what the math did



when I was a child, I hated math. Which means I technically still hate math, because as far as I am aware I'm still a bit of a child. So maybe I ought to say something like 'when I was a child in school'. Although I was never that either, because I was homeschooled. Which raises a whole other set of questions:

do I live in the wilderness? Do I wear jean skirts? Do I have a dozen siblings? Have I ever seen my mom not pregnant? DO I HAVE ANY FRIENDS? Do I even know how to communicate with the outside world?!

ohh gracieux, will it all even fit into one blog post? I'm highly doubting it. I guess we could get through a few things if I type fast: I sometimes wish I lived in the wilderness, I only believe in skinny jeans, I only have two siblings, I actually have a lot of friends, I'm a bit of a loud mouth and unfortunately, yes...I can still recall how to communicate with that ever illusive 'outside world'.

But we're talking about math. Because it's autumn. Fall. And fall and autumn remind me of school, which reminds me of my least favorite subject on God's green earth: mathematics.

Once upon a time I too was a wee hobbit, with wide eyes, a messy head of hazelnut brown hair and a fiery disposition. Homeschooling impressed upon me an obligation, and that was to be disciplined and to work and study hard. Which I did. And for the most part, weekdays and sometimes weekends were passed in hours hunched at the dining room table with a pencil wedged in my damp fingers and my face, which was continuously on the verge of breaking out, pressed somberly into my free palm.

The best was English, because there were stories there, and afternoons curled up on the couch reading rich literature with my mom and sister, and there were vocabulary quizzes and words and writing assignments. But then there was the worst, and the worst was math.

My parents have oft explained that 'it could have been much more tolerable if I had made it so', and I agree. It's darkness was something I discovered and drew out upon myself like wasps from a Pandora's box that I should have left untouched. But here we were, and I disliked it to the highest degree imaginable.

And this has something to do with the secrets of humanity, I promise I'm not just going on about myself-- we're getting to it. But first the weird bit.

I was actually quite good at it. Math. Or so at least I was told. But I still didn't like it.

Which tells us a lot of things. One being, we should all remember that we ought never get ourselves sealed into anything just because we're good at it. Because being good at something is just not enough. In work, in play, in life, we have to wake up and smile because of it-- get itchy feet because of it. Want to freaking dance because of it. And if you don't? I promise you...you don't want to fall for it. Because you'll wake up one morning and find yourself stuck in a mire ankle-deep, unable to move or escape.

Secondly, sometimes we can find out more about what we need to do because of something that we just know "holy smokes, this is absolutely not it.."

Numbers and my distaste for their coldness pushed me closer to words. Language and it's warmth, it's flavors and spices. It got me up early so that I could spend time with it before I had to do schoolwork. Tea and cool mornings and "dang.. it's already that late? Just one more page, please?"

It's a bit like a story a dear friend told me after a dinner with my family a couple of years ago, about how when he was my age he was enrolled in an ivy league college, going for a degree that would allow him to have a well-paying government job that involved surveying and map design. And as a bonus his parents would give him a beloved convertible upon graduation.

He said to me that night, "You know, one day on my drive to school I just broke down and cried. Because I realized that I was going to be getting up every morning for for the rest of my life and driving to an office to do something I hated."

His words have stuck with me since they were spoken. And I've kept them like a sacred warning.

Be careful about what you say 'yes' to.

Sometimes something is in our lives to merely point us, sometimes awkwardly, to the thing that we really need to be doing. The thing that our heart is secretly in love with, outside of our knowledge and willpower.

I used to hide in my closet so that I didn't have to do math. This was like fourth grade, not high school, don't worry. I promise I'm not that kid. But when you hide in your closet to get away from something, it draws out some weird stuff that lurks in the back of your brain. Stuff like...what am I doing?

And that's something I ask myself more now, and maybe I have math to thank for that, partially. What am I doing? Why do I do what I do? Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?

Neil Gaiman nailed it when he said,

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

And it's made me stop a little more frequently to check my position and my speed. To see where my mountain is and which steps will take me closer or further from that beautiful summit for which I long.

And then there's the comments. Because sometimes people like to share their opinions with you more than you may particularly like. But that's alright. Because it doesn't matter.

I will say of mathematics, that it gave me a clearer understanding of when something feels right and when something feels wrong. Because math is beautiful, and intricate and it runs the universe and I adore it. I like hearing people go on about how much they love it. But, it's not something I would enjoy simply because I am good at it. Rather, with something like the guidance of a stern father, it pressed me further into the arms of what I found to be my true love: story. Language and literature in all it's messy, abominable, stunning chaos.

And you know, I think we all have something like this. A form of math in our lives. Something that gets under our skin, but yet lies in wait to point us like an arrow to the end of that tunnel where we can open our eyes at last, take in a deep breath, and realize:

Wow...so this is it. Haha. Ohh, wow. I'm in love.


k a t e 

photographs equal || vanderbilt mansion national historic site, hyde park, new york || sunshine and leaves crunching under my sneakers and a big cold house by a river under a sky the color of an old mason jar.

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10 people commented on this post.

  1. Yes, without math, we wouldn't get anything done!
    This is such a meaningful and great post, I enjoyed reading it so much!
    June<3
    The Journeys' of my beating heart

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    1. very true! Even though I never enjoyed math, I am quite thankful for it (: Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed

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  2. Love it!

    Hey don't I remember a math poem written by you??? Huh? Huh?

    How about sharing that?

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    Replies
    1. hahaha, yes! I would have to find it first...it's buried in a notebook somewhere... xD :D

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  3. Replies
    1. Ahhh, thank you, Jana! You're the best. Glad you enjoyed. (:

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  4. Omg the part where you said you would hide in your closet had me dying ;) I've never particularly liked math, either.
    I love this post...perfect photography, and your words are always so beautiful :)

    MJ // www.littlepandacrafts.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. Hhaha, yeahh it's pretty funny in retrospect. xD I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for your kind words (:

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