Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Math 101, or I Am A Sensitive Plant

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my feelings regarding the process of learning about mathematics.  My father, deeply frustrated when trying to teach me (I need to understand the WHY of things before I can simply "accept it."), usually vented that frustration on me, thus creating an additional layer of loathing whenever someone tries to explain a mathematical concept.  I had one teacher, in the Seventh Grade, who actually took my flinching in the face of math as a challenge, and I ended up getting a solid, shining A+ in his class, which was all about fractions and decimals.  Thank heavens for that man, for he taught me that I COULD learn math, given the right teacher.

Quick aside - my father once told me I needed to learn algebra because I would need it in life, and when I retorted that I would NOT need it, he asked me what I would do when I needed to calculate something complex, and I said "I'll HIRE someone."  I could hear my mother choking on her laughter from the next room.

Over the years, one friend (all male...not one female has ever attempted) after another has tried to teach me various mathematical concepts/skills, usually because I've asked a specific question.  I say God Bless Them for trying, but it's largely a thankless job, because I generally find Math pretty silly, and giggle through an explanation, or I get frustrated and cry.  I have simply learned to avoid asking about the how or why of calculations rather than face the emotions of trying to learn.

Saturday last, whilst picking through the trash and treasures at a local thrift store, I spied a miniature slide rule in a little leather case, and memories of my dad trying to teach me to use it bubbled up.  I actually remember that as a fun, though mostly baffling experience, but throughout the years, I have always wanted to understand how to use those suckers.  When I showed it to V last night, he asked me if I knew how to use it.  Warily, but with the ever present hope of a Fool, I replied that I didn't, but would like to.  Oy.  After showing me how to do basic multiplication with it, we rapidly descended into a discussion of logarithms, which quickly led to terms like indicies, exponentiation, inverse functions, etc.  And I braced for a mind-numbing lecture, already searching for any easy exit.
Dad had a slide rule very much like this...sure wish I had a full sized one in a nice leather case again...
Needless to say, I was amazed that he never got angry when I giggled (I know math is supposed to be ALL about logic, but it seems HIGHly illogical to MY way of thinking), and when tears welled up, he simply backed up and took a new tack.  When I argued and/or asked what might seem like stupid questions (I'm someone who tells people "there ARE no stupid questions," so saying that of myself is truly damning), he steadily, and utterly without distress, explained, over and over.  And staying the course as he did, with calm and gentle guidance, I actually ended up with a fresh and mostly clear understanding of all the terms and concepts we covered!  Stunning!  Seriously, I really love this man!

Of course, his success went to his head, because this morning he decided to teach me why using 3/4" to the foot vs 1" to the foot scale was better,  (because of how rulers are laid out), subconsciously thinking, I suppose, that he was able to explain the more complex concepts, so this should be a breeze!  FOOL!  First of all, don't try to explain anything to me first thing in the morning, because I am NOT a morning person even a little bit.  Wait until the afternoon and I will be FAR more receptive.  Same goes for sex or anything else you want.  Generally, give me a few hours (NOT minutes) to thoroughly wake up.  More importantly, though, if you have had a successful discussion with me involving math, LEAVE IT ALONE.

Let me explain how mathematical discussions effect my system.  Are you familiar with Mimosa Pudica, aka "The Sensitive Plant"?   That's what I become after very brief exposure to anything regarding math.  I need time to recover, so don't expect me to react in any fashion but a rapid flinching away if you come back too soon.  It's just best to wait for me to ask again.  Please.  'Cause I really do appreciate learning about this stuff, I just have to take it in very small doses.

Mimosa Pudica in action