Friday, December 11, 2009

Sine, Cosine, But Mostly Tangent

Part Two:

During the process of investigating how to study geology in Norway, I figured out early on that I was probably going to need more science classes in order to qualify for admission into the program.  As I said yesterday, I avoided them in high school;  pretended they didn't even exist in college. 

Somewhere along the line I had managed to convince myself that, while I was a good student, I wasn't necessarily a smart student, so math and science weren't for the likes of me.  Somewhere considerably further along the line, I finally came to the conclusion that this isn't exactly true.

Geology has always interested me.  Ask my mother.  How annoying was I in the 9th grade when I was first learning about U-shaped valleys vs. V-shaped valleys?  Igneous vs. sedimentary?  Oh, and the names of all the different kinds of clouds?  Remember how I used to quiz you on the damn clouds?  I loved that shit.  But everytime it started to get a little technical: formulas for carbon dating, chemical reactions that desolve certain rocks, the physics of storm mind sort of shut down.  Refused to even consider the notion that I might be able to sort those kinds of details out.

It's what kept me from changing my major in college.  The first thing I would have to have done to major in Geology in college was take Inorganic Chemistry.  I had heard tell that Chemistry is hard, yo'.  At the time, I didn't believe I could do it.

(See?  I was stupid.  Just stupid in a different way than I thought.)

I could go on and on: Biology, Calculus, and ever more Chemistry.  All would have been necessary, and all of it intimidated me enough that I ultimately decided to stick with what I knew I could bullshit my way through.  Color, light, line, shape, texture, and the intentions of a bunch of dead, neurotic artists.  That shit's subjective man.  As long as it sounded good, no one could tell me I was wrong about it.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when I grew up.  But I'm no longer quite so intimidated by science.  Obviously.  In fact, I crave the knowledge.  I crave the challenge of acquiring that knowledge.  I know that, while I'm no genius--these subjects will be difficult for me--they're not impossible.  And I get now, that I don't have to have mastered all of them in order to apply their principles to whatever field of Geology I ultimately settle into.  For the most part, I'll just need the basics.

Once I had safely passed the Norwegian test I needed to pass, I turned my attention to math.  Math is the foundation of pretty much all the sciences, right?  So I figured it was a logical first step.  I took Trigonometry my junior year of high school.  I struggled with math, and I had done everything I needed to graduate, so I stopped there.  I should have done more.  I wish I had done more.  But I didn't, so there's no sense in belaboring the point.  And besides, even if I had taken AP Calculus my senior year, it doesn't necessarily follow that now, 18 years later, I'd remember any part of it.  I wouldn't.  I don't. 

I knew that if had a prayer of passing myself off as competent in a college level math class, I needed a full-scale review of everything I'd already studied--including the very basics of algebra.  To this end, I had my mom send me the material she gives her inmates (Mom teaches high school at the federal prison in Utah--me and the felons, doin' our homework....) 

It starts with easy-peasy order of operations stuff, and ends with the Quadradic Formula.  I'm very nearly finished with it.  In fact, I spent yesterday evening using the Quadradic Formula and the Pythagorean Theorem to find the lengths of the sides of right triangles.  And felt right brilliant doing it.

It's taken me the better part of two months to get through the 10 units she sent me.  The kids have been watching over my shoulder the whole time.  They're clearly intrigued.  All those x's and y's and parenthesis--you have to admit, algebra does make for a rather elegant page of work.  Poor Emma is still struggling to get her 7 times tables down, so the fact that I can make sense of anything more advanced is like witchcraft to her.

Not long ago she was babbling along in her Emma-like way.  I don't remember what led her to the subject, but for whatever reason she started listing the primary talents and assets of everyone in the family: 

"Cindy is the cuddly one.  I'm cuddly too, but mostly I'm the one who's good at drawing.  Daniel's not really good at anything yet (according to her), but he's getting better at Lego everyday, and he really likes it, so he's probably going to be a builder.  Amanda's good at making people laugh.  Daddy knows all about birds and nature.  And you, mom, you're the one who's good at math.  So you can help us with our homework."

Ha!  Hear that Mister?  I'm the one who's good at math!  Me!

I sort of love that.  I love that she thinks I'm some sort of savant because I don't even have to think about what 7x7 is, and I can make sense of "the math with the letters instead of numbers".  Mister was right there when she said it.  Mister, who really is a bit of a math wiz, let it slide.  He went ahead and let my daughter believe that her mom is the one who's good at math.  I sort of love that too.

My mother went back to school when I was around Missy's age.  I've been thinking a lot about that lately.  The precedent she set.  The role her example must have played in making me, not even for a single second, ever question the fact that I would go to college some day too.  I want to do that for my girls.  I want them to be proud of me, as I am of my mom.  I don't ever want them to look at my life and think, as I've been doing for the past 16 years now, what a fucking waste!

So, thank you, mom.  Thank you for the example.  Thank you for being brave enough to take the leap.  I still remember you got an A in that Algebra class.  I told Emma you were pretty damn good at math too.

And, thank you, Mister.  For letting our daughter believe a lie.  This was one of the good lies, Santa Claus.......


tracy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tracy said...

I was great at anything of the sciences, English and art, but really despised math of all levels, even though I did get into early Calculus, so I applaud you for remastering Algebra and beyond, girl!

I am very proud of you and I look forward to reading the next "chapter"!