Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scholastic 2010 -- Read our Stories!

Once again, Writopia writers had tremendous success in the Scholastic Writing Awards! Writers, ages 12-18, from across the city submitted over 3000 creative works in December. In the end, Writopia writers took home 76 of the 500 awards granted by Scholastic this year! In celebration of these young people's hard work, we will be posting their award-winning short stories, memoirs, journalistic pieces, scripts, and poetry over the next six weeks. We are kicking off this celebration with the funny, profound, and beautifully written memoir by Rachel Berger (above, reading her memoir at a Writopia reading last month). Please help her celebrate her success by reading her memoir:

The Hidden Implications of the Ten Dimensions Theory
By Rachel Berger, 15, Scholastic Gold Key Winner 2010

Before I tell you about my brother Isaac, I must tell you that I don't know anything about him at all. He is not a friend to me or even a person to me the way that other people are. More than anything, he is an excuse, hastily fabricated and twisted to garner a laugh. Sometimes he is a lie.

My brother is 6 foot 1. While this is not his most distinguishing characteristic, it is imperative that it be mentioned, and mentioned before any other, because it's the first thing you notice. He has always been taller than me, being two years older, and unless I develop giantism sometime between now and my 20s, he always will.

My brother and I are complete opposites. That's what I tell people, anyway. He's tall, I'm short; he's dark-featured, I'm pale. My grades are consistently high, his notoriously poor. He is the one who my grandfather sits down with, after report cards or after a fine for hopping subway turnstiles, to talk about his "future". I am, at least in terms of grades and criminal record, the model daughter. We take the bus and the subway every morning, each in opposite directions. Even our favorites colors -- red and green -- are on opposite sides of the color wheel. Isaac says his used to be red, until I came along and "stole" it, claiming it as my favorite too. So he changed. From then on Isaac always got the green balloon, and I got the red.

My brother plays guitar. He practices in front of the computer in my dad's old at-home office, where we fought for time at the screen since we were old enough to type. Now we each have a computer of our own. I use mine to do research, whether it's homework or just following my own dorky fancy, to look up words on, to check for updates on my favorite webcomics, and to send emails to my friend in Australia. Isaac uses his to look up guitar chords, to visit facebook, to listen to music, and to send endless IMs. He plays loudly, being of the typical teenage philosophy that music should be felt as well as heard, and it drives me crazy. Maybe I'm spoiled by my school's library, which is kept religiously quiet by our pertinacious librarian, or maybe I'm unusually sensitive to the synthetic chords of a red electric guitar, but I can't stand noise while I work. Confrontation is inevitable.


No answer. My brother's back is a perfect silhouette, shiny black hair merging seamlessly into black band t-shirt. He has grown skinny in the past few months, much to my mother's dismay. Given our history of physical contrast, this development should probably worry me too, but at the moment all I feel is a clawing irritation.

"Isaac!" I say again. Not my inside voice. His face half-turns in recognition, though he does not remove the headphones from his ears.

"I have an English paper due tomorrow," I tell him accusingly.

"I have to practice," he counters.

"Turn it down!"

He does, reluctantly, and not enough. I feel like we're six and eight and I'm asking for some of his cookie and he's breaking off the tiniest fingernail sliver of a piece to share. I want to hurl something at him.
I am not usually a violent person. My brother, however, is exempt from my usually stringent laws of conduct. I don't swear at anyone, but I swear at him. I try to be friendly and diplomatic -- but with Isaac I don't even attempt creative insults. I pride myself on my open-mindedness -- but honestly, how could anyone think that video games are an art form?

I treat my brother badly because I have nothing of value to lose. There's no one to judge in our disputes, nor eyes to shame me if I say something cruel. My brother won't tell my friends what he must think of me -- that I'm a cold, pretentious overachiever who loves books more than people -- because we haven't had a mutual friend since we took communal baths. Our relationship begins and ends with each other -- no strings attached.

My brother and I could go weeks without speaking and months without looking at each other. This was the way it was, and the way it was wasn't worth thinking over. I sought no relationship any closer than the distance between the backs of our desk chairs as we sit at our computers, each absorbed in our own lives. I couldn't bring myself to swivel my seat around to face him. I didn't see the point.

"Hey Rachel, I've got this theory."

I look up from my homework, eyes watering slightly as they adjust to the absence of liquid-crystal luminescence. Isaac is dripping wet and excitable, returned from a jogging excursion in the streaming rain. He slammed the door behind him when he entered the office, and now he is beside me, bright-eyed and too close for comfort. I have barely had time to register that he has just initiated a conversation with me when he starts again.

