In honour of Pi Day, here is Ariadne Jensen’s letter to the Chudnovsky brothers. Ariadne is my own creation but the Chudnovskys are very real. This little piece is from a book manuscript under consideration.
To Gregory Chudnovsky and David Chudnovsky from Ariadne Jensen
December 27, 2013
Dear Dr. Chudnovsky and Dr. Chudnovsky,
I find it enormously daunting to write this letter. How can a person of average intelligence have the temerity to communicate with the likes of you? And how can I expect you to attend to my words, even if I express myself succinctly? Yet I press on, for I believe even the briefest message from you may give a certain dispirited young student the boost he needs to continue with his studies. You see, he is a fan of yours; it is from him that I learned about you.
I refer to best friend Leo Ellison. He is in his early twenties while I am in my fifties. Some people, including his mother—particularly his mother—
think our friendship makes no sense. However, I am certain you would not question our devotion to each other for a moment. Indeed, Doctors Chudnovsky, your insistence on working together throughout your adult lives, in spite of the resulting lost professional opportunities, causes me to believe that you do not think it anybody’s business who keeps company with whom. Look at what the two of you have achieved together. Not just anyone could calculate pi to about a jillion digits, by using a homemade supercomputer that you kept from overheating through measurements taken with a meat thermometer. (I understand “pork” was the optimal temperature setting for the machine. ) Who but the Brothers Chudnovsky could solve a wool-silk-and-silver-threaded medieval tapestry problem through the use of a vector displacement map and warping transformations (whatever those might be)? My point is, you have accomplished all these feats despite the challenges of starting a new life as emigrants to the United States when you were 26 and 31 years old, respectively, and also despite the fact that one of you suffers from the debilitating autoimmune neuromuscular illness myasthenia gravis.
Not only are you geniuses; you also know how to surmount adversity and carry on with important work.
I do not suggest that Leo is a genius. Still, he has much in common with you. He finds himself ostracized, for a couple of reasons. First of all, he is openly gay and in a particularly flamboyant way. Secondly, his best friend, with whom he spends a great deal of time, in settings both private and public, is a woman (me) frequently taken for his mother. To say some of his contemporaries are unkind to him is to severely understate the case. In fact they treat him with such contempt it is as though they themselves have never matured past a destructive, insensitive adolescence. Consequently, with only a few courses left to take until he finishes his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in ancient history, Leo contemplates quitting university to join the work force. He simply wishes to escape the relentless taunting from his peers.
Personally, I would hate to see him give up. For one thing, I do not think the ostracism is any less likely to occur when Leo takes a job. He needs to develop the life-skills to handle the bullies. I can help him with that, no matter what his situation. I have not applied myself to the task yet, and that has been my deficiency as a friend, but I intend to start on Operation Toughen-Leo-Up right away. However, it will take more convincing than I can single-handedly give to make him stick with his program of studies rather than running away.
Would you mind taking a few short minutes to write Leo a short note of encouragement? To make this small task more convenient for you, I have enclosed an envelope addressed to Leo and an international reply coupon which you can redeem for the postage required to mail your note from the United States to Canada.
I was elated to learn that after years of seeking academic positions that would suit the way you collaborate and the work you do, you secured positions on the faculty of the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. I am certain that you can identify with Leo, and his sense of being an outsider. I am sure you also recognize it is essential for him to complete his first degree, and perhaps even advance academically, if he is to continue moving in a positive direction, as he so deserves to do. If anybody can convince him, it is you, Doctors Chudnovsky, for you are among his heroes.
Thank you for your serious consideration of my request.