Fireflies, Home-Cooked Meals, Mathematics, & Mona

The day after rendezvousing at Rittenhouse Square in Philly, I felt sluggish, weary, cold, and uninspired. It took me a large portion of the morning to tap into my unknown energy reserve, then heave my typewriter over to the Princeton’s farmers market.

Sometimes all it takes is connecting with the right person to help you chart a course away from negativity and alienation. It wasn’t until Mona heard the dings and clacks of my typewriter that my outlook was, thankfully, altered.

The first time I typed at the Princeton farmer’s market, I met several people. Two immediately stand out in memory. There was Mika, who I no longer consider a stranger but an amazing friend. There was also a German woman living part-time in Princeton. I’ve forgotten her name, but certainly not her grace: she gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers after I typed her a poem. I took those flowers home as my first decorations, their fragrance and colors brightening the room I’ve been living in for the past few months.

When Mona came up to me, I remember quickly registering her warmth. She has an enthusiastic calm which resonates curiosity, generosity, and a willingness to share. We talked for quite a while about a myriad of things: she was in Princeton with her husband, Donu, a mathematician who is working with IAS (the Institute for Advanced Study) until early next year. They’ll be off to Paris for a few months come January. I told her about my crazy scheme to somehow get to Paris and live/work at Shakespeare and Co., the famous bookstore. Instead of discounting my dream, she told me to look her up once I flew into town.

After meeting, Mona posted the poem and photograph on her Facebook. Her friend Stef saw the post and decided to send me a thoughtful donation: “I hadn’t yet read your poem for Mona when I was made to feel happy by her post about your meeting. Particularly due to the gorgeous photo. It was your smile which did it for me.” I don’t think she knows this, but her donation came at a time when I really needed it. I was brought to tears when it slowly registered that the email wasn’t spam and that Stef was an actual living human located in Scotland who had seen a picture of me and my typewriter and thought to give something in return.

Typewriter Poetry - Billimarie - Mona's Dinner
Dinner at Mona’s. Photograph by Kunal.

Mona invited me to her temporary but cozy home for dinner several nights ago. I had the pleasure of eating a delicious home-cooked meal among amazing individuals: her cousin (Aatish), her husband (Donu), and my friend Kunal (who offered to take the picture above). From love and mathematics to traveling and poetry to India and Spain to the outdoors to family and friends–I’m delighted to have had such an evening filled with inspiring conversation. I shared the story of how I fell in love with fireflies when I first arrived in Princeton; Aatish shared his incredible photos of firefly and star trails. We were both in wonder over the pleasant peculiarities of the insect, neither of us having much experience with fireflies until we came to Princeton. I learned about Aatish’s work as a teacher and science educator while we all compared thoughts over citizen science and crowdsourcing projects like Galaxy Zoo (something I had read about in the book Macrowikinomics). You can find Aatish’s blog over at Wired.com (Empirical Zeal) or follow him on Twitter (@aatishb).

Fireflies and star trails. Photograph by Atishb (@aatishb).

Mona, like many I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with, offered me an intangible safe-haven through her presence and spirit. I am fortunate to find I cannot even come close to recalling the number of times these types of interactions happen. I like to think of them as epiphanies in the form of fellow human beings. They can last as the briefest of blinks, or for a series of moments, or even through interrupted intervals spanning an entire lifetime.

Me and my low tolerance for bewilderment. I don’t know what life is like without the compassion and generosity of others. I only know this one, the one I am in awe of. Everyday, something amazing happens–and every encounter, though seemingly mundane, is merely waiting for the chance to be set aflame.

Typewriter Poetry - Free Poetry - billimarie - princeton - Mona

Being of the world, we are
complicated by concepts. What
does it mean to be an artist,
a scientist, a mathematician?
Tell me where the line ends
and where it begins; or if
it is not a line, explain
to me the circle which
holds us all. Better yet
let’s reconnect
our stars
and keep wandering
for wondering hearts.

november 13th 2014

Typewriter Poetry - billimarie - Princeton - Farmer's Market
Free Poetry at Hindz Plaza, Princeton. (Photography by Mona)