We here at Greenwillow are big fans of Andrew Smith, and we thought it’d be a hoot to introduce him to our own Emil Ostrovski, whose debut teen novel The Paradox of Vertical Flight was published this past fall. The following memorable, thought-provoking, and at times mildly profane (PG-13) conversation ensued.
(Oh, and guys, nice blatantly transparent attempt to get Greenwillow to think it’s futile to play the lottery—every time a jackpot exceeds $200 million, we are totally in it to win it!)
Andrew Smith: Uh, do you really believe all that shit?
Emil Ostrovski: Haha, well “all that shit” is pretty broad so I’ll try to narrow it down a bit:
- I believe everything we do in life is an act of faith, from rolling out of bed to stealing babies to fighting off imaginary bears.
- Although I think I understand the solution to Zeno’s paradox (basically, infinite divisibility doesn’t make a number infinitely large. Rather infinite divisibility is perfectly compatible with finitude), I still think there’s something Zeno got right. Part of the problem is the difficulty of talking about what a number actually is. To see what I mean, try explaining what ‘the number seven’ is to someone. Anyone.
- Facebook simultaneously comforts me and depresses the hell out of me. I like that social networks make it easier to keep in touch with people. But by making it easier to stay in touch, they highlight the fact that we are, nevertheless, growing apart. And the reasons we’re growing apart have to do with our priorities and values as a culture. We’re taught to think of our lives as individual, private affairs, of our success in life as independent from the success or failure of other people. In fact, we derive a sense of our worth by prevailing over other people. By beating them in sports, by going to better schools, by getting more prestigious, higher-paying jobs, and so on. When this makes us feel empty, we combat loneliness with an obsessive attachment to a fairy-tale notion of love, and often search for this ’one true love’ at the expense of relationships we already have. The way we think about the world is such that we would find it terribly creepy if a friend we’ve known for a long time told us he or she wanted to be our “life partner,” not in a romantic sense, but in a let’s-not-lead-separate-lives sense. Yet we find nothing creepy at all about the idea of “love at first sight”—in other words, an overwhelming feeling of intimacy and need for a person that is a complete stranger to us.
AS: As far as this concept of eternal return is concerned: If I’m reading this right, since the probability of my winning the lottery is greater than zero, and time and space are infinite, then as long as I play, I will win the lotto, right? So I should stop spending money on food and shit like my kid’s undergrad tuition, right? Did that hit a soft spot?
EO: Haha, well, in theory, if time and space are infinite, and matter is finite, then specific arrangements of matter will recur infinitely many times, sure (barring, say, the heat-death of the universe). Which means that not only would you be guaranteed to win the lottery, you would be guaranteed to win the lottery an infinite amount of times.
While you will win the lottery an infinite amount of times, you will also fail at winning the lottery an infinite amount of times. And because the chances of failing to win are better than the chances of winning, the infinity of failures will exceed the infinity of wins. I daresay that using eternal return as a gambling strategy may therefore make you infinitely more miserable.
AS: Admit it, The Paradox of Vertical Flight was nothing more than an elaborate scheme on your part to never, never, be asked by anyone at any moment in the infinite span of time to babysit, right?
EO: Hey, it worked didn’t it?
AS: I have a feeling that some of the undergrad philosophy papers you wrote were a bit twisted. What say you?
EO: Oh, I broke all the rules of paper-writing. I invented my own forms of citation (MLA and APA have got nothing on me), and never used footnotes, or endnotes, or notes in general (kidding, sort of). Sometimes I would talk about what I was eating while writing the paper (a snickerdoodle cookie, for instance). The main question I tried to address in my ethics final exam was why it would be wrong for one of my friends to, in the middle of dinner at the cafeteria, reach across the table and strangle me (or vice versa, though let’s be honest, I weigh like a hundred pounds, so I’d be unlikely to be the one doing the strangling). Also, for my entire last semester, I was obsessed with camels, and managed to work camel references into a good chunk of my coursework. It was pretty awesome.
AS: I need to know more about the bear on the yacht.
I mean, its Tommy’s yacht. How should I know why in the world he had a bear in it? I’m not exactly a specialist on sea-faring bears or anything.
Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several young adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Winger and The Marbury Lens. He is a native-born Californian who spent most of his formative years traveling the world. Grasshopper Jungle, to be published February 11, 2014, is his seventh novel, and Greenwillow can’t recommend it highly enough.
Emil Ostrovski emigrated to the US from Russia when he was two years old. He graduated from Vassar College in the spring of 2012 and is now attending Columbia University’s MFA program for creative writing. His first novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, was published by Greenwillow Books last September and is available at booksellers everywhere.