Dawn Tolbert

Writer
#366Days Writing

Math & Life #366Days Day 52

protractor, ruler and pencils on graph paper

Every day when I log in to write my blog, WordPress asks me to prove my humanity by solving a math problem. It’s nothing hard — 2 + 0 having caused the most thought of late, but I have to admit that I have wondered once or twice if I should occasionally miss the answer — since the goal is proving my humanity.

That thought always makes me feel guilty. I had worked at Shorter for a couple of years I guess when I first had the opportunity to be on an interview committee for the academic scholarships. It was a fun, but taxing day as we met with some very bright and often VERY nervous young people. I don’t remember a lot of what was said in the interviews that day, but I do remember one student making a comment about not being very good at math. Well, to be honest, I don’t remember the comment as much as I remember the discussion we had after the student left the room.

“Would it be okay,” one of my colleagues asked, “if a student came in for a scholarship interview and said ‘Well, I can’t really read’?” We had a brief discussion of American attitudes toward math. I — the lone English/Communication major in the room — kept fairly silent. You see, I have a math-related secret.

I LOVE MATH.

My math SAT score was higher than my verbal. I taught Algebra lab to adult students during my first semester of college. I graded developmental math homework for the professor for whom I did work study (and I would work the problems first before looking at the answers!).

I really liked Calculus. And Advanced Calculus. And Trig.

I once (and not all that long ago!) sat in a meeting about offering distance calculus through an online format and solved the problems the presenter had included in his PowerPoint in the margins of my notes.

I’ve lost a lot of my mad math skills over the years, and I never was very good at Geometry. But there’s something so appealing about math. There’s a right answer. There’s a right way to get that answer.

In my work as a writer and graphic designer, a lot of response to my work is based on opinions. A former boss and dear friend used to quip that “there’s no publication that can’t be improved by replacing every single word and every photo with different one.” He usually would add this when pointing out needed revisions.

Working in an environment where I get constant feedback and editing has made me more malleable in a lot of ways. Don’t like that photo? I can find another one. Sure, I can cut that sentence or trade this word for that one. As I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I heard horror stories — from the doctoral candidates’ perspective — of committees who would dare suggest that another word might be better than the one the author had chosen. My philosophy? I can change that (unless of course the edit would introduce a mistake).

I’ve entered a whole new world though with my novel writing. My connection to the words is strong because I can still taste the emotion that led me to choose them. It’s a fascinating process, this offering of a piece of my soul for revision and comment — even when I’m the one revising and commenting.

It makes me want to run and hide.

It makes me want to work a Sudoku.

I wonder if I could counteract the nerves by doing some long division or solving a word problem or three. Is there such a thing as math therapy?

5 Comment

  1. I’ll bring a book of word problems to get us through our day. You’ll be in good company with some true math nerds who knew your secret. But we might have some discussion and editing of even those answers!!

    1. I would point out that you are either the former or the latter but I can never remember which is which without thinking about it. 🙂

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