"Okay: Everything is math," Isaac announces. He looks towards me, then continues in a rush: "Like if you had a huge equation, like a huge math equation, you could tell the future."

I seem to be the first person he has encountered since his epiphany, and I wonder if he expects me to write down what he's saying.

"You'd need a lot of variables," I venture doubtfully.

"But if you had an equation, you could just put anything in one side, and you'd find the answer."

"I don't think it's that simple," I say, clearly skeptical now.

"Well don't take it so literally!" he retorts. "Imagine, just for a second -- have you ever heard of the ten dimensions theory?"

"The what?"

"The ten dimensions theory."

I have not heard of it, and am not entirely conviced he hasn't just made it up. As I type it into Google in

Isaac's still talking, explaining about dots and lines and tesseracts and mobius strips and interrupting himself, finally seizing an envelope from the office desk and drawing out a diagram. I'm intrigued by this point, though I wish he'd sit down. His enthusiasm unnerves rather than engages me. Isaac's sweeping panegyric to Mathematics seems infantile when I remind myself that, only last week, he needed my help understanding x and y coordinates.

"Are you listening?" he asks suddenly.

I nod. "I found it on YouTube," I say, showing him the screen. He shakes his head, the last droplets of rainwater jerking from his hair.

"Don't learn it online. You've got to hear it. I'm just trying to explain it to you the way it was explained to me, okay?"

"No, no, I'm listening," I quickly supply -- the way you'd tell your best friend, for the hundreth time, that she is pretty.

He's eyeing me sideways, waiting for me to say something else. Finally he speaks.

"'Cuz I feel like the main problem with our relationship is that I feel like you don't respect me."

My brother stares at me like he has nothing to be afraid of. I don't know when he became the peaceable one and my control faltered, but his slight frown seems a reprimand. In the brief expectant silence I sense that the tables have turned, that I am the one being judged here, and this infuriates me. Who is he to question me? The uncelebrated older brother whose mistakes I always learned from? The contemptible brother who was caught once with what was probably marijuana, even though he lied to my face about it? What had he done to earn my respect? What gave him the right to play the role model? Does he think that we can be made equals, his the age gap and my years of "gifted" education traversed by mere misguided goodwill? Does he think he can just start talking to me like years of sterile nothing never happened? Who is he?

"I'm listening," I repeat impatiently, asperity masking what is probably -- though I take no time to scrutinize -- something close to panic. What do you say to a statement like that?

Two minutes later, we disagree on the degree of ambiguity acceptable in algebraic equations.

"I get what you're staying, it just wouldn't work," I say, cutting him off.

"Well you don't have to attack me."

"I'm just taking the opposing side to test your argument," I respond, exasperated by his ignorance to debating procedure.

"Fine. Whatever. I --" my brother shakes his head irritably, forgetting what he was going to say.

"Yeah. Okay."

We both turn back to our computers, tight-lipped and discontented. My eyes are trained stubbornly on the screen, but I realize I'm scrutinizing nothing, unable to concentrate. With a final, histrionic grumble of annoyance I escape out the door to my room, nab my cat from her perch at the stairwell, and plunk us down on my bed. I can hear my brother's frenzied guitar-picking downstairs, but the notes are muted, obstructed by glass wool and Sheetrock. The air is a cool relief. I am safe enough now to feel confusion and guilt; to face the possibility that we have both been cheated.

The Ten Dimensions Theory is a very simple, very ambitious theory which starts with a point on a Cartesian plane and works its way up through the 3D world and time into parallel universes. The basic concepts in their entirety can be explained in ten minutes. In the first five, the parameters of our world are summarized and traversed; reality as we know it contained in a single point. Even without the intellectual implications, the ascent is dizzying.

Yet theoretical physics, after all, is only theoretical. No matter how far our minds take us, no matter how many universes we discover, we'll always belong to this one. While infinity stands still, to be thought over at our leisure, there are things happening in the most basic dimensions which continue to elude us, real people who keep changing whether we think about them or not.

I lie on my bed thinking, for the first time in a long time, about my brother. I have a dawning fear that I have disappointed him, and I'm surprised to find that I care. I wonder why he chose me -- if he knew, when he explained the Ten Dimensions Theory, what he was really trying to say. It's not something I can figure out in a night. I wonder when our relationship became a relationship.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This essay is so beautiful. I heard you read it out loud last month and was blown away. Reading it now, I remembered exactly why I loved it. Congratulations, Rachel!