Jason Hagins
Jigsaw Puzzle

Ten-thirty, but Daddy says all time is relative anyway, depending on where you're looking at it. So I guess about 10:30 then. But I know it's about 10:30 because Mario's dad just drove up across the street to pick up his mother to go to Physical Therapy like he always does at about exactly 10:30. Then they go into The City — San Jose — to their appointment. Usually he waves when I'm outside, but this time he didn't see me. Things I notice in the summer when school's out.

Things I do. I try to "Point My Brother," that's what Mom calls it, because he's only four, and has trouble being pointed, and I'm seven. He grins a lot, and counts things. When it's warm, I point him to the wading pool in the backyard. I say, "Ari, follow me," and that's how I point him. He grins, and counts his steps there. Besides that, he just acts normal. Aristotle Bonfoy he was named. He laughs a lot, too. I try to help him when Mom gets busy. Until Daddy gets home early because it's Summer School, about exactly 2:30.

Another thing I do. I set Mom's music. I can Boot Up the computer, and Ari grins and sometimes laughs when it makes a 'whoosssssh.' She tells me what Playlist she's in the mood for, and I go to the Rhapsody and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and then it comes up. Today was "Space Day." That's the one I don't like because it's too boring. It's Pink Floyd, Daddy's favorite, and David Bowie, and other weird stuff. I like "Surf Day." I like to say the names, like The Beach Boys, and Dick Dale and the Deltones. Dick Dale and the Deltones. And I like saying The Ventures and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Daddy doesn't really like "Surf Day," but he likes "PUNKin' Pie" and "Indie Anna," and he especially likes "Space Day." I think it's pretty boring. It goes slow, and it goes and goes. Mom goes slow today, too. She was up late, and worried, she told me. She didn't read this morning. She likes to read Hemingway. I like saying that one, too. Hemingway. It sounds like water. She says she reads because she used to be a teacher. Now she's mom, and used to be a teacher.

"Are you ready for Dad's tape yet, honey?"

"Yes. Outside. Bring it here please."

Dad. Professor Bonfoy of the Physics Department of San Jose State University. He tapes his lectures for me in the summer so I can hear him all day, even though I like being outside. I hear him easily, except when it's Playlist time.

"Which one?"

"The last one. But bring it outside, because I can't hear it over the music, Mom."

"This one is called 'Music Strings.' Sound good?"

"Lisa listen to tapes five days-in-a-row, Mommy." Ari counts tapes, too. He counts my name, too, like how many times he says it. That's three today, he's mumbling to himself again that it's three today. My name is really all capitals, LISA, named after Laser (Something) Space Antenna, Daddy talks about it all the time. It's even on my birth certificate, but nobody says it like all capitals, they just say it normal. At school, it just says 'Lisa.' My Daddy says about the time I'm old enough to understand the name it's going to tell us all about Gravity Waves In Space-Time and we'll know more about God. I know some about God, but not that much. Dad says Stephen Hawking believes in God, and so did Galileo, and so did Aristotle — but a different God — that's how my brother got his name. My brother believes in our God though.

"Is it playing, Mom?"

"I'm getting it ready. Hold on."

"Tapes again, Mommy, five."

"I know, Ari. Daddy's tapes. You want Daddy's tapes, too?"

"Daddy's tapes, too. Five."

My Mom thinks she has a lump. Ari grins and sometimes laughs, and Mom thinks she has a lump. She's not sure though. That's why they got in a fight today. Ari didn't know why, he just looked around everywhere, and started counting how many times my Dad said my Mom's name. Seven. I don't know where the lump is.

"Here you go, honey."

My puzzle again, finally. I took a break like Mommy says I'm supposed to sometimes. The beginnings of the lectures are boring, just telling the kids what they are supposed to do and read. I'm starting with the top of the puzzle. Most people start with the edges. So do I, but I do some of the edge top, then some of the edge bottom, then some of the edge right-hand side, then some of the edge left-hand side. Top, bottom, right, left. Like God. My Daddy says his job is to "Read the mind of God." Somebody else said that. He always says things that other people say. My Daddy said people sometimes get lumps when they're 37. But usually it's okay.

The streetsweepers are late today. It's usually about exactly 10 when they come on Fridays, but today they're late. I wave to them. Usually. When it's summer. It's the boring part of the lecture anyway. The streetsweeper gets louder as it comes near, Daddy told me that's the "Doppler Effect." I think that's another thing that other people say.

I do my puzzle on the lawn so that Ari won't try to help. If he helps he just grins and looks sideways at it, and puts the pieces together right, but VERY slowly. I can't stand watching him. I have a hard time because he does work from the edges, but he has to work in the exact order that other people do, all the way around the edges one-piece-at-a-time, not in the up-down-right-left way that I like. On the lawn it's easy today because Daddy mowed it yesterday. It's mostly smooth, but still has little ripples. He says it looks like Space-Time, and calls them the "Ripples In Space-Time."

