Mathochism: Going into high-tech

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I have officially left the comfort zone.

This week, we started Chapter 6. Chapter 6 is the introduction to algebraic concepts, aka “kiss them understandable numbers goodbye, missy!”

And it is the first time, in more than 20 years, that I confront those foul letters that made my math life a befuddled misery.

“Now you’re going into high-tech,” the dapper professor told us as he introduced the chapter.

High-tech, indeed. He began by defining various words, including “polynomial,” “variable” and “degree.” He continued on to adding, subtracting and multiplying polynomials. A polynomial, for the algebra amnesiacs, is an expression like 4x – 5 x + 9. The trick to solving it is to group like terms together.

Unlike in the last few weeks, where my reptile math brain sort of murkily recalled certain long-ago concepts, I have absolutely no memory of ever learning about polynomials.

True, I was focused on other things at the time.

His name was David. He sat next to me in French class. He had braces and a monobrow, but he was actually very cute.

The space in my algebra notebook where I should have written down the definition of a polynomial was covered instead in “David,” “I Heart David,” “A.K. and David Forever,” as well as all the great words that start with a D, like “delicious” and “dashing.”

Later, when David broke my heart by asking out another girl, the algebra notebook was festooned with “dastardly,” “devious” and “disaster.”

Even if the monobrow man hadn’t existed, I would likely not have done well. My teacher did not have the dapper professor’s gift for explaining things clearly. As I recall, she would go over things way too quickly, missed steps, and generally got huffy when asked to explain anything.

I officially gave up on Algebra when, in response to a plea for an explanation, she said “what can I do?”


But this reintroduction to letters has been good so far. Polynomials are no longer a mystery. And today, in math lab, while studying for the exponents test, I actually had a moment of math zen.

I worked through problem after problem, and got each and every one right. It was the kind of high I had hitherto only experienced when I knew I had gotten a piece of writing just right, or when a dish I prepared was perfect, or when making that perfect third landing in a Cessna 152.

My goodness. Math is fun!

I just hope it will continue to be fun once I go into high-tech.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.


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