Those scissors

It’s a more than fair question:

What’s the deal with those scissors?

Jane, a friend of mine, recently took an interest in this blog, and she posed several questions to me, which are pertinent to my understanding of myself and this, my blogging project. Also, I suspect that she’s not the only one of my readers whose curiosity has been piqued.

<irony>I’m so mysterious, aren’t I?</irony>

Actually, my aim is to be the opposite of mysterious. You want me, you get me. Of course, I am rather inclined towards metaphors, language games, and esoteric imagery, but being mysterious is never my intention – I only aspire to being pretentious 😜

* * *

b’Kitzur, as we say in Israel, my father launched his great opus, his educational mathematics website, in 1996 while I was yet in high school. This was not many years after the Internet had become available to the public. In fact, Papa had been the one who strongly encouraged me to start using the Internet during those early years when I didn’t really fathom its potential. I recall being unimpressed with the idea at first, and later appreciative that he had pushed back against my obstinate laziness.

That’s what Papa was like. In my early childhood, he’d had one of the most advanced personal computers available (which we could afford), even when having a computer at home wasn’t common. Long before that, in the seventies, he had been programming computers in Israel that took up entire rooms at the university.

So the Internet became available to the public in the 90’s, and Papa launched his website. But what to call it? What to call his fledgling endeavor? I’m not certain how many different concepts he explored, but he settled upon the name ‘Cut the Knot’, based upon the narrative of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot before going on to conquer all of Asia. The myth represented Papa’s vision for mathematics education, and, fittingly, his name was also Alexander.

Papa didn’t only decide upon a name. He also committed himself to designing a suitable logo, by which I don’t mean one that was easy on the eyes. My father thoughtfully folded strips of paper and drew diagrams all over his notebooks, as he worked through the rigorous mathematical proof behind his ultimate concept. Personally, I found his doodles and calculations quite dull and struggled to feign interest in his folded strips of paper.

* * *

As noted, I was in high school during those years, and for one reason or another, I had to sign an official document for the first time. Likely, it was an employment form for my first part-time job, which was at our synagogue, but I am not certain. Regardless, I had to decide upon a signature for myself for the first time in my young life.

Looking back, I recall scribbling my name in various ways on a piece of paper until I came up with something that I liked. Papa’s and Mama’s signatures were very elegant, carefully scribed with their first initials and our last name in neat cursive, whereas my handwriting was not very neat even then, and what I came up with was – different.

I don’t recall how it came to me, but I was struck by the realization that the first letters of my first and last names were mirror images of one another – in the lowercase (‘d’ and ‘b’). While I’d never seen an entirely lowercase signature, after playing with it for a while I realized that I could cross the two letters in the middle by slanting them in my messy cursive, thereby producing a symbol that looked like a tilted pair of scissors. Pleased with my creativity, I signed the document.

* * *

I was no mathematician, and I would eventually become a terrible engineering student. Proofs and diagrams couldn’t hold my attention, but symbols and stories flowed through and all around me. In fact, I continue to experience the symbolism woven into Jewish religious rituals as one of my faith tradition’s most appealing facets.

Given my personality, it wasn’t long before the high school me made a connection between my ‘db’ scissors and Papa’s knot logo. ‘Someday,’ I suggested, ‘when you retire, I can create a company called ‘Cut the Knot, junior’, and I’ll use my scissors as a logo! What do you think of that, Papa?’ Curtly, Papa expressed his lack of appreciation for my idea, and I never raised it again… but the notion would continue to tease my imagination for decades.

2 thoughts on “Those scissors”

  1. I don’t know whether in saying this I’m stating the ridiculously obvious, but two things came to mind reflective of (my understanding of) Jewish culture when I saw the scissors on your blog. The first is a ritual historically undertaken with newborn Jewish boys, and the other relates to the tradition of Jewish people having rather a lot of facial hair. Were neither of these things on your mind when you came up with the symbol / your signature?

    Friend, there’s so much that comes to mind that I would love to discuss with you β€” too much for a blog comments section. If you’d like to, please send me an email (my email address is on my Contact page β€” I prefer not to sate my email address in comments sections for reasons of spam prevention!) and we can carry on the conversation. I have a story related to my own signature (and symbolism) which I think will make you laugh πŸ˜€

    Love and blessings to you, friend.

    1. That’s really interesting. No – the scissors were entirely about my memory of Papa… but what you wrote here is a very interesting coincidence. I’ll be in touch πŸ™‚

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