Listen now, it's the good part. . .

. . .but in an intro class like this one, I want to keep things slightly more simple. The strings that we talk about in String Theory can be thought of like vibrations that we normally hear in music. We'll get to that later. But the point of the strings is what I want to get to first. When we discussed Einstein, Heisenberg, and the others I mentioned how important the idea of a Grand Unified Theory, or GUT, was. I never really went past explaining that it was a long and painful attempt by physicists to find a theory which could unify Einstein's General Relativity with quantum mechanics; in other words, to unify the theories about the biggest and smallest components of the universe. Einstein talks of the big things, the wider universe, while particle physicists talk about the smallest parts of the universe. We talked about how nothing was working to bring these two theories together until String Theory came along in the 1960's.

Then I get bored and think while I do my puzzle. Daddy talks about strings all the time. He says they're like the strings on his guitar, but those strings are easier to see than the ones he talks about. He says the strings connect things all over the place. Like right now an old lady is turning off the sprinklers on her lawn, and that means the strings of water stop and sit, and Mommy just stopped to sit and rest because she's tired today, she doesn't read to herself like normal, and her head just went down under the window when she sat on the couch, and maybe the strings of water are tired and just sit on the lawn. Ari's not tired, but he's sitting with Mommy, and his head just went beneath the window too. Mommy reads to Ari sometimes. But not Hemingway. Ari just grins and looks around. Sometimes he tells her how many words she reads. And a car coming makes waves of sound reach over to me like those strings moving, and then as it passes it's louder, Daddy's Doppler Effect, and then it passes. I feel the car go by, not just hear it, but I don't feel when people walk by. That's the strings you can't see. Like if the world was maybe always windy, but sometimes you couldn't feel it.

. . .so psychologically it is nice to think of the world this way. The sense of interconnectedness is so much stronger than in a Newtonian view of the world where atoms are more discreet, separate. Strings give us a sense of connectedness, a sense of the operative power of nature in which actions have effects which, in turn, produce other effects like dominoes. We still believe that the world moves in entropic fashion, that is, toward disorder. You know this from the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Hawking looks at it like a cup which is in order sitting upon a table, but in disorder when it's smashed to pieces on the floor. We can readily and easily move from the state of order to disorder, table to floor, but it is very difficult, often impossible, to go the other way. Someday you all will have kids and understand that example a little better. Or my daughter, the one I told you all about, named L.I.S.A., who loves doing puzzles. A puzzle can only be put together properly one way, but there are millions or billions of ways in which it can be put together improperlyŠso it goes with the probabilities of the universe. There is still a great deal more movement toward disorder than order.

My puzzle is a pretty one. Daddy got it for me. The first time I was doing it I kept going up-down-right-left, but I kept on getting the wrong pieces, and there are some that fit together, but not so easily so you're not really sure if it's right, and then later you think it's not right, so you take it apart, but you're not sure. Like that. So it's hard. But it's pretty. It has darkness all around the edges, with little white stars that are only little flecks on the bigger pieces. It looks like paint got splattered on the whole puzzle. Then when you get toward the end, you can see the white horse with the "Flowing Mane" as Mommy called it. In the picture it all looks together, and you can see the maiden riding on the horse, and it's a really dark night. Mine just looks like crazy pieces on the lawn right now, but it's supposed to look all together by the end of the day. And there's a beautiful castle in the background, and she's riding away from it, and she looks serious. She's all by herself, the maiden.

Daddy cut the lawn yesterday, but it still pokes through. I like that because it's a little harder to do my puzzle, and outside you get a little wind sometimes, and that's fun too. It makes it fun if it's harder. On the bottom I'm getting to the horse's feet now, the bright white feet, and on the sides I'm almost to her tail and mane. By noon, when Mr. Larson walks by, I want to be mostly done to show him. He's old, and he likes seeing my puzzles in the summertime. He takes his dog out for a really slow walk so he can "walk off his lunch" that he has at 11:00. He says old people eat early. He says he has "breakfast the night before."

Mommy got off the couch, I can see her head coming over the window just a little bit, just blonde hair pulled up in a bun with a little bit dangling out. Ari is mumbling.

"A hundred and thirty-seven, Mommy."

"Very good, Ari. But what was it about, Honey?"

"A hundred and thirty-seven words."

"What was it about?"

"Zoo. Animals. A hundred and thirty-seven words."

. . .the interconnectedness of the strings can be thought of like musical notes vibrating on the strings of a guitar or a violin. Depending on where you push the string down, the tension increases or decreases when it is plucked. If I play my A-string on my guitar and leave it open, it makes an A. But if I push it down on the 3rd fret, increasing the tension, it now sounds a C. On the fourth fret, it's a C-sharp. I can follow this all the way to the 12th fret where it begins again, but the point is that it's still the same string, just different amounts of tension producing a different resulting sound.

