By cjohnson | January 5, 2006 11:01 am

Well, I’m back.

It’s been a month since my last confession post on this blog, and I’ve had good reason. Sorry to those of you (yes, you two, right there…) who like reading my posts, and sorry to the others if a month of silence was not long enough (maybe I’ll try harder next time).

What was my reason? I was off-planet for a while. I went Walkabout. Needed to clear my head, get away from the emails, memos, blogs, telephones, people… and all the regular stuff I deal with everyday and find some time and space to rummage around in my head and tidy up a bit. Get my head together. It was also an insane semester, both workwise and otherwise, as you might have guessed from my posts during that period, and it will be followed by an even more insane one (if I’m not careful) and so I needed to find some calm before plunging back into it all.

So I decided to switch off my phones, stop (mostly) checking my email, tell the post office to hold all my mail, cancel Christmas and New Year’s, pack my bags, put on some sensible shoes, and tell everyone “see you in a month”. I told absolutely no-one where I was going, and I just disappeared. Went on a walkabout, I like to say. Liberating.

I also like to say I was “off-planet”. What do I mean? In a sense, it’s not inappropriate, as I’ll explain to you in several later posts, but my playful reference is to my days of reading comic books. Remember (those of you who read them) when in some issue of your favourite title there’d be some challenge that the other superhero (or heroes) had to deal with, which could have been dealt with more easily (perhaps) if they had help from [name here] who strangely was not around for that entire issue? The lame excuse the writers would offer, would be that [name here] was off the planet. Elsewhere. Perhaps helping the noble Thangarians deal with a terrible epidemic of bird flu, or some other such thing. This would would then allow our remaining heroes to show that they can get by just fine without the help of [name here]…. they would deal with the challenge in hand admirably, and everybody would be fine when [name here] returned.

So I see that Cosmic Variance has been just fine without me (the other superheroes did a great job!), and I imagine that all is well with the home planet, and I needn’t have worried so much all the time I was away. Oh, waitaminute….I didn’t worry (much).

So anyway, I was off-planet. It was nice…. No….it was grrrrrreat!

(Before you all write in and declare that I’ve confirmed that being in academia is a cushy job since I can just take a month off to go walkabout like Caine in some bad 70’s TV show….don’t click “Submit” yet. I got a lot of work done. More later.)

So you’re wondering two things, aren’t you?

(1) Where did he go walkabout? Where is “off-planet”?

(2) What profound thing did he learn about himself while walking about?

Ok, huddle up….

I’ll tell you the answer to (1) upon my return, as I’m just about to fully leave my place of “solitude”. (Feel free to make a stab at guessing, etc…. I can’t afford to give any prizes though.)

And (2)? Well, as all Walkabouters know, it is inevitable that you must grow a beard while on the travels (true for all genders….no, really….) … freedom from excessive grooming is important, and it adds to your feeling of being “on the road”. Actually, I tend to wear my hair very very short, and it has been a very long time since I’ve grown a full beard (perpetual stubble does not count). Well, about half way through the trip, I had a good look in the mirror at this thing thickly covering my face (which will be gone within 24 hours of me returning by the way; don’t want to look like a professor around campus now, do I?) and saw, to my surprise… it’s flecked with grey! I’m not talking Saruman or Gandalf standards here… but, there they are. It’s sort of funny, in retrospect, but I’ve not previously been presented with such sudden physical evidence of having gotten significantly older in over a decade or more.

Ok… this is not really a profound realisation since: (a) “It’s just so shallow”….yeah, yeah, yeah, and (b) Everybody who really knows me is aware that I’m as nutty as a fruitcake and have been a stubborn old man pretty much since birth, so it’s no big deal.

So there you have it. Triviality returns. Time to blow the dust off the scroll bar!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cosmic Variance, Personal
  • Dissident

    Welcome back from [wild stab] the Caribbean, oh Grizzled One.

  • Levi

    I’m going to guess Mexico. Since the question “Where is Clifford?” came up sooner or later in many of the comment lines here, you can safely assume that you were missed.

  • Joe

    Anyone who has ever seen Crocodile Dundee would guess you were in Australia. Given USC’s Australian connection, the relative ease of flying to Sydney or Melbourne from LAX, and that it is now summer in the Antipodes makes this a slamdunk.

  • http://ppcook.blogspot.com Paul

    Hey Clifford,

    My guess is you’ve been taking part in a reality tv show yet to be broadcast :)

    Welcome back!

  • Ick of the East

    My friend in the police says that you are officially banned from Samui, Chiangmai, and Phuket.

    But reports from the Palace say the Princess has forgiven you for the Tuk Tuk/Crocodile incident and will take you back.

    (Your flute was found under Nong Mai’s bed, in case you were wondering.)

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Southern Spain?

  • Athena

    Clifford! Welcome back to CV! I would count myself among the ones who enjoy your posts, so suffice to say you were sorely missed. Of course, I do take pleasure and learn from the other CV postings, but your particular posts hit home for me in many ways. Your descriptions of university life in SoCal, for example, provide much reminiscing for me. Triviality? Scroll bar? Bah!

