question is one that I started exploring in my doctoral thesis and is a question I’ve kept coming back to. Over time, the question has continued to grow into broader contexts, but I still have the feeling that all of the work done provides different shadows, and it isn’t clear to me that we yet have a clear view of the shape at the center.

And in the writing I’m doing, which is mostly half finished versions of stories at this point, I can see the same phenomenon at work. There are a few basic shapes that are lurking, and all of those half finished stories are the shadows.

If I am honest, I can say that part of what stands between me and finishing are the desire to see the shapes rather than merely the shadows they are casting. But I realized something during a long drive today.

I have been dancing with my unfinished stories for too long. The only way I’ll come to see these shapes is to first come to see clearly their shadows. And that is my task for the rest of the day.

the rise of the machine world 1

•22 February 2020 • Leave a Comment

We are living through an interesting and potentially frightening time, and this is not a new aspect of life. Arguably, every time in human history has been an interesting and frightening time for those who lived through them. We’ll ignore here the obvious reason that we cannot see the future and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

We create. Over our history, we have developed remarkable technologies: writing to allow for the further creation of systems of governmental control; knapping flint to create knives and axes; steel and gunpowder to facilitate the killing of one another. And much beyond. The technologies themselves are neutral, and what is important is how we use those technologies.

And now, we are creating something else. Watching or reading or listening to the news, we see example after example of how we are training the machine world to be the Skynet in our future. And there is a part of me that wonders, why. But only a part.

We do like our conveniences. Amazon recommends what we might want to read next, Netflix what we might want to watch next and Spotify what we might want to listen to next. Books and films and bands as yet undiscovered, brought to us by the power of algorithms that spend all their time watching and gathering and evaluating. We have come to enjoy allowing machines to mediate between us and the world around us.

Even more than this, we train our machines to recognize us by our faces and how we walk. We train our machines to read our handwriting, license plates and the printed word, and to make sense of the stories we tell each other.

Soon, we will have no place left to hide.

We’ve been writing about this moment for decades. We have been making movies and television about this moment for decades. We have been speculating about the form and motivations of our coming machine overlords for a long time, and we have explored a vast number of possibilities for how we will subject ourselves to the rule of machines.

But I’ll admit, what worries me isn’t the Singularity, machines developing intelligence and deciding that it would be more appropriate for them to be in charge than us.

No, what worries me are machines trained to follow rules but without the intelligence to know what they are doing. What worries me is the possibility that we come to be ruled by overlords that are the manifestation of algorithms trained by the data we provide, but just a blind algorithm.

I am sure that I cannot reasonably estimate what’s been written about this particular topic, and it isn’t one that I’ve yet explored. On the one hand, I now have another topic for reading and study and exploration. On the other hand, I’m tempted to use this as a door to walk through to explore my imagination. And perhaps I’ll take this latter route.

zen and the art of time management

•9 February 2020 • 2 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about time management recently, spurred on methinks by the press of meetings and other commitments that fill my days. I have colleagues who will from time to time let me know, in ways subtle and not so subtle, that they feel my diary is already sufficiently full and I shouldn’t add anything new to the mix.

Setting this to the side for the moment, I do feel that one of my great challenges of the present moment is making good use of my time.

Many years ago, not too long after I joined the university, I went on a time management course. I don’t remember much from that course, but there is one thing I do remember, which is the admonition never to pick up the same piece of paper twice.

It’s a quaint memory, from the very early days of the internet, before email and other means of messaging replaced the pieces of paper that we were then constantly circulating to one another. But it’s a quaint memory that contains some significant truth.

It’s not the picking up of the piece of paper that’s the issue. Bringing this old memory into the present day, it’s the effort we spend to bring a task into our focus and consciousness, and then take the task out again without making any actual progress. And having spent some time recently being reflective and watching myself, I do this a lot.

On the one hand, it’s related to something I think I’ve mentioned before, which is the computer science notion of thrashing, where a computer spends all of its effort swapping data and instructions in and out of its memory, without making any progress on the calculations at hand.

But I want to take this in a different direction. Instead of thrashing, I want to think about mindfulness.

At its simple core, mindfulness is living in the moment. I’m not an expert at zen by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve done a bit of reading and I have come to see the value in focusing on this particular moment, rather than the moment just past or the moment to come.

In how it relates to time management, mindfulness might then be focusing on the piece of paper I have just picked up. The task at hand. The task that I don’t want to do, at least not now. The task that gathers weight and an inertia of its own as I time and again pick up the task and set it down again.

And this I think might be a lesson to take from this reflective speculation. Pick up the piece of paper and deal with the task on the paper, or in the email, or if the task is a large one, advance it.

This is complicated for me at the moment. I am working again some old habits that have dug themselves in deep. I’ve talked in earlier posts about procrastination and about the power of habits. And so I have some work to do, in terms of retraining some old instincts and creating new means of addressing the tasks at hand.

more about the Stone Ones

•8 February 2020 • 2 Comments

So after my last post, I’ve been thinking more about the Stone Ones from Gilgamesh. They have only a very brief appearance, but an important one, being part of Gilgamesh’s journey across the Waters of Death to meet Uta-Napishtim, the immortal survivor of the Great Flood.

Perhaps this comes from all of the other appearance of stony creatures that have appeared since. There is the Golem; there are the stone skinned beings from Game of Thrones; Frankenstein’s Adam isn’t a creature of stone but it is a creature nonetheless, even if one perhaps more intelligent than its creator.

There has been some speculation on who, or what, the Stone Ones were in actuality. Anne Kilmer in Crossing the Waters of Death: the Stone Things in the Gilgamesh Epic, speculates that the stone things are part of a method for moving boats in shallow water, by throwing a (stone) anchor and then pulling the boat along.

But for me, and this might just be me, misses a basic point. I’m not sure of the actual Sumerian (or Akkadian) word, and so I don’t know whether the correct translation is Stone Ones or Stone Things. But Gilgamesh falling upon them and smashing them seems to me to indicate something more than Gilgamesh smashing stone anchors, that could be replaced before he and Ur-Shanabi started on their journey.

So I want to believe there is something more interesting here. When I first read Gilgamesh, and when I just reread it, I had the image of moveable stone statues on Ur-Shanabi’s boat, helping Ur-Shanabi propel the boat to the opposite shore of the Waters of Death.

But this makes no sense. Animate stone statues are not the sort of thing that make any sense on a boat. And this just adds to the whole air of something unusual.

So what might the Stone Ones be? I love the image of the animate stone statues, themselves immortal and immune to the effect of the Waters of Death, But if such existed, then surely there would have been mention of them either somewhere else in Gilgamesh or in some other Sumerian epic. My reading of all of Sumer is its early stages, but I’ve not seen any mention of them in my other reading.

I am operating with very incomplete information at this point, but I am struck by their one brief mention in Gilgamesh. One of the speculations that I have carried with me for a long time is the belief that we might carry echoes of stories from deep human time in our stories, and I’m wondering whether this is the case here.

What references from Gilgamesh, perhaps the Stone Ones, perhaps Enkidu, are echoes of much older stories? What strikes me about the Stone Ones in particular is their singularity, and I remember something that I read somewhere, that it is the unusual and the singular in our old stories that we need to pay attention to.

It is the unusual and the singular that we remember as the important elements in our old stories, as they might be the elements that we have some reason to remember, even if we have forgotten why we need to remember and even if we’ve forgotten what they actually mean.