"Space Day" is at a really boring point, and it sometimes distracts me from Daddy talking. Right now it's just "Major Tom, Major Tom," he just keeps on calling for "Major Tom," and sounds really sad. It's probably sad because Major Tom's kids won't see him again and he's floating in space. He's a string that got cut loose, and maybe isn't connected to the others anymore.

Noon now, or about exactly noon, waiting while Mr. Larson walks down the street. He's too light to feel or hear him coming, but I can see him. He looks really small from far away, just some paint splattered in the air near a tree, just hanging there. But he gets bigger as he gets closer. The strings don't connect your eyes the way they do your ears. Maybe that's why some people don't believe them as much as other people do. He's old, and walks slow, kind of side-to-side, like a teeter-totter.

I'm still not done. I only have all the outsides and part of the castle, and the mane and tail. That's because Mommy said lunch would be late today because she's moving slowly because she was up late. So she made me eat a Power Snack. I hate Power Snacks. I think if you eat, you just eat. Who needs a snack? But I had to stop the puzzle and have cheddar cheese and crackers and grapes, and I watched through the window. It didn't get windy, and the puzzle stayed the same. It was about exactly 11:15, and that's when Taylor's mom always takes him to his piano lesson on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He always walks out all slow with his head down, and sometimes shaking, and his mom always says something like, "Come on Taylor, we've gotta get going or we'll be late" or something like that. He doesn't seem to like the piano much. Then they leave in the big white SUV and he sits way in the back by himself because he has no brothers or sisters, and he's just all lonely back there.

Now Mr. Larson is closer, still going slow. He's like an inch big now, only four houses away, and his dog is jumping up-and-down. He's always excited to see me, I think. When he barks, Ari's head comes up above the window again. He gets excited and counts the barks.

"Mr. Larson, three barks."

"Does Mr. Larson bark, Honey?"

"No, doggie. Six barks."

"Good. Can you see them too?"

"No. Just hear them. Seven."

My Mommy turned off the lecture while I was getting my snack, and I had to listen to the "Space Day" again. I got tired of hearing time "slipping, slipping, slipping" into the future. Slipping, slipping, slipping, how many times slipping? Daddy says we could someday remember the future too, like how we remember things that happened before, but we don't know how yet. He says Stephen Hawking would say that. That's another thing other people say. I say it would just be the future then, but it would be a different future, so of course we could remember what's going to happen tomorrow since it will be like years from now when we're remembering anyway, but he just laughs when I say things like that. He says I'm "Too smart for my own good." He says that's the "Anthropic Principle," but never tells me what that is.

An analogy to violin or guitar strings is quite helpful, and more elaborate than my earlier example. Essentially, what he says is that if you could peer into the heart of an electron you would see a string, not a fixed particle. The string is basically fluid in form in that if you pluck it at a certain strength it could become a neutrino; pluck it at a different strength, and it could become a quark; pluck it at 10 different strengths, and it could become 10 different subatomic particles. This would seem to complicate quantum physics, but it really just opens us to the idea that, like notes in a musical scale, there is no fundamental string, note, or particle — A is no more fundamental than G or B-flat. So the laws of chemistry become "melodies"; the universe can be viewed as a symphony of strings. To me, the necessary basis for this is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It is impossible to say that we know anything certain about events in the world, or the people in it. All objects in the universe become subject in some way to the influences around them. And we are formed by the influences around us.

Sometimes it is hard to understand Daddy. I forget to do my puzzle and just think about what he says. Mr. Larson is full-size now, but still a small old man.

"Hello, Lisa." He walks side-to-side more, not all in one piece.

"Lacy's walking me, today. She gets excited when she gets near your house."

"Fifteen, Mommy. Sixteen. Seventeen."

"Be quiet, Ari. I'm petting the dog."

"Still barking. Nineteen."

"Make him stop, Mr. Larson, or my brother will never stop counting."

"Enough, Lacy."

"Are you walking off your lunch?"

"Yes. Lacy needed to get out. She gets too cooped up sometimes. What puzzle is it today, sweetie?"


He nods. "Okay. I'll be on my way. Tell your mother I said hello."

"She's moving slow today. I think she's sad about something."

"Maybe you can cheer her up. Goodbye now."

He walks away slower, because of the dog. Side-to-side still, not all in one piece. My Mommy says old people walk like that usually. She has a lump, and she's tired today. Ari stopped counting. If I stand up, I can see her in the kitchen. Her back is turned, and she's starting to make lunch. I think she's still sad, but now she's busy, too. Usually, she makes lunch faster. But I don't think I can finish my puzzle before we eat.

"Mommy, what time is it now?"