    As for the sudden and surprising evidence of graying, I can certainly commiserate because a salon mishap recently revealed the extent of my own sprinklings of gray.

    Anyway, I will take a stab at your current location — is it your “fortress of solitude” in Durham, England, perhaps?

  • erc

    Anyway, I will take a stab at your current location — is it your “fortress of solitude” in Durham, England, perhaps?

    Athena, what are you suggesting about Durham?!? We are perfectly well-groomed here!

    Welcome back, cvj :)

  • david

    seoul searching?

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/12/wave-function-and-summing-over.html Plato

    Walkabout in Australia maybe.:)

    Aborigines have a different take on life and soul searching is one of them. Maybe Cliffords forty days and forty night in the desert? A entrainment in the use f musical instruments? Like Tibet bells or some kind of thing.

    Nothing strange about this. While it might called vacationing, or just taking time out, some of us see this in a greater metaphysical sense. Okay, a little out there, but shifting one’s tonal is always good :)

  • Elliot

    Welcome back. I am going to guess the California desert. Not far geographically but in reality a million miles away.


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Dude, how was Vegas????

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    The Milford Track, New Zealand?

  • Athena

    erc, I suppose that means my guess was wrong, then. Darn! Just following a lead from a previous post that I recalled — I have an amazing memory for the trivial. : )

  • Athena

    Um, I should add, not that I think Durham is trivial, rather, I was referring in jest to the last line in Clifford’s post for today.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com wolfgang


    I assume you were wandering around in the Landscape 😎
    Looking forward to your posts …

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    This is my guess

    The center of town, like any good crossroads, has a mileage marker pointing toward various destinations. You get the feeling that you are a long way from the rest of the world.


    They have a hotel with internet connection

    Some more pics

    Perhaps Clifford likes this place so much now that he will organise a string theory conference there :)

  • janet

    Given the opening line of the post, I’m guessing the Grey Havens. Cirdan the Shipwright wouldn’t give you passage, eh?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    (Somewhere…..waiting for the next leg of my tranport home…..remarkably there is a wireless connection…)

    Athena, erc :- can you really be sure that I was not in Durham? I have a “stealth” mode, you know.

    Janet, you’re good! I did not think that anyone else would get that first line’s reference. It is one of my favourites of the whole set of books, and I’ve been known to burst into tears on encountering it after yet another re-read of the books.

    Plato, David, Ick of the East, Joe, Plato, Amara : – Interesting. But I swear the police have me mixed up with that famous actor who was visiting there around the same time. (Psssst! They didn’t find a trumpet under the bed as well did they?)

    Wolfgang: I tried to explore the landscape, and even bring back some pics to show everyone…..but large parts of it sort of kept shimmering and disappearing…. apparently they were mirages….. I wonder if its all like that?

    Paul: Hmmmm…..I never got the call from the producers about that. But you know that can’t be right as I’d be voted off the island (out of the house….. whatever) within a few days. I wouldn’t last a month.

    Levi, Dissident, bittergraduatestudent :- nice choices.

    Count, Sean, Elliot :- also interesting……

    Everyone: Thanks for welcoming me back!


  • LambchopofGod

    Welcome back cvj…however I am a bit perturbed that you think it necessary to assure us that you got a lot of work done…a one-month vacation is not considered particularly sinful or even unusual in civilized parts of the world, and obviously you earned it….also, “Kung Fu” was far indeed from being a bad TV show! Compare it with the stupid nonsense on TV today, for instance…..

  • Moshe

    Welcome back Clifford, you were missed (my high school English teacher insisted I use the passive tense whenever appropriate…)

  • David

    Hmm, let me guess, it wouldn’t have been Taiwan by any chance? Actually I’m pretty sure it was. And how might I know this? Well, for a couple of days I had the honor of sharing an office with the man himself in the physics dept of National Taiwan University… Little did he know that he was cohabiting with a CV reader and fan…
    I didn’t say anything at the time, since I sort of had the impression that he was there to get away from it all (why else would anyone be spending the xmas-new year period in Taiwan – unless they had local connections as in my case). So I’ll take this opportunity to say, belatedly: Hi Clifford!
    (And yes, i can confirm that he was sporting a beard; didn’t notice any gray though…)

  • amy

    Welcome back! There’s a speaking invitation for a women in physics conference awaiting you in your inbox. (To talk about your research, not women in physics). I thought I might try this route as I’ve been told that you read your blog.

    While I’m at it, some others might be interested to know about our conference, so here’s the link: http://physics.usc.edu/~wiphys/conference.html

  • serial catowner

    You say walkabout, I think…Jenny Agutter. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be back so soon if she had been your discovery.

    My dad grew a beard while he was in the South Pacific (WW II-related stuff.) Said it came out straggly and every color of the rainbow. Made him a lifelong devotee of the electric shaver.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Bugger…. those CV readers are everywhere. In fact, I guessed you were a CV reader since when I borrowed your computer terminal that time to send a printout of a paper from hep-th, I accidentally noticed that the URL for CV was among the recent pages visited in your browser. I decided not to say anything.

    Well, pleased to meet you, David! Thanks for not blowing my cover when I was fully “in hiding” as it were.


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