Thursday, May 16, 2013

Numb and Number

            My eldest son is wildly in love with… numbers.  From the time he learned of their existence, he ascended (descended?  side-scended?)  into a happy little world of ratios and logarithms, even sharing an elaborate equation with me one time, including lovely arcs, to prove the uselessness of cleaning his room.

            I, on the other hand, recoil mentally whenever a digit appears.  I think it started with story problems in elementary school.  Well-meaning teachers would hand out preposterous questions, I assumed, to see who could go the longest without screaming.
            “You have one apple and you want to share it equally with seven friends,” such questions would begin.  And that’s when I would stop and imagine such a ludicrous situation.  Who planned so poorly as to have only one apple when seven friends arrive?  My solution was ultimately to make a small Waldorf Salad, though I didn’t know its name at the time, and wasn’t convinced this would be anywhere near enough food for a total of eight people.  And why can’t “applesauce” be considered a correct answer?

            “You found one grape and want to share it with nine friends,” one question said.
Immediately I would try to picture this—and what are these people—street urchins from the Dickens era, covered with soot, who find one grape in the gutter, that even the dogs won’t eat, and decide to share it with nine friends?  Sounds like they ought to spend less time socializing and more time working, so they can buy everyone a grape.  I wrote, “I would not do this” for my answer.  What was next—dividing a pea into twenty pieces with a scalpel?  Were we going to be given microscopes for the next batch of story problems?

            And then along came fractions, criss-crossing operations, long division, and ultimately algebra.  Which, if you haven’t pictured a bra made of algae yet, means you haven’t given enough thought to that word.  Worst of all, they were now mixing letters with numbers, a sacrilege if ever there was one. (See my “Open Letter to You Math Types” blog of April 17th.)
            My daughter inherited my distaste for things mathematical.  But in her case, it’s because she’s an artist.  When given a long equation with a little two elevated above the other numbers, to indicate “to the second power,” all she could think of was how stranded that awkward two looked, like a lone painting hung too high on a giant wall.  When she finally solved the equation, that’s all that was left—that little two floating up like a lost balloon.

            Numbers people have other amazing abilities as well.  They’re like savants of a sort, for whom musical training is a snap.  I have yet to meet a math wiz who is not also a gifted pianist.  And juggling!  Who would have thought juggling went along with this, but it does.  I know of an AP Calculus teacher who tells his students that whoever masters juggling will get an A in the class, and he’s invariably right.  Evidently the same gymnastics your brain goes through in order to juggle, are the same processes it needs to understand calculus.

            And all I can think about are the bruised oranges that will result as folks try this at home, dropping the fruit time and again until it cannot be shared with one friend, let alone forty-nine.

Portions of this blog post appear in “Funeral Potatoes—the Novel,” published by Covenant Communications.  There’s Jewish humor, Catholic humor, and definitely Mormon humor. Round out your collection with a bunch of my LDS books; click on their titles right here on my blog’s home page!  They’re usually much cheaper than my mainstream books (not that the content is cheaper) and you gotta like that.

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