"Two-twenty. Daddy should be home soon. He said he'd be home around 2:30, after his office hours."

It's summer, so Daddy gets home early. He usually comes home when it's hottest and you have to squint when you look up. I'm always squinting when I hear the truck driving up, and I hear it coming all the way down the street. If I'm paying attention, I can hear it before I can see it, then before it looks full-size, like when it still looks an inch big, I can hear it really loud. Then when it's a few inches big I can feel it, before it's full-size. I still haven't finished my puzzle. Because of my brother. I had to "Point Him" to the wading pool because it was hot, and Mommy was "Checking Something." She wouldn't tell me what, and I couldn't really tell, even though I was peeking in her bedroom window while I pointed Ari. I just saw her back, and she was poking and pushing like when the doctor checks your heart. She didn't look sad in the mirror this time, she just looked. Then I pointed Ari right to the pool, and he counted 38 steps outside to the pool, and then he got in. He doesn't really care if the water's cold. Then I watched him swim. He mostly just flopped around, and touched the sides, and grinned. Then he counted how many times the dog next door barked. It was 33. Then I barely sat down to the puzzle about 10 minutes ago, and Mommy put Daddy back on, and now there was no playlist on anymore.

. . .My two guitars can also help illustrate the point. There's my normal 6-string, but I also have a 12-string guitar. With that one, each of the strings is doubled, but at a different octave, one octave higher-pitch than the regular string, except for the high E which is just doubled regular. So when I pluck an open D, for instance, I am actually plucking two strings. Both sound a D, but one is an octave higher than the other. You can't possibly say that it is the same sound, even though musically they are considered equivalent to each other. Or every eighth key on a piano is the same, but they have only the same sound relative to every other note in that particular octave, not to each other. This is because somebody, somewhere along the line, decided that it worked better to have twelve notes in the octave, including sharps and flats. But it's totally arbitrary, a human construction.

This is all by way of saying that time and space are also human constructions. With time it's obvious. I mean, what does "B.C." mean to somebody who has never heard of Christ? Yet people used B.C. to measure time for hundreds of years. But I would posit that string theory does the same with space. Who is to say that San Jose and San Francisco are separated by anything real? Just because our senses cannot perceive San Francisco while standing somewhere in San Jose? By this standard, we are closer to the sun than San Francisco!

Strings connect! What happens in one place absolutely affects another. Especially when we think of modern transportation. I can't see Los Angeles from San Jose, but are there not roads which connect to create a cohesive route between the two? How do we separate anything in the universe? The same with people. People with each other, and with their environment around them.

Daddy says people are connected all the time. He says if I listen to his tapes, then he's here. He says if I don't listen to his tapes, then he's still here, whether I believe it or not. He says if I make a mess, or look at boys someday, then he will know because we're all connected that way. I think he just says that.

My puzzle is almost done, but I'm too excited for Daddy to come and I can't concentrate. All I have left is the princess, the one who is riding alone away from the castle. But Daddy would say she's never really alone.

"Lisa, honey . . . can you come in here?"

I have to leave my puzzle now, but it's not windy yet, and I can finish later. I see Mommy's hair above the window again, just a little bit.

"Not at the window, honey. Inside."


She looks sad again, or a little worried. Ari is still just grinning.

She says, "Your daddy is worried, and he's going to be home soon. He thinks I might be sick. He thinks the lump you heard me talking about might mean I'm sick. But I feel fine, honey. I'm fine. Daddy just got upset, and he wanted to be sure. So we're going to make sure as soon as we can, I promise. Do you understand."

"I think so. I don't know."

"I know it's difficult, honey. Just be patient."

. . .So what L.I.S.A. will someday help us do is to connect the biggest and the smallest components of the universe. It could directly detect gravity waves in Space-Time which would help prove the inflationary theory of the universe, thereby proving what we know about the Big Bang, and ruling out any rival theories of the Earth's origins. Along with this, it could help to prove that the many symmetries of string theory are indeed correct in their predictions of the subatomic world.

"I think Daddy's home."

The truck is still only a few inches big, but I can feel it now, but not as good as I can outside. The puzzle still sits there. The lonely princess is not quite put together, but I can always finish it later. Daddy's home now, because it's hot outside, and I have to squint a little to see him, and I can feel the truck in the driveway.

"Dad's home, 2:30. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, summer."

"That's right, Ari. Daddy's home."

"Dad's home, 2:30."

My Daddy carries his big backpack home with him every day, but not today. Today, he just has his keys jingling. Today he walks in slow, and looks at Mommy. He usually kisses me and Ari first, but not today, he just goes over to Mommy and asks her how she is feeling. He never stopped moving, and he left the door open, but he still moves slow, just like Mommy did all day. He hugs her, and puts his keys down. They're just standing there for a moment with lots of arms and hands and everything and all together.

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